Mary Anne Snaps Out of It

“My terrible child” The subject line makes Mary Anne’s heart stop. The email address is unfamiliar, but she knows who it is. She clicks to open the body.

“My terrible child- I will be in NYC this weekend for a conference, which will undoubtedly be a bore. It would be heartless of you not to join me for dinner one night, perhaps Friday? I will be staying at the Wyndham Downtown.”

Mary Anne lets the cursor hover in large circles around the email, a habit she developed in grad school, when she first met him.

She had been ethically slutty for six months, carrying the book around with highlighted passages, and after a carousel of kink workshops, swingers parties and poly meet-ups, she had settled into a fairly consistent network of people she liked. She had a couple that she played with, a dom woman she experimented with, and a young ponytailed stand up bass player in an open relationship who came over for vanilla sex every so often. Everyone was very honest, boundaries were discussed and discussed some more. Mary Anne liked the rules, keeping the order in place so jealousies weren’t flared and feelings weren’t hurt. She thought, “I’m really good at this!” She even found herself getting smug with friends who questioned her about her lifestyle, out of curiosity and often skepticism, saying things like “labels are irrelevant, really” and “it takes a kind of maturity to give your partner that freedom”. This was actually just speculation, Mary Anne didn’t have a partner of her own in this life, she was a lone wolf, drifting around in cinched waist dresses and dramatic shoes to whatever appealed to her appetite moment by moment. Then she met Mathieu.

She had seen him around on campus many times, but didn’t take any particular care in noticing until they were on the same M1 bus one morning. He taught English and German Romanticism. He wore a cigar colored blazer and frumpy khakis. His dark beard had a sharp swath of pure white hairs right by his mouth, and he had an insane looking mop of salt and pepper curls, slightly receding at the temples. He peered at her from over his tortoise shell glasses. She noticed his wedding ring on his left hand and she felt dizzy. She braced herself, and by the time she looked him in the face directly, he was already smiling at her like the cat that ate the canary.

He was her first married man, and the only one whose wife was out of the loop. They never called or texted, only using their university email addresses, which he would immediately delete after reading. She saved them in a special folder labeled “From Sir”

They always met at her place, she was lucky that her roommate spent most nights at her boyfriend’s. He would bring her little gifts: a book of Germanic poems about death, baklava, and stockings from the Herald Square Victoria’s Secret. He was very hairy, which she loved. He made guttural sounds when they had sex, and he called her “my terrible child” throughout. He had many bizarre terms of endearment for her, besides Terrible Child, he called her his Juicy Duckling, wenig Apfel (little apple), and Marzipan (a play on Mary Anne).

“Little Mary Anne and her tight, perfect Marzipan….” You get the idea. He liked to be rough, and bought whips and paddles, but the discipline was mostly novelty. By the end of their lovemaking, he would be stroking her hair and whispering nonsense into her ear.

After he left, she would take a shower and find hairs of him on her arms and chest. She liked thinking about how when she was a baby, he already had hair on his chest, and had for years. When she was six, he was going gray. When she was in high school, he was middle aged. It all felt very glamorous, very arty, like a David Cronenberg movie from the eighties.

It ended, as all things like this do, when his wife was offered research position at a university in Colorado, and his course schedule had lightened enough to make it impossible to turn down. They moved away, but not before he had one last meeting with his little Marzipan Mary Anne. After some very fast missionary style sex, Mathieu presented Mary Anne with a Russian doll, kissed her on the top of her head, and whooshed out of her apartment, his herringbone overcoat billowing behind him.

Mary Anne stared at the Russian doll in her hands. She didn’t understand this gift. She began opening the dolls, thinking maybe he had planted something meaningful, or at least funny, at the bottom. But when she reached the end, it was only the last little wooden doll there, its painted face blurred in its tininess, the size of a pencil eraser.

Now, walking up to the restaurant to meet him, Mary Anne is nervous beyond her own recognition of herself. She had agonized over what to wear all afternoon. She wanted to look mature, like the woman he had hoped she would grow into, but also light and innocent, like the young lady he remembered. She settled on a simple navy tea dress printed with a wash of pink rosettes, she is already dampening under the arms and breasts.

Mathieu chose a Bavarian restaurant, with elk tusks jutting out from above the doorway. It takes a moment for Mary Anne’s eyes to adjust to the dark interior before she spots him sitting at a cozy table in the back, swirling a pour of liquor in a snifter. Her legs feel gummy and unstable on her heels as she approaches the table.

“Hello, Marzipan”

Sitting across from him, he starts talking, but she is absorbed by how different he looks. His hair is grayer, and there is a lot less of it. Deep wrinkles run from his eyes and make trails from his nose to his mouth. His skin has a waxy sheen. His eyebrows are…bushier? He’s more bloated than broad. He isn’t older, now he’s just old. Mary Anne struggles to snap out of it and listen to what he’s saying.

“…years of whiskey and all the caramel coloring they add to it, this has a more authentic flavor, more opulence” His drink. He’s talking about his drink. Okay, Mary Anne, you can get on board. You can handle this.

