ISSUE #111: Sara Lippmann, Judith Linhares, Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings

Posted: Monday, November 23, 2015 | | Labels:

Issue #111 Guest Editor Alice Kaltman is a fiction writer whose work previously appeared in Issue #92. She writes novels for kids and short fiction for adults. For more, visit Alice online at alicekaltman.com and follow her on Twitter.

Painting by Judith Linhares


AMBASSADOR OF FORBIDDEN THINGS
by Sara Lippmann


The mikveh murder was another thing we did not understand. We didn’t even know if it was a murder – it could have been a drowning, an accident, an ill-timed aneurysm, an averse reaction to a freak eel bite – all we knew was a religious woman, one of those turbaned, dark-skirted ladies from the next town over had died in the lake, our lake, while performing her monthly ritual bath.


Issue #111 soundtrack: Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings "Elizabeth"

We knew this because Pete Topper came at us like he was being hunted, or chased. His brother Marc had found the body. Marc ran the Bait & Tackle down the road. Hours before the cops came, before they cordoned off our pristine swimming area in official yellow tape, shutting down any last hope for summer fun, Pete tore through the brush and slalom of white birch and down the hill – his face flushed, his teeth lunging for California, mud splatter on his knees. At 11, he was a wild, gangly thing. We were sprawled out on the floating dock as always. Occasionally, I’d read a book. Amy had zero interests. She was 17 to my 15 so 95% of the time I followed her, loading up a bag each morning with lemons, spray bottle, a six-pack of diet soda and pretzels: salted, extra dark. If we had batteries, we’d lug a cassette player, a handful of tapes. We wore towels like tube dresses down to the lake, the effect more Tampax than Grecian.

Amy swatted the air. Pete was blocking her sun and panting.

“His breath stinks,” she said, and flipped over, as if he weren’t standing right there. Amy had been in a mood all summer. This with our first vacation with Diane, our father’s new wife – the first time back at the lake in three years, the one place our mother had loved – and no one felt like being nice. Instead of talking we tanned. Amy’s skin deepened to a rich caramel whereas I burned, not that it deterred me; rather, we relished the char, waiting for it to bubble and flake in a thin white crust around the blistery edges. “Peel me,” I’d say, and Amy would twist up my hair in a clip and link behind me like a chain. This was the extent of my sister’s affection: stripping the skin on my back in flat, dead sheets.

When Amy heard Marc’s name, she shot up. Marc Topper was an ambassador of all forbidden things. Either 23 or 32, he had strong arms and angry brows and high, sharp bones, shit kickers, and cut-up dungarees. If he ever made eye contact he looked like he might strangle you or devour you whole, just like in the movies. The only glint of a smile from Amy I’d seen all month was when our father found the tangled poles in the shed and proposed trout fishing. Diane stayed home with her saltines. The smell, she said, the sway of the current, but we did not understand. Our mother would have been the first out the door. While our dad readied the dock, Amy and I went over to the Bait & Tackle for live bait. The shop was damp and ill lit and reeked of fish guts but Amy plopped her tin can on the counter, bit her bottom lip so it puffed more than usual and told Marc Topper, “Fill me up.”

Now, to Pete, she said, “No fucking way.”

“Waaaaay,” Pete said, satisfied.

I told him to slow down, back up, start over, but he was sweating, dirt streaking his freckles, he couldn’t get the words out fast enough. A naked woman. Face down. Hair splayed. Pale as the underside of a smallmouth bass. Her body hadn’t been in the water for too long, maybe overnight. There were no identifying markers. No cuts, birthmarks. No signs of rot or foul play. Unadorned as the day she was born. He said it all with a shiver, his eyes alive with the story.

“Where is he?” Amy hooked the straps of her bikini top.

Pete said Marc probably was where he always was: in the garage or at the shop or down at the station, how the heck did he know. He stuck out his chin.

“I’m not my brother’s keeper.”

Amy opened her mouth but caught herself and reeled back into her pout. So I left it, too. I didn’t ask what Marc was doing in the lake or at what time he found her. Marc was an angler. When he wasn’t fishing, he pulled live bait, night crawlers and minnows, from the muck to hock at the shack. Day, night. That’s what he did, what his own father had done, what Pete likely would do. It was their family business.

