There's a girl in a window on Motter Avenue. A woman in certain circles, a child in God's eyes, and a girl in mine. I'm still a girl; I know all the signs. She's examining a bruise, purple and swollen, staking claim on her thigh. She moves her fingers slowly over the melancholy color, pulling and poking as if it will disappear upon begging. The wound is large, nearly hip to knee, and she studies it in intervals of embarrassed denial. She catches her own eyes and smiles, she cries.
I give up my stare, afraid of being noticed or a roommate opening her door, a piece of vital composure sent howling to the floor. The street yawns on towards Alex's townhouse, the spring night bragging of nothing. Hip to knee, I repeat, hip to knee.
Something about long hair and brown eyes and cruel beauty and "no chance." In her office, paper clippings and ticket stubs and pictures of the loved ruffling beneath a steel AC vent. In her office, where I'd watch her lean over her desk. The posture of an ugly girl and the stare of grief.
Come in, she'd say—and still says, but doesn't mean. I'd want to ask her what died and if she thought it could be revived. She'd spin in her brutal, leather chair to face me. Caught. Sometimes I'd ask if I was interrupting and sometimes I'd ask how she was. Sometimes, when my stock was down and my eyes were tired and the taillight of my Honda short-circuited on cue, I'd strut or swagger or lean in the doorframe like a dare. A kid who thinks she can steal a crucial stop sign. Unnoticed, home free. She'd hold her stare, narrowing her eyes over a paper delivered under pretense. Twice, she grinned. Easy lifts.
Last November, thick with eyeliner, the faith of a child and the hope of a fool, I entered her office and she didn't look up.
Please shut the door, was all she said. I obeyed.
Why do you look at me like that, she asked, eyes still fixed on a screen ripe with due dates, schedules, weather patterns.
Like I have answers.
I'm sorry, I'm not sure what—
I apologized again—good children always do—and told her I'd stop looking. An intern can have these exchanges, I said, if I make you uncomfortable. She asked me if I saw it. What? I asked.
You know, she said. I know you see it, because you have it, too. Does your boyfriend know you have it?
I don't have a boyfriend.
So what do you tell your family, she asked, on holidays and birthdays? You need one. Someone like you, it'd be easy.
I should probably go, I said, casual Friday shoes backing out towards the door.
Don't go, she said, for God's sake.
Hip to knee, hip to knee.
We started rehearsing, no opening in sight. The "I shouldn't" and "too much" and "always" and "never" and "I can't" and "I won't" and "I will." We met in her car, her silent scenes, her empty house, breaking in the rooms with laughter.
We don't do this much, she said once, her husband's diplomas hanging over my head, he's a good man. They're always good men.
In her brutal chair, with her sullen touch, in a factory of words she sat. I watched with dry mouth for her posture to change, or her gait, or the famed quote taped to her door. What had my hands done, I needed to know, so I drew tears to compensate the static.
Is this because I won't leave him, she asked, is this because I've picked a path and I stick to it and mean well? Is this because I dream that I can still somehow be right, that razor sharp line?
Don't you dream of me? I asked. And she said no, dreams are for the future, or else they're for the past.
And I'm? I asked.
You're just a girl.
A train sounded over our heads, harbor lights in our face, and with a shiver I cut loose what was left of her youth. Young as she was, dead as she dreamed.
Don't call, I said, and she didn't. When I walk past her house, her shades are drawn. Her husband is home. Hip to knee.
Come in, she still says, and she'll stare, and she'll slouch, and when the phone sounds she'll let it ring twice, and I watch all this from my desk where roads can fork and expectations are my own, and when we meet once a week she signs my forms, and when I leave her office she asks slowly to please shut the door behind me.