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art made me this way

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He can see her legs from across the gallery and maybe this opening won't be the worst thing he's done for a friend this week, it's New York which is a little too close to memories he'd rather ignore and being a wingman isn't really distracting enough when the artist they drove all this way here for is as vapid and shallow as the art on the walls he doesn’t have the energy to pretend is better than it is, but you can presume a lot about a girl with legs like that wearing low-top Converse with scuffed soles in a room full of stilettos, so he takes a chance with a bottle of beer and a sarcastic comment. Her eyes dance as she reprimands him, arms folded over her chest even after she relieves him of the bottle. He remembers later that she was wearing a lime green dress that was too translucent for a gallery opening and her hair was pulled back into a messy bun that hid its length and that suited him just fine. A friend introduces them, she raises her eyebrows a little when someone nearby casually mentions his novel and his publishing house and he ducks his head as if he is embarrassed and hopes that she believes his modesty.

They fuck in the bathroom and everyone pretends not to notice, his lips keep missing her lips and later he tells himself that he’s just remembering it wrong, her fingernails leave little half-moon marks on his ass but he can’t see them so it’s almost like she didn’t leave anything behind at all. She’s gone before he can catch his breath.

Her name is Dawn.

A week later the shallow artist sends over a copy of her novel. There’s a blurry image of a girl’s scuffed knees and legs on the cover. He sets it on a shelf and laughs, but doesn’t read it.

What could her words tell him that her body didn’t, he thinks.

He reads the New York Times from cover to cover every morning, but always leaves out the political section. He tells himself it’s not for the same reason he left her novel on a shelf to collect dust.

It’s not.
(But maybe he should think about telling a new lie.)

 

 

It takes him thirty minutes to circle closer and closer to her, as if she couldn’t see him staring at her the whole time. It’s not like it’s a large crowd. She came without a date because she was bored, she came to amuse herself. She wonders if men really think women can’t feel them staring. She wonders what would happen if one day she turned to one and said, We ignore you because we don’t fucking care. We pretend to be surprised when you finally show up at our elbow acting like we weren’t noticeable at all because we’d rather you didn’t exist. We ignore you because we want to keep ignoring you. She promises herself that she’ll say it at the next party she attends alone. (She doesn’t, but it’s not the kind of promise you keep.) She can tell he’s a writer by the way he says hello, all writers are the same, they’re so damn transparent, so eager; she pretends to be surprised and impressed, he looks at her like he wants to write about her, so she lets him pull her into the bathroom. She avoids his lips and scratches at his skin because she wants to know if he’ll notice.

Will he write a poem about a girl that hid her lips like she hid her affection? Will he make a metaphor of her lips, turn them into a tulip or a rose or a key? Will he write a story about a girl without a heart who could only be tamed if you caught her lips?

She ducks out of the party laughing, she writes a story about a girl with a dark heart and lips that wouldn’t kiss but a body that couldn’t be sated. It was a story about herself. She sold it to a magazine and bought herself a new bra to celebrate.

His name is Jess.

A week later the artist from the gallery opening sends over a copy of his novel to prove some kind of point. She reads it with a pint of Ben & Jerry’s in her lap and laughs and laughs. She tweets her progress through the novel and hopes that he knows what he’s done. She gains fifty followers. She pretends to ignore the threats that flood through.

She reads the political section of  The New York Times.

She texts the girl with the blue eyes that she might have loved once, a long time ago or right now maybe, if she wasn’t an author and believed in love. She smiles every time her phone chimes.

She doesn’t mention the novel (yet).

 

 

She’s at a house party on the arm of a woman with dark hair and dark eyes in a sleek white dress and there’s a small lovebite on her shoulder that he can see when the sleeve of her green dress slips down. She catches his eye across the room and rolls her eyes at him and he smiles back. The way she kisses the woman in the white dress makes him feel dangerous and the way her sleeve keeps slipping down her arm makes him feel reckless. I’ll fight with her if you want me to, she says, if you wanted to take me somewhere else. He doesn’t say anything, but she ends up in his studio apartment as if he planned it, green dress on the floor, her hair flowing further down her back than he dared to hope. Her teeth graze his lips and he can never quite reach her lips, but he’s so tangled up in her by then it doesn’t seem to be the point.

She’s reading the political section of the New York Times, sitting naked at the head of the bed, a cup of coffee in her hand, chuckling to herself. She doesn’t say hello and he doesn’t say anything at all, and that feels like something.

