This will probably go into the new Lunarine edition of The Bridge Across the Sky. Do comment. Cake and Vagina
Feb 2013 / Aug 2015
It is a small room. He lies in bed, reading.
The door opens.
One of the girls enter. He looks up as she looks down, her hair a cascading veil, and she holds out a slip of paper.
She had closed the door behind her; stands just beyond the turn of the door, as if she doesn’t want to step into the room any more than she already has. He has to get out of bed to pull the slip of paper from fingers slightly trembling.
He sits on the bed, unfolds the note. “I lost a bet.” The handwriting is shaky. “I will do whatever you want.”
He looks up from this surprise to find her holding her blouse in one hand (the other covering her bra). She glances around the room with a sort of furtive panic, as if looking for a place she could place her blouse without getting it filthy.
His room is clean. The room of one who cleans for a living should be clean, and this one is, but people feel that janitors are dirty and so their rooms must be dirty too. He understands this.
His voice is soft: “Put it back on.” He gets up, turns his back to her, does something at the table.
A few minutes and he is holding out a mug to her; hot chocolate, wisps of steam curling. “Careful, it’s hot.”
The eyes that meet his are uncertain and wide with panic. It is obvious that she had been crying not long before. But she nods to his smile and reaches out for the drink.
“Wait.” He pulls it back. “It’s too hot.” He places it on the table.
She remains standing. She will have to, he has no seat to offer.
“You can tell your friends that we did it, if that helps.”
She gives no sign that she heard.
“Stay as long as you feel you need to.”
Upon the bed, he curls himself with his back towards her.
The next morning, he finds the mug, half-emptied. He had forgotten about last night. And he would forget her again, but for now he notes that she had switched off the light before she left. ☕
All he remembers is that her hair is long and auburn. Sometimes, his eyes would meet one of the girls and he would wonder if it was her.
She is no more than an odd memory when, two weeks after that night, one of the girls casually tosses an empty soda can at a bin as she walks by. The can misses its mark, clutters to the floor. The girl doesn’t notice. Nor do the other girls that walk by. It might as well not be there at all.
He is walking towards it when a girl with hair long and auburn lowers herself to pick it up. She hasn’t seen him. He stops walking.
Their eyes meet after she commits the can to its destiny.
It is a brief moment, but he might have seen a smile as she turns away.
And then she is gone. ☕
That night, his door opens. She enters, carefully closes it behind her. He places his bookmark, looks up.
She stands in the same spot she did before, her hands clasped before her. “Um, hi.”
“I– um. I want to thank you. For that night.”
He waits for her to leave. Instead, she glances about the room. “Um, I have to do a history paper. I kinda maybe thought I could interview you.”
“Okay. We can talk in one of the classrooms.”
“No! I mean– we can talk here. If it’s okay.”
Because you don’t want to be seen with me. He feels stupid for suggesting it. “I’m sorry there’s no chair. I’ll go get one from a classroom.”
“No!” She looks around. Then she lowers herself to the floor, seats herself cross-legged. She takes out a notepad from her bag. “It’s about World War Two.”
“Oh. How old do you think I am?”
“I’m sorry! I kinda thought– I don’t know what I thought! I–”
She looks like a frightened kitten. He softens. “I could help. If you don’t need an interview. I’ve read some.”
“That would be great. Thank you.”
“What’s it about?”
“Um, why it happened.”
“I see. It happened because if you push countries down too much for too long, they push back.”
“Exactly like people.”
There is a pause and he realises that she’s waiting. So he talks. Slowly at first, but then the memories peek out and follow one after the other, and he is just talking: not only about the causes but about the war itself, about the reconstruction after, talking to her earnest eyes and her emotive face, neither of them noticing as the notebook leaves her hand to sit forgotten on the floor. She drinks hot chocolate and she stretches out her legs. He drinks hot chocolate and he tries not to notice those legs.
Then he says: “What time is it?”
She looks at her watch. “Oh my God!”
And then she is gone. ☕
Days later, she enters and she smiles. “I got an A! Thank you!”
“Congratulations.” He smiles. In the face of that sunshine, how could he not?
“Do you know as much about the First World War?”
“I know some.”
“Could you tell me? Um. Lemme check.” She sits upon the floor and she stretches her legs and she smooths out the plaid of her skirt. She pulls out her notebook. “What caused it to end? Was there anything like the bombs? Little Boy and Fat Man,” she looks up and smiles. “I remember.”
“You did,” he laughs. “Well, firstly, it was called the ‘Great War’. Nobody called it the First World War until the sequel…” ☕
The night after, she enters and drops her bag on the floor and heads for his table.
She hasn’t spoken and he curiously watches her back. She makes hot chocolate, then she turns around and hands him a little paper plate with a slice of cake.
She sits down on the bed, next to him, grinning. She is amazingly pretty when she smiles; the kind of pretty a janitor of a school full of pretty girls does not see every day, does not see at all.
She sticks her fork into her own cake. “Tell me stuff.”
“Anything. World War Two.”
“Okay. Have I told you about the White Death?”
He talks. She listens. They eat. Empty plates join mugs of chocolate – full, half-full, empty – on the aged wood of the table.
Then he tells her about the Liberation of Paris. “They pulled these women into the streets, women who were said to have slept with the Germans, they called it ‘collaboration horizontal’. Publicly, they shaved their heads. One woman, surrounded by a laughing crowd, having her head shaved.”
“They cut their hair?”
“They did, yeah.”
She doesn’t reply and he looks up; her face is blank. He waits a moment. She doesn’t say anything, so he fills the silence with the only thing he has to fill it with, facts: “There was this thing in the news recently. This father told his daughter not to do something and she did it. So he cut off her hair and posted the video on the Internet. She killed herself.”
“Yeah, I know. She’s four years younger than me.”
