Not Another Girl
You make your way across the room. You ask my name. Your speech is slow, thoughtful, shy. You don’t look me in the eye. You grasp onto the bottom of my dress, rub it between your fingers, and let it drop back down to my side. Polyester you wonder. I nod. So, uh, do you know a lot of people here you ask. I like this song I say. Never heard it you reply. I smile as I sway to the music. Are you sticking around, I’ll probably be leaving soon. I offer no response. You grab both my wrists and look me in the eye. Just so you know, I don’t usually walk right up to people and start talking you clarify. I just thought, I don’t know what I thought, sorry you say and back away.
You head across the room to the drink table. You pour more red wine into your plastic cup. You take a drink. Then you look at me. A girl approaches you. She pursues a conversation. You cross your arms over your chest and take a step back. She moves closer. You stare at her knees and nod your head. Irrespective of your obvious disinterest, she continues to talk. You excuse yourself and find a wall to lean against. You look at me watching you. We hold the gaze and then break from it. You empty the contents of the cup in one swallow and place it on the windowsill. You make your way to the door. I follow behind you.
Our steps fill the silence. You stop and turn around. Surprised, but pleased, you continue down the stairs. Once out on the sidewalk, we easily fall into step with each other. I talk about how embarrassing women’s bathrooms are when there’s someone in the stall next to you. You know because there’s that silence before you actually go I offer as explanation. You look at me strangely. It depends on how many stalls there are and how quiet the silence is you say.
We walk without words. You stop and turn to me. I stop and turn to you. Why did you put me through that back there you wonder. I prefer to ask, not answer questions I explain. We continue walking. Today I went to a wedding, I start to say. We turn the corner. I left the reception early to go that party. I didn’t tell anyone I was leaving, I just did. Sometimes I find happiness so boring, you know what I mean? You don’t respond. I laugh self-consciously. You slowly turn your head and look at me out of the corner of your eye. Then smile. Only sometimes you ask.
At my apartment you browse my bookshelf. All the authors of these books are men you comment. I stand and survey the shelves. I’ve never noticed I admit. You tell me about a book you like because the chapters switch between narrators. You hear the characters’ voices in your head. One of the characters, her love was so innocent and raw, it was tragic. We’re all tragic in some way though aren’t we I ask. You laugh, I can play tragic pretty well. Please don’t I say.
I read somewhere that youth ends when egotism does I continue on to say. Do you ever wonder how long your youth will last I ask. You don’t look at me when you respond, no, I wonder if it will ever end. You take a DeLillo book off the shelf, I’ve always meant to read this. You put the book in your back pocket.
Wanna see my photo album I ask. I take it off the shelf and hand it to you. When I drove across country, I took pictures of things that interested me I explain. You open it and look at the first picture, an old woman standing in front of her car, a light blue ‘57 Chevy. She let me drive it around the block. You look at me. You drive stick? Of course, don’t you? You shake your head no.
You put the album back. You pick up my guitar off the ground and sit down on my bed. You rest the guitar in your lap. You strum a few chords. You tune it. You play. Your fiercely brittle voice quivers before it cracks. I listen to the lyrics. The chorus rarely repeated, the delivery deliberate, the meanings wrapped in metaphors. Your rage delicate. I forget how many songs you play, but I remember what they say. You put the guitar down. I stand and applaud. Tonight’s my night off. Do you consider that progressive rock I ask. You cringe. I don’t consider it anything, just stories I sing. I combine fact into fiction, an ambiguous blend I won’t explain you say. I don’t like labels and categories with definitions. Your voice elevates. The music should stand for itself. Hey, hey soften your defenses I say, I don’t need to understand you to understand your art.
You rise from my bed. You stand close and look at me hard. You drop your gaze to the ground. You look up. You move closer. My back against the wall, you kiss me, then take a step back. I’m hungry, do you have anything to eat you ask.
You look in the kitchen cupboards. You take down a box of crackers, open the bag, grab a handful, and put the box back. You walk back to my room. I follow behind you.
