Three years past pretty

Maggie Valentine has no idea how old she is. Not in the sense of calendars and birthdays, these details she of course knows well enough, marked as they are with parties, and resolutions, and the requisite attention to the big years. Rather, it is the final number that doesn’t make sense to her, the tally of her years as if the age she has landed at is a place, irrefutable, like the next city plotted on a map. She does not feel 37. She sometimes experiences a jolt of surprise to hear this actress, or that singer, someone she sees the details of regularly, is a particular, much younger age than that. When she would swear these women are contemporaries, older even, than she is. It is as if she has the wrong idea about everything now.

In truth, Maggie Valentine is approximately three years past pretty. Though filters and animal ears hide this in her most commonly shared photographs, it is a reality she sees in the mirror every morning. The slacked jaw, the fold-down corners of her mouth, the stomach rounded and hips fleshed. She has not grown old with someone, has only herself to wake up to each morning, and this is what she sees. A woman well past pretty, still sexy, even beautiful at times, but there is little youth to be found in her features now. This, she has to accept.

But how to be 37? How to understand in her bones what that means, when it is nothing that they told her it would be (They. Her mother. Women’s magazines. People who should have known better).

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I missed Maggie V. So I’m revising her at a different time. Just to see where she’ll take me 😉

 

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It’s my story too

Joe. The first man I have touched who isn’t you. The thrill of it will not leave me tonight, laying here with my hands resting under my belly. I will allow myself the thoughts that have crested in, I will let them wash over me, because it is just hormones, and I’m lonely, and he looks enough like you for this to be okay.

I have not desired sex since you died. And yet I have been saturated in it all the same. Your affair, it permeates my life, it settles over my sleep, and flares throughout the day. I have re-read Maggie Valentine’s emails a hundred times these past few weeks, it is like I have my hands on one of those illicit novels we used to pass around in high school. Except this time I’m in it somehow, it’s my story too, even when I only appear in the shadows.

I am jealous of you, Ben. I am angry and jealous of your second life, this other life you lived so fully without me. Did it feel like that, the first time? Did your finger pulse when you first touched her? The way mine turned to an electric current tonight? Did you back away like I did, but continue to feel it, just the same? That inexplicable, intriguing something. The realisation that there is so much more happening under the skin than we are ever aware of. Do we all come to this awareness, eventually? Are we all just waiting our turn to betray each other? Have we betrayed ourselves first, by settling for one kind of feeling, when there are so many other worlds waiting to open up inside us?

Fuck. I don’t want to understand this. I don’t want to see how easy it could be.

How long before you pursued it, this something? Did you fight it, or did you lie in bed next to me, and roll the memory between your fingers, did you play it out across your skin the way I am now? I have my hand between my legs, it is the first time I have done this in years. The sin of it sits tight in my chest and throat, yet the heat feels like some kind of preparation. My fingers move in the slowest of circles, and I close my eyes against their pattern, and the heat. Is that what happened, Ben? Did you solidify the experience by coming against an image of her face, did this imprint on your brain so that one little spark turned into an explosion, and there you were, burning away at its centre? I can see Joe’s face now as the waves begin; I have my hand on his lip, and it isn’t you as my orgasm is wrenched out of me. I do not even bother to stifle the guttural cry that comes with the release. My body has betrayed me for the first time in my life, and I feel a kind of triumphant terror as my eyes re-adjust to the dark.

It is just the hormones. I am flush with pregnancy hormones. It is nothing else, and it is not some kind of understanding. I do not understand what you did, Ben. I do not forgive what you did. We are not the same.

~ Anna, LOVED

2017

For my last post of the summer, I flicked to a random page of my first manuscript. A little game to see what I might have forgotten. But oh, I remember writing this 😉

 

Happiness has its own weight

It might have been different had I arrived in the summer.

The city is a different island in the summertime, open, clear-skied and brilliant blue to the edges. Even the mucky shore-water out at Rockaway lightens itself, can almost be seen through if you open your eyes before a wave breaks and pulls you into the swirl. Summer here is dresses and sleeves shorter, legs leaner, drinks clinking earlier in the day, the days themselves longer, stretching out like Amsterdam, an avenue of sunlight, headed toward whatever comes next. Had I arrived here in the summer, I might have walked that line for longer, gotten far enough away. But I arrived late in the fall. The season of contracted light, of colors leaching. I arrived tilted away from the sun, and by the time winter came I had forgotten what it felt like to be warm. Forgotten sun slicking down my shoulders, sweat pooling in the creases of my skin, that ribbon of salt and water to be washed off in cool showers, before it wraps around you all over again.

