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Mary Miller

Even the Interstate Is Pretty

My sister is inside watching a movie and bleeding. I donít bleed anymore. Itís not something I thought Iíd miss. My mother refers to the whole situation as my apparatus. When Iím quiet she asks if itís because of my apparatus, and sometimes, in the middle of a conversation, sheíll put her hand on my arm and say: just because you donít have your apparatus doesnít mean youíre not a woman.

I have pictures in my head of what my insides looked like before and what they look like now, but otherwise, I have difficulty with visualization. The lady who insists I call her by her first name tells me to visualize the beach or a rustic mountain scene and I try to connect the sand with the water, the mountain to the trees to the birds, but all I can do is repeat the names of them in my head. Sand, I tell myself, waves, but itís like describing the color of the sun to a blind man, or maybe itís not like that at all. Maybe he sees yellow every time he steps outside.

My sister opens the sliding glass door and sits across from me in a chair shaped like an egg, lights a cigarette. Except for my bed, my furniture is modern and uncomfortable, impractical. My desk, for example, holds nothing, and my bookshelves hold books just fine until you go to read one. I pick up her pack, pluck out the one turned upside down for good luck.

That movie was fucked, she says, smiling. Whyíd you make me watch it? Iím all depressed now. She stands and lets her hair fall over the balcony.

We change and take the elevator down, picking up a man with a small dog on the third floor.

He should paper train that bitch, she says, while we wait for a horse-drawn carriage to pass. I feel sorry for the horses, the dogs. They donít belong here with all the concrete, the bars and parking garages.

You again, the doorman says, not unfriendly, and I say, itís me, and then I walk straight back to the bathroom. I examine the contents of the trash can while I pee. Thereís a beer bottle among the tampon wrappers and ribbons of cellophane, my apparatus tangled up like a string of Christmas lights. And then my apparatus is intact inside my body, the head of a ram.

Already the barstools next to her are occupied.

I sit beside the curly haired one and the bartender tosses me a napkin. I order a beer. My sister grabs my wrist and tells me to put it on her tab, so I say her name, Melissa, and he nods. The curly haired one laughs and I see his canine teeth, long and sharp and stark white. He closes his mouth and I want to pry it open again, but he angles away from me and then he lays a couple of bills on the bar and walks out. I move into his warm seat and watch Melissa take shots with what is clearly a musician. The city is full of them: sad white boys who imagine their sadness bankable. I encourage the ones I know to get on antidepressants, to take up running.

The crowd moves in and out while my sister and the boy kiss. He puts his hands on her face and I think about how itís a selling point when I first meet someone, when that someone is asking me about the things heís been instructed to ask me about. I lack the necessary equipment, I tell him, and the boy never asks questions, though I am prepared to give answers, have been waiting to give them. I open my purse and pull out one of my fatherís old handkerchiefs. I have other things of hisóa watch, an expired driverís licenseóbut I canít wave them above my head while hanging off a boat. I canít hold them the same way.

ē

Melissaís been here over a week now. During the day she sleeps and watches Meerkat Manor, only goes out for chicken fingers and cigarettes. At night, she walks across the street to the bar and I wake up to the sound of the couch becoming a bed.

I listen to her whimper like something small and sick as a boy moves over her. Doors open, close.

The boysí voices: I hear them clearly but I canít make out a word they say.

ē

Weíre at MaggieMooís and itís cold and there are no boys in here except for the big one waiting patiently for our order while we study the wall.

Iíll have the Express Yourself, she tells him. He scoops the ice cream onto the slab of marble and folds in almonds and fudge. After he rings her up, he comes back to me and I canít say, Símore Fun than a Campfire. I want to say it but I canít. The campfire one, I tell him.

We sit at a table and look out the window.

Always some asshole in marketing coming up with shit to humiliate you, making you order an Ugly Naked Guy when all you want is a taco, I say.

What are you talking about?

Símore Fun than a Campfire? She shrugs. I shrug. I talked to mom earlier. She wants to know when youíre coming home.

Thereís nothing for me there, she says.

She needs you.

Whyís it have to be me?

Because youíre the baby, I say. Because I have a life, I mean, and you donít. But then thereís the question of what a life entails. I have a job I donít like and friends who donít come over because of the parking situation and an ex-boyfriend I still, occasionally, sleep with. There are magnets on my refrigerator and a clutter of pizza coupons in my drawer. Is this a life?

I was thinking Iíd move here, she says. I like it here. Everythingís so green, and hilly. Even the interstate is pretty.

With me?

I guess not.

My place is small.

I think my boobs are getting bigger. Are they getting bigger? They feel huge. She looks down at one and then the other of them and I look over at the big boy. Heís got his chin in his hands, mooning over my sister, her heavy eye makeup and tight jeans, the hair piled on top of her head with bobby pins. Our mother wanted sorority girls, debutantes. She wanted to plan weddings and baby showers, but she refuses to be disappointed in herself so she acts like we were her design: a couple of pale-skinned girls with holes in their noses; one of them incapable of having a baby and the other capable only of mistakes.

