It’s been a long time since we’ve had fiction on Fridays here, since the sad end of Managed Expectations. Well, summer is winging toward us again, so fiction is back too-with a serial of related stories by T. J. Clarke.
“Tell me not to kill myself.”
Dree sits down across the table from me. We are in the law library. The only sounds audible in the cavernous study hall are the furious tappings of fingers on keyboards. I think of summer storms and the sound of rain drops pelting against my window. Dree keeps her voice at a whisper. Still, a head turns in our direction. I make an apologetic face. Dree, however, smiles sweetly at the disturbed library patron, who replies with an a half-grimace, half-smile.
Dree focuses her attention on me again. Her plaintive eyes pose the same question. She wants me to say something sensible, to sooth her. But I can’t. I know she is desperate, but I have no words of comfort to offer her. I feel violated when she assaults me with these outbursts. Just as a naked body offends when it appears in the wrong place, she never chooses the right occasion for her thoughts. Instead I just look at her. She has beautiful eyes; their black irises shiny like pebbles at the bottom of a brook. I always thought she should have been named Brooke. She is so full of water, overflowing with tears.
“If you don’t like the idea, just say it. Don’t sit there and stare at me like I am some lost species of chimpanzee.” Dree picks up her bag from the ground and ferrets around in it.
“No, I don’t like the idea,” I said. From her bag she pulls out a well-leafed issue of NumeÌro. She finds a page and puts the magazine in front of my face, pointing at a jewelry advertisement.
“What do you think of the Russian, Vodianova? I think she is beautiful.” Models. Dree is obsessed with them. Not the models as individuals, but images of them — editorials, runway shows, candid shots of models walking down the street. She once told me that she would stand naked in front of the mirror, scrutinizing her body for its infinite deformities. I had told her not to worry, that she is beautiful. She made a face and didn’t say anything else. This time I nod. Though before I said anything else, the future lawyer sitting to my left hisses: “Shhhh.”
Dree shrugs. She puts the magazine away. Methodically, she then takes out her laptop, a notebook, a binder full of computer printouts, and a zip-loc bag with an apple, an orange and a pear in it. Today is supposed to be a study date. Instead she is packed for a picnic.
Why do you still read old men poetry? A chat window pops open onto my computer screen. Dree fixes her stare at me, then takes a bite from the pear in her hand. Bits of saliva mix with the pear juice and drip down the side of her mouth. Her lips are moist as the pear flesh, sweet and tender.
Because only old men know what poetry is.
She almost chokes on her next bite of the pear. Her cheeks suddenly turning a deep shade of pink. Her eyes smiling at me, mirthful as a magpie with its shiny penny.
And don’t quote Emily Dickinson to me. She lived like an old man, so she doesn’t count as anything but.
What about Sylvia Plath?
Now it is my turn to puff up and choke on laughter. You are not serious.
I look up and see that she is, just a little bit. She once read “Colossus” to me and took an extra long
pause after the third stanza. I like the way she reads poems, like the poet might have, letting each word be a word, each syllable evenly spaced out. In her voice, the poems sound as I imagine they should be, clean and subtle. I try to think of something nice to say about Sylvia Plath without having to sacrifice my principles, but she has already moved on and is now putting on her earphones. The pear core lies on a paper napkin, content in its nakedness; its true form revealed by the most beautiful mouth this side of the Gowanus Canal.
T. J. Clarke is the pen name of a struggling writer. She lives in Brooklyn.