by Chris Vola
She stops watching South Park on her laptop because, no joke, Cartman reminds her of this blue and red oval-shaped electric egg called an iGasm that she and the Ex bought at an otherwise bland sex shop during a post-finals excursion to the city last semester. Actually, the toy was a joke, a really funny one, but she knows that for a joke to continue to be a real joke it requires an audience that at least sort of gets the punch line, otherwise the teller just comes off as looking a little nuts and lonely. So she finishes her homework and watches a YouTube video about a six-year-old in West Virginia getting spray-tanned and fitted for fake teeth before a pageant. “I’m smiling on the inside,” the little doll mumbles without a hint of mountain twang.
She walks to a dingy Internet café where no one she knows would want to be seen, or even Photoshopped into. The only other person in the three-computer cubby besides the bored Arab dude behind the help desk is a 70-something transvestite with thick burgundy lipstick and matching eye shadow reading an article on an ancient desktop monitor with the headline LARGEST MILITARY EXERCISES ON THE ISLAND that looks like a Bachelorette recap. She sits next to the tranny at the other functioning desktop, palms the crummy mouse and waits for the Internet Explorer 5 to boot. The tranny doesn’t look up, mumbles something that sounds like Haitian-celebrity-personal-trainer-baby at a picture of a woman clutching an infant.
When she’s logged onto Facebook, she goes to work on a massive de-tagging spree, erasing her name from so many familiar images – her shotgunning hookah smoke into the Ex’s mouth; the two of them in matching flannels and her pretending to yank out the Ex’s chin stud; the Ex (in uncharacteristic quasi-Goth makeup) shaving the side of her head during their short-lived Skrillex obsession. By the time her hand starts to cramp she’s eradicated 847 photos, all of which correspond to what her professor mother describes as a “transitional orientation experience” to her colleagues and what her CFO father calls – not playfully – her “spikey dykey rebellion” when he’s golfing with other pale fat men. Before she logs off, she changes her profile picture to a professional prom shot taken a year and a half ago: shoulder-length, tastefully dyed blonde hair, red and white floral-print dress, seated coyly, tan legs facing the camera. She feels the tranny’s eyes on her screen. “Your sister’s cute,” he says, grinning.
Back at the dorm, her roommate Kandi’s already gone for the evening. Another rush event or a lacrosse social or something equally menacing. She hopes Kandi will have the courtesy to get plowed at the frat house of the standard Brooks Brothers douchebag she’ll inevitably attract instead of on the bunk bed they share, though she knows it’s not likely. Kandi’s not one for walks of shame, only nights of it. She notices a plum-colored cardigan and a lacy black bra and thong set poking out from the wreckage of Kandi’s overflowing closet. She picks up the clothes, sniffs them. What she used to smell like before the Ex instituted a strict no-deodorant policy: sweetly opaque. She strips, puts on the underwear and sweater, helps herself to a seldom-used Marc Jacobs miniskirt poking out from Kandi’s refuse and heads to the bathroom. Products in cute pastel cases with names like Dream Nude and Baby Lips line the sink, none of them hers. She gathers what she needs, applies, clumsy, reapplies. Tries to remember if the clown-face staring back in the mirror looks anything like the one in the prom photo. The eyes aren’t right, she decides, and as she leans towards the glass a ringtone she thought she deleted echoes from somewhere in the room and she stabs herself with the eyeliner pen.
The reviews she read on Yelp lauded the bar’s “killer happy hour” and “chill lounge vibe,” with music ranging from “Katy Perry to 90s alternative” and “THE BEST GUACAMOLE EVER =)” but the more immediate reason for choosing it is because a guy in her sociology class said they never check IDs. True enough, she gets in – no problem – weaves her way past the cluttered beer pong tables in the front, past the mostly suited post-collegiate dudes screaming at a basketball game projected on an expansive wall of flatscreens, past familiar eyes that don’t recognize her and leer at this piece of new meat in Kandi’s tight-bottomed skirt, the exposed bra strap. Two girls from her dorm are sitting at the bar, slugging Long Island Iced Teas and cackling at something on one of their phones. She sidles up to the empty stool next to them and it takes a few moments for them to realize who she is and when they do they exchange an OMG/WTF/ROFL eye roll and both start texting, meth-quick. She doesn’t say hi. Instead, she orders a Jack and Diet and an extra shot of Jack from the melt-jawed bartender who’s in his mid-30s and might have once been attractive, downs both, orders the same thing. She’s finishing her fourth round when the bartender, who’s bought her the last two, asks her something like how does it feel to be the most sought after objet in the vicinity in a creepily practiced hipster brogue and she ignores him; her rheumy eyes focus on a nearby beer pong game.
