Austin Shriner is a senior here at Guilford College. His short-short illustrates a wild series of events. You will be able to find his piece in this years magazine soon to be out!
Austin Shriner – SATs
After my SATs we ate mushrooms. I was not a wild child. It was me, my girlfriend who I already didn’t love, my blue-haired friend, and her boyfriend, the supervisor, who would not eat any hallucinogens. Later I heard that those things grow on human shit.
Nestled in the heart of suburbia, behind the other high school, we did nearly nothing in the dugouts while it lightly rained. We later theorized that the rain is what sent my blue-haired friend over the edge. It was like the hue was turned up on my TV. My insides were like spaghetti being twirled up on a fork into a ball of yarn. Some neighborhood boys passed through to smoke a bong. They probably thought we were dorks. Blue Hair’s boyfriend was becoming increasingly impatient.
My blue-haired friend was becoming lost. I took mental note and said to myself, “Don’t let that be you.” By the end she was feebly pleading with her boyfriend, trying to figure out when it would stop. We walked her back to her house. She ran ahead of us. Her boyfriend left to go watch The Aviator with another friend, as he had promised to do. “Don’t go, man.” Would I have done the same in his position? Maybe. That’s what school boys do.
Blue Hair tried to kill herself with a ballpoint pen because there were maggots in her flesh. After that, we did drugs again, all of us. I didn’t think about much else after.
Meredith Luby is also a senior and read to us a brand new piece. You can find her work, Too Many Left Turns, on the online journal Umbrella Factory: http://www.umbrellafactorymagazine.com/author-luby.php … For our last show Without Feathers Wings are Just Bones describes Juney, a unique and puzzling character. Check it out. She will also be featured in this year’s magazine.
Meredith Luby – Without Feathers Wings are Just Bones
I know am not the only one who hesitates before dialing a phone. There are times when he cups my face in his hands to bring it close. It’s like saying to someone, you’re such a bitch, and turning to walk away but looking back after five steps. I never steal anything, just sit in the armchairs or clip my toe nails over the kitchen sink. I don’t even rearrange things, I am not trying to teach anyone anything. I try on high heels sometimes, if there are high heels. I would never do anything so bold as to use someone else’s lipstick and not because I am afraid of diseases. I don’t watch the people, just their cars. I watch for their absence to make sure I get the timing right.
I check their mattresses for bed bugs. I’m helping really. Sometimes I sweep porches or empty the trash. I don’t wonder if people notice or not. I know they don’t. “Of course,” they think, “of course I remembered to take out the trash before I left,” or, “I always clean the floor, always.” The signs of a careful intruder are easily ignored, just as the signs of careless homeowners are easy to find. An open window, a sliding glass door without a crow bar. People leave keys under welcome mats and above door frames. It was a habit I developed right before Cal left. I had to think of something to fill the time. It is getting old now, I’ve been in every house in my neighborhood, looked at my body in all of their mirrors, drank milk straight from the carton standing in front of each of their fridges. It is possible to be too familiar with the filth of other people, with their laundry and the inevitable hairs shed on the bathroom floor.
I used to shed hairs on other people’s pillows. I waited for the men to find them, to think of me and sigh my name sweetly the way my granddad would, “Oh Juney,” he would say, “Oh Juney, we’ve all been waiting for you for a long time.” That was in Detroit. Snow is always early and always late. The air clearer than you would expect for a city so full of exhaust. Their savior, I wanted to be their savior, teaching them about how we garden in North Carolina, telling them how we still make fabric and find jobs even though all the textiles come from India now. Detroit has no time for that. It swallows apples whole still clawing at my feet, hunger bursting from it’s distended belly, it’s cracked nails strong enough to break the skin. There are plenty of old white men growing tired to go around, plenty of armchairs and scuffed leather shoes. I think I am growing tired too, or at least tired of this and of all these dirty bathroom sinks in all of these sparkling houses.
Cal always slept on his stomach, one hand hanging off the edge of the tiny bed we shared. I had the lust even then, when we would walk through our sprawling neighborhood thinking about which house we would buy. It wasn’t jealously, I never wanted to be the people in those houses, I never even wanted them know I was around. Its just, our apartment complex was peeling away and I always had the suspicion that Cal and I never put the right things in the fridge. We pretended to live the mountain life, sitting on our little porch looking at the rotting cracked sidewalk below us. This wasn’t a nice part of town but it wasn’t the worst either.