A pair of geese skidded across the lake in a ripple of less-than signs. The wind broke through our flesh. It was almost September.

But the ritual aspect, that made no sense. How did they know? I’d never even heard the word mikveh. Who the hell goes out in a lake, naked, alone, in the name of God?

Pete shrugged. He was just repeating what Marc had said, assumed we’d know all about it being as she was our people. But Amy and I were Jewish in the manner of patent leather pumps and pleated fall skirts once a new year. That was it for belonging. We hadn’t any exposure to faith. With our mother gone, there was little to believe in beyond our own self-pity. The truth was, we still saw our mom a few times a year. She didn’t give us up as much as she did the bullshit of laundry and regular roast night, trading the strip mall for wheat germ and yoga in her adobe home filled with aroused body parts she’d carved with her own hand. She was the sculpture artist-in-residence at some institute in Santa Fe. Mental institute, Dad said because it was still hard to believe anyone could pass on what he had to offer. That May, he married Diane. She padded around the house in aerobics tights and braided headbands and had no problem with his shirts and socks. She hired someone else to do it. Soon, she’d hire a nanny.

“Let’s ask Lech,” I said. Ira Lechbaum was our neighbor slash landlord slash godfather. Technically, he owned our house, he owned a gazillion acres all around Scout Lake, but we’d been renting from him for so long, cluttering the place up with our albums and board games we’d just as well laid claim to it. That summer he’d lent it to our dad for free, not that we knew it. Lech lived in a shitty bungalow he’d had hauled by flatbed from Max Mendel’s Mountain Village before it shut down, planted his dinky Catskills memento deep in the woods about ten minutes from us. It smelled like boiled cabbage, was maybe 500 square feet. I could count on one hand the number of times I’d been there.

Amy did not argue. She threw on a Pink Floyd T-shirt she’d hacked at the neck. It slid off her brown shoulders. Pete Topper bumbled behind us.

Lech was on his porch.

“My, if it isn’t the Wiener girls.” He rose from his Adirondack chair in a flannel and khakis, the versatile survivalist kind you can unzip and turn into shorts or a rope, blow up into a flotation device, but everything was twisted, stuck to him, wet. Beside him, the switch and slow whine of Neil Young on the player – there is a town on North Ontario – the abrupt scratch of a needle signaling an end. Lech sucked his teeth as if all this time he’d been waiting.

“To what do I owe the honor?” His voice carried the coarse lilt of an uncle we’d all forgotten. Over six feet, squat thumbs and hairy knuckles, Lech possessed a beastly quality – both lovable and imposing. I simultaneously felt sad for him and feared him and somehow wanted to protect him, from what or whom I had no clue. Then Lech saw Pete.

“What’s with the toothpick?” He waved him off. “Dream on, Slim. These princesses are out of your league.”

The word “princess” made me cringe almost as much as our last name, whose cruelty persisted regardless of the pronunciation. Amy vowed she would change it when she turned 18. She had a new one picked out, already, without any irony: Gold. Her monogram would be AGE, which she planned to tattoo on her hipbone – if only to aggravate our father. Pete reddened and retreated, but Amy yanked him and dug her nails into him. In awkward sync they climbed the stairs of Lech’s cabin, a poorly hammered patchwork of lumberyard scraps.

“What can I do you for? Pilot light out again?”

He struck a match and blew. There was a staged aspect to him, although Lech meant well. His parents had also come from an unspeakable place, so he and my father shared a silent history even before they’d met in swim class at City College where, like so many, they’d first learned to float. After graduation, Lech made the big time. He bought and sold the schlocky company his father worked for to some middle-of-the-road sportswear designer, similar to but not Tommy Hilfiger. While our father flopped around, Lech relocated his folks to Florida, married a beauty queen, enrolled a couple of kids in private school, and then precipitously pissed it all away without more explanation than he had but one life, one lousy shot to squeeze meaning from this cold world which led him out of Manhattan and up to Sullivan County where he’d been living like a hermit for I don’t know how many years.