He’s older, blue collared shirt, a face like Rachel Maddow with better bone structure. Her gawking must be blatant because the guy he’s playing with says something to him and points at her and they laugh and she thinks he’s blushing but it might just be a beer flush. She swivels around, embarrassed, and as she’s about to order another round a hand cups her shoulder and he says “I’ve got this one,” to the bartender who shrugs and pours two double Jacks on the rocks without looking up. He sits on the vacant stool to her right and the two girls from her dorm stop texting, glare. The specifics of the conversation are patchy – he’s 26 or 27, got his masters in something monetarily useless like writing or ceramics, works at the bar across the street (which explains the hipster’s animosity) and lives in the neighborhood a couple blocks away. Not that it really matters; she’s just floating on pleasantly hazed-over snapshots. His green (or are they hazel?) eyes searching her face’s periphery, not one-hundred-percent sure if she’s into him. The awkwardly cute brush of his hand against hers as he reaches for his drink. The jealous silence burning to her left. Drinks, of course, give way to well tequila shots and she doesn’t remember why she’s giggling so hard but it must be what her father’s generation calls the right stuff because when he asks if she wants to go back to his place – he’s got some sick weed and he’s DVRed the latest South Park – she leans over and whispers “fuck yeah,” prettily, into his cheek. She turns to the texting-again girls, blows them a kiss and their mouths drop like they’ve been tasered or maybe just voted off the island.
His weed is sick, insofar as it creates a foot race between her head and her stomach to see which will disengage from her body first. Right now, it’s dead even. South Park is a blaze of indefinite pixels and the components of the living room – a dusty bookshelf, generic cityscape and Japanese woodblock print posters, something that might be an old fraternity paddle or a snowshoe – are in similar states of blur. She braces against him to avoid feeling like she’s tumbling off a building or maybe just the couch they’re sitting on and he grins, blushes, wraps his arm around her shoulder, squeezes. At some point there’s a crash in the dark hallway and a squint-eyed roommate creature emerges and requires in so many croaks that they remove themselves to a fucking bedroom because the creature has to be up for a fucking conference call in two fucking hours, which means they must have been discussing something – loud and…passionate? – for a long time and she doesn’t remember what it was and it doesn’t matter because she’s happy to have her head placed on a surprisingly comfortable pillow in a dim room lit by Christmas lights that outline the ceiling. He slumps over a laptop at a nearby desk and she stares at the blue and orange Hindu elephant and vaguely Celtic tapestries that line the walls, a décor choice she’d normally describe as mid-2000s-poseur or post-post-modern-bro-out, but which now seem to be helping stabilize the substance hurricane pounding the base of her skull. An electronic remix of a George Michael song sifts through the speakers at a reasonable volume and he lies next to her on the bed and they stare at the ceiling until the song changes to a dubstep version of t.A.T.u’s “All The Things She Said.” He starts to apologize for the playlist and she grabs his crotch, rough strokes over his jeans and he pulls her face into his mouth, the shock of chin stubble, whiskey tongue, tongues, her fingers fumbling with his zipper, cupping the once-familiar pulsing heft, him plying at the black lace and the skirt and thong collapsing in one motion onto the Persian-ish rug as she arches away because she’s forgotten that she hasn’t shaved in weeks – she remembers Kandi gushing about the puppy-drool reactions her bi-weekly waxes never fail to engender – but he pulls her hips against his, spreads and enters, mumbles stale heat against her neck, how tight she is and she grunts in agreement – how long has it been since prom? – and she wants to add “and wet,” but his tongue’s in her mouth, nibbling at her neck and she can smell herself, his sweat, getting closer, her fingers down there, bucking, still coming as he pulls out and releases a meager spattering on the plaid Ralph Lauren comforter. He rolls over and she stares at the ceiling, panting. The pants give way to chuckles and then to flat-out laughter, and it’s like she’s laughing at a video clip because as the wetness between her legs dissipates she feels herself floating up with it until she’s somewhere near the Christmas lights laughing down at her pants-less scarecrow legs, at him giving her this shy, endearing glance, at her rubbing his stomach, saying, “Congrats dude, you just bagged your first lesbian,” at his uhhhh mouth, at her wriggling – still more than a little tipsy – gathering the clothes on the floor, putting them on while he finds his jeans and takes out a notebook and pen from one of the pockets, him (avoiding eye contact) asking, “How does this work, can I, uh, get your number?” as he scribbles Chris, a phone number and what looks like his Twitter handle on a piece of ripped-out paper, at him handing it to her and her stuffing it into her bra, at her mumbling something contrived like see you around and him lurching up to get a goodbye hug and remembering, “Hey I never got your numb–” but not finishing and slumping onto the bed because she’s already gone.
“Pageants can paint her way to something else, like a jewelry line, a candy line or even just painting her way to success,” a woman explains, deadpan, on a YouTube clip echoing from somewhere in the room. As she wipes makeup and a few flecks of caked spittle from her face, the phone on the bathroom counter emits two distinct beeps in quick succession: a Facebook friend request and a text message ringtone she thought she’d deleted. She looks at the clean face, her face, staring back in the mirror, smiles, reaches for the phone.
Chris Vola is a writer and editor living in New York. He blogs at christophervola.blogspot.com.