LOOKING GOOD AND HAVING A GOOD
Four girls were crowded around Linda with a phone receiver pressed to her ear. Their faces were excited and free in ways she had only ever experienced secondhand, and in ways that made her feel a little ill. Every time you recall a memory, you change it a little bit forever, is something Linda’s science teacher told her. So were the screeching free girls she was reminded of girls she had ever even met? Were they a point of comparison for the here and now to the extent that Linda was feeling? Were all pretty giddy girls the same girls, and would Linda be recalled by future generations as the same outsider weirdo she is now?
“Dial a number!” said one girl.
“Do it!” said another.
Linda’s finger moved slowly over the keypad, like a big steady robot arm in a carnival game. “I’m thinking,” she whispered.
The last time they had a sub and ditched Phys. Ed., one girl made a call and the man on the other end made her tell him in detail about the last time she ate a pear—what type it was and how ripe on a ten-point scale. She told him it was organic and he totally lost it.
Linda wrapped the phone cord around her fingers and prayed to Jesus, or anyone else who happened to deal in small miracles, that she wouldn’t accidentally dial the pear guy. She decided to play it safe and dialled the first nine digits of her mother’s cell number, and then a 7 (luck) instead of a 4.
The girls closed in. “Is it ringing?”
“Yes,” said Linda. “Shhh.”
A voice on the other end said: Good afternoon, Serendipity. How may I help you?
Linda slammed the phone receiver back into its hook.
“What did you do that for!”
“Sorry,” said Linda.
Linda’s mother’s friend, Mr. Donahue, came over for dinner that night because it was his birthday. He was loaded, but he didn’t have a lot of other friends. Linda worried he was looking too much at the side of her face during dinner, as he was sitting at the end of the table in prime profile-viewing territory. From the front, she felt she looked mostly like any girl, but from the side, she looked like a cartoon pig. When someone looked at her, the front of her face followed them like a security camera.
Linda chewed and her face burned with being looked at. Dinner always tasted weird when guests were over. She couldn’t get it out of her head that someone was eating one of Mom’s Classics for the first time. How could this taste to a newbie, she thought, how do we come off to people who don’t know the whole story. How does dessert taste to someone who has only ever eaten raw meat and bugs. Probably like when Dad quit smoking and got his taste buds back, and said in front of the children that strawberry wafers tasted like an angel’s tits.
Mr. Donahue looked at Linda’s cartoon pig profile and said, Linda, have you been researching colleges, and Linda said, Not really, no, and let her mother take it away with a list of fabulously reasonable options.
Linda finished her dinner and answered Mr. Donahue’s interesting questions and went upstairs to wrap one of her mother’s old belts around her bloated stomach and pose like a supermodel. The thing about this guy that was better than being at her dad’s house was that she could get up and leave mid-conversation and he would only feel self-conscious, rather than yell at her.
She sat down by the phone in the upstairs hallway and dialled her mother’s number, with a 7 at the end instead of a 4.
“Good evening, Serendipity.”
Linda hung up. She could hear the adults laughing downstairs at something one of them said. She called the number again. She could hardly believe that the woman would say her line no matter how many times Linda called. She called again.
“Good evening, Serendipity.”
“Yes, excuse me,” said Linda. “But what is this place?”
“This is a book store,” said the woman.
“What kind of books?”
“All sorts of them,” she said. “I bet I have one for you. Something special. What is your name?”
“Alright, Linda. Let me put you on hold for just a moment.”
Linda held. Some pretty relaxing jazz music played through the phone receiver into her ear.
“Right,” said the woman. “Here we are. I found just the one.”
“What is it?”
“The title is Looking Good and Having a Good Time.”
“Wow,” said Linda. “That sounds perfect. How much is it?”
“The price is, um. It’s seventy-five dollars.”
“Oh, yikes,” said Linda. “I don’t have that kind of cash.”
“Yes well it is a pricey book.”