“Cognac is better for the body anyhow. It metabolizes easier in the blood, this one is particularly gentle on the veins because of the aging process. Just golden, lovely sap” He’s talking about Cognac. He’s drinking Cognac. Mathieu waves a waiter over to the table and taps the rim of his glass.

“Another one for the lady” His eyes follow the waiter as he leaves, then land on Mary Anne with a hunger that she recognizes. Finally, something familiar about him.

“You look lovely,” Mathieu’s voice has lowered, like he’s afraid someone will see them, like that would even matter now.

“Thank you,” Mary Anne’s voice is small and nasal, not fully her own. She takes her napkin from its setting and self-consciously arranges it on her lap. “How is Colorado?”

“Outside Boulder, quite lovely. Inside, Boulder is becoming more and more a strip mall with each passing day.” Mary Anne nods in assumed agreement, playing with the corner of her napkin on her lap.

“They opened a Sunglasses Hut right next door to my house” Mary Anne winces with the sort of pain she can sense he expects from this fact. The waiter plunks a pour of Cognac in front of Mary Anne, then starts to continue on, but Mathieu raises a hand to stop him.

“We’re ready to order,” though they haven’t even opened their menus. Mathieu flips open his menu and drags a doughy finger down the laminated page. “This beef stew, what cut is the beef?”

“I believe it is top round” the waiter clearly does not like Mathieu, but is putting on the pleasant face of a champion.

“Not chuck?” Mathieu asks, eyes cast down at the page

“No, sir. Top round.”

“Brilliant. We’ll have one of those to share, and….” He flips the page of his menu and sighs. “the dilled potatoes, the herring in cream sauce, and….” He clucks his tongue for a painfully long moment. Mary Anne sneaks an apologetic glance at the waiter. “The Deutscher Salat, and…the white asparagus with hollandaise sauce. And a knockwurst.” The waiter snatches up the menu from Mathieu and is gone.

“That dress is very becoming. You wore things like that back then, didn’t you? The sort of quasi-Lolita, nymphet in plain clothes version of a woman now?” What? What is he talking about?

Two things occur to Mary Anne at the same time. One is that this is not the first time he has called her a Lolita, or some approximation of it. He did it constantly when they were together those 11 years ago, and she had loved it. She thought they were doing some really hot, dom/sub literature-based sex play, when the truth of it was, she was less than half his age and he liked to verbally acknowledge this while he fucked her.

The other thing Mary Anne realizes is that Mathieu is on something. Though not hugely into drugs herself, Mary Anne has been around them enough to know that he is definitely in a state. She guesses painkillers, his mouth is sticky in the corners as he talks, and there is a euphoric glaze over his eyeballs. He is still talking about her dress, or just dresses in general. Its hard to follow, actually. She takes a sip of the cognac in front of her, which is just Hennessey as far as she can tell. From they way he was free verse poeticizing it moments earlier, she would have thought it was some sort of 15th century cave elixir distilled by faeries.

“You left those little dresses on the sink.” Mary Anne does not know what he’s referring to.

“How is Harriet, is she still at UCB?”

“We didn’t talk about Harriet then, why should we talk about her now?” Mathieu snorts

“Well, that was then. This is now.”

Mathieu leans back in his seat, staring at her, and then he smiles at her in the way that people on painkillers do, in slow motion. She is fighting hard not to squirm under the uncomfortable weight of his druggy gaze.

“What can I say? Harriet…She does her part, she does her hours, she has her world…it’s a marriage. Never get married, Marzipan, you are too pink to be ruined” Mary Anne realizes that it is going to be hard to have an adult conversation with a man who clearly (or not so clearly), still thinks of her as a child.

She excuses herself to the ladies room, where she sits on a toilet and texts Mallory.

“I’m at dinner with Mathieu. He’s v hopped up on painkillers I think”

“what? ew” Mallory responds. She was still in undergrad when this affair was going on, and even had him as a professor for a War and Literature course she took junior year.

“I think he’s having a midlife crisis. It’s pretty grim”

Mary Anne watches the 3 floating dots of Mallory composing her response while boisterous polka music echoes through the ladies room from the sound system.

“he already had his midlife crisis w/ you a decade ago. This is his post midlife crisis-crisis.”

Mary Anne has a quick pee, then texts “gtg will fill u in later”

The food has arrived by the time she returns to the table, steaming from their various plates. Mathieu is blowing on a spoonful of beef stew.

They both speak at the same time. Mathieu says “I burned my mouth on the stew” as Mary Anne says “This looks good!” but she is lying, looking at the gluey looking platter of herring in cream sauce.

“This was my favorite restaurant when I lived here, Duckling” Mary Anne squelches an inner shudder. “I would’ve taken you then, but you know how careful we had to be. Leaping around and hiding like wild hares”

She loads up her plate with asparagus spears, one dilled potato, and a dollop of beef stew.

“The asparagus, or Spargel, is an aphrodisiac around the Rhine” Mary Anne wishes she hadn’t taken any asparagus. Not a one.