There is a girl in Sheep Meadow, she’s sitting on the edge of a checkered blanket, feet bare and tucked beneath her. She looks expectant, waiting. The group of young men she sits with talk fast, easy, conversations bouncing over invisible nets, a volley and return of words, punctuated by laughter and exclamation. She is part of this, but to the side, a decoration. Unknown, but invited. Knowing the boy in the middle the longest – three, four days now, since they started talking at the laundromat, she not knowing how to get the coins to load, and he, extracting her newness, offering a thin line of friendship and his number – Come! It’s just some friends and some food in the park. They’ll all love your accent, darling. His boyfriend duly playing the part, asking her to say particular words over and again. Clapping at her vowels, rolling off the picnic blanket in a kind of mocking kindness before pouring warm white wine into her plastic cup – Ching Ching, darling! –  and telling her his own stories of the day and his life. There can be such quick intimacy to strangers. She discovers he is a hairdresser for that famous actress, and no he can’t share any secrets, but yes, that rumor really is true – it’s always true, darling! and she sips at her warm wine, smiling at her life, here, right now, in this fading light. She brought cantaloupe, diced in a plastic cup, and purple grapes, and a oversize bag of potato chips. Someone made brownies, set them out in the middle of the blanket as an offer, the residue under her fingernails now, she picks at the chocolate with her teeth, unable to say, perhaps not even knowing, how much she craves the taste of something home-made. Someone turns up music through a tinny phone speaker, Stevie Wonder becomes their soundtrack as the group passes around a joint, the weed packed tight into a ceramic cigarette. Flimsy disguise, barely a nod, as the distinctive smell wafts to other blankets, other picnics in this dusky park.

She got lost on the way here, mixed up her lakes, but she knows she’ll find her way home. It’s always easier to find your way back, but there’s something thrilling about getting lost she thinks, as she stands up and begins to dance to the familiar music, joining her new friends in their loose-limbed celebration. She can taste the weed in the back of her throat, feel her tongue go thick with it, and she’s happier than she might have ever been, with her new friends whose names she can’t remember, and their stories, and her welcoming. She hitches her flowing dress into the seams of her underwear, exposes her thighs and dances the sun all the way down the sky, twirling with him, and him, and by herself, in all this open space that she could never have imagined existed until now.

When, one by one, her new friends peel themselves away, heading off to clubs and bars and other people’s parties, she kisses them on both cheeks with each farewell, laughs and promises to come see their show, or be there next Thursday or Wednesday for dinner. Soon, she will be the only one left, and the night is pushing down on her skin, so she says goodbye herself, hugs her oldest new friend and then hugs him again as Isn’t She Lovely serenades her out and away from the meadow. Once she’s out of site, she starts to run, arms open, pulling her dress free of where she has hitched it. As it comes loose, her finger slices through the fine fabric below her hip, causing a jagged hole that she will later paste with clear nail polish, trying to prevent the tear in her dress from spreading. She will come to love this flaw and this memory of running and the high sweetness of harmonicas chasing her home. It is a hot summer night, and she emerges from the park breathless and dizzy from the wine and the weed and the newness of her life. The sky is inky now, and it seems to make everything heavier, closer somehow. This is the first time she understands that happiness has its own weight, too. That you can be thick with it, no different from sadness. She stands on the liminal in this moment, as wide awake as she has ever been, and sure this feeling is endless, a wide open breach into possibility.

She makes it to her neighborhood, feels for the first time that she fits in this place. Belongs. And I think, perhaps, had I arrived in summer, this girl would have been me.

~ Alice, What We Have Left

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I was saturated with wine and Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler when I wrote this.

The girl, of course, is me 😉

Central Park Summer Days

The space before

Knees slanting, coming closer. Bodies knowing first. That there is no real distance between them now, only the memory of it, a last holding on to the space they used to occupy. The space before each other. Thinking, one last time, that it might be safer not to touch, not to fall. Foolishly mistaking suspension for security, like so many do. But they are about to know better than most. They know death now, and desire. And it is impossible not to conflate the two. Once you know.