He hadn’t always been a loner. There was the time we all camped under the stars, my mother’s laughter, the smooth gray edges of skipping stones, but few others. His children were ten years older, an eon when you’re young. We’d stopped asking about them. Before she left, our mother would feed Lech, carry over pots or have him up for soup and beans and homemade bread. Those days were over. Dad said he no longer understood him.

Like everyone else, he was a stranger to Diane.

To us, Lech was as inextricable from the landscape as the lake and dock. We never gave a thought to what he did all day. But the guy knew from Jews. Whenever Dad was unsure, shoes or stocking feet, boxes or straight-backed chairs, floral arrangements or stones, if we could postpone Grandma Pearl’s shiva until after his precious vacation, he consulted Lech. The man was a Yeshiva Yoda.

“I wasn’t expecting company,” he said, dusting his thighs in a funny bow. The bunk sank to one side like 1959. He disappeared through the screen. We chipped at the railing’s green paint, exposing pulpy gray wood. He brought out a funky brew in mason jars, a sleeve of cookies. Kombucha, he called it, like a magic word. We did not eat or drink.

Asked about the mikveh, Lech made a sour face. He tightened his ponytail. He studied the three of us for a few minutes without speaking. He stroked his beard, grown not for fashion but from disregard. If he was basking in it, his eyes trailing shamelessly over Amy’s body, that was OK. She loved attention. I doubted he had many visitors. How lonely he must have been. Even if this was the path he’d chosen, it’s impossible to know from the start of things how anything will pan out.

“Why the sudden interest in tradition?”

“No interest.” Amy held his gaze.

He slurped his glass and told us about niddah. A wretched practice, he said, swallowing, to treat women like lepers, to banish them from the bedroom, when in reality they were God’s gift. The mikveh, he said, was an attempt to make things right again for the gentler sex, to redeem a wife’s purity after a spell of impurity.

“The gentler sex?”

“Like baptism,” he went on, ignoring Amy. “Dunk after bleeding. After the plunge she’s deemed clean. Ready to engage in – ” He paused, searching the threaded clouds. A hawk soared overhead. Lech sucked his teeth. “Marital play.”

I laughed.

“How am I funny?”

“You’re not.” Amy nudged Pete’s arm. Pete stumbled forward and told Lech the rest.

“Jesus Christ.” Lech’s expression changed. Color drained from his lips, which moved like worms, barely audible. Baruch Dayan Ha-Emet. He rocked on his feet in prayer, clutched his chest as if it’d been punctured, as if he was trying to hold himself together at the site of injury. And yet, Lech said. How very strange. Curious. Downright peculiar – albeit not forbidden – for a woman like that to use a lake and not the designated bathhouses of her community, some of which could be quite spiffy, like a spa. Any flowing body of water is acceptable, he said. In theory. Lech paced the porch. He scratched his nose. So what. So maybe the mikveh was out of order. But there were bodies of water throughout Sullivan County. Why leave the shtetl? He spun a finger. What was wrong with her lake? It didn’t add up. What kind of woman would have schlepped all the way out here?

“And another thing,” Lech said, “If I’m not mistaken. A woman needs someone to watch over her during the immersion, to make sure the ritual is kosher.”

The bottom line - she should not have been alone.

Days later, her name was released in the paper. Chani Roth – it meant nothing to us. We were packing up. Even though the lake had been dredged and reopened you couldn’t pay us to go back in. The weather had turned. Inside the house there were horseflies everywhere, black and slow as licorice beans. Dad and Diane were fighting. Amy and I sat on the couch. We stared at Chani’s face in newsprint. We’d never seen her, and even if we had driven past her at the Glatt Mart in Monroe, or along Route 17 on a Saturday afternoon, where throngs of bearded, hatted families gave us the evil eye as we offended their Sabbath strolls down the middle of the street, it would not have registered. Her head covering snapped to her skull like a shell, it was difficult to imagine what she might have looked like under other circumstances. In a different world. Her features seemed delicate and untouched, her eyes raised slightly as if in question. The image was grainy. She was the mother of four girls, the obituary reported. She was not yet 30.