“Perhaps for its resemblance to the phallic thyrsus, don’t you think?” she nods, with a mouth full of potato. She loads up her plate with more stew and potatoes and focuses on keeping her mouth full. The waiter brings more cognac and ice water. She decides to just get on with this meal and let Mathieu talk and just wait for it to be over.

For the next 35 minutes, with virtually no involvement on Mary Anne’s part, Mathieu muses through the following topics: the stew (top round is good, chuck meat is for peasants), the potatoes (they really are best served cold), Asia, why are they all deciding to go to school here now? Bras, if you don’t need one, don’t wear one. Cognac again, also an aphrodisiac. Obama, a necessary evil.

Mary Anne is full, and slows her bites to small morsels that she chews on for a long time. She has just washed down the last of her asparagus with a swallow of Cognac when Mathieu takes her entire wrist in his damp hand.

“You will see me back to my hotel, won’t you, Terrible Child?”

Mary Anne has a black pit of panic in her stomach. She could just say no. She could say she has an early day tomorrow, or an Airbnb guest she needs to let in or…or she could just say no. Plain and simple. No, she doesn’t want to.

Instead, she stammers “I have my…time of the month. Not a good time”

Mathieu laughs, flecks of dill from the potatoes caking his dry lips. “Real men aren’t fazed by a woman’s blood.”

“Oh god” Mary Anne thinks. “OhgodOhgodOhgod”

“Real men are happy to part the Red Sea”

Mary Anne feels her overstuffed belly lurch, and her mouth waters. The lighting from the tacky, electric chandeliers seems to intensify. She grabs for her purse.

“I need to actually go see to that for a minute. Excuse me” Mary Anne bolts from the table towards the ladies room.

Inside the narrow wooden stall, it all comes up. The stew, the asparagus, the potatoes, the astringent wash of Cognac all comes up in perfect waves.

She shouldn’t have met him, she thinks. It was all a mistake. Vomit. He wasn’t an experiment, he wasn’t an experience, she gave a greedy man exactly what he wanted. He lied to his wife. He wasn’t interesting, he was pretentious. He was controlling. She was his tiny Russian doll he liked to play with, then pack back up in its layers for later. More vomit. Her ethics failed her, or more accurately, she failed at her ethics.

Once she has emptied herself of the last drips of the meal, she stands in the stall and smoothes her dress, noticing a big blotch of splash back around the collar. She dabs at it at the sink with a soapy paper towel, and searches her purse for a breath mint, but she doesn’t have one. She looks at herself in the mirror, and says out loud to herself, “Just leave.”

She peers into the dining room from the entrance way. Mathieu is at the table, staring down at his phone. The light from his screen is casting an ominous glow on his ghoulishly horny face. Maybe he is texting his wife, or maybe he is emailing some new plaything out in Colorado. By the time he pockets his phone and looks towards the restrooms, Mary Anne is already in a cab, rubbing her puke stained dress with a paper towel, and telling the driver, as she always wanted to, “Step on it!”

 

 

Mary Anne Snaps Out of It

Kristy and Karen’s Awkward Brunch

Kristy and Karen’s Awkward Brunch

Kristy calls Karen when the Uber is 5 minutes away from her basement apartment in Gowanus. Karen sounds rushed and stressed.

“I’m just looking for my keys. Wait, here they are. Okay, see you soon. Fuck, these aren’t them.” When the car pulls up to her place, Karen is waiting outside, frowning over her glasses while texting on her phone in violent finger jabs. Getting into the seat beside Kristy, she says “I texted him we’d be there in 30 minutes”.

The traffic is unexpectedly light for a Saturday, and before they know it, they are going over the bridge and bracing themselves for another uncomfortable brunch.

“Why does he insist on having it at his apartment? Why can’t we just go to a restaurant, get in, get out?”

“Because we still haven’t seen the new place, Karen. Anyway all the brunch places will be madhouses.”

“I don’t know. It feels like a power play”. Without explaining why it feels like a power play, Karen looks away and zones out to the rolling view of Tribeca as it passes through her window, tapping her phone screen with her chipped manicure.

Kristy was the salve on the burn when Karen’s dad remarried. She had always wanted an older sister, and Kristy fulfilled her sisterly duties with compelling ease, but like many little sisters (or in this case, step-sister) Karen relied on Kristy a little too much as they grew up, sobbing phone calls from bars at 2 AM when her boyfriend hit on other women, texting in the middle of the workday with several pictures when she thinks she might be allergic to gluten, does this look like a food allergen rash?

They pull up in front of a large condominium that takes up an entire block, then circle around trying to find the right entrance. In the lobby, a petite doorman with a pompadour haircut asks them who they’re here to see, picking up the phone receiver.

“Kristy and Karen for Watson Brewer, 4E” Karen says a little too loudly. “His daughters” The doorman nods, and escorts them to the elevator with such formality, Kristy thinks that if she reached out and took his arm like a noble lady, he would just go along with it. Kristy gave up correcting Karen long ago, somehow referring to herself as Watson’s stepdaughter seemed more of an affront to her family bond with Karen than it was to Karen’s dad.