“It’s not just the cutting of her hair, it’s the publicness of it. The public shaming, like when we used to put people in stocks in the public square. It’s as if by removing her femininity you destroy the woman herself. And it sort of doesn’t make sense, because, I mean… They remove something that makes a woman attractive, but a woman should be more than how attractive she is, she should be more than her hair, her worth should be more than being attractive, and, moreso, attractive to men. If you destroy her hair it shouldn’t be destroying the only thing about her that matters. Women should be more than that.”
She smiles, shakes her head in a way more herself. “You have no idea what it’s like to be a woman.”
“I suppose not.”
“Okay, it’s kinda true. Women should be more than that, but we live in a world where a woman could be running for president and what they’ll talk about is her hair.”
“Tell me something else. I don’t want to hear about that anymore.”
He tells her about the places during the war which saw no combat but were very much a part of the war nonetheless. Wars used to be like that, you didn’t have to be in uniform to know a war was being fought. It’s not that way anymore, wars are more distant now. People don’t notice anymore. They talk about other things. They talk about hair. 🍰
The night after, she boils the water and she sits down upon his bed and she removes her shoes. She stands, shoes in hand, looks around. “Where are your shoes?”
“Under the bed.”
“Oh.” She places her shoes, makes hot chocolate. She climbs onto his bed, curls her legs in and hugs them, rests her chin upon her knees. She grins. “Do you know anything about Sumeria?”
“Before Babylon, there was Sumeria.”
“Ah. That Sumeria. I know some.”
She looks at her palm. “Early Mesopotamia. Tigris, Euphrates. Sumeria, Akkadia, Babylonia, Assyria.”
He stares at her for a moment. “How old are you?”
“And they’re teaching you this?”
“It doesn’t seem very useful.”
“It’s kinda not. Actually, they’re two separate classes. Modern and ancient history. Bores me to tears. Except the way you tell it. You talk as if you were actually there.”
“What’s your paper on?”
“Anything at all. We’re allowed to focus on whatever we want.”
“Mankind’s earliest achievements came from then; writing, a legal system. It was the birth – well, a birth – of civilisation. And of course Nebuchadnezzar is in the Bible.”
“Say that again.”
“You’re not making this up, are you? Because that sounds like two bad words said together.”
“Of course I’m not.”
“Okay. Tell me about him.”
He talks. She listens. He wonders if she knows, the way she’s sitting, he can see her underwear. She probably doesn’t. The girls sit that way all the time, during lunch, scattered around school, clustered in small groups. It is a girl’s school, and they feel safe and comfortable and nobody is watching.
He doesn’t look during the day, and he doesn’t look now.
Except that, right now, he is very conscious he isn’t looking. 🍰
She comes for two more nights. She brings cake on the last.
Her delight overflows on finding out Woodrow Wilson’s best friend is named Colonel House. “That’s like the show! House and Wilson.”
“It’s not important.” She smiles.
She seems to smile a lot. 🍰
The weekend comes and he looks up at every sound. But the door never opens.
No girl enters. 🍰
She comes back on Monday and Tuesday and Wednesday. 🍰
On Thursday –
She enters. She brings cake. She smiles.
After she settles – seated cross-legged opposite him on the bed, the paper plate in her lap – he says: “Are you okay?”
“How do you know?”
“I don’t know. It’s just… you don’t seem okay.”
Her head already bowed, she turns aside; looking away even though she wasn’t looking at him to begin with.
He puts his plate on the table. “Do you want to talk about it?”
She doesn’t look up. She shakes her head.
“Is there anything you want me to tell you about?”
She shakes her head.
“I could tell you about the Merovingians.”
She doesn’t react.
“The Merovingians, the Merovingians, the Merovingians! Now that’s an interesting story.”
“They were the people who ruled France before it was France, before it was Gaul.” Long pause. “That’s all I know.”
There is silence for a long moment. Then she kicks him.
“Can you at least smile?”
She looks up, smiles, but it doesn’t reach her eyes. The silence descends, slowly, as her head gently bows.
He tries to think of something to say. Some story to make her smile. He had never thought of history as exciting but she seems to be excited, swept up by… he doesn’t know by what. But history isn’t funny. History doesn’t make anyone smile. It is about the opposite of humour, it is the long dark road we walked to reach where we are now. History is about a time when there was less freedom and more unfairness.
She says: “That first night.”
She’s looking down at her hands, holding the edges of the paper plate and turning it around and around, slowly, like a makeshift rosary.
Her voice comes in a soft whisper, wafting upon the silence: “There’s this guy. I met him at a party. He’s really nice and… um– Long story short, I went to his house one night and we had sex. He has a girlfriend but he said it was over. I… except– um– except it wasn’t over. The girlfriend and her friends… I had to come in here and– or they would cut off my hair. Then they had their revenge and it was fine. I guess. For a while. And– but– and I came back. You were so nice, so I came back, to thank you. But when I was here I saw your,” she waves at his stacks of books, “I don’t know why I didn’t just leave, I kinda asked you about World War II and… and yeah.”
She shakes her head. “It’s not okay. It’s not okay at all.” She waves at the cake box. “They know I come here after school. I wait in the library but someone always sees. The school is never empty. They know how late I stay. They know I bring you cake. It’s not something I can hide.”
“You should stop coming then.”
She is silent for very long. He watches, helpless, as a tear falls onto her cake. Her hands move. “You don’t understand.”
The silence stretches.
He says: “Guys are always nice, you know. If they want to sleep with you. It doesn’t mean they’re honest, it doesn’t mean they’re sincere. It doesn’t even mean they’re nice. It just means they want something. People who want something are always nice.”
“You should stop coming.”
She slowly shifts her feet to the floor, places the plate upon the table, slouches forwards like a puppet whose part in the play is over. “They gave out my number. I’ve been receiving texts all day. If you sleep with the janitor you must sleep with anyone, right?”
