originally published in Arc Digital
I work as a telemarketer for a vacation rental company. Today I call this guy from Pensacola, Florida, named Bradley. I like to imagine people sometimes, what they might be doing when I call. What they look like. I wonder if I’m interrupting lunch, or an argument, maybe someone fucking their neighbor. Bradley answers the phone and he has this dog barking in the background. I start my rehearsed speech about the condo and the discount and the sunny shores. And Bradley interrupts me.
“Listen, you little bitch.”
I stay quiet because I’m not entirely sure if he’s talking to me or talking to the dog.
“I said listen.”
“I’m listening,” I respond. I’m supposed to hang up when people cuss or use racial slurs. But I don’t.
“You’re calling me, in the sanctity of my own home. The place where I shower and shit. You’re calling me here to sell me what, sell me what? A vacation home I can’t afford to buy. For a vacation I do not have time to take.”
“Well, actually Bradley. What I’m selling is a timeshare. You don’t have to buy the house. You just buy the time.”
“So you are selling me time? That I have to share?”
“Well, no. Not the time itself.”
“Do you realize how offensive that is? To try and sell someone time, the very thing we cannot ever buy or get back.”
“It’s a goddamn vacation home, and I’m sitting here waiting for my cigarette break, and trying to pay off student loans by talking to assholes like you. So yeah, I know something about offensive.”
I hang up.
Bradley makes me not want to work anymore. I slip out the back door and pretend like I’m going for a smoke. Bradley might be some redneck down in Florida smoking bath salts, but he is right about time. And that bothers me.
I walk across the parking lot and toward the ditch bank that runs alongside the edge of town. Sometimes there is a breeze blowing in over the mesa and sometimes not. There has never been much to do in Clark. And even less since Janet died. When we were kids we’d ride our bikes down to the ditch bank and kick around trash. We’d lie out and work on our tans in Janet’s backyard on her trampoline, cover ourselves in baby oil, and squeeze lemons into my already-blonde hair. At night we’d go to Cheapskate. I like to think about when the lights still worked, everyone came, the arcade games still played and how much you could invest in one slow skate of the night.
This isn’t the first time I’ve left work early on a Thursday, passed beneath the freeway, and stopped at the Dixie to buy a pint of cheap vodka and beef jerky. I know it’s stupid to drink on an empty stomach.
On Thursdays you can skate for only two bucks. They set you up with a pair of faux leather roller skates. Marcia keeps the wheels well oiled, WD-40. Janet and I would come with short shorts and knee high socks and body glitter. We’d get drunk off liquor from her dad’s gun drawer: Goldschläger, peppermint schnapps, Black Velvet, and we would rock Cheapskate for all it was worth — a mini teen discotheque a few years shy of the rave wave.
When I get to Cheapskate, the vodka is half empty and I stuff the last few pieces of jerky into the pocket of my jean shorts. I scuttle across the empty parking lot. I walked out on Janet’s funeral during a reading from the bible on a hot sticky Thursday just like this one. I told her parents she’d want a poem by Sylvia Plath. They said it would be distasteful. I walked here half drunk and angry with everyone in that church for acting like they knew her. The thought of eating chicken salad sandwiches in the basement of that place seemed sacrilegious to the memory of everything Janet was.
Inside the heavy metal doors I relax. If Bradley and I were still on the phone I’d tell him, I get it, the sanctity of place. I take a deep cold breath, musty and sweet like they’ve been running the same recycled air through the vents since I was a child. A disco ball above the rink throws squares of light across my face and I feel one dimensional in the darkness.
Marcia has been working behind the counter for as long as I can remember. She is wearing all these years, just like this place, and myself, and we all look like a dream no one took care of. Without having to ask, and without her taking her eyes from the screen of the portable yellow television where she watches reruns of telenovelas, she reaches onto the shelf behind her and grabs a pair of size eights. I hand her two wadded dollar bills, creased and smoothed like cloth.
This place used to be all about being seen, but now for me it’s about hiding out. Back in the day, Janet and I used to take to the rink and sing our hearts out, spinning faster, holding hands, hugging the corners tight, the wind in our hair, more alive than we’d ever be again. We’d kiss all the boys back by the dumpster where they smoked stolen clove cigarettes, and then we’d reapply our lip gloss and debate in a-matter-of-fact-way who was the best kisser: Luke Anderson or David Fetter or Ricky Tucker. My memories are all dipped in bleach. All the color has bled out.