Watson divorced Kristy’s mother Elizabeth in 2010 when, mid-life crisis in full swing, he fell “very much in love” with his Pilates instructor Pamela. In a matter of months, he went from tame, sweater wearing Watson to waxed, Shakira listening-to Watson, wearing shirts from Joe Fresh and going on the Paleo diet for months at a time. He sold the mansion in Stoneybrook, married Pamela, and bought an apartment on the Upper East Side, but they moved again to Tribeca a few months ago to be closer to Pamela’s Pilates studio and because they weren’t “vibing” with the UES community.

Kristy reaches out and gives Karen’s hand a quick squeeze before ringing the bell to the apartment. Watson opens the door with a very, very white smile, his thinning gray hair grown out past his ears and moistly combed back. It looks like he may have gotten his eyebrows tinted recently. Clad in a lavender V-neck T-shirt and cargo shorts with white crocs, he is holding an enormous iced coffee, and Kristy can immediately sense that iced coffee is this cool new thing he just found out about and is really into.

“My glowing, glowing daughters!” Watson stands with his arms outstretched until Karen and Kristy give either side of him a polite little embrace. Kristy can feel the cold perspiration of his iced coffee swipe the back of her neck. The condo smells like eggs and bacon, and Maroon 5 is echoing out from the kitchen. “Is that them?” Pamela’s voice calls out and Julius, their excessively poofy Pomeranian, trots out to greet them. Watson scoops him up and says “It’s about time, lets show you around!”

They get the tour. This is the living room, they just got a new TV screen, do they have Roku? Roku just has everything. Yes Dad, everyone has Roku. These are the bathrooms, this one has a little steam room for Pamela, her upper back muscles have been getting sore from instructing classes 5 days a week. Wow, Dad, so sorry for Pamela.

“We ordered in from Cork & Gravity, that new restaurant over on Duane St.?” Guiding them into the kitchen, Pamela is standing over the marble counter top of the kitchen island, digging food out from the aluminum takeout containers with a fork onto porcelain serving plates.

“You don’t have to do that” Karen says to Pamela, borderline accusingly. “We can just take it from the containers, it’s a waste of plates.”

“I really don’t mind, for the occasion,” Pamela looks at Kristy with a face that says “Here we go,” and spears waffles from a takeout container onto a plate. Pamela has muscular arms, and she keeps them perpetually slathered with a combination of coconut and eucalyptus oils.

“What are we drinking, now? I have this iced coffee, its outstanding.” Karen asks if they have any Bloody Mary mix while Watson keeps rambling about the iced coffee. “It’s cold pressed!” and “so much more energizing than hot” Watson loves using words like that, ones that convoke youthfulness: energizing, rejuvenating, invigorating.

Kristy indulges Watson and accepts some of his iced coffee while Karen busies herself with a Bloody Mary. “Everything looks delicious Watson, thanks so much for this spread!” Kristy loads her plate up with waffles, syrup, eggs, bacon, and a pastel green cinnamon roll. “They’re green tea infused!” Pamela beams. Kristy is grateful that there is so much food to occupy everyone’s attention. When Karen is in a visibly stormy mood, like now, the group effort to keep the conversation light and cordial goes into full effect. Kristy knows Watson is grateful that she comes to visit. The truth is, Karen won’t see him if Kristy doesn’t come along, to remind him, as Karen once screeched at a nightmare Christmas party, “You ruined my first family, then you ruined my second one!” Pamela lays an oily hand on Kristy’s shoulder. “I love the flannel!” she says. “Very Williamsburg chic!” She opens her mouth to tell Pamela that she doesn’t live in Williamsburg anymore, but stops herself. Another time, maybe.

With everyone served and seated around the dining room table, Kristy digs into her waffles, frantic to find something to say about them.
“Just delicious!” she basically yells, before her brain has processed whether or not they are actually delicious.

“Yeah, you know we went there right when they opened awhile back for dinner and they do a great duck enchilada with hoisin sauce” Watson is jumping aboard. Pamela enthusiastically munches her Cobb salad, eating whole slices of avocado at a time.

“Beautiful!” her eyes roll back in her head “Yus, yus, yus!”

Karen stares at her and takes a long, deep sip of her Bloody Mary, like it’s Pamela’s own blood she’s drinking.

“How’s the agency this time of year, Kristy?” It’s early May, her busy season, when the kids are getting out of school and business goes through the roof.

“Good! Hectic, but good.” Kristy takes the floor for to talk about her 11 hour work days, the interviews, the home visits, until there is literally nothing else to say about it. After a moment of soft chewing, Kristy adds,

“This maple syrup is phenomenal. There’s a savory component to it, I think.”

Pamela turns to Karen, blinking like a submissive dog.

“And how is the tutoring going? You must have a busy schedule as well!” Karen, who has had a long string of dead end jobs since graduating from Vanderbilt, is now a full time SAT tutor. The application deadline for the exam is looming and Karen’s schedule is jam packed.

Instead of saying as much, Karen nods. “I guess.”

More chewing.

“I think its Rosemary, in the maple syrup. How about that?” But no one else is eating waffles. Karen is picking at some fruit and slurping the dregs of her Bloody Mary, Pamela is staring at her Cobb Salad with the focus of an Olympic gymnast, and Watson is working through a pile of eggs with bacon.