I wrote a novel, he says because it feels like the right time. She nods and allows him to slip a copy into her purse on her way out the door. She looks at the copy of her own novel on his shelf silently and he says, I’ll get around to it, without explaining where it came from.

He writes a short story about a girl with red hair and brown eyes and thick thighs in stilettos who loves bad art and laughs too loudly. He leaves it out on the coffee table just in case.

She’s knocking on his front door and he acts surprised instead of hopeful and tells himself that she doesn’t see right through him. She presses his novel into his chest, You never read mine, did you?

I’m getting to it.

She smirks and walks away.

He reads her novel. He reads it again.
He reads the political section of the New York Times.

The artist smiles at him and pats his hand. Tough break, kid.

His friends shake their heads and hand him a beer, Fucking women, man.

He takes the train to Washington DC and stands for an hour in the rain and tries not to feel poetic. There’s no poetry in this. She stands in the doorway of her apartment, eyebrows furrowed and concern written all over her delicate face, her blue eyes shining. They used to see right through him, but they aren’t looking for his heart anymore, they’re just eyes.

My novel isn’t about you, he says vehemently.

I know, she says. She does know, she’s read it. She’s the first person he gave it to. Drove further than he should have and waited in a driveway and fought in a bar with a guy she should never have been with in the first place.

My novel isn’t about you, he insists.

A voice calls for her inside so she closes the door. He’s always been standing on the outside of her world anyway.

 

 

She goes to a house party with an old friend that occasionally drags her along as a beard so they won’t get hit on by aspiring artists. They make out a little in the car before going in because neither one of them is in a relationship, not really. She’s not bored at all, but there’s something about the way his eyes follow her around the party that almost makes her wish she was. I need to fake a fight,she whispers to her fake-date. What’s a fake fight between fake lovers? Tell me it’s not for that writer again, her friend whispers back, you wrote better drivel when you were fucking that musician I hated. They fight anyway, make it explosive. Everyone hides their smiles behind their hands until he’s safely tucked between her legs miles away.

She wonders if she’s invited to these shitty parties because they all know she’s good for a fake-dramatic scene. She wonders how many of them think that they are real. (They are never real.) She drinks coffee naked in his bed and reads the paper, but only the political section.

She doesn’t give a shit about politics. She just likes seeing her name in black and white.

Just don’t ask her to admit it. She refuses to be sentimental.

He gives her a copy of his novel on her way out the door, like it’s an afterthought and not something he’s been agonizing about for hours while she drank her coffee and read the paper and took a shower and dug through his closet for a clean shirt to steal. She doesn’t see the copy of her novel on his shelf until he points it out. The artist probably sent it over.

He obviously didn’t read it.

She writes about a girl who wants to love the world but is reaching for it so hard that it keeps slipping through her fingers, who laughs louder the sadder she is, who is pathetic but lovable. She had red hair and brown eyes and Dawn might be a little in love with her. She is and isn’t every girl Dawn has ever loved.

She submits it and puts the printed copy in a file in her filing cabinet.

She takes the train to DC and takes her blue-eyed girl out for drinks for old time’s sake. The new girlfriend is small and blonde and harsh. Dawn likes her. They like each other. She kisses them like she could love them and hopes they don’t expect her to be this way all the time.

She doesn’t tell them about the boy with blue eyes and dark hair and a novel.

They sleep all curled around each other, a pile of limbs and long hair and it feels like a memory or maybe like college and it definitely is something he’d wish she’d write about but she promises herself she won’t.

In the morning, over coffee and the political section of the Washington Post they tell her about the boy that came stumbling up to their door in the middle of the night last week and she smiles because she knows him.

He wrote a novel about me, Rory says with a mystified smile. She can’t imagine why anyone would want to write a novel about her.

I’ve read it, she replies.

And then they know everything.

 

 

She’s at a book signing, whispering and giggling to a coarse girl with long blonde hair that seems vaguely familiar but he can’t quite place. He approaches her after the reading, strolling over like he hadn’t been looking for her, seeing her long legs and long hair out of the corner of his eye everywhere he went. So what are you working on these days, he doesn’t have a preamble and she wouldn’t have wanted one, anyway.