Before we left, we stopped by the Bait & Tackle. It was raining and raw, the kind of cold that felt worse than it was. I wasn’t dressed for it. Amy’s sweatshirt drowned out her shorts, making her look naked underneath. We stood on an orange stack of milk crates and spied through the back window. Locals loitered with coffee cups, suspenders and waders. Marc Topper parceled out bait. Through the dusty pane we watched him count his lures and feathers and arrange them in little boxes, his eyes, large and stormy, silent as always. The radio was playing Can you tell a green field from a cold steel rail? Maybe he was stoned. That summer heroin had arrived in the county, and the paper was all over the story. Maybe he was just bored. Who could blame him? I was antsy. I wanted to go in or go for good. I tapped Amy on the shoulder but she wouldn’t budge. She was practically weeping. She could cry like that – from anything. From nothing. “Last chance,” I said. I kicked the base. Amy lost her balance. She whipped around to slug me but there was skinny Pete crouched innocently over a puddle of baby frogs. Could we believe it? He said. He opened his fist. Only last week the suckers had tails.


Sara Lippmann's debut collection, Doll Palace (Dock Street Press) was long-listed for the 2015 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award. She was the recipient of an artist's fellowship in fiction from the New York Foundation for the Arts, and her stories have appeared in Carve, Slice Magazine, Tupelo Quarterly, Joyland, Fiction Southeast and elsewhere. For more, visit saralippmann.com.

Judith Linhares’s paintings have been the subject of 40 one-person exhibitions. Marcia Tuckers’s inclusion of her paintings in the Landmark Bad Painting and Venice Biennale encouraged this fourth-generation Californian to ride the New Figuration wave to New York City. She has received three National Endowment Awards, a Guggenheim fellowship, a Polllock-Krasner, Anonymous Was A Woman, and a Joan Mitchell award. She also was honored by the American Academy of Arts and Letters. For more, visit judithlinhares.com.

Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings is a band built around Davis' love of traditional American music, the collective eclectic backgrounds of band members Sam Petitti (guitar), Dag Markhus (drums), and Dan Stein (bass). Based in New York City, Bridget Davis and the Viking Kings released their first full length album I Wasn't Planning On the End in September 2015 on Lindisfarne Records. For more, please visit them on Bandcamp, Facebook, Soundcloud.

ISSUE #110: Jillian Eugenios, Eliza Plumlee, Party Nails

Posted: Monday, November 9, 2015 | | Labels:

Issue #110 Guest Editor Chloe Caldwell is the author of the novella Women (SF/LD 2014) and the essay collection Legs Get Led Astray (Future Tense Books 2012). Her work has appeared in Salon, VICE, Nylon, The Sun, Men's Health, The Rumpus and a handful of anthologies. Her next essay collection, I'll Tell You In Person, will be released by Coffee House/Emily Books in November 2016. For more, visit chloecaldwell.com.

Art by Eliza Plumlee


HOW TO BE STOOD UP
by Jillian Eugenios


She’s a model. You have never met a model before, let alone dated one.

You meet at a party. It’s the closing of a play. It was your job to do the light projections.

Issue #110 soundtrack: Party Nails "No Pressure"



The play is about a woman who gets lost everywhere she goes because she suffers from a neurological disorder that affects her memory of space and time. The woman has to draw maps so that she knows how to get to work, the grocery store, the doctor. She wanders the stage the entire show, trying to get home, because that’s the map she’s lost.

To get home she follows the other maps, and asks if anyone knows her address. She has friends and family, but she is embarrassed to call them and ask for help. She resolves to find her way on her own, as if she is on a treasure hunt.

“Do you know where I live?” she asks the man where she gets her shoes soled.

He does not. She shows him her maps. They are in a large binder. She opens it for him like she is trying to sell him something. Every time she opens her binder, a ray of light shoots out, as if it has a spotlight inside it. You made that happen.

“I want it to look like every time she opens her binder, God is coming out of it,” Claire, the director of the play, who is also the writer, said to you.