He wants to fix this. Of course he wants to fix this. He’s angry. And he’s… sad. Sad because she’s sad. Sad because he can’t fix this; he doesn’t know how.
He says, at last: “Don’t come back anymore.” It’s the only answer he has.
She wipes her eyes with the back of her hand. She doesn’t look at him. “You don’t understand at all.” She puts on her shoes.
He watches. He watches, helpless, as she just sits there. He watches, useless, as she pulls her bag to her, as she rummages within and as she stands up.
She doesn’t turn. There is a note in her fingers, stretched out behind her. He reaches out to take it.
And then she is gone.
The note says: “I don’t care what they say. I just wanted to tell my only friend.” 🍰
How is he supposed to make this right?
He wants to go to the administration but how is he even going to begin? How do you tell someone that you’re not sleeping with a student?
Sometimes he sees her turn around and away. She’s avoiding him. But even if she isn’t, even if he could go up to her… he can’t talk to her in public. That’d only make it worse.
He has to clean the graffiti in the washrooms. Too many of them bear her name. It’s wrong, it’s so wrong that he now knows her last name and her phone number. That she hasn’t told him, that he finds out in this way. He doesn’t keep her number. He keeps scrubbing, as if cleaning away the words can clean as well his soul.
Too many of them bear her name. 🍰
Or Friday, she enters and she places a cake box on his table.
And then she is gone.
There is a note in the box. It says: “i miss you.” The “i” is dotted with a heart.
Into the silence, he says: “I miss you too.”
It is a silence that isn’t silence, because the radio is playing.
But it still feels like silence.
Something which is there, but isn’t heard, but isn’t seen. It might as well not be there at all. 🍰
He has to let her know. But he doesn’t know how. It is all he thinks about.
Monday comes and he tries to find her at lunch. But the school is a big place and there are many girls with hair long and auburn.
He feels stupid for not keeping her number. But she probably already changed it.
And even if he could get her a message, what would it say?
I miss you. Come back.
What good would that do?
A message that can’t be sent. 🍰
On Monday night, she enters and he sits up at once and he catches hold of her wrist. “Don’t go.”
“I can’t stay.”
“Then why come at all?”
“I can’t not.”
“How are you hiding the cake box?”
“So they know.”
“They know that I’m sleeping with you.”
“But that’s not true!”
“It doesn’t have to be. Let go please, you’re hurting me.”
Surprised, he releases his grip.
She is already at the door when he says: “Stay!”
She doesn’t turn. She stands, hand on the knob, as if she is about to say something. But nothing is said.
And then she is gone. 🍰
He can’t find her during lunch. He tries. He fails. 🍰
The next day, she enters and drops the cake box on the table and turns to leave.
Into the blur of her motion, he says: “If I disappeared–”
She stops at the door.
“If I disappeared, someone else would take this job. No one in this world would notice I was gone. As long as the trash cans are emptied and the floors are mopped, no one notices I’m here. No one notices me. You’re the only person I matter to. You make me matter. So I’m sorry. I’m sorry and I miss you.”
She stands, her back towards him, for a very long moment.
She turns. “You can’t say things like that. I’m supposed to be angry with you.”
“Yeah fine.” She sits on the bed, removes her shoes.
He watches, uncertain, as she settles.
Then she smiles at him, bright and honest. She brings her knees up to her chin. “Tell me stuff.”
And, just like that, it is as if everything is normal again. Except there is only one slice of cake.
But that’s okay.
Because she’s here to share it with him. 🍰
The next day, he goes to find her during lunch. He had asked her where she disappears to.
She sits in a quiet spot behind one of the buildings, eating a sandwich and reading a book.
He keeps his distance, clearing the leaves from the drains.
She spots him, smiles. He smiles back.
Then her head drops as she looks back at her book. She brushes her hair behind her ear. She doesn’t stop smiling. 🍰
She’s there every night. Sometimes she brings cake.
“I’m going to have a perfect attendance this term,” she says, after she stops coughing, “because of you.” 🍰
He’s always there, during lunch. He always keeps his distance.
Even though there is never anyone around, he never talks to her. Not during the day, when they are different people because the world is a different place.
She smiles to herself as she reads. 🍰
He finishes his work day and returns to his room to find her on his bed, reading.
It’s early, far earlier than she usually comes.
She sits up. “I’m not going to hide in the library anymore. Gossip only has power if you care what it says, and I’m not going to care anymore.”
“Are you sure?”
She shrugs. “Yeah, why not? I’m already that girl. It’s old news now anyway. I might as well stop letting it inconvenience me.”
“I suppose that makes sense.”
“But what if those girls– you know.”
“What would you do?”
“Me? Stand up to them. Make them stop.”
“Then that’s what I’ll do. I’ll make them stop. And from now on I’ll be coming here straight after class, so you can have my delightful company for a few more hours.”
He smiles. “I’d like that.” 🍰
She says: “You’re nice.”
“You told me guys are nice if they want to have sex with you.”
“I did. It’s not always true but it’s true enough.”
“Why have you never tried to? Have sex with me.”
Apropos of nothing. “I– It’s not right.”
She tilts her head, smiling playfully. “Do you think I’m ugly?”
“Of course not.”
“Are my boobs too small?”
“No, it’s not that. I would lose my job.”
She laughs. “Liar.”
“I’ve been coming here for… since term started. Three months now. The whole school thinks we’re sleeping together.”
“Yes, but it’s not true.” The weight of his embarrassment forces his gaze downwards, away from her sparkling eyes.
“It doesn’t have to be. What I mean is, you kinda still have your job.”
“It’s not that simple.”
“But it is though. You either find me attractive or you don’t. It’s what all men want, isn’t it? Sex?”
“That’s not always true.”
“It doesn’t have to be. It just has to be true for you.”
“Oh stop accusing me. How would you know if I’m gay or not?”