I sit on the edge of the rink on a carpeted bench. Everything is carpeted. The cement walls are painted with neon dinosaurs and rhinos wearing roller-skates and Ray Bans. I let my mind wander and her seep in. Her white lips and the navy blue dress she wore in her casket. She taught me how to French kiss when we skipped third period health class freshman year. I kept my eyes open. Her eyelashes were long and curved like pool slides.
I might worry about people staring but there is no one here to stare. That’s the beauty. I take to the rink as soon as I get my skates on. Time stands still here. I wonder what Bradley might think about that, alone and day drunk in his trailer in Florida. It’s just me, a young teenage couple holding hands on a perpetual slow skate, and DJ Boy in the Plexiglas booth lording down over the rink.
I warm up a bit, trying to get my glide right, crack my neck, shake the stiffness from my limbs, let the vodka and heat do their thing. DJ Boy gives me a nod. We’ve never spoken, but he is here every week, dictating the rhythmic ups and downs of my afternoon. He’s learning what I like and turns on some Whitney, to which I return a big air-drawn heart and blow him a kiss. “So Emotional” starts in with the snaps. When Janet learned to drive she’d sing like she were on stage, roll down the windows at stoplights and hit the high notes. I bust out a few cross overs to gauge how drunk I’m getting.
DJ Boy cannot be more than eighteen or nineteen to my twenty-five. I throw fuck-me eyes in his direction every time I glide past. He reminds me of someone. Maybe someone I haven’t met yet. His blond hair looks like it belongs in a surf film and I can see the ink of what will be a sleeve by the time he turns twenty. I imagine he’s just graduated high school and this is his summer job. He’s saving money before he hits the interstate and heads west, just like everyone else, besides me.
DJ Boy and I have developed an interesting rapport over the past few months. Rapport is a word Dan the grief counselor uses a lot. Whenever he uses it he throws his eyes in my direction. Dan leads a grief counseling session in the basement of St. John’s every Sunday night that my parents beg me to attend. Dan wears really tight khakis and I can always see the outline of his dick when we sit in the semi circle of plastic chairs eating stale mini muffins. If Janet’s a ghost she’s sitting on his lap or pretending to suck him off. “Fuck rapport,” Janet would say.
I’ve got a good speed going and an easy buzz and sometimes I can’t tell if I’m moving or the room is spinning, but it feels like we’re doing this together. I switch over and go backward for a little while. I speed past the young couple and almost knock the girl over, so they leave. Janet always wanted everyone looking; she was such a Leo. It was enough for me to just be standing next to her. I got caught shoplifting because she told me the only thing she really wanted was bright blue nail polish and her mother wouldn’t buy it for her.
I finish the flask of vodka and I’m sweating a little. It feels good to work for it. Janet and I used to play this game. We’d make each other pass out in her bedroom, it was a cheap young high. You can bend over and breathe heavy and when you come up the other person presses on your chest and you crumple to the floor. Later we got more advanced and tied belts around our neck and when the other person went down you’d loosen it for them. There was something about it that turned me on, her needing me like that. I’d run my fingers over her lips and her nipples before she came back.
DJ Boy is playing Boyz II Men, “I’ll Make Love To You,” and I’m running my hands all over my body, and through my hair, like this is a music video. I’m joking but maybe not at the same time. I used to braid Janet’s long black hair in my bedroom. She had thin wrists and pale fingers and a coffee can full of money under her bed. We saved enough to head west in the fall. When we got into downers last year we left the house less. We’d stay in and count our money, talk about California, and drip hot wax on the soft parts of our thighs while the Goonies played on repeat. I flash DJ Boy my tits, but it’s not me doing it, I’m Janet. He turns up the music a bit and switches the song to Coolio’s, “Gotta Get Up To Get Down.” I laugh and skate harder and faster than before so my muscles burn and the vodka turns inside my stomach.
There are a lot of things I don’t think about anymore. Grief counselor Dan says repressing memories isn’t a good idea, denial is a no-good place to build a home. I call bullshit. This is the only therapy I need. And if Janet can’t make new memories, I’ll make them for her. I started writing a list of all the things she would never get to do. If I hadn’t been the one who found her, I might not have believed everything they told me. Maybe Bradley in Florida was wrong in that way, maybe we can get time back, but it comes to us all twisted and maimed by whomever we decide to be next.
