Becky Stern CC
Everybody liked me, everybody petted me
-- Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
“I want to walk through your tooth-gap,” Dazy said, looking up at me from her corner of the couch we sat on, made of crushed blue satin.
Her words reached me slowly, like syrup spilled across the table. I rang my tiny bell of laughter in response, unsure of what to say. Language clung to the sides of my stomach. Dazy smiled a bit at me, her mouth closed. She understood without me having to say anything. I met her during my first weeks with the agency four years ago. I was eighteen, a baby deer dressed in frills, and she was twenty, mean and funny. A redhead with a constant lollipop in her mouth, a pair of big, rolling eyes. I liked her immediately. Over the years, through shows, meetings and photoshoots, we’d grown close. Twins in high heels. I often saved my gift bags for her, and she let me have the last bite of whatever she was offered.
It was late and we were wading neck-deep in the third after-party of the week. The other models stood around like opened umbrellas, swirling glasses of foreign champagne and making light conversation with the designers who were getting meaner by the second. We still had our outfits on from the show earlier in the day. The room reeked of glitter and splashes of wine. Nylon balloons hung around dumbly. A few feet away, perched on a black table, a raspberry filled cake spilled out of a box. A half-eaten sugar avalanche. I sighed. An hour ago there had been claims of artistic influence, loud stories of New York’s pinprick, her dirty socks. But our highs had since worn off and now lay at our feet in puddles, their sheen metallic glittering like awful rain.
I tried to burn a hole through the floor with my eyes, right between my egg-yolk-colored wedges, until Dazy finally nudged me. I looked up to see everybody gathering their little handbags, cow-print and otherwise, slowly so as not to offend the designers who had been so sweet earlier. These parties never end until they do.
“Do you wanna ride with me?” Dazy asked, stuffing her hand into her purse to find her wallet.
I shook my head and stood up, stretching like a firework. I slung my own ruffled purple purse over my shoulder.
“I’m just going to walk.”
“You sure?” she asked, wallet now in hand.
“Fine. Then I’ll see you,” Dazy said, kissing my cheek.
“I’ll see you first,” I said, sticking my tongue out and walking towards the front door.
As the door opened, a rush of asphyxiated summer night air ran past me. All of those hours in that room, I had forgotten that we were even downtown. Seattle blinked at me in pulsing neons, a green-eyed flapper. My apartment was seventeen blocks away. I slipped a cigarette -- an all white Lucky Strike -- from its black box into my mouth, fumbling through my purse for my baby blue lighter. I stopped walking for a few moments to make a shield with my hand and light the tip. I put the lighter back in my purse, dragged deeply, held out and continued to walk. I paddled home, my strides long and fast, my shadow a silly, mute girl laid out beside me. A flatland.
I was bursting out of my dress -- a white, feathery number. I was meant to be an abstraction of a chicken to match the show’s theme of farmland. Dazy had been a pig, dressed in a hot pink dress with curls adorning the hemming. It was stupid.
From miles away, that big needle glared me down like a curious spaceship. I’d been to the top a couple of times over the last month and the view only got smaller every time. Exposure does that to you, discolors everything. It had been so long since something new. I so often wanted to walk the streets naked, I felt I’d more than earned my right to do that. To feel the nighttime wrap around me, a fiend. To shriek like a train.
But still, admittedly, surrounded by the massive twilight, the buildings wise and god-like, I felt miniature. Reminded of how little I actually knew. How thin my knowledge was.
I knew of swiping the last remnants of fresh blueberry wine from the swooping bottom of the glass with my finger. I knew of licking. I knew of want like a dog breaking out from a black muzzle. Of pleasure like a mouth. A porcelain vase shattering for always. How to pose in a way that could be passed off as my natural rhythms. I had no idea about roaches, their black shells. What dirt tasted like. How to spell eviction. There was so much to learn.
I got home too soon. And fell asleep naked to the sound of my eager air conditioner mingling with the noise of strangers, cars, parties.
All of the men lingering on street corners.
The next week was a litany of measuring tape, seven-inch heels, sparkling cases of mermaid eyeshadow and gasping stage lights. I sat still. I put my hand on my face. I walked in a straight line. My down time was spent plucking toothpicks out of sandwiches, laughing softly, involuntarily catching up on backstage drama and sipping on lightly milked coffee. How have I gotten used to this? I asked myself every time I waited in a lobby, or waited for the hairspray to freeze my head or flirted with a waiter. I tried not to acknowledge the thought but I felt like a portable closet most of the time. Stripped, dressed, stripped, dressed. Leaving only to come back.
