Excerpts from Meredith Alling‘s story collection Sing the Song, out November 18, 2016 from Future Tense Books. Available for pre-order now at futuretensebooks.com
I was in a brightly lit fluorescent bathroom a few days ago and learned some things. Most importantly, I do have cellulite. A friend recently said, “Cellulite is a beast, and I’d like to make it my bitch.” Not having dimples, I couldn’t relate. Turns out I do.
Find the most important person in the room and make them your bitch. My body is talking about offshore banking, a Lexus SUV mileage, the merits of linen. I sidle up to it.
“What if I told you,” I say, “that I’m going to Morocco?”
My body holds its glass out for a cheers.
“Morocco is beautiful this time of year,” it says. “Check out Nell’s yoga retreat in Essaouira if you get a chance.”
I reposition myself in the space. I want to scream that I’m a fucking DJ and get some respect around here. You should see me bring the house down. I don’t take requests and my dance night is the best in the city. People line up down the block in big pants and don’t plan on being home before the sun comes up.
I’m explaining to my body how we assign value when I notice in a mirror behind the bar that all of my features are too close together. If you have time to lean you have time to examine every inch of your being. An ad on my phone sells me on flexing in the proverbial sense.
One time I heard someone say they like commercials because they help them figure out what to buy. Hell yeah. That’s what makes the world go around.
I’ve disembodied a couple of heads of hair and they live in the back of my skull just above my neck. One of the heads of hair belongs to a woman I saw working at a Japanese restaurant. The hair was fine and wavy and parted in the center. The other belongs to a girl I had a class with in college. She wore a navy blue knit cap and when she pulled it off, her hair would stand on end with static until she smoothed it down with her bony hands.
What I wonder is how I can take this all to a place where I find it hard to look in the mirror without narrowing my eyes.
I saw a commercial for a walk-in bathtub. That’s not about beauty, it’s about safety. But it’s also about beauty, because everything is.
I tell my body that I’m redesigning my vestibule. Egyptian marble. My body looks very impressed. I explain that my inspiration is a tapestry I saw in Madrid that showed a giraffe crossing a wild river filled with golden fish and surrounded by small green birds. I want to recreate the sense of abundance and symbiosis. I am planning a classical waterfall, a circular shag rug affixed with Indian coins, and a ten foot birdcage filled with green parrots. My body offers to get me another drink. I say yes please, and hurry. My body returns with my drink and asks me about my vendors. I tell my body that those are strictly confidential, but the design is solely my own should my body be in need of a visionary.
It believes me and it wants me. We are going home together. We hold hands in the Lexus SUV. I look out the window at the moon, think about the blue it is painting me, the blue on my lobes from my bad hoop earrings. I use a fingernail to scrape it off blind. My body is telling me a story and I’m not listening. “Tapas,” I hear my body say. “These little fried fishes in red sauce.”
I’m nodding in a way that communicates I’m on board with all of it. I’m impressed. Something sparkles in the rearview mirror. It’s my eye.
When we get into bed, we begin learning how to love each other and our subcutaneous shit. Squinting in the dark is enough to see some edges, some lines connecting us, soft and hot and in demand.
I take a page from the life of my brother who crashed and burned going 120 along the East River on his green Kawasaki Ninja. I stand on the ledge of the building and sway. Nothing between me and the ground is untrue. Stacks of breath. I’ve always been afraid of steering into the guardrail, flying off the overpass, aware the whole time, changing my mind mid-way, thinking it’s too late, it’s too late as my last thought ever. I lift a foot so I’m only standing on one. The city sky is so bright. If I dropped a penny from here, would it kill? Would I see it slide into a soft head? Someone screeches behind me and I lose my balance and put the foot down. I turn and see Rita and she takes my hand. She has a pink rhinestone on her cheek—a diamond. She leads me back onto the roof of the building and gives me cinnamon gum. We sit down and lean against a wall below an air vent and she begins to ask me questions which are all the same question: why? I blow a hair out of my face. “I’m not scared,” I boast. Rita shakes her head like Rita shakes her head. Rita is my sister and a good one. Rita Rita, I’d love to be ya. I used to stand on the twin bed and sing that into an imaginary microphone. She is so much younger but so much smarter, so much better of a person. Nymph-like, long brown hair, blueberry eyes, skinny fingers. I reach out and take them in my hand. “Do not take care of me,” I say. “Don’t take care of me, I take care of you.” Rita’s fingers bend. I cup my hand around her knuckles. “Don’t be stupid,” she says. But she doesn’t know that I also drive fast. She doesn’t know I drive barefoot, either, with all of the windows down and talk radio up so loud that it is like the voices are in my head, are my voice. I am in Mosul with the hot wind moving through broken windows. I look at Rita. Rita looks at me. Rita’s head, so wide. Like the moon. I recall last Friday on the porch steps when she leaned over me with that head. She said, “wake up, please?” She whispered it. I said “I can hear you, but I can’t move.” She is small but she lifted me and dragged me up to bed. She was in her trench coat. I opened my eyes and saw it, army green. I said “beautiful,” and touched it. Now it is getting cold and I pull Rita close to me. I lean into her and position her head on my shoulder and smell her hair. “I’ll protect you,” I say, “don’t worry.” She looks up and licks her thumb and wipes something from my cheek. “Thank you,” I say, “there’s wine in the bucket.” She turns her head away from me and looks at the bucket sitting next to the door. “No wine,” Rita says, putting her head back on my shoulder, “do you want to go down?” I shake my head and she feels it. I count the years since I’ve been here. Time is unbelievable. I’ve changed dramatically and I keep doing so. When will it stop? I used to be scared of the dark, but not anymore. I used to think someone was coming to kill me. Now I am alone in the silence moving between black trees. I leave the doors unlocked and the windows wide open. I take baths in the dark, water sounds echoing off the tile walls and floor. Rita’s head is the weight it gets when she is sleeping. I move it gently into my lap. Her rhinestone points to the sky. I hunch my back and bend over her, cover her as much as I can, blow my warm breath into her coat, and feel the cold air on my spine.
Meredith Alling is a writer living in Los Angeles.