School’s out. Students push into the subway car. Teenagers. They’re spastic, not yet used to their limbs. They trip over themselves, sit on each other’s laps. They’re flailing towards all of the life they have left to live.
These young girls make me jealous with their short shorts and backpacks, with their metal braces and wrists wrapped in makeshift bracelets, tied off strands of rainbow yarn. They’re worried about who likes who and tomorrow’s algebra test. They’re worried about a posted picture reaching an acceptable quota of likes. They’re worried about part-time jobs and whether anyone else thinks they’re as fat as they think they are. None of them are fat.
My jealousy puts me on the offensive. I contemplate an offering of poisoned tree fruit, though I doubt they’d be interested. Sour Apple Pucker? What do teenagers like these days? These ones are all chewing gum, wads tucked in their cheeks like tobacco dip.
I touch my hair, consider its softness. Press my skin to test how firm. I tap my life experiences. I think of the places I’ve been, Paris, Detroit, the books I’ve read, Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment by choice, and I try to see the time as an advantage. I can’t seem to see it as anything but wasted.
I spent my twenties sleeping with boys who kept their mattresses on the floor, boys who had Super Mario decals on their bedroom walls. I remember taking it from behind eye to eye with an angry Goomba. I declared online dating beneath me at brunch with my girlfriends only to reinstall apps during the taxi ride home. I wanted somebody to commit to so I could see if I was capable of committing. It turns out I’m not.
I am fresh out of a two-year relationship. When people ask me what went wrong I tell them I didn’t want to get married. Live free or die. Really I just didn’t want to marry him. He was too much of a person. He had the nerve to have needs. He needed to marry me, or so he thought. I said, “Look at the plant in our living room. I’ll do to you what I did to that plant.”
“Are you threatening to kill me?” he asked.
“No,” I said. “I’m making the only promise I can.”
That was four months ago. We broke up, I moved out, threw the plant in the garbage. I sublet from a friend. Last year this friend decided she was going to start dating women. I rolled my eyes at her, told her women aren’t any easier.
“Have you dated women?” she asked me.
She met a woman and now they’re engaged. She lives with her, but since her lease isn’t up she’s letting me crash. It’s a studio with exposed brick and a clawfoot tub but no closet. The kitchen is painted pink. Wind chimes hang from the ceiling, Chinese lamps, things that have no business being inside but look all right I guess.
There’s a mouse that lives in the walls. I hear him scurrying early in the morning. He’s good company, I just hope he never gets inside or I’ll have to set traps. I’d hate for it to come to that.
The teenagers are laughing at something. Latent adolescent traumas surface and I assume that something is me. I pretend I’m not paying attention. I delete pictures off of my phone. Pictures of my friend and her fiancé at their joint bridal shower, pastel balloons crowding the frame, streamers twisted and thumbtacked to the wall behind the mimosa bar. I delete pictures of my ex-boyfriend’s parent’s clapboard farmhouse in upstate New York, with the wraparound porch where we drank raspberry tea. I delete last Christmas, last Halloween. I went as Anne Boleyn. People asked, “Are you from Game of Thrones?”
The teenagers are also looking at their phones. They aren’t laughing at me. They’re laughing at their phones. One of them has the most perfect legs I’ve ever seen. I used to have good legs, but now I have spider veins and some cellulite. It makes me want to die.
I’ll book a spin class when I get home. A spin class, a facial, a cryogenic chamber, a therapy session. I’ll ask my friend about taking over her lease. I’ll order more wind chimes off Amazon, really go for it. I’ll order new books, too. Work my way through the “100 books you must read in this life or you’re a giant fucking failure” list. I’ll take a bath, use a scrub, lots of soaps, dry brush my legs, avoid the mirror. I’ll plan a trip to Chile. I’ll reinstall the dating apps. Be honest about my age.
There was a real person, an Elizabeth somebody-or-other, who lived in a castle someplace in Eastern Europe a long time ago. She murdered young virgins to bathe in their blood in hopes of retaining her youth.
There is no way to retain youth. She chose to learn the hard way. I’m choosing a hard way, too.
Rachel Harrison lives and writes in Brooklyn, New York. Her fiction has appeared in WhiskeyPaper, Wyvern Lit, and elsewhere.