Thursday, March 31, 2011

boys and girls in america.

Victoria had grown up to be pretty in a way that she didn't know how to deal with. She had been an adorable infant who grew into a cute child who stumbled into a clumsy adolescence and had awoken one day, now 23 years old, a beautiful girl. Her skin had cleared from an unpatterned moon landing to a vaguely topsoiled farm to a still lake. Her hair, once ravaged to straw-like consistency after a few months of half-hearted anorexia, had become thick enough to braid into rope. She'd noticed her body pulling in at certain places and pushing out at others, like her mass was being reallocated from Overweight Girl into Full-Figured Woman, and she was grateful for it.

However, to her chagrin, the half-societal, half-physical adaptations Victoria found herself receiving did not come with an instruction manual. When her hips had expanded to their post-teenage shape, they threw off her balance. She had to relearn how to walk in heels, like a stroke victim, and had to get rid of most of the ill-fitting, formless clothes she had concealed herself with since she was old enough to learn that she wanted to be concealed.

She did keep the corduroy jacket, though. She had always felt fashion was something out of her reach, but even her broken aesthetic clock was right twice a day, and big, military-inspired jackets that fit like an oversized pillowcase were "in." So on one particularly lonely night of self-imposed exile, she slipped her arms through the worn fabric and made her way to Target to buy a new bulletin board for the pictures of her nieces and nephews. The old one was getting full, and she didn't "need" one, but hey, she had made more expensive excuses.

On the rare occasion that her unintentional, reflexive permascowl (Victoria wasn't an angry person, her mouth just turned that way when she wasn't making the effort otherwise) didn't send the boys a-runnin', she'd not know how to respond to out-of-the-blue greetings from strangers. But somehow, the guy with the wire-rimmed glasses and the armful of 3x5 cards disarmed her with a hurried "Do you know where the Sharpies are?"

Victoria looked around to ensure that he was addressing her. "I don't work here," she said.

He looked her up and down far too quickly to have objectified her. "Oh," he said, "but you're wearing a red shirt. Under that awesome jacket."

"Lots of people wear red shirts. Doesn't mean I work at Target." She retroactively winced at the defensiveness of her response.

"I have a red shirt," he said, the film of worry sliding down his irises and a small green glint emerged. "I got it here, actually."

"You bought a red shirt at Target? That's a little on the nose," she said. She forced her jangling nerves into a smile-shaped mold and a small grin stretched itself out over her lips.

The man laughed and dropped five or six of his, at Victoria's estimation, thirty packages of index cards. "Crap," he said, "I knew I should've gotten a basket."

"Why are you buying so many of those?"

"I have to make flash cards," he said. "I have to take a big Spanish test next week and I'm sorry, this is a quick change of subject, but what's your name?"

The gears of her brain ceased and she realized that she was in a position to make up an incredibly convoluted backstory. She'd always read about actors who had tiny little parts in huge movies and would construct elaborate histories for their barely-sketched characters, giving them dead relationships and emotional scars that'd help them understand the motivation of the person they'd been chosen to portray.

Time froze, and, to her own surprise, Victoria came up with three alternative personal histories in the space of one second apiece:

My name is Paige. I came here to get away from my ex-husband–we've been divorced for three years now–and my four-year-old daughter and I live downtown. I tend bar at night and am taking some college courses during the day to get my Associates degree. I'm good with numbers and I think I want to be an accountant."

I'm Stephanie. I grew up in this town and my parents opened a small hardware store on the corner of Main Street, and every year, the big chains try to buy us out and get us to leave, but my parents are as stubborn as a good doorstop and they'll get buried with the deed to that place in their caskets. I'm allergic to gluten and I cant think of a life I'd like to live outside of this town. It's my home, it's always been my home, and it'll always be my home."

"My folks named me Olivia, but everyone calls me Olive. I'm in town for my best friend's wedding, which was yesterday. I'm leaving in the morning to drive back to my life and job and my own fiance on the other side of the country, but I think we should spend the night together and make love until the rising sun hurtles me back into my return home because I'm so terrified that returning back to what I've built will jail me into a narrative I don't want my life to transform into and I'd never forgive myself if I didn't say so."

"I'm Victoria," she said, "but I have to go."

"What?" he said, dropping even more of the 3x5s on the ground, the rose red in his cheeks evacuating, leaving behind snow white. But she had already started walking away, more quickly than she felt she could safely do. But she just had to get home.

"I'm sorry," she said, pivoting back on one foot to see him, but never stopping her hasty retreat. "It was nice to meet you."

Victoria didn't bother driving home. She figured she could use the air, so she ignored the twitching in her right foot and the sleepy pins and needles in her left and walked the mile-and-a-half home, taking her corduroy jacket off halfway through her return and tying it around her waist, where its arms flopped like stray tentacles looking for something to grab onto.

Her real name wasn't even Victoria. It was Vicki, but she had added the extra syllables because she thought it sounded more like a well-bred socialite who knew how to charm a stranger into asking her to dinner than it sounded like a sad girl who got so nervous at the idea of speaking with someone that she literally ran into the night to escape.

She got home, brushed her teeth, changed into a dingy pair of sweat pants, and opened her window in order to the rain that had just started pitter pattering like faraway footsteps. The raindrops underlined the Aretha Franklin CD she had decided to fall asleep to, and she clutched one of her extra pillows and squeezed so tightly she thought she'd split it in half.

When she woke up, the open window had let in the rain, and a small puddle had gathered on the windowsill. Victoria saw the broadest outlines of her reflection in it just as she wiped it up with a dirty t-shirt she planned to wash later that day.

But she turned off her alarm clock, returned to a fitful sleep, and half-heartedly dreamt of what she'd look like in ten years.

Because you never know what'll change and you never know what'll stay the same.


Kels H. said...

Victoria makes me a tad melancholy.

Lachelleandmanasseh said...

more please.

Meg said...

for some reason I got a beautiful image in my head when you mentioned her hips. that really stuck out to me.