The man at the shoe repair shop suggests to the woman that she go ask at the grocery store, because people usually go to the one closest to their house, and maybe the staff there will recognize her. He adds that the map she has isn’t a very good one, and draws her a new map on the back of a receipt.

She thanks him and adds it to her binder.

The projections light up the walls around the stage and turn into different scenes as the woman moves through the play. At first everything looks normal -- just your regular shops, bus stops and crowds -- but as the play continues the projections become more abstract, and darker.

“Scare the audience,” Claire told you. You study the faces in the audience every night, trying to determine if they are scared. Some of them seem interested, but not necessarily afraid. Night after night, you wonder if you’ve failed.

“Just ask someone how they feel,” says your roommate, Shaw. She is a flight attendant, and is comfortable asking strangers questions.

“No, I can’t do that,” you say.

Nobody reviewed the play, so you don’t know if it’s any good, or if a critic would like your trick with the binder.

You don’t know many people at the party so you go and sit alone in the dressing room behind the stage. There are some bottles of wine, and you hold them to the light. All empty. The only thing left is some red wine in a coffee mug.

You sit at the mirror, with its classic light bulbs on the sides, and look at yourself. Your roots are coming in, silver against brown. Your mother, who blames your dad’s side for the gray, has recently sent you prenatal vitamins because she thinks your hair is also thinning and she read prenatal vitamins help. You don’t take them, but they are in your medicine cabinet, and every time you open it a happy woman cradling a baby is smiling at you.

“I hate that woman,” Shaw said when she saw it. You do too, but neither of you throw the box out.

The first time you see the model it is her reflection in the mirror. She has blonde hair, no gray. She looks at you, and you feel a warm eruption in your chest. It catches you off guard because you’ve never felt like that around another woman. It just hits you, and, suddenly, there it is, lodged in your heart.

“Booze gone?” she asks. You whirl around. She is tall. You hope she didn’t catch you examining your roots. She’s so tall she takes up all of the space in front of you, and the light from the stage is behind her, through the door, and you catch the shadows jumping from her shoulders. She is wearing all black, and something that looks like a cape, but you aren’t sure if it is.

You want to give her something.

“You can have some of my wine,” you say. You hold the mug out to her. She takes it, gives it a sip. You hope there isn’t something gross in there.

“What are you doing back here?” she asks.

She cradles the mug in both hands, like it’s a hot cup of coffee. You imagine her on the porch of a cabin in the woods, in a cable knit sweater, her hair a mess.

“Hiding,” you say. You hope this sounds mysterious. But she doesn’t ask what -- or who -- you’re hiding from.

“What do you do?” She gestures around the dressing room. “Actress?”

You’re reminded of your friend, who hates it when people ask, “What do you do?” Instead, he asks, “What are you passionate about?” This friend has also stopped wearing underwear and socks, because he says he wants less between himself and the world.

“I’m a visual artist,” you say. This is a new line you’re trying out. Before you would say “projector artist” or “I do lights,” but your friend Millie, an actual actress, said visual artist sounds better.

“More marketable,” she said.

Millie made you a greeting card when you moved to New York eight years ago. She wrote, “Let’s make lots of money and sleep with beautiful people.” Neither of these things have happened to you. Millie has done better. She has a boyfriend who has been in national commercials.

“What do you do?” you ask. What are you passionate about?

“I’m a model,” she says. No one has ever said this to you before.

You don’t know anything about fashion and you don’t know what your next question should be. Your pants are secondhand and cost $12. Aware of this, you cross your legs, and wish you had worn the black dress you had on first, that cost $100. That dress is so tight you have to wear special underwear with it. You wonder if the model is famous, and you suddenly can’t remember what one model looks like, except for the German one.

“Are you German?” you ask. She laughs.

“No,” she says, and looks at you.

You look down. Why did you ask that?

Claire saves you. There she is, peering into the dressing room from the stage. “Conrad,” she says, “beer run.” Claire insists on calling you by your full name, instead of what everyone else calls you, which is Connie. You hate that the model heard your full name.