“Are you on the Paleo diet again?” Kristy asks.

“Yeah, I feel like a million bucks!” Karen rolls her eyes. “I’m getting so much more out of my workouts without all that starchy stuff weighing me down.”

Pamela muffles a giggle, and Watson smirks back at her.

“What? What’s funny?” Karen has finally produced a question of her own to ask.

“Pamela doesn’t love the whole Paleo business, though”

“Why not?” Karen shakes the ice in her glass. “I’d think Pamela would love that kind of new age stuff”

“Don’t, Watson!” Pamela hides her face in her hands, overacting her embarrassment.

“Pamela has to live with the…gaseous emissions…that the…”

“Dad! Goddamnit it!” Watson holds his chest, laughing, but Karen is not into this joke.

“I’m serious! Are you fucking gone? I don’t want to hear about your farts, that’s disgusting! I’m eating!” She’s not really, but Watson’s face absorbs Karen’s demands.

“Watch the language” he says gently, and brings his iced coffee to his mouth like a pacifier.

Kristy digs into her green tea cinnamon roll, and Pamela, deservedly weary from this meal, brings the attention back to Kristy.

“How is Jennifer? I know she was trying to get that excavation grant, did that pan out?”

God bless Pamela. God bless Pamela for remembering specific, mundane details about Jennifer. God bless Pamela for turning the other cheek to Karen’s constant, slow burning tantrums. God bless Pamela for genuinely loving Watson, so much that she has foregone having children she really wanted, and got a dog instead. But also, fuck Pamela for bringing up the only subject worse than Watson’s meat farts, the fact that Jennifer broke up with her a month ago.

“Actually, I moved out. Jennifer and I are done.” For once, the silence that follows is sincere, and not awkward in the least. There is no hurried chewing, no scraping of silverware on plates.

“You didn’t tell me this,” Karen says, staring.

“You never asked”

Kristy gets it all out, mostly in one breath. There had been a distance growing between them for awhile, they were both overextended at work, arguing about where to live when the lease was up, then eventually if they should live together when the lease was up. Kristy leaves out the part where she suspected that Jennifer was growing intimately close with one of her grad students. Maybe some other time.

Somehow, things aren’t as awkward anymore. When you really drop a bomb of sadness on a tense meal, things have no other option than to lighten up. Watson tells Karen he found something she’ll get a kick out of and they all drift away from the table. Kristy helps Pamela fill the dishwasher with plates while Watson leads Karen into the study.

“You can’t always take care of her, you know” Pamela whispers to Kristy.

“I know”

“She needs boundaries. If we never let her know when she’s out of line, she’s going to keep exploiting our empathy.”

“Yeah.”

“And I’m sorry about Jennifer. I really am.” Pamela reaches across the dishwasher to give Kristy a eucalyptus scented hug.

Suddenly, Karen is at the kitchen doorway with a huge brass instrument fastened to her body.

“Look! It’s my tuba! Dad found my tuba!”

Kristy and Pamela chirp their approval while Karen starts blowing clumsily into the mouthpiece, making horrible metallic burping sounds through the bell. Watson appears behind her, beaming with pride that he has managed to temper Karen’s attitude with this fatherly gesture.

Emboldened by the positive turn in family energy, Pamela shouts at Watson over the tuba, “This sounds like you, right before bed!”

Kristy and Karen’s Awkward Brunch

Wild Card: Cokie Mason

Cokie Mason was known at Stoneybrook High as the #1 Marilyn Manson fan, despite owning exactly zero Marilyn Manson albums. She did however, wear an XL concert T-shirt of his with a dog collar necklace and generous smears of liquid eyeliner. Her study hall was overcrowded during her sophomore year, and she was part of the overflow that was moved to the field house bleachers for that period. She liked to rough house with her two best friends, Grace and Allie, when the supervisor wasn’t watching, which was usually. That’s how she caught the eye of Kyle Kozykowski, a junior of middling attractiveness and even less charisma, but he liked Cokie, and that’s what mattered and how it started.

She fell hard and fast for Kyle, tongue kissing him at his locker, sitting between his legs in the park after school with their friends, and eventually, losing her virginity to him in his basement bedroom while “Sick Bubblegum” by Rob Zombie played on his boom box.

One day, a distraught Grace pulled Cokie aside after school to tell her that Kyle had called her on the phone the night before “Just to talk or whatever” and wound up asking her if she ever touched herself. Cokie, convinced she wasn’t fulfilling Kyle’s sexual needs, did what she figured any reasonable teenager would do when faced with her partner’s apparent tiring of their lovemaking. She hightailed it to the mall, spent all the money she currently had on various shimmery thong and bra sets from Hot Topic, then had Grace take a series of Polaroid photos of her modeling them. She selected the best ones and stuck them into Kyle’s sweatshirt pocket at his locker, whispering “Happy Anniversary!” in his ear, even though they’d only been dating for 3 months.