She takes him by the hand and waves goodbye to the short blonde and calls her city, which sounds like a code he doesn’t have time to break. There’s a cat in her apartment, orange and white and overweight. She rides him pressing his back into her couch, a smile turning up one corner of her mouth. He carries her to the bedroom and lays her against green and brown sheets and can’t tell if she knows he’s imagining her in a quiet wood, leaves in her long hair. In the morning she hands him the newspaper and says, Our girl is on fire today. He flips right to R. Gilmore without an answer and she smiles into her coffee, but doesn’t offer him a cup.

He leaves with a manuscript in his hand, he found it on the desk in the corner, he reads it on the train. It’s a short story about a girl with red hair and brown eyes and thick thighs in stilettos who loves bad art and laughs too loudly. She tells him before he leaves that it’s already been accepted for publication in a little journal. He gets drunk at two in the afternoon.

 

She drags Paris to a book signing because Rory is swamped with work and everything is the three of them these days. It’s like friendship or sisterhood or something better. Her City and her girl Friday. Hers. It doesn’t roll off the tongue the way the poets say it should. She doesn’t write about it and that might be the thing that makes it real. Paris tells her about the professor she fell in love with at Yale and they giggle all through the reading. He takes her by surprise.

She doesn’t have to fake being surprised. Her skin doesn’t seek out his gaze in public anymore, but it sure does love attention when it’s there in front of her. Love you City, tell Friday I’ll call her tomorrow, and she’s dragging him out the door. She wants to scrape her fingernails down his back and pull his hair and feel his blood pumping beneath his delicate skin. All she’s working on these days is fighting the fear that they’re all circling too close to her heart.

In the morning she forgets where the boundaries are, she drew a map over her whole world and forgot about border control, she hands him the newspaper and says our girl and she’s smiling about the word our because it’s almost like mine before she realizes that maybe she shouldn’t. When she gets out of the shower he’s rifling through her filing cabinet and she feels so raw and naked that she lets him take whatever he wants home. What harm could it do?

Someone knocks on the door and it’s her.

My girl Friday, she smiles and is actually happy.

My sunshine, she smiles and there’s a trace of pain in her eyes.

You still love him, and it’s finally words floating through the air instead of just being the words he decided on, pressed between the pages of a book she never should have read.

She hates him.

She still loves him, Paris shrugs.

They come in and they stay and that feels okay for now.

Eventually borders have to change.

She writes a story about a knight in a kingdom that keeps changing hands, he swears loyalty so many times it feels like his heart will break, and in the end his wife is on the other side of a border he can’t protect anymore. Paris says it’s too sentimental and dashes off to work without her coffee. Rory says it’s lovely and sends it to a friend of hers who is always looking for this kind of thing.

No one says, look – it’s you and that’s probably for the best. It’s not like she doesn’t already know.

 

 

I hate her, he says three nights later to the glass of whiskey in his hand.

His friend grunts and tips his beer like a salute or an apology.

The artist is around so much these days he should know her name. He’d rather keep pretending she was going to disappear eventually. He leans over and she shows him something on her phone, something with Dawn S. in the “created by” section. It’s beautiful, it’s heartbreaking, it’s poetic, it’s something he’d kill to have his name on.

It’s him.

He knocks on her door with her novel in his hand, his hands shaking with rage. It’s the middle of the night and she’ll probably demand an apology but he’s getting his first.

You wrote a novel about her!! he’s not sure what he expects her to do now that it’s all out there in black and white, but it still feels like something precious was stolen from him.

Blue eyes stare out at him and he blinks back.

Rory?

Jess?

He looks down at the novel in his hands and then holds it out for her to see, it’s an accusation, it’s a red letter, it’s historical this moment, She wrote a novel about you!?

Jess, it’s three in the morning.

My novel isn’t about you, he’s drunker than he ought to be, knocking on her door in the middle of the night.

Her novel isn’t about me, she says slowly, patiently. She was always so patient.

He shakes his head, because it is and he can see it as plain as day.

The blonde from the book signing appears in the doorway.

Paris?

Go home, Jess.

A swinging door. A muffled sound of giggling. A throbbing in his head. The streets are New York streets and they should be Washington streets. He writes a story in the morning about a man lost in the streets of his own city, but he was only lost in his own home which is empty now that she’s gone.

The artist shows him a story about a man knocking on all the doors of a nameless street but only finding the women he’d wronged and never the one he loved. The trick is that he didn’t love any of them. It’s beautiful, the artist cried when she read it, all of her friends love it. It’s been shortlisted.

Created by Dawn S.

I hate her, he mutters.

He’s sitting there, in black and white, in words he didn’t write.

 

 

She feels more and more exposed each time she sits down to write.