She doesn’t reply. She’s doing something; he looks up to find her pulling her underwear along her legs. At once, he shifts his gaze to her eyes; they stare unflinchingly back. He turns away. She tosses her underwear onto his lap.
After a moment of indecision, he carefully picks them up and holds them out to her. She doesn’t take them back.
“If you’re gay… look. It won’t turn you on.”
“What’s come over you?” He releases her underwear, withdraws his arm.
“I’m kinda curious.”
“I think you should leave.”
They sit in a silence he finds incredibly awkward. He doesn’t know how she feels about it because he doesn’t dare look at her.
At last, he says: “This isn’t like you.”
“How would you know?”
“You think you know me but you don’t. So how’d you know?”
“I do know you. Not all of you, but I–”
“You see someone who isn’t me, you don’t see me at all. That guy, that lying bastard. I went to his house expecting to have sex. He wasn’t my first.”
“That’s not the point.”
“Do you prefer if I was a virgin?”
“No, of course not. That’s not what I mean… I don’t even know what I mean.”
“I could be a whore. I could be a virgin. Not like either of those things reflect who a person is. And you wouldn’t know.”
And then she is gone.
Her underwear is still on his bed. He sits there, not exactly sure what had happened, then he picks them up and pulls open a drawer.
Stuck to the wall, there is a note. “Think about this.” 🍰
It is as if last night never happened. They talk as they always talk. There is cake.
Then, with stunning suddenness, she is pulling down her underwear and he is flush with embarrassment.
She says: “I’m a whore. Those cakes you eat. I pay for them by opening my legs.”
“But– That’s not true.”
She sighs theatrically. “Every weekend, I meet a stranger and he pays me for sex. Some of them are younger than you are, young and handsome and you wonder why they even have to pay. But they do. Some are old, fat, kinda gross, I guess, but I have sex with them too–”
“No. But… you’re so shy. That… first night you came here.”
“I was shaken. I had just been threatened.”
He remembers. He calls up the image easily. Her arm is covering her bra as she looks for a place to put her blouse. Covering her bra. That’s not something a prostitute would do. A prostitute wouldn’t call herself a ‘whore’ either. “No. You’re too shy.”
“They like that I’m shy. They like that I turn away when they try and kiss me. They find it amusing. When I push their hands away from my breasts they move my hands over my head. They hold my hands with one hand and they grab my breasts with the other. I always wonder if they notice how lightly their hand is placed on my wrist, how easy it is to hold me down, but I don’t think they–”
“Stop it. Okay. I believe you.”
“You don’t like hearing about me having sex? Or are you just pretending not to like it? Do you want to know what they like best?”
“More than one guy told me this: They like that I turn my face away before they put it inside me but then I cry out for more.” She moans.
He stands up.
On his way out, his leg bumps against her foot, dangling off the bed because she had opened her legs.
The room is empty when he returns. Her underwear is gone. There is a note on the wall, stuck next to the first: “Sorry.” 🍰
He says: “If you remove your underwear again, I’m leaving.”
It is a nice, normal night. With cake. 🍰
It is another nice, normal night until he notices that she isn’t wearing underwear.
He looks away at once. He turns back to find her smiling at him, as if daring him to say something. Her smile is both playful and slightly cruel, like the smile of a cat if cats could smile.
The realisation hits him with all the force of an epiphany: All those nights with her sitting with her knees pulled up, of course she knew she was exposing herself. She’d have to be stupid or innocent not to know. She’s not stupid, not stupid at all. She’s so not stupid that she can’t be innocent. More than that, he knows this: He wants to think her innocent but, deep down, he knows it isn’t true. Youth and innocence may come together, but how she looks isn’t who she is.
After a moment, he says to her mischievous eyes: “What were we talking about?”
He wants to pretend normality but… but he just can’t. “Why are you so intent on this?”
“Isn’t it enough that I want to?”
“No, it kinda isn’t.”
“I’m too old for you.”
“I kinda don’t care.”
“I’m just a janitor.”
“I kinda already know that.”
“No you don’t. You don’t understand that. You have a bright future ahead of you. And… and I’m just a janitor.”
“My future?” Her smile fades. “Oh.” Her eyebrows knit, then relaxes. “You thought about it. You thought about… being with me. Like, as a couple.”
“I don’t have to think about it. It’s obvious. It’s the very first thought. I’m a janitor and–”
“No.” She shakes her head. “You have no idea what guys would give to fuck me. I’m offering you just that, and you don’t want it because what you care about is my future?”
“I guess so.”
“This is my day.”
“This is my day. This is the only part of the day that matters to me. I think about the stories you tell so I can ask questions so I have something to say. I think about what cakes we haven’t tried. I think about…” She shakes her head. “I have no friends here. I’m like a damn leper in this messed up school, one of those poor people you told me about, invisible yet avoided. But, you know, I don’t care about that. I’m invisible but I still hear stories. I still see the girls crying in the washrooms. I’m not the only one messed up by this place. And that guy? You know… I didn’t go there expecting to sleep with him. He told me there were other people there, we were going to hang out. But then it was only him. I let him kiss me. I kissed him back. I let him touch my breasts. Then I realised how much I didn’t like him. Then I realised I kinda didn’t like myself more. He had lied to me and then I had gone and… agh. Fuck him. They’re like that. Of course they’re not all like that but so many of them are. They’re nice. Nice guys who want something. But one night I had no choice but to give myself to a stranger and… he didn’t want me. I would have been raped. I was so afraid. They had scissors in their hands and they were so angry with me. I didn’t even do what they said I did. I was so scared and I thought they were going to do so much worse than cut my hair. I was so afraid I was almost grateful when they said they’d let me go if I fucked the janitor. I came in here because it was away from them. I would have been raped, I would have let myself be raped. If it had been anyone else but you.”
He says: “You don’t owe me anything.”
Her anger, he is learning, is sudden and unpredictable. “You think I’m paying a debt?!”