It took 2 days of snickering and passing comments in the hallways for Cokie to realize that Kyle had shown the photos to all of the guys in his gym class locker room. A few of the raunchier ones had even been making the rounds through the hallways, bathrooms, and cafeteria lunch tables. Cokie retaliated by starting an untrue pregnancy rumor that spread like wildfire, so powerfully in fact, that it made its way to the guidance counselor. Sobbing, Cokie came clean about everything, the phone call to Grace, the photos, the taunting, it was all she could think of to do. Visibly sympathetic, the guidance counselor was soon joined by the principal, who didn’t mince words. Cokie was expelled for bringing inappropriate photos to school. Kyle, who denied knowing that they were ever out of his possession, got one day out of school suspension, a day he spent masturbating to internet porn, Cokie’s underwear photos having been confiscated.

Walking out of the school, her fuming mother 3 paces ahead, Cokie stopped in front of the glass door to the library and fixed eyes on Mary Anne, who was sitting at a table staring at her from over an open book, mouth slightly agape, in the way everyone else had been staring at her for the last week. Before she knew what she was doing, she raised a stiff middle finger at Mary Anne through the glass door.

After she was expelled, Cokie was sent to a very, very alternative boarding school in the mountains of Kentucky. She slept in canvas covered tents and learned how to cook outdoors with hand-torn strips of cardboard dipped in wax, then set aflame under ventilated upside down coffee cans. In lieu of taking the SATS, she embarked on a Survival Challenge where she was sent out into the middle of the woods with nothing but a liter of water, a few packets of honey, and a whistle.

From there, Cokie traveled throughout the US in an inherited Toyota Camry, stopping into every major city to utilize the market she was in, which was bondage modeling, until it was tapped, before moving on to the next. Finally, she found herself in LA. She befriended a nightlife photographer with a very strong internet presence through her makeup artist roommate, and became his sidekick/muse. She wore faux fur jackets year round and learned that her first name was conveniently applicable to her growing fondness for Blow. She was shunned from the LA scene in 2007 when she punched an almost famous Katy Perry in the neck at a party. She made a quiet exit, and flew back to the East Coast.

Now, she works at a Coyote Ugly-esque bar in Hell’s Kitchen. She has a Chihuahua with a wilted left ear named Charlie that she bought on a whim, a decent checking account, and a coffee can full of undeposited tips. That’s the main thing she remembers from The Liberty Mountain Academy for Ascended Learning down in Samsville, Kentucky, to never underestimate the many uses of an empty coffee can.

Wild Card: Cokie Mason

Jessi’s Full Plate

 

“You look like you’re going to a Fastball concert in 1998”, Dov had tugged at the hem of Jessi’s t-shirt earlier that night. “It’s hot, I can get into this.”

Jessi checked the time on her phone. “I told you, I’m doing a set tonight at that place Vinnie’s with the girls” Dov’s face fell.

“I thought that was next Wednesday”

“No, its tonight. Why else would we have worked so long on Sunday?” Dov shook his head,

“Babe, you’re ovulating”

Jessi knew he didn’t mean to hover around her cycle so anxiously, surely it wasn’t the hugest turn on in the world for him either, but they’d been trying for over a year, this is what they had to do now.

“It’s just one set, 15 minutes. And we’re going on close to the beginning”

But the bill is more crowded than the stage manager had let on, and their set has been bumped more than a few slots back. Now Jessi sits with the other girls in her troupe in the basement venue that smells like well whiskey and French fries, watching her ice melt in her glass of ginger ale. She wants to pay attention to the troupe performing now, they’re really good, but she keeps thinking about Dov, who in her mind is sitting upright in bed, the New Yorker open on his lap, hair pushed back with his glasses, aggressively massaging his eye sockets with his thumb and index finger. He is looking at the time and sighing with cartoonish disdain.

“You’re pregnant?” one of the guys performing yells to another guy. “Who is the father??” An atypical dud for how well they’ve been doing so far, Jessi fights back a grimace, not just for the lukewarm joke, but for how it pointedly reminds her that she should be at home, having perfunctory missionary style sex and hoping the sperm makes a beeline towards her cervix.

Her thoughts are interrupted by a text, its from the troupe leader Heather, who is sitting too far away to whisper “This name is terrible. We need to change it”

Jessi texts back quickly “There’s no time now, it’ll just be a place holder until we come up with something better” As soon as she hits send, a text from Dov dips into her phone screen.

“Going to bed”

Jessi feels like shit. They had parted so well, too. She had kissed him, and rubbed his back through his shirt. She had promised she would wear those stockings he likes later. When she was walking out the door, he had shouted after her “Hey, call me when they start playing The Way. That’s my jam.”

Stuffing her phone back into her purse, the host has re-entered the stage, applauding the troupe as they barrel back into their seats. Her troupe mates begin to shuffle, readying themselves. “I am jazzed to announce our next troupe, making their Vinnie’s debut…” Heather looks over her shoulder and shoots Jessi a look of quiet pain as they file towards the stage. “Ladies and germs, please give a warm welcome to…” The host squints at his index card, “Her…HERlarious?” Jessi takes a deep breath, and climbs the steps into the spotlight.