It used to be so easy, black lines on a white page, stories and anecdotes that were her but didn’t hurt. She’s rubbing herself raw. She hopes no one else can see her soul smiling back at them from the page.

He comes to her apartment in a rage, drunk, yelling about his novel. It’s like the three of them exist now just to be on the other side of a door that he’s knocking on. She wants to pretend like he’s the one that will drive them out of her bed, but that’s only because she’d blame anyone else in the world now. She writes a story about a man driven man, looking for a home, and finding only broken hearts. She writes it while watching them sleep, Rory’s face pressed into Paris’ neck, she writes about a man so no one will see that it’s her.

Paris reads it over breakfast and says, So then stop fucking running, idiot and then runs out the door. Rory reads it with one hand pressed against her chest and says softly, So then stop pushing us out and then runs out the door.

She stands still in the middle of her apartment and listens to her neighbors argue above her. The sounds of their shouting fills the air and it feels cathartic. It would be easier if they all didn’t love the same thing in the same self-destructive way.

I still love him, she says, tears in her blue eyes. She’ll always love him.

She doesn’t know if she loves him, or any of them, they pretend it would be easier if she did.

It wouldn’t.

She’s read his novel. Nothing is easier when you love a heart like that.

Never fall in love with an author, she whispers back. And they both know she’s really saying, Don’t fall in love with me.

Too late.

She writes a poem about falling to her knees in the dirt and grime of the city, a whole world spread before her, but she can’t inhale it all at once and the world is offering too much. She writes a poem of being the thing in the gutter, too tired to pick herself back up, and a woman the size of the world.

Rory sends her an email saying, It’s okay if you love him.

She writes back, I hate him.

She doesn’t ask them to come back and they don’t offer. She thinks maybe if he was here, they’d come without her even needing to ask. That’s stupid.

Loving one author is insane. Loving two is just stupid.

Fool me twice, shame on me.

(What does that say about her?)

 

 

She’s at a barbecue in a dress he knows is green because she’s wearing it but someone else near him says is black. He wonders if she owns a pair of jeans and then hopes not, it would ruin everything about her that makes her the most fucking annoying person he’s ever met. It’s like you stepped out of the pages of a pompous asshole’s wet dream novel, he says at the buffet table. Her eyes sparkle back and she laughs through her teeth, Just call me your manic pixie dream girl and maybe I’ll swoon. He can’t get her to swoon, but he does know how to make her scream with just a flick of his tongue, and so he does.

In the morning, he hands her the political section and says, Your girl is going to get herself fired, and she says, She was yours first, like that somehow makes him responsible.

He gets drunk at two in the afternoon and writes a story about a manic pixie dream girl.

The artist says that her version is better and he just shrugs. Artists never last long in this crowd, anyway. He’ll just wait and hope the next one is on his side.

She says something like, As if men have a monopoly on loving women and then writing about it, and it’s shitty because he wish he’d thought of it.

You wrote a novel about her, he says, the hot burn of his cell phone digging into his hands and face like a brand. They should know about this conversation, they should all know. He should carry some sign of what she’s taken from him around on his skin.

You can’t copyright a person, she rolls her eyes and flops her legs into Paris’ lap, but he can’t see that so it’s possible she’s sitting alone perched on the edge of her bathtub painting her toenails.

Are you alone? He doesn’t even know if he wants her to be, he can’t decide which would make the better image.

Fuck you, Jess.

He hates her.

He writes a story about a boy lost in a forest, swimming in a sea of brown and green, he tells himself it’s not transparent. The artist loves it. He sleeps with her so that she will leave.

His friend will find a new artist.

He writes a poem about what that means about himself.

It’s taped to the fridge in her apartment when he comes over, a bright red A emblazoned at the top in her fluid scrawl. He pretends that he’s not proud of that, that he doesn’t carry around that A with him for the rest of the week.

She writes a poem about eating out an artist in an alley. It’s better than his. No one else thinks to compare the two.

He hates her.

 

 

She makes sure she calls when she’s perfectly sober, as if that is a guarantee that she’d do it right that way. I wrote a novel about you, she whispers and then clears her throat and tries again. Her voice sounds high and tinny to her own ears.

Maybe she’s just a mouse pretending to be a girl.

You wrote a novel about me, there’s a smile in her voice. She closes her eyes and imagines that smile. She hears Paris in the background shout, No shit!

He wrote a novel about you, she says in a voice that almost sounds like her own.