She has put on her shoes and reached the door when she turns around. She stomps back to him. “Look at me,” she hisses.
She punches him in the shoulder.
And then she is gone. 🍰
During lunch, he waits for her at her usual spot but she doesn’t show. She doesn’t come to his room.
The day passes.
Then the days after pass too. 🍰
He is walking to the nurse when she appears beside him.
Without a word, she walks with him. He can feel the eyes all looking, looking, looking. He knows they’re not just looking at his hand, however bloody it is.
The nurse says: “Go to class.”
She looks at the nurse and she looks at him and her eyes brim with concern.
He smiles. “It’s just a small cut. It looks worse than it is.”
The nurse nods. “He’ll be fine.”
The nurse’s eyes never leave the bandage her hands slowly wrap around his wound. “Do you know anything about the expelled girls?”
“I know three of them got expelled. I don’t know anything else.” It’s been a few days and the whole school is still talking about it.
“Do you know who they are? The queen bee and her friends.” There’s a sort of excitement in the way she said it.
He doesn’t care but he doesn’t have the heart to stop her. “You must hear all the latest. I don’t even know why they got expelled.”
“Apparently, this pimp got arrested for having underaged girls and those three are his… well, they were on his payroll. They don’t just expel someone for anything, no. The police are involved.” She pauses a moment for this to sink in. “Now our royal majesty claims she was framed.”
“Claims she was framed?” One can appear interested by just repeating the last point as a question.
“Oh yes! I believe her. I don’t see her as needing the money. I think she pissed off the wrong girl and they put her number into the pimp’s phone.”
“But how would they even be able to do that?”
“Speculating, don’t quote me. They pretended to be her online and gave him her number. I’m sure pimps are always on the lookout for more staff.”
“HR must be a nightmare. But they’d have to find a pimp first, and then pretend to be someone else, and then turn the pimp in. That seems too elaborate.”
“You think so?”
“People don’t plan so much. People don’t plot. It’s more likely they already knew him, and when they wanted revenge, they saw their chance and they took it.”
“Yeah, that does make more sense.” She finishes with the bandage, gives it a pat. “There.”
She is standing in the empty hall, leaning against the wall.
He shows her the bandage.
She nods. “Good.”
“I’m sorry. Please stop being angry. I’m wounded.”
“That had nothing to do with me.”
“Yeah, but I’m in pain. You can’t be angry at someone in pain.”
“So I have to stop being angry because you hurt yourself?”
“That’s the way the world works.”
She glares, twists her mouth. “Fine. I’ll come by later.”
“Thank you.” He feels stupid as soon as he says it.
“Yeah. I have to get to class.” 🍰
That night, she sits down opposite him and she pulls his hand to her and she looks at the bandage.
She nods, but she doesn’t let go. Instead, she tilts herself forwards until the top of her head is against his shoulder, his hand closed in both of hers.
The silence feels warm.
She says, softly. “You’re wrong.”
She pulls herself back, looks him in the eyes. “You’re wrong. I have a bright future but that doesn’t mean I can’t have it with you. And that doesn’t mean I want to get married right away either. But you keep saying you’re just a janitor and you think that’s a bad thing but when I go off to uni it means you can come along. So maybe I kinda maybe thought about it too. But that’s two years away and anyway we kinda don’t know if we’ll still be together then. Seeing as you can be a jerk.”
“I see,” he says, not entirely sure that he does. Just in case, he says: “I’m sorry.”
“I hate this school and the only thing I think about on the weekends is coming back here. I don’t have a lot of experience with this sort of thing but I’m pretty sure that means we’re not just friends.”
“So I have a paper on the Crusades.” 🍰
The next day, at lunch. She sits upon the raised concrete and she reads. He sweeps the fallen leaves.
After a few minutes, her eyes never leaving her book, her legs slowly open.
After ten minutes, she puts her book aside. She removes her shoes.
She glances around. There is no one about, there never is.
She looks directly at him, holding his gaze and smiling her smile and she slides her underwear down along her legs.
She places it on her book, as if it’s the most normal thing, and she puts on her shoes.
He stands still as she walks towards him.
As if it’s the most normal thing, she drops the white on the pile of leaves as she walks by. 🍰
He says: “The three girls that got expelled, were they the…?”
“How do you know?”
“They were. Miserable bitches.”
“The nurse said she claimed she was framed. Said someone pretended to be her online and gave him her number, and that’s why her number is in his phone. It just doesn’t seem likely to me. People don’t plot revenge. It’s always a spur of the moment thing.”
“I think people do plot. Perhaps not as much as pretending to be someone else online, but they could think about the easiest way to get their revenge. If she was framed.”
“How would they do it? Say you knew a pimp, you can’t just put a number into their phone. They’d notice. And if you did know a pimp, that would make him a friend and you wouldn’t turn him in.”
“He doesn’t have to be a friend. He could be her pimp. When he’s washing up after sex, there’s enough time alone with his phone.”
“No, no. Pimps don’t have sex with their girls. It’s a common misconception.”
“Maybe not all of them. I’m sure some pimps take their commission with sex in addition to cash.”
He nods. “But that’d imply one of the girls here is a prostitute.”
“You have no idea. We all wear the same uniform but have you seen their bags? Some girls are carrying bags worth thousands of dollars. I’ll be surprised if none of them were.”
“Well, I can tell your bag isn’t worth thousands of dollars.”
“If I were a prostitute, I wouldn’t spend the money on bags.”
“What would you do with it, the money?”
“Hmm. Did you have anything to do with getting them expelled?”
“How could I?”
He doesn’t know what she means. Was it “How could I do such a thing?”; that she’s incapable of an act so morally dubious? Or was it the literal “how”; the practical steps to commit such an act? Perhaps it’s best not to ask. Perhaps it’s best not to know. “Yeah, of course you couldn’t. I don’t even know why I asked.”