Another after-party. I was dancing with a model from the all-male agency we often collaborate with. I was stirred. Earlier somebody stuck a quick dissolving star onto my tongue, which I followed with a pool of gold. I was being held. His hand cinched around my waist like a belt while I was the twirling, silver cowboy buckle. I was the star he wished upon. He smelled tart. I felt dirty as the dancefloor while the bar closes, glittering in muddied, worn out colors. Falling out of the night into a sprawling, velvet nothingness. My thoughts were spinning, bursting like blooms of acne.
“What’s your name?” He asked, his voice in my ear.
I used to dream of sleeping on stage, curled up with the crowd watching.
“You look like an Alexandra. Can I call you that?”
My mother never had any hopes for me. But I can’t blame her for this.
“Alexandra, my name is Stephen. My mother named me after my father,”
I am a coat hanger, a rack.
“You know what my father was?”
I wanted him to stop talking.
His voice got low, “He was a thief.”
As he kissed me, I imagined gutting a fish in one slit, the pink belly splayed open like a newly cleaned comforter.
In the morning, I was due.
Ten girls from our agency, including myself, were picked to meet with ten lucky children from the community who we apparently inspired, an event the result of a charity we recently started to work with. Dazy wasn’t there, known more for her electric stage presence rather than being personable. I wore a beige turtleneck sweater and black pants with heels. We were brought into a vast ballroom, the size too much for us to fill. We were divided into tables, each child paired with a model. I sat across from a young girl, not any older than ten, her blonde hair limp.
I was still worn out from the night before, my head felt as if it was being probed by an ice pick. But I swallowed some aspirin and played nice. Her name was Phoebe, she said. The conversation was stiff and automatic. She seemed to be bored with me.
“I wanna be like you when I grow up,” Phoebe said, playing with her fingernails.
I flashed a smile, some cheesy slogan coming from my mouth like a photocopy.
“Why? You’re perfect as you are.”
“So I can do nothing all day. It’s the easiest job in the world. And you don’t even need a degree so you can just be dumb forever. And you get rich.”
Phoebe went on, squeaking.
I smiled so hard I hoped my face would shatter.
The third show of the month and I was simmering, hoping to burn through everything they put on me. I was tired, used. No more fun. My blood ran petty.
I knew what I was going to do.
That afternoon, I got dressed in a two-piece suit, white as a pill. The theme was discipline. My hairdresser could sense my whipped tension, and didn’t make any cute remarks. Just sprayed my hair back and left. I didn’t talk to anybody. A little less than an hour before the show was set to start, I ate lunch in the backroom where nobody could see. A hulking rotisserie chicken. When I bought it at the grocery store that morning, the cashier gave me a strange look and then asked if I had a boyfriend. I ate methodically, pulling apart chunks of meat from one another, careful not to spill anything on my blazer. I ate until I thought I was going to burst.
As the show began, that annoying cyborg music blaring out from the speakers, I waited in line with everyone else, watching as girls went onto stage with three minutes separating them, one by one. We all looked like frosted animal crackers. Soon the girl in front of me, in a tight leather dress, left through the doorway to the stage. Her large boots drummed. I counted the seconds, my heart buzzing.
I had forty-five seconds left until I was due to walk. I waited another five, long seconds. And decided to go.
It was swift, direct and mechanical. I had been practicing at the last few after parties. I reached my index finger, the nail painted red, down into the back of my throat. I conjured. Vomit spewed out almost immediately onto my suit, a light brown like oatmeal. Nina, one of the stage directors, gasped when she realized what I was doing, what I had done.
“Oh my god. You fucking idiot!” She yelped, rustling her papers in frustration and storming off, looking for a towel.
I laughed a little, a hideous chain rattle. And wiped my chin with my hand, smeared my hand across the bottom of my suit. I brimmed. My name was called only a few seconds later as the clock blared zero. I smiled as one of the stage technicians gestured for me to go while scowling.
The runway stretched out in front of me like the metallic tongue of a sphinx. My vomit rested on my suit like a badge. Photographs would be taken, there would be double and triple takes. Then possibly tabloid headlines, pressing questions.
But I felt wondrous. I couldn’t wait to tell Dazy. I knew I had broken something in a real way. I’d be fired from the agency or labeled difficult to work with. Or worse, I realized. They’d love it the way they love anything that glints, the way they hate us. Either way, it was done. I was done. I put my shoulders back and neglected the spotlight. I hid my smile as I walked out, the music disappearing. The audience caving in.
Jasmine Ledesma lives in New York. Her work has appeared in places such as Epiphany, The Southampton Review, Crab Fat Magazine and [PANK], among others. She was recently named a finalist for Gasher's first-book scholarship, as well as a finalist for the Texas Disability Coalition's PEN2PAPER Prize. Her work was nominated for both Best of The Net and the Pushcart Prize in 2020.
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