“Would you read me a sample?”
“Yes I guess I could do that for you, Linda. Alright, well first, um. Chapter one.”
Linda showed up to school the next morning looking like a dream. She was wearing layers of pink sequins and cream faux fur and pearls draped over her person. She went and sat smack dab in the middle of the front row and lay her long arms across her desk and fanned her long hair over the back of her chair. Her hands draped off the edge of the desk like bedazzled ornaments. She sat up straight, like the book said. She tilted her nose up, just slightly.
“What happened,” said someone in the back row.
“That’s rude,” someone else said.
It was working already! Linda turned in her seat and flicked her long hair and said, “Oh nothing really.”
Linda was preoccupied with her self-image and neglected to hear a word of her teacher’s lecture about A Midsummer Night’s Dream. What was a more pressing issue, was this early autumn reality. Linda was on fire. She clacked her pink pumps down the linoleum hallways. She feigned bodily warmth so she could pile her hair up on top of her head and show off the versatility of her face with different hairstyles.
She held her cheeks between her teeth just right, like in the book, so her cheekbones looked like shallow bowls. It was good to be gorgeous. She waved hello to her teachers in the hall. They were different languages, beautiful and old, but they understood each other. They all had knowledge.
At lunch Linda bought an iced coffee and held it with her hand clawed over the top and smoked a cigarette on the edge of school property. The Girls came over and found her and said, Linda, who ARE you today.
Linda coughed. “Same old me,” she said, real cool. It was important not to let them phase you. Sure, they were chill and all, but their idea of a good time was phoning movie theatres and asking if they show porn. Linda was ready for a little R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
The Girls rolled their eyes big time.
Mr. Donahue came over for dinner again that night. He really didn’t seem to care much about his own apartment. He kept insisting on passing Linda more of whatever she was almost finished eating. At one point, he filled up her glass with wine and she managed to get a sip in before her mother said, “Jordan, my daughter is fifteen,” and everyone remembered.
“Mr. Donahue, have you ever heard the one about the Masonic cockatoo,” said Linda. That was one she had learned from Chapter 3.
He hadn’t, but boy was the table in an uproar when she lay that one on them.
Her mother said, “Okay, everybody catch your breath,” and she took Mr. Donahue upstairs to tell some jokes of her own.
Linda called the bookstore again to get some info from Chapter 5. The book was really starting to get personal. Linda reminisced about the days of pearl necklaces and curling with a flat iron. But that was then and this was the big leagues. The woman walked her through an improvisational exercise involving recalling the first time she reached orgasm, and attempting to harness that experience as consistent output in her everyday life. It sounded like a big load of garbage.
The one and only time that out-of-this-world sensation had blessed Linda had been in the midst of a game of house, in which Linda was the husband and one of her mother’s dressmaking mannequins was her wife. She had finally succeeded in courting the pretty lady when her mother walked into her bedroom and found her making love to a linen torso.
They had later gone into a fabric store to pick out materials to make a mother-daughter quilt, because it was important to bond and to have material proof of said bonding, and upon coming chest-to-chest with a mannequin her mother exclaimed, “Take her for a spin, Linda!”
Mortified was not a strong enough word.
“I don’t know a lot about that,” Linda told the woman. “You might find this hard to believe, but I haven’t seen a boy’s privates ever in my whole life.”
Linda’s life seemed near perfect to her, except for the fact that she was always tired and she often woke up with her face in the shape of a silent scream. She went online and she was everywhere. Her photos had five thousand likes each on Facebook. There was an article in Star Magazine titled, “Beauty Queen Appears Out of Thin Air! Key Word: Thin! Look At Those Legs!” Linda’s Gmail inbox contained 2 GB of unread emails from companies offering her money.
