by Kimberly Nichols

It is Monday night and I am making my round of angel calls; making sure all my friends are still intact. Jerry is okay and so is Billy. I dial Seth and expect the worse. He answers on the third ring. I can tell he’s on bed. At eight o’clock, that’s not good.

“Why are you sleeping?”

“I’m coming down.”

He refuses to lie to me.

“Is that where you’ve been for two days?”

“Yes,” he says, “I ran into Nixon and he hooked me up. Oh.”

I hear a ruffling of bed sheets. I can visualize him dirty and full of goosebumps under the covers in his sweaty pad without electricity. It’s the middle of another torrid summer. I hear a small sniffle with female notes.

“Do you have a girl there?” I ask.

“Remember that girl I told you about? The stripper?”

“Maya?” I ask, “The one whose father made her watch pornos while he shoved his dick down her throat?”

“Yes.”

“Do you like her?” I inquire.

“She says I have the most beautiful eyes she’s ever seen,” he announces proudly, “So I had to sleep with her.”

I hang up so he can sleep after he promises me that he’ll come over later. He says he’ll bring Maya; just another dot on the beaded string of strange oddities he parades through my life on a fleeting basis.

I wait for hours and they finally show up around midnight. Maya doesn’t look anything like a stripper. She is sweetness gone grotesquely awry. Young with a reddish bob, she’s dressed in baggy, drab clothes over light freckled skin. I tell Seth to lie on my couch and rest and Maya and I go into my office to talk. She wants to see some of my work.

All writers are bleeding in front of strangers and Seth, being my biggest fan besides my lover Jack, has been boasting to great lengths. I give her a stack of raw prose and she’s silent as she reads.

I start to think about the rich. If I were rich, I’d serve tea with my literature out of creamy milk glass pitchers with tiny cookies on the side instead of here with two Diet Coke cans and an overflowing ashtray on the floor. The rich always have crushed ice, rattan, tabletops and time. I have tap water cubes, garage sale tapestries, no tabletops, a poorly paid waitress job and my soul. They have fuchsia flowers with leaves that wilt into spinach-like form; chair legs that twist oddly like burnt trees and blondes. I have weeds that grow wildly out of dirt in my backyard, chairs they break and get repaired over and over and bleach that can be utilized to my roots if I feel the desire to be some lounge lizard’s wet dream. They have any life. I have pores. My pores are my art.

It’s three a.m. and I sit here listening to Liz Phair sing,”Šcuz secretly I’m dead”. Our humiliations are kept under the covers. I create art with my own small deaths. Art as urinal. Courtney Love sings about a plastic doll, malleable in the heat of male hands and when I read Sassy (the magazine with great intentions) at age fifteen, I ran to Wal-Mart for a bag of Goody barrettes after seeing them in a fashion ad. Now Liz is singing about an x-ray man and the secret positions she sees in his head as he looks at other chics and I realize why girls like me never find understanding. We know there is truth but we don’t want to hear about it. The soul twin lover, the panic and confusion stemming from the abstract of love- something that carries so many connotations that we’ve been programmed to embrace and reject and, sadly, accept. Coldness ahs become so trendy that we deny innocence. Instead, we share it with a world that coins us psychotic for being real. We get rid of insecurity through an icy, cold stance or a job that involves taking off our clothes. We are keen on male minds because they have become our best friends. We bond our common faults and flaws into the common bandage of humanity yet the knife is still as sharp as it slips between our thighs.

“The shape of his naked eyes as he came..” Maya reads from one of my poems.

“The only time guys are naked unless they love you.”

“Not always,” she says softly.

I’ve known her four an hour and we’re already on the same wavelength.

“But,” I announce, “The more naked they get, the more scary it feels.”

She doesn’t reply.

Why can’t we all shed our clothes? It would be so much easier to accept our mortality but we can’t stop thinking that we’re all unique. It’s all we cling to. A psychic once told me that no matter what happens it could be labeled growth in some form. The more naked we get, the scarier it feels. Why?

“To be cold used to be my goal,” I explain, “but it was impossible because my heart overruled.”

“Why cold?” Maya asks, crawling down on the floor beside me, creasing into perpendiculars, the lines of her olive green corduroy pants, “Why not just stop editing and say what you mean? What about honesty instead of plastic, manufactured emotions?”

A veneer of purity is alluring but tough to maintain.

“I don’t view cold as plastic,” I say, but more of a defense mechanism.”

I can’t believe this 20-year-old fresh-faced angel in front of me is a stripper. Her peaches and cream skin match the Victoriana she idolizes and writes romantically of. But abuse, I know from experience, warps girls into strange caricatures.

I continue, “Why care when someone walks out your front door? Why not just numb your ego in the first place?”

“Boring.”

I sigh, “But sometimes necessary for the weak kneed.”

“You,” she says sadly, tucking a strand of raw umber hair behind a diamond studded ear, “have been at the wrong places at the wrong times. You have a wonderful lover now and should stop looking for when the bad things will occur.”

I hand her a cigarette and light it. I say, “It isn’t about what’s already happened to me. It’s the anticipation of potential hurt if I become totally naked. Like the torture we put ourselves through if we suspect a lover is cheating until the day we find him inside of he and then it is so simple to walk away. The fog of anxiety is what stings, is what I can’t get away from.”

There’s a way never to be anxious,” she says in a whisper so that Seth won’t overhear from the other room, “there’s a recipe for monogamous unity if we’re willing to accept the ingredients. We all idolize the monogamous mind, the commitment in words and none of that matters. We should allow for our minds to explore but give more credit to the monogamous body.”

“But.”

“A monogamous physicality is simple if we don’t expect it in the mind. Can we do that?”

“I wonder what test we are ultimately qualifying for?” I say.

She laughs, “Life is SO navigable.”

“I don’t know if I agree with that,” I say.

“Neither do I,” she admits, “but I have to.”

She sprawls out like a cat on my carpet and takes a sip of soda. “I can tell you’re in love because you are analyzing things before they’ve even had a chance. This is probably the first time you’ve ever let someone truly into your heart. I have done it a thousand times so I am more relaxed about hurt then you. I envy you.”

She stands to leave and I try to make out the shape of her career beneath the thick ply of her sweater.

I used to think I could make that decision. To be cold or not to be. Thought I could slip on an attitude like my purple Birkenstocks. I was wrong.

Seth knocks on the door and then enters, “Hey VioletŠI want you to draw me a tattoo. I want it diabolical. Burnt trees and a sexy blonde. I want them to merge but be definite.”

We girls are good at blending with fire.

I turn on the radio and another male singer fills me with hope.