After We Left
She reached two hands to the back of her neck, I thought to unzip her dress and wanted to say wait, stop but then, like a magician, she produced one hair pin and another, and another. She’d been straddling my hips and now she let her full weight rest while she concentrated. Eight pins, silver and small, in a school on my chest.
“I can”t breathe in this thing,” she said, pushing her fingers under the wig. “It gets so sweaty. And I swear, sorry, this is gross, I swear it smells. Like every girl who’s had this job before me.”
“It”s okay,” I said. I put my fingertips on her hips, and watched as she dug behind the red ribbon-bow glued into the plasticky black hair. Another pin. The hair moved like a lose tooth, like a dislodged skull.
I didn’t want to see it. I curled forward and kissed her neck, her collarbone, and the space between her shoulder and breast, just above the blue line of her dress. The hairpins scattered; I pushed her forward roughly. She made a small noise and I imagined, rather than saw, her mouth rounding as I settled between her legs.
“My name is _____” she said.
“I don’t care,” I said. Did she hear me? I lifted my head and met her eyes. “I don’t care.”
“Mmmhmmm,” she smiled, kicking her hips up.
I thought about the way she’d looked in the parade. White cheeks, red lips. Something cold about her face, emphasised or echoed in the dead, perfectly taxidermied blackbird on her shoulder.
“That was my addition,” she’d said when I asked about it. “One of those weird things we got from my grandparent’s place after they died. I thought, if I’ve gotta wear this costume, I’ve gotta make it mine somehow.”
“They just let you?”
“Yeah. I mean, they didn’t want to. Roy said no one’ll get it. Snow White didn’t have blackbirds, that was Dumbo. And I said good, well good, maybe it’ll help us when Disney finally sues us. So. You know. He didn’t say anything to that.”
This is the thing: all night she was walking towards me. Me and my old school mates, standing out on the front deck of the bar, four beers deep into a blistering summer evening.
A halting conversation. We were all in town to see our families and already tired of talking about them. Divorce; illness; a new job. The sister who drove you to soccer training that one time, yeah, she left, she came back, she’s pregnant with her second. That kid who bit through his tongue when we were in fourth grade? He’s dead. Yes, they said, we know. Who else has died? A long pause. We were searching for the best next story.
We moved outside the bar to watch the parade. Standing next to each other on the deck was easier than talking. I drank my beer slowly, leaning on a wooden beam.
We hadn’t seen the noon parade – the official one. The one with the kids and the parents, the floats choking down the street, the local celebrities badly miked and half-heartedly commentating hometown spirit in between scripted sponsor announcements.
This was the after-dark parade, the victory lap. There were parade organisers with lanyards around their necks and band members drunkenly improvising around the Christmas carols they’d hated playing for months now. Late night shoppers and early drinkers lined the streets for them and cheered.
Girls dressed like someone’s idea of angels took cold beers from men standing curbside, who were shy, suddenly, in their thongs and shorts. They stood in the half-dark with their hands empty, not sure whether to go inside and get another or to follow the angels into the faltering procession.
Even after I got back to her place, I wasn’t sure anything was going to happen. Then, in the middle of some airy conversation, some meaningless call and response, something moved her to lift up her dress.
I sat on the couch in front of her and grabbed her hips, walked her towards me and ran my hands up her legs, pulled her stockings and underpants down together. She laughed, and leaned forward on her tiptoes. It unnerved me, her sudden lightness. For a moment she seemed unreal; without gravity, without weight. Then, her hands landed lightly on my shoulders and she said, finally, “Wait.”
She stepped out of her stockings and unpinned the dead blackbird from her shoulder. She held it in the nest of her two hands, and we both regarded it until she turned away and her too-short Snow White dress flipped up and I reached forward, I touched the back of her thigh.
She was holding hands with Cinderella. They were throwing kisses to the crowd. They had hiked their skirts up against the heat, and Cinderella had traded in her glass slippers for plastic thongs.
Sensing that the parade was winding down, they pulled each other towards the bar, towards a crowd that cheered for them as they passed the threshold.
“Not that bad being home, is it?”
We nodded, laughed, and settled down around tables again. The mood shifted.
“Remember Retta Jenson?”
And we talked until late, conjuring high school crushes out of memories and stories and what we would have done, if we hadn’t left.
She kept her dress on. I asked her to. I liked the way it fanned out over my stomach when she was on top of me. I liked holding onto it instead of her as she rocked back and forth. She unzipped it at the back and I pulled it off her shoulders, down over her breasts. The dress was a barrier, crumpled and encircling her hips.
She asked when I was going home. I didn’t answer for a while. I thought about how everyone so far had said welcome home when they’d seen me, how they were wrong about that.
I told her, “Soon. I’m going home soon.”
We were on top of the sheets. She pulled her dress back up over her chest. I lay my hand palm down on her ribs, traced gold thread with my fingers.
Her house wasn’t far from town. I walked without knowing where I was going for only a few minutes before the streets cornered into familiarity.