Later, you’re in the theater seats with the beer, the model, the actress from the play and Claire. Most of the party has moved on, but you stayed, hoping the model would look at you some more.

Claire has a new play she’s working on. Everyone looks at Claire when she talks. She is very pretty. Her pants definitely cost more than $12, or even $100.

“It’s about a woman who is the opposite of a hoarder,” she says. “She throws everything away. She would rather buy a thing and use it once, throw it away and then buy it again than have it in her house.”

Claire loves people with disorders. It does not seem to bother her that no one who matters cared about her lost woman show.

In Claire’s new play, the character is constantly buying and throwing away essentials -- toothpaste, shampoo, deodorant. Her house is spartan, because everything has ended up in the trash, so she starts going to her friend’s houses and slowly taking their things and throwing them away. Sometimes she sells the items to support her habit, which gets expensive.

“The character likes really nice shampoo,” Claire says, laughing. “She’s like a drug addict kind of. It’s like the behavior of a drug addict, but an addiction to throwing out stuff.”

Claire says it’s a real disorder. “I looked it up.” The model says she thinks she’s heard of it. As she listened to Claire, she was stroking the actress’ arm. You aren’t sure if they are a couple.

The actress, Georgia, is from the South. You wonder if she knows that her name means farmer. You know this because your mother is an onomatologist, a person who studies names. More often than not, you can tell someone what their name means without having to look it up.

Your name means strength. It’s also a last name, and a boys’ name. Your mother says she did this to challenge you.

“I wasn’t about to name you something easy, like Jennifer or Sarah,” she has said to you, many times. “We’re fighters in our family.”

Your mother was born Lucille but she renamed herself Elsbeth when she was old enough to change it. People constantly think her name is Elizabeth and that they just haven’t heard it right.

Georgia looks nothing like a farmer, or even someone familiar with dirt and sweat. You also just realized she hasn’t said anything about your lights, but you have complimented her acting, even though you don’t think she’s very good. Millie is much better.

Claire doesn’t mention if she’s going to need light projections for this new play.

You hear Millie’s voice in your head. She would say you should send over lighting ideas the very next day, to show you are motivated. Claire pays -- and pays well, there’s family money -- so you definitely should. But you can’t think of one idea for the lighting.

You do think of the bags and bags of clothes in your closet that you’ve been meaning to donate.

Once, you saw that show about hoarders. A man had a beautiful Victorian home in San Francisco and he filled it with garbage. On the show, there is an intervention, and then people in hazmat suits start taking everything out and putting it into dumpsters.

The hoarder guy seems to handle it okay, but then, a worker wheels out a wheelbarrow and inside is a cracked fish tank, big enough for several big fish or eels. The hoarder runs to the wheelbarrow and throws himself over the fish tank.

He cries, and tries to hold the tank to his chest, but he can’t fit his arms around the whole thing. If only he could keep his broken fish tank they can throw away everything else.

“Just please,” he says, “let me keep this one thing.”

He isn’t allowed to keep it. He wails as it crashes into the dumpster, breaking into pieces. There is a voice-over of the show’s therapist, who says hoarders need to know that they can’t keep anything.

In the next shot, the man is sitting under a tree, his face pale and vacant. You wish you knew him. You would send him a fish tank. Cracked, too, if that’s how he wanted it. You would find out how to crack it without destroying it, and you would give it to him.

You have a cigarette outside before leaving the party. The model comes out, alone. She sits next to you.

“Hi,” she says. She smiles. When you smile back, she looks down.

“I love you,” she says. Her eyes are fixed on the ground.

You look at her. It’s dark outside, but her blonde hair glows.

The last time someone said that to you it was your older sister, who is the only person in your family who says that. She started saying it after she had kids.

“I love you, I love you, I love you,” the model is saying. She is looking down as she says it, and then you realize. She is looking at your shoes.

One of your nieces, the one who is seven and hugs strangers, wrote “I love you,” several times over, on the side of your left shoe, in the white part of the rubber. You told her she could, because you’ve had these shoes forever, and who notices old black Converses, anyway? The model does.

“My niece wrote that,” you say.