It was 3 p.m. when Linda finally rolled out of her duvet. There were indents in her knuckles from sleeping with her statement rings and her eyes were sticky with mascara. She worried she might be losing her figure, but there was no way to know for sure beyond squeezing various parts of her body. This lifestyle might not be so easy. She could keep it up, she figured, at least until she had a career. By then, she could let it go; button up all the way. Meek is in in your 30s. What about a taupe cardigan doesn’t say, I know what I want, and I want it between the hours of 7 a.m. and 11 p.m. But the present was fabulous, and Linda was going to ride that wave carelessly and indefinitely.
There was a loud honk outside on the street. Mr. Donahue pulled up in his expensive car.
Linda yanked open the window and said, “My mom is at work, Mr. Donahue!”
“Get in the car, Linda!” He squinted up into the sunlight.
“What?” she yelled back.
“Hop in!” he said.
They pulled up to a fancy downtown restaurant real smooth, all in one go to show off to the other men watching that parallel parking was nothing to worry about. Linda stepped out of the car first and stood glimmering in the yellow of the street lights.
“What are you looking at,” she said. “Are you looking at me because I’m pretty.”
The valet looked her up and down, and then looked at Mr. Donahue.
Mr. Donahue said, “Um,” and cleared a lump in his throat.
There was a long line into the restaurant, but Mr. Donahue said something to the host and slipped him a five. He gave Linda the signal: two fingers on either side of his head like an alien with peace sign antlers.
“It’s her,” a voice whispered. “It’s the Internet Star.”
As Linda approached the podium, somebody put a hand on her shoulder and stopped her.
“Oh!” said Linda.
It was the media.
What’s your secret, the media wanted to know. How do you do it.
“Well,” said Linda.
You could be the face of anything, they said. Take our money.
Linda’s ears perked at the mention of cold hard cash. She spilled the beans on her how-to treasure chest, maybe neglecting to cite her sources. She scrawled her information into the media’s little black book and followed Mr. Donahue to the nicest table in the joint.
Linda had never been to Mr. Donahue’s apartment before, which made him seem a lot younger and a lot less loaded. There was a cut-out section in the wall between the kitchen and the living room, making his apartment look like a fast food restaurant.
He gave her a tour, lasting just over two minutes, with the final destination being his organized and unremarkable bedroom. He started to get squeamish when Linda got too close to his bed. He started to sweat pretty much everywhere. Sometimes you fool yourself, he said. Sometimes little girls act like women.
He was getting really bummed, so he told Linda to go sit in the living room while he had his alone time. She went and crossed her legs over the chaise longue. She didn’t mind, because occasionally people would walk by and turn their heads, admiring the way her something or other looked.
When Mr. Donahue was ready, he came out of the bedroom and tried to cast some mind spells on Linda. He told her she had misinterpreted his intentions and that her mother would only be confused if she heard about any of this. He kneeled down in front of the chaise and asked Linda if he could give her a hug.
“No, I don’t think so, Mr. Donahue.”
“Just a nice one,” he said. “A short nice one.”
Linda’s body felt like it was going to up and run away without her head. “I don’t think I’d like one at all.”
He moved to put his arms around her and he smelled like cinnamon and paper money.
“Mr. Donahue, bug off!” She scrambled off of the chaise and made a run for it. He grabbed hold of her arm, but she yanked herself free and ran into the bathroom.
There was a stained towel hanging on the wall with a big hole in it, and tiny spidery hairs in the sink. Linda gagged. “What do I do, what do I do,” she thought, hyperventilating a little. Mr. Donahue was banging on the door and shouting, “Linda, please.” She dialled Serendipity’s number on her iPhone. The woman started in on: “Good evening, Serendipity.”
“I know, I know,” said Linda. “I’m locked in a bathroom and there’s a full grown man outside. I’m pretty sure he’d like to get busy with me. I am NOT having a good time!”
“Oh boy,” said the woman. “You certainly don’t sound like you are. But I bet you look great!”
“Can you help me? Where were we? Chapter nine? What does chapter nine say about this situation?”