My first attempt at (publishing) original short fiction. Credit for inspiration to: Frances Kimpel, Eileen Miles, and the band Belle & Sebastian. Content warning for the following: sexual harassment, sexual assault, lesbophobia/misogyny, lesbophobic slurs, and discussion of fatphobia. Views expressed by characters are not necessarily those of the author.
2006: The Inherent Embarrassment of Being Known to Desire Something
Jane had forgotten what day it was. She had also forgotten to set her alarm clock. And forgotten her lunch. And probably forgotten her homework for at least one class. She got to school late, her backpack bumping uncomfortably against her lower back as she ran from the bike-rack to the soulless double door.
She stopped dead as soon as she got to the hall. The second bell hadn’t rung yet, so plenty of her awful classmates were still milling around by their lockers. Every single one of them had a brand new yearbook. It was futile to hope that being at the end of the alphabet would save her until lunch. The smirks, snickers, whispers, and stares started immediately. She should have known better (did know better!) or at least remembered what day it was. She scowled, hiked her backpack up on her left shoulder, and stomped over to her locker. Some little shit who had set their alarm clock had beaten her to it. Some unholy mashup of her face, what a pleeb would think was a Picasso style, and an ejaculating penis graced her locker, along with the words “trash museum” and “bullshit artist.” She ripped it down and stuffed it into her backpack along with a forest of other crumbled loose papers, food wrappers, and the secrets of Nostradamus for all she knew. The dipshit’s face when she used it for her final project in post-punk irreverent dada revivalism (she was still working on the name of her movement) would be almost worth the rest of today. As she was putting in her jacket into her locker, she heard a half-suppressed giggle over her shoulder. She recognized it immediately as Jean. Slamming her locker shut, Jane stormed down the hall in the direction of her homeroom and the gaggle of blazer-clad preps clustered around her nemesis. She made sure to get Jean with her shoulder on her way by.
“Oh, they also posted mid-term GPAs today,” the Victoria’s Secret wannabe murmured as she collided with her. “So much for your scholarship.”
Jean surged past her, letting her panic and her anger burn the tears away before they could think about starting. Whatever. Jean could smirk all she liked here. She would pay for it later.
2006: The Truth, Stumbled Upon by Accident, Is Worse than the Curated Lie
It was a stupid question in the first place. Who the fuck asks 10th graders what they want to be remembered for? How fucking morbid is that? And what kind of loser answers that stupid a question honestly??? ‘I want to be remembered for: my art’ no wonder they’d fucked up her locker. She’d have fucked it up too. Fucking pathetic.
She startled, realized all at once that she was slumped in her desk, her legs spread and bouncing, everyone was looking at her, everyone else had books on their desk open, and the teacher had probably called on her at least three times. She met the teacher’s face defiantly. At least she didn’t look like a desicated lemon.
She was failing anyway, and this teacher hated her already (probably because she’d accidentally handed in the comic of her as a constipated bat instead of her book report on Kipling). Why bother pretending like she cared about lame chicks in maternity dresses crying over lamer dudes with big houses.
“What is Emma’s motivation for having her friend Harriet move in with her?”
Who the fuck was Emma and who the fuck was Harriet and why did she care?? Everyone was looking at Jane. She could feel the eyes burning into her. She hadn’t read the book. She hadn’t remembered the book was assigned. She’d lost the copy they’d given her. She heard Jean snort behind her as the silence yawned like a crater. In her most nonchalant and provocative tone, Jane responded “Emma’s a big dyke and she wanted Harriet to move in with her so she could suck her fat pussy.” The resulting chorus of gasps and chatter was music. Jane thought the teacher might have a heart attack on the spot. She sat upon her throne, queen of the chaos, for just a moment feeling a hint of the high that was 4chan persona in her real life.
And then the teacher recovered. Shame. She’d never seen a heart attack before. The teacher sniffed primly and bit out “see me after class” and immediately changed the subject. Jane’s attention wandered again, this time to her sculpture project in the studio: a life-sized neo-expressionist tribute to the Velvet Underground that she’d been informed she couldn’t use as her final on Friday since the school didn’t have a kiln big enough to fire a six-and-a-half-foot high piece. Maybe she’d smash it with a bat, fire the pieces, glue it together, and call it something like “scars of stinginess.” They’d eat that shit up coming from their charity case, and her mom would hate it because it wasn’t David or whatever. Though her mom would also hate it if she was sculpting hot dudes with their dicks out. Though less than she’d hate knowing her daughter was a lesbo in addition to being a total failure at everything. She grunted and mumbled her way through the “after class” admonition. Got detention. Again. Great.
2006: You Know This World Was Made For Men (Not Us)
Lunch was miserable. She was near the end of the line because Ms. Lemonface had made her stay late. They were serving the mac n cheese that she was 100% sure was actually plastic. But like… plastic made out of lactose since it made her sick. So she was in the middle of the future frat boys of America. Steve and Shawn started in immediately. It was one of them that had drawn the dick on her picture, she was sure of it. She’d heard it all before, of course, but today she was not in the mood to hear them speculate on whether she had rugburn on her chin from munching carpets, if she did that because she was too stupid to know how It was supposed to work, if she’d eaten out the Provost to get in since it definitely wasn’t for her brains, on and on. They were almost to the front but still out of earshot of the lunch ladies when they started in on how tight she probably was, probably the weakest of their jabs. Dumbfucks didn’t even know what tampons were.