“If she’s innocent, if she was framed… I kinda don’t care. She deserved it.”
He nods. He can’t quite agree with the morality but he can’t deny the– the justice in this. “She does.”
“If you push people too far, they push back.”
“They do.” 🍰
“How do you know so much about history?”
“There’s a good library here. Janitors don’t get paid enough that I can afford other entertainment.”
“Then why are you a janitor?”
“There aren’t a lot of jobs for…”
“People like me.”
She crosses the bed, settling herself with her legs folded beneath her. She pulls his hand into hers, runs her fingers carefully over the tattoo on the underside of his forearm: a stylised hourglass. “The other girls, they say you were in prison.”
“If you were, would you tell me?”
“Since you asked.”
She shakes her head. “You shouldn’t. I wouldn’t, if I were you. I’d lie.”
“You shouldn’t lie.”
She shrugs. “No one should. But people do anyway.” She closes her hands over his. “I don’t want to know. I imagine you were in prison, or a soldier, or in a gang. I imagine you were in a hard place, but instead of making you hard, it made you soft. I don’t want to know it’s something you did one drunken night with your friends, or that you got it for an ex-girlfriend. I know the truth of you, on the inside. The man I know is soft, who offers hot chocolate to a girl who is offering him… something else.” She smiles, a little wistful. “Lies are always beautiful, because you get to choose them. Your lies are your own. Truth is… Truth is painful. Truth belongs to other people.”
“Like putting on a mask. Inside truth and outside lie. Or even wearing make-up.”
“I didn’t expect you to agree.”
“I don’t agree, but I do understand.”
“The truth of a person isn’t in what they’ve done, it’s in what they do. Who you were isn’t who you are. I know the man I see. Your past doesn’t matter to me, so it might as well be beautiful. You can be the person I want you to be, and I can be the person you imagine me to be. I might wear make-up for you. I might make myself beautiful for you.”
“You’re already beautiful. You’re always beautiful.”
She smiles. “When you see me in make-up, you’ll know that you just told a lie.” 🍰
At lunch, she slowly opens her legs.
She doesn’t slide her underwear down. She isn’t wearing any. 🍰
She is removing her shoes when he says: “You have to stop doing this.”
“You know what. Sex isn’t… it isn’t a game. It’s something precious. Between people who love each other.”
Still bent over, she turns her head to focus her glaring eyes upon him.
She stands up.
He notices her shoes are back on. “What did I say?”
She ignores his protestations.
She takes the cake with her.
She comes back five minutes later.
She stares at him, hands on hips, the cake box clenched by a fist, tilted at an angle obviously unfavourable to the structural integrity of baked goods.
He says: “The cake box is tilted at an angle obviously unfavourable–”
She raises a finger.
In a panic, he says what he feels is becoming a new default: “I’m sorry.”
“For saying what I said.”
She nods. “Don’t say such things again.”
“I won’t.” He still hasn’t figured out what he had said wrongly. He can’t quite figure out how to get the answer from her. Perhaps he should just give up on getting her to give up. But… he can’t do that. At this rate, he’s bound to give in. He’s barely holding on as it is. He feels the weight of resisting the stereotype of his entire gender bearing down: “Cake and vagina. Who says ‘no’ to that?”
The owner of both is, right now, annoyed at him. “The cake is ruined. It’s all your fault.”
He takes the plate she offers. The cake is in slightly better shape than he had expected. “I’m sorry. It becomes mush in your stomach anyway.”
“That really hurt.”
“I can’t believe you said that.”
“Promise me you won’t say it again.”
The pause must have been too long because she pulls the plate from his hands. “You don’t know!”
“For fuck’s sake!”
“Don’t tell me to–! Agh. I know you don’t love me, okay? You don’t have to tell it to my face like that!”
“I never said I didn’t…”
She holds the plate up, showing him the crumbled cake. She moves it left and right, as if testing his visual acuity. Then she tips the plate into the bin.
He looks at the closed door and he sighs. “I don’t have to take this kind of emotional abuse from a woman I’m not sleeping with.”
And the problem with that is this: It is too easy to balance that equation. 🍰
Either he got better at apologising or she’s getting used to it.
The next day is normal, and the day after that. 🍰
She visits on a Saturday night. She’s wearing lipstick.
He says: “It’s Saturday.” It sounds stupid.
“I kinda know that.”
“You do look good with make-up.”
“I kinda know that too. And you’re not allowed to judge me.”
“Huh? Judge you why?”
“Because you think a woman should be more than how attractive she is to men.”
“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be attractive. The point is that it has to be your choice, not a choice made for you.”
“Well, it’s my choice. I do think that a woman should be more than how attractive she is to men, but I think it’s okay if she wants to be attractive for one man, not all of them.”
“I… I suppose that is okay.”
“Good. I’m glad we agree. Also, I’d like it if we could have lunch together. The furtive glances thing was sweet for a while, but now, not so much.”
He can think of so many reasons not to. He hears himself say: “Yeah. Let’s do that.”
Before she leaves, she stands at the door and says: “When term break comes, I’ve decided to visit my brother at uni. Six whole weeks. I’ll probably meet a guy. We might fall in love. We’ll have sex. I’ll tell you all about it when I come back. That’s okay, because we’re just friends.”
And then she is gone. 🍰
She says: “Are you seeing anyone?”
“It’s a simple question.”
“I kinda wanted to be sure. I don’t know what you do on the weekends.”
“I know. You said. But– Nevermind. Is it because I’m seventeen?”
“I’m legal. I kinda checked. Just for you.”
“It’s not because you’re seventeen.”
“You know what’s funny about being seventeen though? Looking at my parents, work is kinda your entire life. It’s like, oh, 75% of your waking hours, and the rest is the going there and coming back and eating and the… the maintenance. The keeping yourself alive. So that you are able to work.