Jessi’s Full Plate

Yes, Claudia Can

 

Claudia is a major devotee of power clashing, especially when she has to do something scary. She is especially emboldened when she is reckless with patterns, she likes to pair gingham with tie dye, floral with plaid, and today, it is clean vertical stripes with jaggedly horizontal ones.

Like many women who struggle with learning disorders, Claudia grew up with the tendency to assume that other people were right, and she was wrong. Always quick to take responsibility and even quicker to apologize for mistakes she couldn’t even recall making, this vulnerability has made her an easy mark for opportunists who have something to gain from her passivity. But today, she’s had enough.

Her studio mate is a 47 year old sculptor named Gerard. She pays a decently cheap share of rent, likely because he’s had trouble getting people to stay in the past, but he acts like he’s “doing her a solid”. He is also messy, loud, and smelly. He moves stuff she’s working on when she isn’t there, and smokes in the studio, though she meekly asked him months ago if he could take it out to the fire escape, the door to which is literally 5 feet away from his work table. He wears an uncomfortable looking leather jacket and a newsboy cap, backwards. He uses flammable chemicals regularly and leaves half eaten falafel sandwiches around everywhere. He reminds Claudia on a weekly basis that he once dated an Asian woman in the nineties but she was crazy. Gerard usually manages to keep his mess contained to his disproportionally large share of the studio, but the last time Claudia came in when he wasn’t there (and he is almost always there), he had spilled an ashtray and the floor next to her table was covered in cigarette butts, with a smear of ash on one of her sketches. This ends now.

When she left her apartment, she was trembling with righteousness. Claudia had her list of demands, ready to dole them out. No more smoking inside, throw away leftover food, and don’t touch her shit. Pretty reasonable stuff. Then on the subway, she started having second thoughts. “It was only a sketch”, she thought. “It wasn’t even that good, I probably wouldn’t have used it anyway”. Walking down Knickerbocker, she tells herself “Lots of people smoke in the studio, it’s not a big deal”. Climbing the stairs to the studio, she has decided “I’ll give it another week, and if he messes up something I’m working on again, then I’ll say something.”

But when she opens the door to the studio, she feels her blood return to a boil.

There is a layer of saw dust covering everything in the studio, including her table and everything around it, her supplies, her equipment, her work. The air inside the studio is practically gelatinous with fumes, and the power chord to the jig saw he’s using, still plugged in, is stretched dangerously tight across the studio floor. The Pogues are blasting from Gerard’s paint splattered boom box, and he is talking loudly over it on his cell phone, his back turned to her, smoking of course.

“So I told that hipster curator, ‘ I was showing subversive deconstructed furniture before you were goddamned born’”, his cloying Wisconsin accent snarling on Claudia’s last nerve.

“Gerard” she says, her heart beginning to race.

“So then I say, ‘Have your space give me a call when they catch on to your entitled bullshit and kick your butt to the curb, you little princess!’”

“GERARD!” Claudia now screams. Gerard whirls around, startled, cigarette dangling from his mouth.

“We need to have a talk, Gerard.”

Yes, Claudia Can

Portrait of Mary Anne as a Nice Young Lady

Mary Anne and Logan Bruno broke up when they were 15, but stayed friendly, until they lost touch when he moved back to Louisville, Kentucky junior year of high school. He’d hoped for a football scholarship, but wound up enlisting in the Army right after graduation. While still in Basic Training, an M16 rifle backfired and gave Logan a brain injury. All things considered, he was lucky. He could have died.

Today, he leads a relatively normal life. He lives at home with his parents, and works at his father’s plexiglass manufacturing company, and most of the time he does fine, but…he has his bad days. On bad days, he is confused, irritable, drowsy. He doesn’t remember basic little things, like his email password, or further back things, like huge chunks of time before Basic Training. On the bad days, his mother sets up a nice cozy spot for him on the screened in back porch, looking out at the woods behind their home. She brings out a pitcher of iced tea and blankets, and his high school yearbooks, though they lost the ones from Stoneybrook in the move.

“Do you remember when we moved back to Louisville?” she asks him, rubbing his arm as he flips through the black and white photos of his teenaged years.

“Yeah, Ma” His eyes scan through the images of him with his football team, crowded together eating pizza in the cafeteria and dancing to “Hot Stuff” for the Senior Talent Show.

“There’s Jimmy and Kyle. Yeah, I remember that, Ma”

Mrs. Bruno is relieved. Going further, she asks,“Do you remember where we lived before we moved back to Louisville?” Logan looks straight ahead, searches for what she is talking about in the trees, but his memory is blank.

“Didn’t we always live in Louisville?”

“No, for a minute we lived in Connecticut, for Dad’s work?” She folds her hands tightly in her lap, worried. This is the first time he can’t remember Stoneybrook.

“I remember…I guess there was… I remember a lot of girls. I was always around a whole lotta girls.” Mrs. Logan nods heavily, relieved. He remembers.

“I must’ve been a real player with the ladies. Bein’ around all those girls, Ma”

Mrs. Bruno smiles chastely, and flips further through the pages of his yearbook.