His fingers were rough, the way a man’s should be, so that it didn’t matter if my skin was soft, it always felt softer than his. I had to have something to fill the time while he was sleeping or walking by himself to the bus stop. When he wasn’t touching my face I would start to believe he never had, would assume he was always just walking to the bus stop over and over again. Cal never intentionally lied to me. He never intentionally bought food I was allergic to or fell asleep in other places or got distracted on his way home. He just forgot what time he was supposed to meet me or got caught up in other people’s lives. You should be caught up in our life, I thought, caught up in my hair, your fingers sliding up the nape of my neck. Asleep, alone, he cups my face in his hands.
The first house wasn’t a mansion, but big enough, the beds carefully made with hospital corners. The master bathroom had a skylight and entire wall of mirrors. I took of all my clothes and layed in the empty tub. The woman who lived here was infertile. Or maybe just unwilling. There was only one picture of a child. A little wallet sized of a smiling baby in a gold frame on the side table in the living room. That was not their baby. The other bedrooms had beige duvet covers. The blinds were left open because the lights were never turned on. I walked into the bedroom in the way she might, slowly, her hair would be dripping just a little. Her husband would be hopeful, but she wouldn’t be. Her wet hair left a mark on the apolstered headboard.
I watched t.v. in that house. They had a good one, bigger than mine even before Cal left taking the new set with him. I drew pictures in their brand new carpet which I vacuumed before leaving. “Oh Juney,” my grandfather would say, “you know in movies about weddings no one ever marries who they’re supposed to.”
I don’t know if this next house was the third or the fourth. Numbering them objectifies it a little and everyone including Cal says objectifying is wrong. I didn’t learn the difference between those things, objects and subjects at any point I can remember. Until I was fourteen I did not know that England was an island. I don’t think I thought that it wasn’t, just no one told me or showed me a map or anything. That house had a framed map of the world on the wall in the basement. The standard old-world kind that we all look at and pretend not to notice how England is still in the center. If I’d had thumb tacks with me and if it weren’t covered by glass I would have been tempted to mark each place Cal and I went together. There was a pile of toys in the corner. Not the kind I used to play with. Other than that the house was too clean for children.
The kitchen counter held a lone glass for a little hand, the bottom dusted with the remains of milk from three days ago or two weeks ago, or whenever they left for wherever they went. Cal didn’t tell me where he was going. He took the movie posters and the lime green frying pan and if we’d had a dog I would have let him take that too. You have to be careful about dogs. People leave them inside when they are gone for the day but dogs remember how your hair smells as soon as they sense you opening the door to get the mail while on a walk with their oblivious owner.
“Don’t be sneaky Juney,” Cal told me once. “You always get that toothy smile.” Their kitchen had an island. I cleaned the stove, took off each of the eyes and carefully scratched away the black ash. They wouldn’t notice the missing sponge, wouldn’t question that the burner had suddenly stopped smoking. Two weeks is a long time. So is three days.
I was never sneaky when I did this. Like in high school, it is so easy to skip class if you are holding a math book and walking out the main door.
“Take this,” I said. “And this. I don’t want these things.”
“Enough of this Juney.” Cal said. “Look, I told you from the start. You’ve got the right kind of ears, but I’m just a transient. Not the type to stick around while you grow your hair back out.” Cal was the one who taught me which kinds of windows can be opened by the right balance of pressure and which ones requires tools. A window is almost always preferable. You’d be shocked by how many people just leave them open. Or by how many people have alarm systems that they don’t bother to set. Its like the math book. Cal only knew because he was once a trainee at a real estate firm. All of the supposed to be beautiful parts of that house—the foyer with the marble floor, the sparkling granite counter tops—are the parts that the children can’t touch. And not because their mother is worried about them getting hurt, but because she is worried about how the iron in blood stains marble.