I push them closer. Knees, a nudge.

She feels the pressure of him, all that is below the surface. Above, she runs thumb and forefinger along the stem of her wine glass, pulls at her earlobe. He studies her hand, taps the table top. Doesn’t move, can’t move. Was that some kind of otherness that pushed his knee against hers just now?

Of course the writer feels it. Feels me. Even as he understands so little of himself.

I want to sit down between them. Show her the nerves that flicker wherever they touch. Shift her fingers from glass to his lips, say here, this place, is home. I think that if I whispered this to him just now, he would be the one to hear me. I try, but the words come out as a gust of wind, a stir.

This is your night. I say it louder this time, and the trees rustle my words out loud. Let go! I shout, and the candle between them flickers. My voice is trees and flame and wind, now that I know how to hear it. I am everything that touches lightly, and this new power is extraordinary. Feeling less and less like limbs and hair and teeth and bone. More like air and sensation and the spark that shoots a river of blue all through his body.

The man who killed me sits at home and feels it, too. Candles flickering, night air whistling. He thinks of how he loved me in that moment, and I cause a crack in the sky, thunder that shakes him in his chair. He is worried about limbs and hair and teeth and bone tonight. Because all that I was, I hiss in his ear, is going to lead them right to him.

~ Alice,  What We Have Left

… don’t remember writing this over the holidays (wine??) but a few quick edits and it makes *enough* sense to share. And to pick up and follow … 

 

It still surprised me

It isn’t that I think the sky will fall. Or that I wouldn’t know what to do if it did. I am not afraid of anything, you should understand that. But I don’t know that I have ever felt safe. Safe seems like a promise someone broke, and the worst part is that you believed them. With promises, it’s only a betrayal if you believed them.

I don’t believe I’ll ever be safe.

Do you know how aware we have to be? Girls like me? The man ahead who slows down, who disappears into doorways. The man behind who walks too fast, his encroachment felt on your skin, creeping. Vans with dark windows and streets with alley ways. A park at dusk, or just emptier of people than you thought it would be, any old time of the day. The teacher whose hand lingers, or the group of boys with beer on their breath. The door closing and the room spinning. Do you know how aware we have to be?

(I suppose I let my guard down. At the end. When the sky actually did fall. The crack, and the flash of light, and the wet like rain drops. Air heavy like a boot on my chest. Dirt, and metal and being pushed down, down into the earth. It still surprised me. The shock of how little you can mean to another. How an entire world can be discarded for someone else’s storm. I was right not to believe I’d ever be safe.

But it still surprised me. At the end.)

~ Alice, What We Have Left

Untitled

What if. What if. What if.

Words like a heartbeat. Tapping in his chest, pulsing at his temple.

Can you ever be sure? He is sure. But.

What if. What if. What if.

Words like footsteps hitting pavement. Lift and fall, lift and fall.

He cannot, must not let the rhythm be a question.

To change somebody’s life, you have to first change your own.

Did he read that somewhere? Is it something he just knows? Perhaps he has always understood his destiny. What he was put down here for.

Not much longer, now. Either way.

There is something he must do.

NYC Walk

Playing, playing, playing. The idea for book #3 has been fizzing around since a stranger told me a magical story some bright night in Oslo. Let’s see what comes of this invitation.

What if. What if. What if.

The exact equation

You know what else is funny? How the ache is so strong, you think it will never go away, that something set so deep couldn’t possibly fade. Then later comes along. At some point – later you no longer feel what you used to feel.  And when you think about what you came through, you can’t remember just when that ache went away. It didn’t feel gradual; it certainly didn’t get easier one specific day or time. Two months in, you were just as likely to be sobbing on a Friday night as you were when your heart was first split open. Still. At some point it wasn’t there anymore. At some unidentifiable moment, it all slid off you. You were no longer sad. It … he .. was gone. What was the formula? What was the exact equation of distance and time to take you where he wasn’t?

I need to know this. Because I’ve carried this bright, new sadness across the ocean with me. I’ve put the distance between us, once again. So how long before time meets that distance? When? How long before I stop feeling like there are strings playing under my skin, a mournful dirge that pulls me down?

Back when it ended, I listened to that music on repeat, it was my constant refrain.

Am I really back there now?

~ El, What We Have Left

tinkering …