We were swerving, hot ‘n easy down the freeway Friday night, flicking butts to the asphalt and an aah of smoke was pulling up from my belly, the box wine in a McDonald’s cup put out that inner fire, slipping bitter-cool down the back of my char-broiled throat. You smoked Marlboro Reds and tapped the box on the soft, veiny underside of your wrist. The way your index finger looped over the top of the box and curved, like cocked to pull a trigger, made me feel that finger at the base of my neck and then you said You want one and I did. Lips pursed all nonchalant, your eyes were white to me when you sideways watched the drug stores and good time girls slide by, their bodies posed like ‘who you lookin’ at, you want a good time baby’ beneath the bright lights. We, so loud, so cool, blew smoke toward their faces through rolled down windows, but when their hard, empty eyes looked up from the street, ours turned suddenly shy and away.
Flame singed the tip of your third cigarette so it glowed red. Smoke poured from your nostrils in tendrils. At a traffic light, you pushed another Red between my pursed lips saying Here, baby girl, keep up. Then leaned in close so the hot end of your cigarette lit mine. It wasn’t so much about a nicotine fix as it was a necessity for my hand and mouth to be occupied with anything other than you.
Your mama used to say that you and me meant nothing but trouble. A couple of girls too goddamn hot for our own young good and you know it, she’d say. God knows what and who you do all night, she’d say, dressed like you need a baby for the welfare check. When Mama said this you’d just lift your eyebrows, make a pucker-up face with your lips, hike up your skirt so that ass popped and shake it out the door, throwing back a laugh. I never told you, but lots of times I practiced that look, that way you walk, that way you have of laughing at folks in a way that makes ‘em feel like they’re being let in on some great joke.
Most nights what we were ‘doing’ was the train bridge, edges of our bare browned feet gripping warped wooden slats or balancing like drunk gymnasts on beams of steel still humming hot from the day’s sun. The liquor we begged off of boys with our eyes and hips. The cigarettes I stole from purses left in the break room at the McDonald’s where the fat chicks and managers with greedy little dicks liked to rub up, all slick and greasy, before taking long drags behind dumpsters in the alley.
Dangling my legs off the edge of the tracks over the black river water, you’d take long drinks from something in crumpled brown paper while pulling fingers through my hair in a way that felt electric, my head cradled in the crosses of your legs. Soft pin pricks scratched against my cheek, the place where your razor skimmed the calves I leaned into, breathing you in, all sweet like sweat and soap. In bored, offhand tones you’d talk about the boys who’d looked and touched behind the gym or in someone’s daddy’s car, leg jammed between the clutch and the seat, head knocked against fogged glass. Jimmy Darron popped in under five; Star Wars Boy from second period gave ten bucks for you to touch it; Scott Cormac has a girlfriend but likes that thing you do with your finger tips. I’d listen, breathing shallow with implosions in my gut and take a drag and say “Yeah. Boys,” like I knew.
It was that Friday, though, rippin’ it up, my foot on the accelerator, hand cupping the gear shift like it’s your knee and I’m making my way to your thigh. Red lights buzzing peripheral, spinning high, your lips, the wine, sensory-intoxicated. Something about the light dropping shadows down your chest, the burst of speed down a slick freeway, the heady sickness from the wine, tackled me. It was brimming, near to bursting at the base of my throat, an ulcer pulsing, gagged behind my teeth. I must have said it a million times in my head, so many times I was sure it’d spill out of me, and I’d be left to wipe it from every surface. The hand left on your pale thigh was open, curled and relaxed, it said Hold me. But I couldn’t. And then we were at your house, your impossibly small waist bending toward the door, stepping into dewy wet grass, you blew a kiss I caught and swallowed. The orange tabby cat from next door curled around your ankles ‘till you kicked him, hissing, aside. I missed your silhouetted figure in the doorway. You left me slurping the dregs of wine with a straw, tracing the vanishing outline of your handprint pushed, flowering, on the cool, fogged glass of a window. Ice spidering in snowflake formation, a lattice of cold and empty, down stacked notches of spine. And my right hand did one of those waves like a one-hand clap, fingers closing over and over in the absence.
Nadia Waggener is in the MFA program at Columbia University, and received her BA in Writing from Susquehanna University. She lives in Brooklyn with her kitty and is still kind of torn up about the whole Michael Jackson thing. She teaches writing to 9th graders in Harlem, and is still waiting for them to stand up on their desks and recite ‘Oh Captain, My Captain’. It could happen.