6.05 / May 2011

Excerpt from In One Story

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In one story, the two sisters met in high school.  One was a senior, the other a freshman.  For whatever reason, they were drawn to one another.  The senior was excited each day to see the freshman pass by her.  The freshman was a little less sure of things.  She liked the attention, but was inexperienced and cautious.  Eventually they agreed to go to a movie together.  The senior was very polite.  She picked up the freshman, held her door for her, paid for the tickets, the refreshments, the candies, etc.  She brought her home after the movie without making any moves or coming up with any reason to prolong the date, to keep the freshman in the car a little longer.  Even the freshman’s parents were surprised to see her home so early.  You screw it up? her father asked.  She didn’t say anything and went straight to bed, but not to sleep.  She was awake for a while, thinking about the movie and what she might have done wrong.  Why hadn’t the senior made a pass?  She thought about it late into the night, until she couldn’t think that well anymore and fell asleep and dreamed confusing dreams about the senior and the cartoon characters from the movie.  When she woke up the next morning she realized what had gone wrong.  They had seen a cartoon, and there was nothing sexy about cartoons.  At least not that cartoon.  So that day at school she proposed they go exploring together that weekend.  The senior agreed to the idea, let the freshman choose the area they would explore.  It will be fun, the freshman said.  She tried to sound enticing, but she was too cold or something because she shivered as she said it, and to her she sounded afraid.  That weekend they explored the quarry on the outside of town.  It was basically a giant hole with a spiraling path leading down to a pool at the base.  It was a crater, a man-made lake.  When construction projects in the town dried up, things at the quarry slowed down, and all the hollow places filled with water.  The senior was having cramps that night and she complained about them the whole time as they spiraled downward toward the pool.  Ow, she said.  It’s from these iron pillsMy mom makes me take them because my hemoglobin’s low.  Ow.  Or she thinks it is, because I keep fainting.  The freshman tried to sound sexy, Yeah? These weren’t conversations she’d had before, not with people she wanted to seem sexy to, and she had only recently found herself wanting to seem sexy to anyone.  And why did she need so bad to seem sexy to this senior?  She wasn’t sure, but it felt right to try.  So she tried.  How do you take them? She asked.  Do you swallow them?  Put them in your food?  Crush them up and sprinkle them down the length of a banana? Ow, the senior said.  When they reached the water, the senior sat down, doubled over and held her stomach.  Do you want to swim? asked the freshman.  No, ow. The senior didn’t want to walk back up the spiraling path either.  So they sat by the water in the quarry and the freshman talked.  At first she asked questions, but received only monosyllabic answers, Yes, No, Ow, so she spread the questions out more and more until she was just talking and talking.  It was nice to talk and talk like that, no one interrupting.  No concerns about tossing the ball back and forth.  She could just go, and the senior was either listening or not.  It didn’t really matter.  She told her about her parents, about her dad.  He was very clean and often mean.  He made her want to smash light bulbs.  Her mother was understanding but confused.  Her mind was slipping, maybe.  Or she chose not to listen most of the time, to pretend she didn’t understand what was maybe too much for her to think about.  Her daughter as a person, for example.  The freshman couldn’t explain it exactly.  Her mother talked like a baby sometimes, goo-goo-ga-ga, kind of things.  To her father, to her.  It was maybe supposed to sound affectionate, but it just sounded awful.  Ow, said the senior.  The next morning the freshman was more excited than ever to see the senior.  She watched down each and every hallway.  She thought she saw her a number of times, but it was never her.  The freshman still had so much to say, so many thoughts to finish, or refine.  So much of what she said had just come out, she wanted to tweak a few things, soften something in the word choice.  Some of it didn’t sound right when she said it back to herself later that night, relishing the flavor of those hours at the quarry.  She had been up most of the night, revising.  But she hadn’t seen the senior all day.  Around lunchtime she got nervous.  The senior usually took her lunch by the choir room, propped up against the trophy case, using the back of her bag like a TV tray.  The freshman had sat with her once, and they ate and listened to the choirgirls sing.  There was something inviting about it.  Something inviting, even, in the breaks, in the pauses when the choirmaster interrupted, instructed, recommenced.  The sounds were indecipherable and the two of them had sat outside the door, silent, listening like you would to a lake.  That was before the quarry, though.  