The flower girl was the first one to admit she was a stodgy dresser. She favored darkness below the waist, and either a t-shirt or sweater – white, sometimes beige – around those humbly boyish upper climbs of her body.
She wasn’t out there to grab attention. Working outside among all that foot traffic didn’t do much to enhance or detract from her self-image. She wasn’t in it for the people, either. Flower girl was a flower girl because that was the best her she had at the moment, and she liked it well enough.
She had only been accused of being a lesbian once. She hurt her knuckles against that guy’s chin, first of all, because she forgot it was the neck and not the jaw that’s prime country for the indigenous K.O. bush; and secondly, because she had the nagging feeling that if she ever did focus that subset of her energies on the female sex, it would be out of boredom more than anything else.
So it wasn’t so much that she disliked women, as she hated boredom. And furthermore, she hated being told who she was, especially in that tone of voice.
Oh, and yes, she had pierced her labia, but how and why was none of anybody’s business.
Her skin, dark and pockmarked, gave the impression that it would be rough, to the touch, but those who had had the opportunity to run a feeling finger or receptive pair of lips over her cheeks, they knew otherwise.
Crimp Jose (Joe – Zee he’d correct when the random barista or bouncer insisted on pronouncing it aloud) knew well the downy slopes of the flower girl’s countenance. But all that data had been compiled some time ago.
He knew nothing about the curl of silver lodged in her sacred spaces, but there’s only so much information you need on an ex lover to remain secure in the convoluted bounds of opposite sex camaraderie. He’d compose her poems she recited dutifully, sort of like a fisherman cleaning out a net or lobster cage: industrious, used to the smell.
They met up Tuesday at the Ash St. Saloon, but neither were in the mood for the drink or the noise. As they sat across from each other, rings of beer and gin shiny on the table betwixt, they couldn’t seem to resurrect their vitriol for nights that feel like scars from the perspective of the following day. After two half-ass smiles and a single gesture towards the door, they found themselves on the sidewalk, heading towards Burnside.
Jose whipped out a small cigarello, the kind that’s vanilla flavored and smells of equal parts liquor and detergent. Flower girl rolled her eyes, and began a monologue about _______.
The monologue about _______ lasted until they reached 21st Street. As they ambled into the Raindrop Café, an odd wave of self-doubt took next to no time to rise and crash over them. They didn’t have to say it. The look on the other’s face was embarrassing enough.
Fucking hipsters, they mumbled, making their way out and trying to avoid the just-so rockabillie-cum-retro clothes below scraggily hair and the random loop jutting, puckering, ringing in ear and lip and wherever.
Sometimes you can only fit in so much before you get this notion that you’re little more than the pickled artichoke heart of cliché.
Outside, they couldn’t decide on which direction. Maybe it was time they moved to Arizona. She suggested Alaska, he rebutted with Aspen. The mention of Alabama, spoken simultaneously, with an exactitude more common among siblings that ex lovers, warmed their hearts. It felt good to know there were still some places left, places on the map that seemed perfectly out of reach, peculiar and alien and revolting enough to be attractive.
Alabama in a double-wide with a dog or…
But the feeling had already run it course.
Crimp Jose suggested they walk arm in arm. Flower girl felt the denim of his jacket stiff against her elbow. She asked if it was new. He answered yes. Why in the world would you buy something new, especially something denim? I don’t know, he said as he looked at her cheek and began to want to touch it.
There wasn’t much wrong between them. They could share a dud of a night and pass it in relative equanimity. She let herself remember him, even though it wasn’t all that exciting. Maybe Arizona would be best after all. She could build them a cistern. What would you like? Do they make studio windows? I think you mean bay. The wide ones, right? Yeah, the wide bay windows.
They were drifting apart, expanding like a gas. When he felt the unyielding loop beneath the fabric of her brand new gap underwear, something crazy broke out of him and he pulled away from her and right there on the park bench began to sob or shudder.
What is it? All those condoms. What are you talking about? You know, those condoms you find in parks or on your front porch. What about them? I just wish people’s genitals weren’t so fucking prevalent. I’m getting sick of all this lousy exhibition.
Flower girl almost got melodramatic right along with him. It was, after all, a june night, and they were, after all, on a park bench. Perfect little scene, straight out of something paperback and inky, with a binding that’s more a way of keeping the title visible, than keeping the pages stuck in any particular place.
