One by One

I wanted a corndog, and had been craving one since my parent's divorce.  Weeks.  When they split for final and good, I thought about corndogs too often, pictured the skin around the meat, all crisp, gold, and salty.  The summer fair was just days away, and I'd get the kind they made there—I could certainly wait for that.  I would wear my favorite shirt, the one with three blind mice on it, all of them wearing dark glasses and giving the finger.  It accentuated my wide breasts, making them look like frozen yogurt scoops.

I wanted to look as amazing as my big sister did and nothing felt out of place.  I wasn't vain, but I had turned out just right, like her.  Someday I would get fat and old and married, and would not look this way at all.  Would be unrecognizable.  For now, I could have what I wanted.  Men craned their stiff necks.  Women glared.

I hated my house—a blue, shabby stucco.  My sister lived in LA, and my dad was gone, but it still smelled like his broccoli.  My parents were vegetarians—ate steamed brown rice and millet, had yoga mats, did everything the way they knew they should so as to stay healthy and live long and all that crap.  They would tell me how the carnival ride seats would get hot and sticky under my legs if I wore shorts so I shouldn't wear them because that was disgusting.  They hated carnivals.

I cornered my Aunt's husband's boy, Elvis, in the bathroom.  He seemed happy about it, but a bit overwhelmed.  His egg head turned bright pink.  He was two years older than me.

"Tag.  You're it," I said.  He grabbed a hand towel, and held it over his head while I kissed his lips that tasted like an egg salad sandwich.

"My bike was damp from the rain," he mumbled.

I unzipped his pants and pretended to be experienced.  I knew he was not going to hurt me, so I felt him, all the places that I had wanted to feel since my last birthday.  Coming back for summers, staying in my aunt's house used to feel familiar and depressing.  Now that she was remarried, her old house seemed new again.  She'd redecorated and added excellent air conditioning in the bedrooms.  I kept an eye out for my cute new cousin, who had a lot of mismatched socks, and wasn't nerdy like the genetic cousins.

"I know we will both need to get amnesia," I said, feeling his body grow like a science experiment.  It warmed as well, which I'd never read in any book.  It seemed an important detail, that the male organ got all warm and animal-like.

"Sure," he said, putting his hand under my shirt, my bra, feeling my nipple with his calloused finger tip.  He was a cellist, which now seemed inconvenient.

"I feel like the dam might burst," he said.

And then it did, and I hadn't even really done anything, it was all about rubbing up against my leg while I warmed it like a hot dog bun.  I hadn't really had time to experience the badness of the moment, and now there was a mess, and we couldn't look at each other.

The summer felt ruined.  What was wrong with me, I wrote in my journal, but I didn't write anything else about it.

Things at home changed.  I stopped noticing the stains on my clothes, and wore them to school inside out.  A brawny boy named Jim felt me up behind the library, and he never cared about any of the things that seemed backwards about me.  When he touched the place between my breasts, he'd say, "You need a boy with Armani pants."  I didn't know what that meant, but I assumed it was a compliment.  He was the only kid I knew who lived in an apartment.  There was a device he used to hide his schnapps.  It fit inside his jeans, and he said we were part of "The Unsayable" club.

I knew my mother would never drink again if she knew that I was following her down the drain, so I didn't mention it.  At night, dinner was a tin can of soup, and we both lost some weight.  Mom loved the Bean with Bacon soup; the hickory smell reminded her of camping with her brother, she said.  Once she mentioned how he had always been good looking in a crisp way, and when he died, he still was.  I had never thought my uncle the least bit handsome, and it felt too easy to glorify the dead.

"Crisp?" I had asked her.  "What the fuck does that mean?"

She slapped my face, then she said I would never be an Einstein.  There was a wheeze and a puff in her voice that seemed permanent after her last cold.  She had never looked so young as she did when my face flew apart.

The night I almost felt as pretty as my sister, his leg was next to mine and we were in his truck.  His banana breath was close.  He asked about my sister, did she still love him?  I said that I had to think about that, and he said that would be fair, was fair, is fair.

He said we should drive for a bit, and we did, we drove all over downtown.  He parked back in the theater parking area, after the silent drive, and I hated thinking about my sister sleeping so much, so hard to wake up.

"She feels like Sleeping Beauty," I said, then felt childish for saying it.  He said, he knew what I meant—but he didn't think he was any kind of prince.  In fact he was sure that he was just the opposite, that he was a "bad" man.

"Bad?" I said, "Really?"

"Well," he said, "we are all flawed, I guess, but I can tell you this, I have thought about the sad scene of this moment, and many things have occurred to me."

I looked behind me for some reason, then turned back to him.  I wasn't sure what he meant, but I could tell he really felt that he was bad.

I sort of scooted toward him.

He said, "Don't ever wish you were like her."

My childhood became a big bag of tangerines, overripe, and I wanted to hurl them at him—one by one.  The buildings blurred.  I kissed him, and he kissed me back.  Then he drove me home, and I never asked God for more.  

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