On the way home, we stop to pick up beer and milk and Diet Coke. And then we sit in front of the television watching Animal Planet. A man and a woman in a van go around collecting neglected dogs. They spend weeks fixing them up and then end up putting most of them down because they have poor temperamentsótheyíre food aggressive; they wonít let you hug them; they stay riled up long after youíve quit riling them. They may as well have left them chained up and starving.

When itís over, I turn off the television but we donít move. After a while, she gets up and goes to the bathroom. I follow her, wash my face while she digs around in her makeup bag.

I pick up the shadows and blushes one at a time and read the names of them: Night Star, Ashes to Ashes, Orgasm, Sin.

I let her line my eyes with a gray crayon, smudge the edges with her fingertips. I stare at the wall, at a black-and-white picture of two girls on a beach. There are some people I can only look at from a distance, the people I love. She applies mascara to my bottom and top lashes, saying, look up, look down, open your eyes wide, blink.

You should try and look easy sometimes, just for fun, she says, kicking my boot with her bare foot. In order to make boys love you, you have to trick them first.

I know how to make boys love me, I say, and she shakes her head all sad-like.

ē

Karaoke night. After three shots and a beer, sheís sitting on the bar, her legs swinging. I still canít see a goddamn thing, she tells me, moving her head around. The bartender asks her to get down but she ignores him. Then the doorman comes over. He is thin and dark-haired, has circles under his eyes like old bruises. I donít know his name but I feel like something is built every time our eyes meet. I want a whole city underneath us, before.

Whatís wrong with her? he says.

Sheís drunk.

I can see that.

Our dad died.

Oh. Iím sorry.

Itís okay, I say, and Iím reminded of all the times Iíve walked in on women in public restrooms, how I say Iím sorry and they say itís okay and I feel like itís their own damn fault because they didnít lock the door but Iím the one whoís supposed to feel badly about it.

Sheís been here every night this week, he says. I nod and a sidewalk is poured. Dogs traipse through the cement before it can dry. Melissa kicks off one of her heels and it goes flying. I wait for him to tell me I should get her some help but he just walks over and picks it up, holds her arm as he slips it back on her foot.

He points to himself and says, Tony.

Melissa, I say, Audrey. Iím relieved when no one says itís nice to meet you. Iím tired of saying itís nice to meet you, tired of greeting people over and over again like this man I work with who thinks he has to say hello every time we pass so weíre helloing all day long. Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello.

Tony lights our cigarettes. Then he goes back out to his stool where he sits and recruits passersby. Melissa hops off the bar. She asks for another drink but the bartender wonít serve her, so we pay our tab and walk out the open door.

Once Iíve passed him I turn around and hold up my hand.

Yaíll be good, he says.

An Italian boy named Tony, she says to him, how original. I bet youíve got a brother named Joe.

We call him Joey.

Come over later, she says, bring me some Camel Lights.

He looks at me.

Weíre probably going to bed soon, I say, and he tells us to take it easy, crosses and uncrosses his arms.

You hurt his feelings, she says. He wanted to do you. Poor guy, heís all torn up now. You should just let him do you.

We take the stairs up.

Inside, I open a couple of beers and we go out to the balcony and drink while down below, Tony looks right and left. I watch him knowing he knows weíre up here, knowing he wonít look up, and I think about another Tony, a shorter fatter one, and how, every morning, this Tony would sit on the toilet at the same time saying you could train your bowels to shit on command but then heíd stay in there forever reading an almanac, would emerge with something for me to consider. Whatís the difference between partly sunny and partly cloudy? heíd say, or heíd tell me what happened on that day in 1863. This other Tony worked maintenance at a hospital and weíd go up to the roof and hang our heads over the edge and talk about how great it was to be up so high, and I liked him because he wore a tool belt and my father had never fixed anything, because pretty early on heíd admitted to wanting to impregnate me and every other boy Iíd ever been with took me out for margaritas when my period came, fed me quesadillas and guacamole and expected me not to get fat.

A car stops in the middle of the street. The music goes boom, boom, boom. The boy in the passenger seat gets out and goes around to the trunk, stands there waiting for it to open. The driver honks. The boy gets back in. The driver peels out.

Hey, she calls down to him. He looks up, hey yourself. Weíre looking down at Tony, whoís looking up at us and then heís in my apartment, standing there with a box of Camel Lights for my sister, a bottle of wine for me. It was in my car, he says, shrugging. We feed him shots of vodka and amaretto, to catch up, and move him around the apartment like something exquisite we have no place for.


Mary Miller has stories forthcoming in Swink and The Oxford American.  Her stories can be found online at elimae, Frigg, Smokelong Quarterly, and Night Train, among others. 

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