“That’s cute,” she says. She is stroking your arm, but you feel it in other places. “Nobody has ever written that on my shoes.”

Then she is gone, running into a cab with the farmer.

Later, home alone, you think about the model’s face. You touch the place on your arm where her fingers were.

You turn off the lights and click on your projector, which faces the largest, whitest wall in the living room of your apartment. This is your wall. Shaw has one too, at the opposite end of the room, and it is covered in photos from her travels.

You queue up one of your favorite projections from the computer that’s attached to the projector. You call this one The Universe, and you made it years ago but use it often, especially at parties after everyone has smoked something.

The background is dark blue and there are white dots everywhere, in different sizes, like stars. It takes up the entire wall. This projection animates, and turns in a circle, so it is like looking into a whirlpool. You sit on your couch and watch it turn, imagining it would be like this to float in space, spinning and spinning in an infinite pool of darkness and light.

The next day there’s an email waiting. It’s from the model, whose name is Ponie. There’s no last name, just Ponie. That can’t possibly be her real name, you think. And it’s spelled wrong, anyway, if it is. Your mother would never approve.

My Little Ponie, you think, and imagine her surrounded by plastic horses with fuschia manes and tails.

She wants to take you on an adventure. There is a date and time. It is in two days.

You write back immediately. What kind of adventure? You can make that date and time.

In the hours that it takes her to write back, you paint trash can lids and try not to look at your email. You paint the lids red, with white stars along the inside. You plan to cut holes in the tops for light bulbs. It is a birthday gift for your other sister, the one who also has a boys’ name. It’s going to be a chandalier.

You’ve never thought about dating a girl before. It’s always been men, and that’s been fine. Shaw slept with a girl once. It was in Brazil, and she didn’t like it.

“I got her stuff all over my hands,” Shaw said. She was sitting in front of your projector, whiskey in hand, as you tested different lights.

“I’m too clean for that,” she said. “Girls are all messy down there. You know what I mean.”

You nodded, and thought of yourself, and wondered if the men you’ve slept with thought of you as messy down there. You switched the light on Shaw’s face from red to blue so she went from looking scary to looking like a cartoon character.

“The Brazilian girl had good boobs though,” she said. “I wish I had her boobs.”

You think about Ponie, and that she probably has good boobs. Model boobs. You don’t think you would mind the girl mess.

You imagine telling your parents about Ponie. Not coming out, because you aren’t gay, but telling them you are dating a girl. You decide they will be accepting. You hope your sisters will be shocked.

When Ponie writes back she says to meet her in Little Italy, which is not anywhere near where you live. You’ve only been to that part of the city once, when your parents came to visit, and you went on a historical walking tour. The only thing you remember is that the guide said there aren’t any Italians in Little Italy anymore.

Ponie sends exact coordinates. Mulberry Street and Grand Street, northwest corner. She ignores your question about what kind of adventure it will be. You hope that it will involve something with the Mob, because you love those Mob shows.

Ponie is looking forward to seeing you, she says. “I hope you will write something on my shoes,” she writes.

You respond and say you don’t think she is ready for that yet.

Flirting with girls is so easy. You tell this to Millie.

“How do know it’s even a date?” Millie asks. You have called her the day of the date, to discuss outfit choices.

“It’s a date,” you say. “She touched my arm.”

“Is that supposed to be some kind of girl-on-girl code? I touched the arms of at least three girls today.”

Millie didn’t like your last boyfriend, who always asked where you were, and who you were with and was usually offended when it wasn’t with him. He was jealous of Millie.

“I’m a lesbian now,” you tell Millie.

“You are not,” she says. You can tell she is smiling. “Wear that one dress.”

You hang up, and go to your closet. You move the $100 black dress out of it, and hook it over the drawers of your dresser. There are some little bleach stains on the skirt. You take out a black marker and touch it up. Perfect.

You are at the corner 15 minutes early. When you get nervous you stamp your feet, like a horse, and that’s what you are doing now. You’ve worn boots because Millie said heels were too much.