Before the rush of words and stories and thoughts she’d never thought to have, would never have otherwise said, and now she couldn’t imagine sitting outside that choir room door for that whole long forty-five minutes without so much as saying a word.  It would be unbearable.  Like the day was turning out to be.  Because where was she?  Where was this senior who had been such a good listener the night before and…then she thought, what if something’s really wrong?  What if it wasn’t the iron pills?  What if she was very sick, or dying?  There were these cysts girls got on their ovaries, her sister had them, and they were really uncomfortable and awful for her sister and what if the senior had those?  What if something happened to her after they left the quarry?  After they went their separate ways?  What if she was wrestled to the ground by a set of thick arms and core-sick breath and dragged somewhere and left somewhere and what if she never came back?  Could never come back? The freshman sat outside the choir room door listening to the singing, dreaming up all the awful things that were keeping the senior away from her regular lunch spot.  Their regular lunch spot.  She might have dreamt forever about what had happened, but she chose to dye her hair instead.  She dyed it black.  This is for her, she said.  She got a tattoo, a small cartoon bird on her side, right at the bottom rib.  It looked lonely.  She got a second tattoo.  A second bird kissing the first bird.  Weeks passed.  She got her navel pierced, her eyebrow.  Her parents started asking if something was wrong.  They didn’t know about the tattoos.  They didn’t like the eyebrow piercing.  It looked more interesting before, her father said.  She slammed the door.  She started slamming doors.  She left school when she felt like it.  What was the point?  Who was it saving?  It wasn’t saving anyone.  Where was the senior?  The freshman went to a museum.  She wandered from room to room.  She didn’t really look at the things.  Everything was there to teach her something, but she couldn’t tell what exactly.  On the way home from the museum, she stopped at an art gallery.  There was a room marked off by a velvet cloth.  She went in and sat down on a box bench.  She crossed her legs but the chains that ran from leg to leg snagged, and she had to uncross them, untangle the mess and try again.  While she was doing this she heard a voice say, He took me to the bunker and did what he wanted to me and I didn’t say anything.  He asked me if I wanted food.  I said I didn’t.  I thought I could prove something by not eating.  He didn’t make me eat.  After a while I started saying, yeah, please.  And he fed me.  He brought me things he’d cooked himself.  He told me I was his girlfriend.  At first I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to say no and get hurt more.  He raped me a few times per day for several weeks.  Or that’s what they say.  I wasn’t sure how many days had passed when I was there.  He didn’t have a schedule to when he came and went.  It was dark when he wasn’t there.  He told me I was his girlfriend and I didn’t want to say anything.  I don’t remember when, but I started saying thank you.  When he fed me, I said thank you.  When he left, I said thank you.  Then, he told me I was his girlfriend and I said thank you.  I don’t know why I said it.  I wasn’t thinking clearly.  It made him happy though.  I think it made him happy.  I think he thought he was being nice to me.  Nice as he could be given the circumstances. The freshman was transfixed.  There was no face, only a voice.  The room was dark but for a fading grey square that lit the top right corner of the wall opposite her.  Every now and then, glitter appeared on the grey.  It looked random.  The grey was dull then the glitter struck, lit the grey like a stroke of lightning and it made her shift in her seat.  The voice continued, listing things that had happened.  What she did during the day, I chewed my cheek sometimes.  Other times, I screamed for help.  Other times, I sang. The freshman listened carefully.  Was it her voice?  The senior’s voice?  How did she know it?  It seemed to change a little each time, between each pause something shifted.  She didn’t know how to describe it.  One day the police came.  I was scared of them at first.  They asked me if he was there and I said no.  They asked if he did certain things to me.  I said yes to all of it. It sounded like the same woman, growing older with each new phrase or word.  It was awful.  She wanted to show it to someone.  She wanted to get it tattooed on her chest.  On her ribcage.  She wanted it tattooed through her chest and onto her rib cage.  Then she would show someone the tattoo.  It was sad in that space, she was even crying.  It was a sad story.  She felt more sure of things, of herself, of herself in the world.  It wasn’t a good feeling or a bad feeling.  It was a firm feeling.  She was happy people made things out of things, and she wanted someone to sit beside her right then, so she could tell them about the idea she had for the tattoo.  She didn’t like dating anymore.  She got more tattoos.  None of them were right.

Colin Winnette is the author of several books. Links to published work can be found at www.colinwinnette.net. He lives in San Francisco.
6.05 / May 2011