I can’t see DJ Boy, but there is a halo of smoke in his booth, highlighted pink and then blue from the strobe lights. I only see my body in flashes and frames. I follow the smell of his cheap weed and let myself into his carpeted little booth. He’s sitting on the floor with a joint pressed between his boney fingers and he smiles loose and wide at me as I tower over him in my skates. I sit on the card table next to his open laptop and he passes me the joint. The song changes to something by Sugar Ray.
“Wondered how long it would take you.”
“Oh did you?”
We’re both quiet and we pass the joint back and forth a few more times until it burns my fingertips. He stares at my legs that I don’t bother to close. I swing my skates back and forth. They feel heavy on my feet, drawing all the blood downward.
“I’m Sam.” His voice is nice. I don’t think there is another word for it.
“Janet,” I say. It feels like the right answer.
“Nice to meet you, Janet.” He gets up from the floor and puts on a new playlist. He rests his hand on my thigh and I let him. He clicks around on the computer. “Beatles,” he says. “It’s a remixed Beatles playlist I made myself.”
“Nice.” I have nothing good to say.
We listen to Yellow Submarine play through the carpeted walls of the DJ booth.
“So, what’s up with you?” he says.
“I don’t know, what’s up with you?”
“I’m just working here until I can save enough to go to Vegas where all the real DJs are. I mean I make music too.”
“Yeah, I’m going to California in the fall.”
“You’d look good in California. This place sucks.”
Spotlights sweep across the waxed rink, back and forth. I watch, high and drunk, hypnotized. His one brave hand starts finding its way up, tugging at the hem of my jean shorts. My breath starts to quicken and I let him find his way around my body, his breath hot on my neck. He puts both hands on my thighs and makes these eyes at me like I’ve been caught. Janet wore contacts, her eyes an arctic blue. They were still open. I closed them with my fingertips like I’d seen in the movies. They’d tell me later she’d been dead for hours; there was nothing I could have done. Sam grabs me hard and leaves red marks on the insides of my thighs and my back. And I let him.
I move in ways that suggest I’d like him to fuck me — biting my lips, tossing my hair, grabbing at the waist of his jeans. All things Janet taught me, wrapped up in bed sheets with the bedroom door locked. In that same bed she ate two or ten too many Klonopins while I was off visiting my sister in San Antonio. I laid in bed with her for an hour before I could get up and call her parents. I’m amazed by how warm Sam’s skin is against mine, how elastic it is being alive. He has a sharp jawline and he is trying to get two fingers under my jean shorts. He has a nice face that deserves to be kissed. So I do.
Kissing Sam is like the gunshot at the start of high school relay race. He is off and running. He pulls my knees forward, laying me down on the table. “Hey Jude” comes on with a techno beat behind it. He leaves my jeans shorts dangling around my ankles, caught on the skates, licks the inside of my thighs and buries his face between my legs. This is not something I do, this is something Janet does, and the liberating nature of this thought shoots through me and it’s like she isn’t dead at all. We are more alive than we ever had been before.
I focus on Sam and the direction of his tongue, and I tug on his blond hair and say, “Right there.” And he really listens. My voice is far away, belonging to someone else entirely, high pitched and desperate, praying he doesn’t stop. When I come I thank god out loud a few times because something truly good is finally happening to me and I feel it everywhere. He comes up for air. I am breathless and tingling, and bordering on a fit of real laughter. Then he fucks me for a few minutes before he pulls out and comes on the carpeted wall. I am watching the colored lights spin by on the walls and Sam leans over to the computer and puts on a new playlist.
“Thank you,” I say pulling up my jean shorts. “I have to go.”
“Thank me? Jesus, any time Janet, any time you’ve got the time. I mean, you’re super fuckin’ hot.” He smiles and leans against the wall, proud of himself, and he should be.
I kiss him again, hard. And I take to the rink.
I get a few laps in when Sam plays Whitney Houston’s, “I Wanna Dance with Somebody.” I look over at him and he’s smiling and pointing at me, fist pumping, closing his eyes. He grabs the microphone and over the loudspeaker in that nice voice of his he says, “And this song is for Janet, may you always find the time.” I shake my head and smile, dig the rubber toe brake into the rink for a little leverage, and take off. I skate my heart out.