“My parents have these dinner parties, and mother would say ‘That’s so-and-so, she’s a banker.’ Or a lawyer or something. As if that’s the most important thing about the person, their defining characteristic. What they do isn’t just what they do, it’s kinda what they are. As if, deep down, they have the heart of a banker or the soul of a lawyer.
“They become invisible. Who they are is no longer relevant beneath what they do. They become no more than their function. What makes a lawyer any different from any other lawyer? A banker from any other banker?
“What I’m studying, here and now, it’ll decide what I get to study in uni, which will decide what I’m qualified to do for the rest of my life. And seventeen year olds are asked to decide – we’re told to decide – to make this decision about the rest of our lives, this future set in motion. We have to do this and yet we cannot be trusted to choose who we love and what we want to do with them? I know teenagers do dumb things. But that doesn’t mean we only do dumb things. That we can’t make the right decisions sometimes.”
“Yeah, well. Anyway, tell me about Yamamoto.”
“I thought you covered World War Two?”
“You said it was an assassination. I’m curious about that.”
Before she leaves, she plants her feet in front of him and lifts up her skirt. “Just look. This look away thing of yours was cute in the beginning but it kinda got old. So just look. It’s not as if you haven’t been looking all night. And for weeks.”
He doesn’t look.
“I shaved. I was wondering if you prefer if I didn’t?”
“It’s a simple question. A yes or no will do.”
“No, I shouldn’t shave? Or no, I should stop? And, yes, I realise now it’s not a yes or no question.”
“No, don’t stop.”
“We’re kinda a couple. You’re not seeing anyone and I’m not seeing anyone and it’s obvious we’re not just friends. You think it’s wrong to sleep with me but just ask yourself what you’re doing now. I can’t date anyone else. I’m yours. Whether or not you choose to admit it, I’m yours. Whether or not you do anything with me, I’m not able to do that with someone else. I can’t. I don’t want to. So what you’re doing, that’s wrong too. You’re leading me on. You don’t have to decide now, but at some point you have to choose to break my heart or sleep with me.”
“Once, a few weeks ago, I stayed outside your door because I didn’t want to leave. I heard you lock it. Every night since, a minute after I leave, I hear the lock click. I imagine that you jerk off. It gets me wet. I’m so wet right now I can feel it.”
He looks. Only for a split-second, before his guilty eyes flick to hers.
She’s grinning. “Don’t stop now. It’s too late for pretense.”
He watches as she reaches between her legs. She is wet. He doesn’t realise that his mouth is open until she dabs the salt on his lower lip. She releases her skirt.
She sticks a note on the wall.
And then she is gone.
The note says: “Waiting.” 🍰
He says: “I just got paid. I should give you some money, for all the cakes.”
“I don’t want your money.”
“I’m not giving you money, I’m paying for my share.”
She reaches out for her bag, pulls out a handful of crumpled currency. “This is how much my parents love me.”
“Even so, you shouldn’t.”
“Shouldn’t what? Show that I care by buying you cakes? Money is love. My parents love me, so they give me money. I buy you cakes.”
“Money isn’t love.”
“Ha!” Her face is mean. “This from the man who can’t love me because he is a janitor and janitors are poor.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Isn’t it though? I don’t look down on you but that doesn’t matter to you because you look down on yourself.”
“It’s not like that.”
“Of course it’s not. What is love, then? Sex? Because you don’t want that from me either.”
He is quiet. She holds his gaze for a while before she looks down.
In the silence, she sniffles.
He says, softly: “I like today’s cake.”
She nods to the crumpled notes in her hands.
“I like those with a cherry on top.”
“I’ll give you my cherry.”
“You don’t have to.”
She shakes her head. She slowly looks up and she smiles slightly. “You were kinda doing so well.”
“Oh. I like cake with a cherry on top.”
“I’ll give you my cherry.”
“I– I’d like that.”
She smiles. “See? That wasn’t difficult.”
Before she leaves, she says: “I don’t have to go on holiday, if I have a reason to stay.”
And then she is gone. 🍰
“I’m thinking of maybe taking history at uni. But my parents want me to take something practical.”
“You think so? You know all this history and you can’t make a cent from it. I noticed something. Bankers and lawyers and doctors, they have degrees you can make money from. And then there are degrees you can’t make money from. These degrees that can’t make money don’t have people. A law degree makes you a lawyer and a medicine degree makes you a doctor. But literature and history, nobody is defined by them. And those degrees you can’t make money from, we call them the humanities. We call them that because it’s the stuff of what makes us human. And yet it can’t buy you stuff. It’s like nobody cares what’s in our head, what’s in our soul. It scares me. I’m scared if I take something practical, I’ll become someone who stops caring, I’ll become my degree.”
“There are historians.”
“Oh yeah! But you get my point.”
“Probably proves your point since you forgot they exist.”
“That’s kinda true.”
“You can always be a janitor.”
She laughs, bright and eager. “I don’t think I can sell that to my parents. They’d both have heart attacks and I’d be an orphan. I’ll also inherit, so that’s not too bad for a future plan.”
“It’s a big question. What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I really don’t know.” 🍰
“I don’t actually take history.”
“I kinda made it up so I have something to talk to you about, that day, when I came to thank you. Then I was kinda committed.”
“But you kept saying you’re getting As.”
“I do. Almost always. Just not for history. Which I kinda don’t take.”
“So all this time I thought I was helping you.”
“You were. Just not in history. I might have killed myself, I think. If you weren’t here.”
“I don’t think you would.”
“I don’t think so either. But we can pretend you saved my life.”
He takes a moment. “Should I be bothered by the lying? I think I should be. But I don’t feel like I am.”
“That’s good. I’m also a virgin.”
“Yup. Zero sexual experience. I got groped but that’s it. And that was through a t-shirt and my bra. I mean, besides flashing you every night.” She looks at her watch. “I’ll kinda be eighteen in two hours. So I’m confessing everything now. Do you want to confess anything?”
