OBJECTS IN REAR VIEW MIRROR STRANGER THAN YOU THINK
She had black hair, cut short and spiky. Bright blue eyes, totally unnatural, like in a TV commercial, or a black & white movie where they only colorize one little thing, and these eyes burned bright bright bright, but one of them had a bruise, a total shiner, bloody like a hickey in spots, with a smear of blood on her cheek. Her skin was pale, kind of, but dirty, and there was no way I could be expected to notice what she was wearing, except that it wasn't anything that you'd say "what an outfit" about.
...and seventeen dollar lips. She hadn't paid seventeen dollars, but if your average gorgeous woman had spent seventeen dollars on lipstick and magazines to make their lips look enticing, it might have looked this good. She pulled it off without trying--I got the feeling she'd applied it at the department store while the cashier wasn't looking, from a brand-new tube that wasn't supposed to be a sampler, and that all the women and pre-pubescent girls who came along afterward were dissapointed in that then-sampler tube because she had used up every ounce of sex appeal in it: she was wearing all the magic out.
All of this registered the second time I saw her--the first glimpse I caught was in the rear-view mirror of a UPS truck parked along the street, storming up from behind me, pissed off at the world. I turned around and got hit head-on with all of this: the eyes, the lips, the blood... she took up so much space, and it wasn't exaggerated. She wasn't trying to make herself a badass, or be the center of attention, she was just so small that her presence was amplified despite her size. And she wasn't even really that tiny, just thin. She had scorned everyone who had ever called her "cute" and that scorn was written in cursive with her compact hips when she strode towards me, and that's when I saw she had a stick, a big-ass branch from a tree.
She's snapping it down from this totally unwieldy branch with every step, breaking off smaller and smaller lengths, and it's shaping up to be a formidable weapon. She's shouting, but I can't hear her over the traffic. It's Marla Singer in Suzie Derkins' body. It's every cute girl I've ever known, growling at me from inside a half-scale German Shepherd or a wolverine. I cannot imagine why the blood on her cheek is not sizzling. At this point I know that under her jeans (or over them?) she's wearing fishnet stockings, and I'm getting an idea of who she is as she keeps shouting:
"--did to me! Look what you fucking did to me! Look what you fucking did to me!"
And she's totally in a place to hit me with the stick and she's not, she just stands there next to me, snapping it over and over and over, shouting and snapping the stick rhythmically. I'm mortified, guilty, I don't know what I did, but here comes (oh shit) her boyfriend, but he's cool. I don't know why, or how, but he's cool. He's like Vince from college, or Owen Wilson, or someone I can't place, but he's cool, he tries to reel her in as she throws twigs on the ground at my feet like she's trying to fence me in. I didn't hit her, I swear. The Boyfriend has a bloody nose. The UPS truck, I notice, is crumpled into a Volkswagen Thing's hood. I'm not wearing a brown uniform, but I think maybe I'm guilty.
"I'm... I'm sorry. Please, what do you want me to do? Please? Tell me what I can do to make it better. Please."
This is me, pleading to her. I want her to want me. She hates my guts.
"You want to know what you can do? Go find another FUCKING state to terrorize! Delaware doesn't WANT you!!"
And I have the answer here, for her:
"I... I have. I really have. I'm not in Delaware, I'm in Ohio."
and she SMILES.
From here on out, we're best friends, her arm around my shoulder, she wants to know why I left Delaware, how Ohio is, not speaking in complete sentences. The boyfriend is a blur at the edge of my vision, but I recognize Brian, happy and confident, unconcerned as other men flirt with Suzy--it's just a glimpse, but this moment is pure and crystal, and I know I am not offending while I quietly lust after this tiny demon he has tamed.
She looks over the papers I am--was not previously, but am now--holding. I can see clearly, these are the Top Secret papers I worked on at my job yesterday, highly classified. But as she pages through them, they become a pamphlet for a Baptist ministry, a slick, glossy lie about Jesus and the burning, Satanic hatred he bears towards everyone who has ever befriended a gay person. She begins to frown and I stammer that it isn't mine, it's not what it appears to be, and she smiles up at me and says,
"Oh, it's fine. The Russians have been making these for years to hide important documents from us. Besides, you haven't seen a church until you've seen our church."
I am dragged in. Archetypical bosomy black women in cheap, shiny faux-satin robes clap and sing, "Whoa-oa-oa-oa-OOOOOA-LORD-Lord-lord! PRAI-ai-ai-ai-aise! HIM!" And the reverend, an Asian gentleman, pours white light from his palms into a thick thick book that says BIBLE on the front, but which is not the Bible. I cannot see clearly, but I think it is the source of the organ music.
She wipes the blood off her cheek, and it pools onto her fingertip like chocolate syrup, shining in the candle light. She offers it up to me, and I take her fingertip in my mouth, tasting it. It only tastes like blood for a moment, and then it is sweet, sour, tangy, alcoholic, warm, cool, minty, sharp... too many flavors. My mind reels. This instant probably lasted for whole minutes while I slept. I was unaware.
Her boyfriend goes into a religious seizure on the floor, the over-fluffed fur collar on his denim jacket protecting his head from the cool stone floor. I turn to her in his absence and say, quickly, under the shouting of the Reverend, the call-backs from the congregation,
"Your car, your man, your church are in ruins. Tell me what city I can find you in. What city?"
...and with a knowing smile, she says,
And I ask again,
What city? I can't hear you. Tell me where to find you."
...and with a knowing smile, she says,
I hold her shoulders
look her in the eyes
I KNOW she is saying a word. It is the name of a city.
...and with that same knowing smile, she says,
i wake up.