Cal liked ugly things, asymmetrical haircuts and dirty mauve colored shirts. He is the one who showed me the microscopic pictures of eyes. The iris looks like sand or dead sea sponges or like the things I pull out of the shower drain. I think he was trying to teach me something about how wrong I was when it came to really seeing. Or he was trying to tell me that he didn’t like my eyes. I visited houses that were like our apartment but a house. One had a fridge with the door left open. They would have noticed if I cleaned the sink so I just used the blow dryer in the bathroom and checked each of the mattresses for signs of life. Some people don’t know how often you are supposed wash sheets. I used to be one of those people and then Cal came into my life and said once a week, at least. There were three bedrooms, all of which had a mattress of the floor in a corner. I washed all of the sheets and carefully remade each bed to look just as disheveled, replaced each of the books and cereal bowls and bongs on top of the comforter. When those kids got home they wouldn’t understand why they slept for so long or why everything felt just a little easier. These kids were like Detroit, broke-down and dirty but not ready to give up yet. Detroit’s shoulder blades are ripping through the skin. My granddad died before the bleeding stopped. I like to tell people exactly what kind of world I’m from, but it is always a lie. In Detroit men lay their jackets over piles of cigarettes so that all the woman can have one nice pair of shoes.
Cal tells me that on the drive from Chapel Hill to Greensboro there is a shack not even a hundred feet from the highway with the word taxidermy in white plastic letters. It is the size of the organic grocery co-op he liked to shop at, but, he says, the things inside are even more expensive.
“Don’t fall for a man who won’t eat meat,” my grandfather said. “You are better than that Juney.” The word I’m thinking of is sensibilities, that Cal had all of these sensibilities, but that isn’t quite what I mean. He still bit his fingernails. That’s a thing I could overlook if he didn’t also crack his knuckles or occasionally run his fingers through his hair after eating. Then again I often fail to pull my own hair from the shower drain and sometimes I steal his razor to shave my legs. He let these things go enough to not mention them, but not enough to stay.
There are times when I think I’ve forgotten how to dance but really I don’t remember how music is supposed to sound. Here it is like lawn mowers and windows with chipping paint. It is like cicadas in a pile on the sidewalk and sewing machines packed away in boxes. It takes an hour to get to Durham, ten to get to Detroit where the only reason people don’t move is that their ankles are broken or their front porches could fall through if you step too hard.
There are young girls sighing sweetly into pillows that smell like feet while their boyfriends crush beer cans and laugh too loudly. This is a movie Cal and I unwillingly watched through the windows of the other apartments. I can’t be sure but I think this is what plays in the house with the open fridge. They kept their bread in the fridge, the peanut butter too. Not that it made a difference since they left the door hanging. The house with no children had a bottle of chardonnay in the fridge and vodka in the freezer. The clean children had fresh raspberries and four different kinds of jam.
That is the kind of thing I am bad at, choosing just one.
“How do we know?” I asked Cal. “How do we know which brand is better.”
“Choose the cheaper one. You want strawberry right?
“But it is only fifty cents. What if fifty cents makes all the difference? What if fifty cents more means one is better for biscuits and one is better for bread?”
“We haven’t even bought bread yet.” It would drive him up the wall. My grandfather was like this too. He had three different can openers, three different pairs of gloves, all black, all essentially identical. But it was Detroit and you can never be too careful. In North Carolina the jam is almost always good.
Cal avoided all the conversations I wanted to have. He would stall with offers of coffee or a movie. Sometimes he brought his face close to mine and talked in a little voice like I was a puppy or a child. He would promise to come visit after he left, every chance he got. I guess he just didn’t get very many chances.
On our first date Cal took me to a kegger then said he couldn’t drive me home because he would be drunk.
“Or, I guess I could drive you drunk.” I didn’t say anything when he rolled down the window to smoke a cigarette. I’m not someone who wants beer from a keg or who rides in a car with the windows down.
“You want a drag?” The cigarette dangled from the corner of this mouth. He almost choked turning his head too fast to look at the road. I knew then how smooth he would never be. I have a tendency to slouch in the front seat of cars. I like to get almost lower than the window.
The last house I slept in that was not my own had an urn with a picture of cat next to in on the mantle. There were not enough mirrors and too many drawings of cats. The couch was covered in white hair that did not belong to the cat. There are cans of cat food in the fridge and there is skim milk. Five onions, a tomato, two boxes of salted butter.
In the bathroom I counted my ribs. I trimmed my hair and left the pile in a corner by the toilet. Maybe the woman who lives here is old enough that her eyesight is going, old enough that dementia is something she might think she has. I ate a bowl of oatmeal, the cinnamon kind, and left it dirty in the sink.
These houses form a pattern or something that reminds me of love but smells different and tastes like the white grapes we ate together in Barcelona back when we both still thought the Earth was tilted twenty-three degrees. Cal thinks he owns a map so large it would prove that everything is flat, just cut up into pieces and wrapped around this giant rock.