“Ma, how bad of a player was I, with all those girls wantin’ to be around me all the time?”

Mrs. Bruno closes the yearbook in her lap.

“Ma?”

“Actually, Sweetness, you were in a club with those girls. A Babysitting Club” Logan’s face falls.

“A Babysitting Club?”

“Yeah, y’all would hang out and get babysitting jobs, and go to meetings and pay dues…yeah, it was this club you were in…with all those girls” Logan buries his face in his hands.

“This sounds so pussy, Ma” Mrs. Bruno puts her hand in his hair, grimacing. She hates when he gets frustrated and rude.

“No, Sweetness. It wasn’t. You were just an alternate member, you weren’t even full time. And anyway, you had a girlfriend who was in the club, that’s why you were doing it. She was a nice young lady.” Logan looks up from his hands, brightening.

“I had a girlfriend?” Mrs. Bruno takes her phone out from her sweater pocket and taps Mary Anne’s name into Google. She brings the screen into his view, scrolling through the image results. There she is in her staff photo at her library job, here she is breaking a piñata at her friend Kristy’s 30th birthday party. The next image makes Logan’s eyelids flutter. Mary Anne is standing on a dimly lit stage, reading from a piece of paper into a microphone with a banner above her head that reads “Poly-Positive Poetry Festival” She is wearing a rust colored vintage blouse with vinyl toed black boots. There is a papier mache sculpture of a giant phallus with its tip engulfed in a cluster of pink helium balloons in the background.

“This is her?” Logan is bewildered, and feeling warm.

“Yeah, Sweetness. That’s her. Do you remember her? Her name is Mary Anne”

Logan stares at the photo, then scrolls through the next few, from the same reading, Mary Anne presenting whatever erotic thing she is reading from her paper with a small grin that is not quite shy, maybe just nervous, or patiently waiting.

“Yeah” Logan’s throat is dry. “I think I do remember her”

Portrait of Mary Anne as a Nice Young Lady

This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius

Dawn’s earth mother tendencies intensify in the few weeks after the annual Third Eye Consciousness Journey, a 23 mile hike along the central coast of California, led by a married couple she knows from her Ecology grad program, who now run a beet farm near Rio del Mar.

She comes back gloriously tanned, dreamy eyed, and resembling an Olsen twin circa 2005, bescarved and wild haired. She pays you an unannounced visit on a Wednesday afternoon, bringing you a carob chip edible and a mix cd she’s made special for you. “It’s mostly Vashti Bunyan and Tuvan throat singing” she lets you know, in a voice delivered the same way as saying “you’re welcome” On the disc, she has written “play this LOUD” in a whimsical scrawl. She stretches out on your hardwood floor and stays that way, stretching in various positions ranging from languorous to rigidly focused, like she’s trying to re-open her Third Eye again, right here and now. You wonder if you should get her a birthing towel. She is fluid, then stiff, then fluid again, but ultimately she seems happy. She tells you about how Johnny and Delilah, her beet farmer spirit guides, gave everyone a stone at the beginning of the hike and told them to smooth it with their fingers whenever they felt tired or anxious, to treat it as one with their bodies, a lightning rod for all of their negative energy. On the last night of the journey, they all threw these stones they had become so intimately bonded to into the Monterey Bay.

Dawn looks up at you from the floor, her eyes vivid with exhilaration. Your heart kind of melts, because even though she is speaking mostly in monologue and overusing the word “transcendent”, she genuinely seems relaxed and satisfied, something she almost never is. With Dawn, there is always a cause to fight for, an environmental loss to mourn, and while you don’t discredit her for caring, and admire her for working so tirelessly, you wish she could enjoy herself more. You wish she wouldn’t eat a Lara bar for dinner most nights before falling asleep on her couch at 1:00 AM while assembling the next mailing list for whatever fundraising initiative she’s entangled in.

Rolling around on your floor, covering herself with dust, she suddenly snaps to attention and says she has to go, she’s meeting a man in Bushwick. She met him on the Journey, and they were pleased to find they live only 5 stops away from each other on the L. She gives you a long, dry kiss on the forehead before flouncing out of your apartment.

It’s only 5:30, so you have some of the pot cookie she brought you. It’s a strong one, her exact words were “these drugs be potent!” so you just break off a corner and eat it with some milk. Still, within 50 minutes you are hyperventilating in your bathroom, staring at your forehead acne in the mirror and contemplating calling your mom. Struggling for your bearings, you run hot water into a washcloth and curl up in your bed with it. Dawn’s mix cd is on your bedside table, so you pop it into your laptop. As Vashti Bunyan’s pillowy, sixties-rich voice fills your room singing “Just Another Diamond Day”, the hot vapor from the washcloth guides you into a swirling daydream of Dawn standing on a rocky cliff, wearing this long dress. The wind is whipping her ombre hair around her face, and she is holding meaningful, spiritual objects in her hands. A conch shell, and…I don’t know, a gourd. She turns to you with purpose, looks you in the eyes and says “I told you, Transcendent”.

This is the Dawning of the Age of Aquarius