She put her arm around him and was about to say __________, but she was too dry, in the heart. She was just too dry to make a big production out of things. Crimp could go ahead and blow off his steam. She didn’t have to be the annoying whistle shrieking on the kettle’s spout. She could just be there, waiting, warming up to the idea of maybe remembering him a little more.
It feels like swimming up river in the wrong season; like they can do this if they really want to, but they don’t have enough want to want to enough. It feels like every time they take a step forward something arbitrary sneaks into their time, rendering absurd anything remotely passionate. Absurd and sort of shallow. They ease back. He persuades her to take a drive up to Seattle, for breakfast.
On the Pier (salt water air and those calm roaring sounds, like indigestion; reek of barnacles, faintly vaginal, the Sound seems like something you could walk on, if you had the right shoes; they eat ham and egg croissants, share a hot cocoa from the local *$’s):
I thought I wanted to be alone, he says, shoulders up and hands in jacket pockets, a la John Melloncamp circa jack-and-diane. It thought I wanted to be alone, you know, for all time, but I sit in public places and I see all these pieces of human beings, and it makes me feel like I’m a kid sitting crisscross-applesauce on the living room carpet, surrounded by a few thousand Lego’s. All them colors, dimensions, begging to be put together, heh, and I feel how alive they all are, how much they struggle to fit together, and I don’t see any solution other than to throw myself in the mix. Assemble a spacecraft or some sort of looming tower out of all the pieces.
I was always into building houses, she says, thinking how obvious that sounds, thinking: is there any escape from the cookie cutter?
Her long hair whips her cheeks, adding and erasing scars, tenderizing her skin. She breathes in the salt water and sips a little more of the hot chocolate.
He: Lego’s, man.
Don’t call me that.
Call you what?
So you don’t want to be alone any more?
No, I don’t think so.
That was an attempt to get him to talk more. But evidently the crowd is distracting him. She looks at the hills, and they’re all pavement. Hills and hills of pavement. He thinks how nice it is to have a living voice next to him, how it doesn’t matter what she wears or looks like, so much as how well they can walk arm in arm.
She: There are so many ways to make things fit.
He takes his time in saying: But isn’t it funny how life makes us want to make everything fit in a certain way?
Here’s her chance to impress herself. She gives it a whirl.
I can’t tell what kind of flowers a person likes off the bat, but I know what kind of vase they are. So I locate the vase, and work from there…
(she says the word vase like gauze, like something clean and elegant, almost)
…and it only takes me a question or two to find out what someone wants, but that’s not how it works. I have to sell them flowers. I have to make them feel like they’re buying something, that they’re converting the want in their shirts and the will in their pockets into something, you know, there.
It’s my way of fitting it all together… or letting it fit its own together together.
He: I just think it’s always changing here. Things are subject to change. Life is subject to be rowdy, and people tend to either make a big deal out of it, shout disaster strikes! and revel in the shock, or we go the other direction, and try to cling too tightly to something, some idea or other, some faith, that makes it easy for us to see everything else as not as good as what we have, or even totally wrong to our right... And that’s totally fucked up because when we cling, we forget how big it all is. We loose the thread that keeps us afloat. The lifeline, which isn’t some straight metal bar or anything. It’s a wavelength, a… a kaleidoscope or pendulum or just something moving without end.
But what is it, Crimp? What is it?
I know I don’t want to be alone, right? And I don’t really know how not to be alone, but what I do know is more important than what I don’t know, so I have to try and not be alone. I have to try and make things better for myself.
And if the world ends?
Then I let it end. I don’t need to be that little chicken brat with the shards of sky in his eye.
The whistle on the kettle.
Yeah. It’s gonna go off sometime. It has to. They say Mt. Raineir is ten years overdue for a nice releveling of the pacific northwest…
They reach a red light in their walk, stop on the corner, facing each other, facing away from what the other sees. He finishes his thought:
As long as I remember the difference between treading water and getting all blue-tongued and bulging eyed beneath the beating waves, I think I’ll be fine.
She pinches the sides of her face, around the eyes, so the skin bunches up in a dozen or so lines that he thinks might be able to channel the wind like a medicine man could channel a coil of spirits; with hardly a sweat. He’s inexplicably overcome with gladness that they didn’t have sex last night. Sex proper, that is.
He kisses her forehead. They head back to the car.
Remember when I called you a dyke?
I didn’t really mean it.
She doesn’t answer, doesn’t look his way. They watch the road together, thinking about lunch, thinking about time, thinking about the differences that come and go and more often than not leave no evidence to speak of.