“Miss Gloomy, Miss Glum” by Sage Marsters
--page 3


        He steps closer and touches my hip, grazing the rise of bone with the tips of his fingers. I don’t flinch. I admire my own skinniness. Since I came here, I’ve watched my fat drop away, new edges leaping out, even my feet seem bonier. I think Michelle Miner is, was, probably twelve years old; I’m wearing a twelve-year-old’s jeans, bubbly rainbows sewn across the back pockets. I laugh, but just to myself, imagining my mother seeing me, squinting at me, disguised as when she last saw me. And what would she look like, her clothing, a used dress, maybe strung with faded beads, a collection of woven bags hanging from her shoulders. Her face must have changed, maybe it’s smaller, furrowing in.
        “Let’s do something. Let’s go somewhere. Listen to music or something. I might buy a CD,” Franklin says. He smiles big, exposing teeth that are square and straight and white, too square somehow, like a plaster model on display at the dentist’s office: False Teeth, History and Facts. Did you know? George Washington wore hippopotamus teeth, and cow’s teeth, and even teeth made out of ivory and lead! Never wood. His mouth was full of springs and hinges, ringing and squeaking with pain.
        “Or coffee,” Franklin says. “Are you a busy woman? Do you have appointments all across town?”
        I look down at myself, looking for this busy woman, for my hand holding a briefcase. “I’m between jobs,” I tell him. I’ve been quitting my jobs. The last one was as a telemarketer. I was never even sure what I was selling. I read descriptions of objects I couldn’t imagine. The headpiece was always smeared with lipstick. The carpet smelled like old formaldehyde, like jars of soft white floating bodies, curled limbs, lambs and freaks. Dan the manager with his pompous ponytail and Guatemalan belt and bulbous ass kept telling me to smile even if it was the phone, that people could hear my sour face. I think I could be a florist now.
        Franklin keeps smiling, flashing his teeth, waiting, and somewhere, someone gives me permission, a father in a den, deep in his chair with his clicker and his newspaper and his ham sandwich, mother in the kitchen nodding while she wipes a dish, go, go, and I smile up at Franklin, seeing my own face like some kind of sweet moon, the day shifting, I’m allowed, the light suddenly bright, skittering, the afternoon is open, there isn’t anything I have to do, there is nowhere to be. “I can go,” I tell him, “I can go.”
        Clip-clopping in cowboy boots, I follow Franklin, first to Virgin Records, where Franklin leads me inside by the hand and places headphones over me, fitting them to my ears. He makes me listen to a song, watches me listen. I tap my foot awkwardly, move my head a little. It’s nothing I’ve heard before, a maze of instruments. He’s providing everything: name, soundtrack, destination.
        “I love that song,” he tells me. Then he leads me outside again, and down the street to a bar. “You’ll appreciate this place,” he says at the door. “This place is better.”
         “Okay,” I say. “But what time is it?” It doesn’t really matter, except I can’t read the light here yet, it’s always the yellow middle of any day in any vague month, and it’s become something I’m used to asking people whenever I get the chance. I’m not asking what time it is, really, I’m wondering at what time this is happening to me.
        Franklin opens his eyes wide, becomes a cartoon-horse. “Worrywart,” he says. “It’s never too early.” He stops, faces me and puts his hands on my shoulders. He presses down on me twice in a kind of pumping motion, like he’s checking me for firmness. He’s tall, I stare at his chest, it looks thin but taut under the purple t-shirt, like a tough guy from a detective show in the 70’s. I get a whiff of him, his hair and sweat, it’s a clean smell, salty, coppery, the way mud can smell clean in the spring. I think maybe the people driving by are watching us, suspiciously but proudly, my skinny legs, my ass in Michelle’s jeans, Franklin’s hands hovering over me. I hope one of them is Richard, my uncle’s friend, slowing, ogling, his face heavy, red and sweating over the steering wheel, witnessing. I shake my ass for Richard.

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