You sit in the middle of the floor and eat the crackers one by one. You talk about where you’re from, the town obscure, the state forgotten. I watch the cracker crumbs fall into your lap and onto my floor. You tell me you had to take the subway today, but realized you didn’t have any money. No one but you noticed when a woman walking by accidentally dropped a ten-dollar bill on the ground. You thought about it, then picked up the money, and pocketed it. Sometimes, you say, I know what’s right, but I do what’s wrong. I have no response. Lately I’ve been feeling uncomfortable about what I’ve been doing, how I’m living you confide. It’s like I have no choice in the decisions I make. I raise my eyebrows, you always have a choice I say.
You stand up and wander around my room. You look at the clothes in my closet. You pick up a framed photo. Where was this picture taken you ask. Backstage at a performance, I dance. So much make-up doesn’t look good on you. You set the picture down on my desk and go through the drawers. You find a marker. You take off the cap and start writing words on my wall. You ask if I am Jewish. No why? I hate to limit myself you respond.
You start telling me about some British band that formed in 1976. It was the only band you wanted to listen to ever again when you were a kid. It was their mood, their expression. There was something about the way it affected you. They only made three albums, every one your favorite. When the lead singer committed suicide, the remaining members went on to form another band with a different name that wasn’t the same. I have a tape, you wanna hear. You retrieve your jacket from the floor and pull out an old tape from the inside pocket. I bought this for two dollars you say. I listen to it two three times a day. You put the tape in the stereo and press play. I start to say something. You stop me. Just listen. You and I lie on the bed. Eyes to the ceiling. Two songs sung. The air quiet, rich with unfilled expectation. You reach over me and turn off the light.
When I wake, you’re gone. I roll over and pull the pillow over my head. I go to sleep. I wake and sleep again. I sleep until I can’t sleep anymore. I sit up in bed and see your words on my walls. Slowly I stand and survey my walls. You’ve written lyrics to a song or maybe it’s a poem. I read them over and over. In the corner under today’s date you wrote, 10 p.m., and the name of a bar I’d heard of, but never been to. I commit your words to memory then draw pictures to conceal them.
The bar is in an obscure neighborhood. I have to pay money to enter. When I ask why, I’m told Flynn Stone is performing solo. There’s a small stage in the basement. I look for you. There are people waiting. Girls all bare hips and tight tank tops. Guys in too small t-shirts and hair styled to look unkempt. I order a drink at the bar. Then look for you again.
I lean against a video game. Soon only the ice cubes remain. You walk out on-stage wearing yesterday’s clothes. You pick up a guitar and sit in a chair exposed to an overhead spotlight. You bow your head, you rub your eyes. You grasp the microphone, check check check. Obviously aware of the audience you don’t acknowledge, you signal for the sound to be raised.
Conversation slowly ceases. You cough. Then take the microphone from underneath. You start to sing. You falter, you stop, you drink, you start the song over. Your voice elevates to a screech. You scream spit into the audience. You close your eyes. You lean forward. You almost fall off your seat. You recoil in momentary silence, then continue to confess your poetic pretensions.
Your songs are about girls. The ones you’ve lost, the ones you’ve had, the ones you never did. You hold a chord, you stomp, you strum. You rise from your seat, you rock on your feet. Another song is done. You thank the people for coming and then begin again. Stumbling over words not recalled, you offer your apologies. The audience amplifies their applause.
After the encore, you exit the stage. You lean against the wall, you catch your breath. Your friends come to offer their support. The edges of your hair damp with sweat. You laugh. You smile. The audience disperses. Some fans linger. Your eyes avert back and forth from your friends to your fans. You drink more beer. You make your way to where the strangers stand waiting. Girls hand you album covers and markers. Your dead eyes wide. They hold up their cameras. You let them put their arms around you. Your hollow smile hardly remains long enough for the flash to go off. I catch your eye. You turn away. I tell myself to leave, but don’t listen.
When you finally come to me, you swagger and sway. You shouldn’t have come you say. I didn’t know you’d be performing. Yeah well, that’s what I do. You pause then continue on to tell me, I know how I live, I have little to give. I can’t help but laugh. Sounds like a song you’d sing, I say. Someone calls your name. I gotta go, we’re heading out of town. You turn. You turn back. You grab both my wrists, just so you know you’re not just another girl. Fact or fiction, an ambiguous blend I say and back away.