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
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
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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
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
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.
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
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