“You never said your birthday was coming.”
“My birthday doesn’t matter. There’s only one thing I want from you. I don’t know when I decided but I did decide that it would be you, that it had to be you, because it had to be someone kind and someone for whom it wasn’t just sex and someone who loved me and someone whom I… It had to be you. I can wait, but you have two hours left if you want to deflower a seventeen year old. I think men are supposed to find that hot? You see these ads, horny teen virgins in your area or something like that. I know you don’t have Internet–”
“I have Internet.”
“Is that hot? Horny teen virgins? It actually sounds very creepy. What do you think?”
“Well… er. I don’t…”
“Look at you, I open my legs and you can barely speak. It took me forever before I realised, but I see through you now. I see right through you. You have no idea how to handle this, us. I kinda assumed you knew what you were doing because you’re an adult. But you’re kinda clueless. I kinda assumed you were right that we’re not supposed to have sex because it’s wrong. But it’s not. I don’t know how else to convince you and really, from what I understand, a girl shouldn’t have to try this hard. I even thought of telling you that if you don’t have sex with me, I’ll give my virginity to the first guy who wants it. But one thing I’ve learnt from all this history is that something always gives. And I don’t want it to be me but even I know I can’t wait for you forever. I can wait. I tell myself I can wait, but it’s been months and… yeah. Something always gives. And remember I said you have to choose between breaking my heart or sleeping with me?”
It takes a moment before he registers the question. “I remember.”
“I should have said: ‘You have to break my heart or my hymen.’”
“It kinda has a ring to it.”
“I know right?”
“Don’t you have anything to say?”
He takes a deep breath. “I do love you.”
“I love you too.” She says it matter-of-factly, as if satisfied facts have been agreed upon.
“Oh come on! No buts! I lied about one more thing. I can’t wait anymore. I really can’t. What you said, about being nice? Anyone can be nice. But you’re something else, you’re kind. Niceness and kindness, it looks the same, the actions are the same, but to be nice is only an action, and to be kind is… it’s kinda something else. It’s… character. I don’t think anyone has even been so kind to me. Not like you. Not all the time. Not when being kind to me means you have to deny yourself something. It’s something else. You’re something else. And you have to stop being nice now.”
She gets up and goes to the door and locks it. She stands in front of the door. “See me.” She unbuttons her blouse and drops it to the floor.
Her skirt follows.
She pulls open a drawer, takes out a note. “I was forced to write this. Those aren’t my words.”
She tears the note in half, hands it over.
He holds it, unable to take his eyes off her. She unhooks her bra and drops it. “Socks?”
“On or off. Simple question.”
“Read the note.”
“Oh.” He looks at it: “I will do whatever you want.”
He looks up.
“These words are mine now.” She pulls the slip of paper from his fingers. “Wet.”
She sticks the note on the wall and she climbs on the bed and she gets on her knees in front of him, holding his gaze with sparkling eyes. “You love me.”
He nods. He smiles as he realises that is perhaps the truest thing either of them has said. “I do love you.”
“I’ve been waiting for you to figure it out. I’ve always known.”
“Your room is spotless but you keep those notes on your wall. They’re not stuck with icing.”
“It’s certainly not icing.”
“Nobody leaves bodily fluids around like that, it’s totally gross.”
“It kinda is.”
“It’s also very sweet. And I love you too.”
“I’ve always known.” He really didn’t.
“Not very subtle, am I?”
“Were you really going to… you know, give your virginity to the first guy who wants it?”
“No. I just thought of telling you that.”
“You can’t go around saying just anything to get what you want.”
“Yeah, I kinda can though. I’d do anything for you, saying anything is easy. The thing is, the reason I’d do anything for you is that you don’t want me to do anything at all. I want you to have me because you don’t want me. I mean… that sounds as if I want something only because I can’t have it, and that’s not what I mean. It’s like–”
“I know what you mean.”
“Do you see me now?”
“Maybe for the first time.”
“Have you decided? Break my heart or break my hymen.”
“You were waiting to say that.”
“I kinda was.”
“Is that a yes, you’ve decided? Or a yes to sleeping with–”
He kisses her.
And then she is…
And then she is here. 🍰
“Ask me again. Ask me what I want to be when I grow up.”
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
“I want to be with you.” 🍰
This will probably go into the new Lunarine edition of The Bridge Across the Sky. Do comment.
List by Tags [ shot ]
|| Shuzhen – I didn’t believe you when the intro said vagina and cake. By halftime, I was reading in horrified fascination. She channels Stacey. Meantime, my Catholic school sensibilities are reeling in horror. // Nonetheless, its well put together. Draws me into the dialogue and holds me there.|
04 Aquarius 13 07:46
YAPX – Good pace, good characters, great dialogue. The thing I like best is a combination of the three: how you build up their pseudo-relationship through all that back-and-forth exchange. Somehow, you craft a unique, strange relationship: from any one point in the story, both of them are manipulative, victimised and hypocrites – though not all at once. // On word choices, I felt you could change the word “janitor” (“cleaner” or “uncle” would’ve given a different, but more acute local flavour to it). Mostly because, it’s connotes an added level of difference through: class. Whether or not you intended it, by portraying the “janitor” and “student” you bring out the fact that he’s stuck there socially in all sense of the word. It made the part where he says he reads books during weekends completely out-of-context and weird. // Also, there’s too much “sliding” in and out of the room. Not sure if that’s intentional repetition, or just a lack of other words. // I thought that the girl’s own background is pretty compelling. Even after everything, I can’t tell if she’s speaking the truth. Because I’m all for unreliable narrators and characters, I can still find her well-thought out. But other readers might lose patience or wonder at her sudden change of heart at the final moment.
04 Aquarius 13 08:48
9177 words / 2442