Her stony silence wasn’t, apparently, satisfying for them. Steve, out of nowhere, stabbed her in the butt with his fork. It hurt, and it was It. Jean whirled around and slammed him across the face with her tray. It was exhilarating. Even better than the shock she’d caused in class. She’d forgotten how good it felt to be in a fight. She had Shawn on the floor clutching his crotch and blood pouring from Steve’s nose before the teacher broke it up. It was the creepy music teacher, of course. And he hadn’t heard a single word that the boys had said to her, of course, and hadn’t seen them stab her with the fork, of course, and how did he know the blood on her uniform skirt wasn’t from her special time (he always said it like that) or from the poor boys defending themselves? He made her pick up the trays and utensils from the floor before she went to the office. Jean squatted to clean up the mess so he couldn’t look up her skirt. Fucking creep.
2006: Only Cowards are Careful What They Wish For
She was suspended for two weeks, pending a hearing on expulsion. Her mom had been called (at work!) to come pick her up early and “escort her off the premises.” Jane didn’t even mind. This was good. This was what she’d been waiting for, really. Two weeks and she wouldn’t even have to live in reality enough to pretend she cared about school. She didn’t want to be here, and now she didn’t have to.
They bloomed too soon.
How could they not have known that mid March was a trap? How could no one have told them not to invest their youth so precipitously?
But all handwringing aside, the fact remains: They bloomed too soon.
They jumped the gun with that haughty optimism peculiar to well intentioned fools. Flagrantly pushing themselves out into the world with arrogant abandon…
as if in their frivolous, ornamental hands rested the fates of so many,
as if they were so crucial that to wait with circumspect maturity would be a crime.
Disgusting in their myopic callowness.
And now, after an oh so predictable late snow, we shall have a blighted year and all because they bloomed too soon.
2013: So Damn Bright
Job prospects were not great. Job prospects for 20-something high-school drop-outs with a history of “mental illness” were worse, especially if you weren’t a barbie doll and couldn’t pose for every Deviantart freak, art student, life-drawing class, and outlet catalog that you could find like Jean could. Jane hadn’t even wanted to get a job, but her parents were over their useless failure kid, and it was get a job or move out. And she didn’t romanticize sleeping on park benches like she used to.
She’d woken up two hours before her alarm on her first day at the laundry service and watched the ceiling change color until the beeping had started, wailed itself out, then stopped. She couldn’t believe she missed school. But somehow, somehow work was worse. She missed her destruction, missed that moment when she’d been shining and powerful and full of nothing but glorious potential, the power at the prospect of being able to throw it all away, missed the prospect of obituaries that read things like “cut off in the bloom of life” and “girl genius tragically taken from us” and “had she not lost her battle, who can say how she might have transformed art, transformed us all?”
She wasn’t potential anymore. She inertia and toxic waste. Washing lazy bitches’ sheets. In ugly “practical” shoes. Getting her ass grabbed by fucking Joe.
It gave her a sick, distant satisfaction that she wasn’t the only one from her prep school that hadn’t become president or cured cancer or whatever. Veronica worked in the laundry too. She hadn’t lost any weight since her days of ignominy as the high school fatty, but somehow it suited her better now. There was a nobility about it, a paleolithic luxury in a sea of dingy compactness. They hadn’t been friends in school. It would have been suicide: the weirdo poor kid teaming up with the chunkster. Veronica’s speech impediment also hadn’t gone anywhere. Jane wondered if that was why she was working at a laundry despite her college degree: nobody wanted to hire the fat girl with the lisp. Turned out it was to afford rent so she didn’t have to live with her parents while she worked freelance for different literary journals. Jane admired that. Turned out there was a lot to admire about Veronica, who was, in addition to being a writer, a prankster, and decidedly not to be daunted by a world not made for her. And she was the only person Jane had ever seen who was able to get the kind of bitchy rich white lady who sent her equally bitchy kids to their old school to apologize to a laundry worker. Maybe they should have teamed up earlier.
2013: Factory Girls
They would share warm beer and cigarettes that Veronica kept in the utility box behind the laundry during their lunch. Jane had started smoking hoping for lung cancer when her quest for something better than the reality of 21st century mundanity had failed. Veronica had started in school as a failed bid to lose weight. They made out for the first time after they switched from Pabst to something called an “Imperial” IPA and got more drunk than they’d meant.
It felt good. Better than anything Jane had felt since she’d made a perfect swan-dive into what was supposed to be the 27-club, and realer, grounded. And that didn’t scare her anymore.
She’d spent the whole night after that rolling in dreams of Veronica, her tight curls, her commanding, unyielding face as she stared a client into submission, the way her uniform shirt bunched on her arms. They’d gone to what was probably the shittiest bar in town after their shifts ended. Four rounds and they were making out again in the alley.
2013: Love in the Time of the Great Recession
The cashier at the art store looked exactly as hungover as Jane was when she went in the next morning, for the first time since she was 16, to buy clay.