30 minutes later, you think about what will happen if Ponie doesn’t show. You check your email on your phone. Nothing. She just wouldn’t not show, would she? You realize she doesn’t have your number. Maybe you got the day wrong, or the time. You check the email again. You did not.

Your nerves have made you start to sweat, and when you wipe your forehead makeup comes off on your fingers. Your rub your hands together.

You walk half a block to a convenience store and take as long as possible to buy a bottle of water. The woman behind the counter is young, and has very short hair. You wonder if she is a lesbian. You want to tell her you think you’re getting stood up, and ask if that has ever happened to her. Is this what girls do? You want to know.

On the walk back to the corner, you think, okay, if she’s there you will pretend you are arriving 25 minutes late and be very apologetic. You got held up at work! These clients! Artists are never on time! You didn’t have her number so couldn’t let her know.

Nobody is on the corner. Not even anyone trying to cross the street. It’s just you.

You sip your water, tap your toes. Wait. You watch a family across the street argue about which way is north. They go south.

Once it has been nearly an hour past the meeting time you know she isn’t coming. You let this sink in. As it does, you start to feel exposed, as if everyone knows, and they can all see you, standing there in your dress, The Girl Who Has Been Stood Up.

You peer down at the skirt of your dress. You can see the spots where you touched it up with the marker. Everyone can probably tell. Who are you fooling?

Underneath your dress, you are wrapped in the special underwear, which is nude spandex. You’re squeezed, a mouse trapped by a coiling boa constrictor. You stick your arm out, and decide to spend all the money you’ve budgeted for this date (who pays when two girls go out?) on one cab ride back home.

You spend the entire ride with your eyes closed, and feel very small. You think about what you will write her, and then decide you won’t ever speak to her again. But, if she writes you, you might write back, depending what she says.

When you walk in the door, your peel everything off and throw yourself on the couch, naked. Shaw would hate that you are doing this but you don’t care. You don’t know what to do now.

The room is silent. You check your email. Even if she wrote now, almost two hours late, and said she could meet, you would meet her. But there is nothing in your inbox but ads. You wonder if this was all a joke she and the farmer were playing on you.

Stretching from the couch you click on the projector, and queue up a piece you rarely use. It’s an animated drawing of a man sitting on a bench. You drew him. He is old and wearing a hat.

It was a commission that was never used because the artist couldn’t pay. You kept it, hoping to sell it to someone who needs a man on a bench. There’s something strange about this man, though, so he’s hard to sell.

The artist wanted the man to move, as he said it, “like a plant underneath the surface of the ocean, moving with the waves. The idea is that he can’t ever sit still, and even when he sits, his body ripples.” You didn’t ask why or what it was supposed to mean. You never do.

You click from your computer and the man is suddenly on your wall, waiting. You sit in the dark and watch him ripple on his bench.

You think about Claire’s play, and think of Ponie, and wonder why you care so much that she doesn’t care at all.

I love you, I love you, I love you.

You eye your shoes, which are across the room.

At the end of Claire’s play, the woman who can’t find her way becomes one of the projections. She is a tiny figure walking along a bridge that ends abruptly on the edge of a cliff. When she comes to the end she stops and looks out.

And then, the man from the shoe repair shop is there on the stage, and stands beneath the projection. He holds the binder out to her. This time, there is no light of God coming from it. The woman jumps off the bridge, falling into her collection of maps.

Everything goes dark.

There is a pause, and then the audience applauds.


Jillian Eugenios is a journalist and writer. She lives in New York. For more, visit the author at jillianeugenios.com and follow her on Twitter.

Eliza Plumlee is an artist, writer, aspiring muralist, fruit connoisseur, language enthusiast, and world traveler. She currently is lives nowhere, but has a storage space in Portland, Oregon, and few boxes in her parents Tucson, Arizona garage. For more, visit the artist online at evidenceofbeing.com.

Party Nails is the pop incarnation of songwriter/performer Elana Belle Carroll. Veering off the dark electro path of her first NYC solo project Vernous, Party Nails takes the opposite path towards fun party times and lands sonically in a pop space somewhere between Haim, Charli XCX and Robyn. Visit Party Nails online at partynailsband.com.