You can’t copyright a person, I checked for you, Paris snorts loudly in the background, You can put a life insurance claim on a person though. My grandfather says that’s even better than a copyright.

She smiles, Did you know I love you, Friday girl? As best as she can love, she loves them. Maybe all three of them. It’s awful. Her writing is a mess. She’s never written more, she’s never been paid more, she’s never felt so unsure about her profession. She’s going to have a best-selling trilogy by the time they figure this out. One novel for each of them.

City.

Friday.

She hates him. He doesn’t have a title yet. Doesn’t deserve it.

(His title for her is probably hilarious. She can’t wait to see what he comes up with.)

Come back, Rory laughs into the phone and it sounds real enough to touch, I promise I won’t let Paris pout for too long.

She’s already on her way out the door, her heart pounding in her chest.

She writes a story about a girl trying to build a ladder to the moon, she crawls along the ground constructing something out of nothing and by the time it’s ready, she’s too old and doesn’t have the strength to lift it, she lies down next to a pond and touches the reflection of the moon with her hand and apologizes for not being strong enough.

No one is the moon, no one is the girl, it’s just a story and it’s beautiful enough for what it is.

 

 

He gets drunk at two in the afternoon. The new artist has bright purple hair and thinks he’s a fraud. He misses the previous one. He’s never missed one before.

She writes a story about two girls that love the same boy and fight until they are old ladies, still picking at each other in their rocking chairs. They never think about the boy, he died long ago in a war and they never noticed. The artist says that it is about lesbians and his editor says that it is about war and the bartender says it’s about nostalgia.

He writes a story about war and they all say it’s about her.

He hates her.

 

 

They wait for him to knock on the door and find them all there waiting for him.

 

 

She’s at a bookstore in a green sweater and jeans that hug her ass and legs. He’s so offended by the sight of her wearing jeans that he doesn’t know what to say. She looks up at him and smiles, it’s harder than he remembers her smile being (he saw her yesterday). Looking for anything in particular? he smirks at her, pretending not to notice his new novel in her hand. She shakes her head and doesn’t say anything.

This is probably the moment in a movie or a novel when he should kiss her and smile, but he gives her a kiss without the smile and the moment is all wrong.

Why can’t I ever get things right with you? he hisses later, his hands in her hair, her bare back pressed against his headboard, where he always imagines her.

When he doesn’t imagine her in his kitchen in just his t-shirt and panties making waffles with chocolate chips and peaches. When he doesn’t imagine her on his couch, reading all curled up under a blanket or sprawled out asleep. When he doesn’t imagine her naked and warm in his bathtub, listening to Enya with candles all around. When he doesn’t imagine her cross-legged on the floor teasing him as she brushes out her long hair or paints her nails or dances along to whatever terrible music she likes that week. When he doesn’t imagine her curled against his chest watching Mad Men and doing terrible inner monologues for every character.

When he doesn’t imagine her at home with her cat and the girl that he wrote a novel for, completely happy without him.

Write it, she hums into his ear.

 

 

She sees him in a bookstore and can’t resist him, despite everything she’s ever said.

(She hates him.)

She kisses him right after the half-beat that suggests he never will and doesn’t regret it. She can feel him writing her into existence the entire time he is inside of her and it feels heady, it feels powerful. She wonders what he would say if she asked him what he was writing about at that moment, but gets so lost in it herself she doesn’t care what words are floating around in his head, there’s nothing but stars in hers.

She writes a novel about a prophet that loved her god and loved a woman and loved her people, but wouldn’t stop fighting against what the prophecies told her she must do. Every time she fought back, it all came to pass anyway. The novel ends with the prophet in tears on her knees.

Rory says it is the most beautiful thing she’s written.

Paris says they should move to a bigger apartment and also that she should pay more attention to the side characters, because they fizzle out a little in the second half.

They start looking for a bigger apartment.

Her editor says it is a workable draft and sends notes back every few days.

 

 

She knocks on his door and has a manuscript in her arms. He wonders if it is about him again. Or about her again. He pretends to be annoyed when he opens the door, he’s getting so good at pretending with her he can’t remember which feelings are real. He imagines her writing on his couch, her feet propped up on his coffee table, laptop perched on her knees, spicy chips and a jar of peanut butter next to her.

Did you write it? she asks, eyes owlish.

Write what?

Getting it right with me. Did you write it?

He stares at her and wonders what is in the manuscript. Is it him getting it right? Or more of him getting everything wrong?

We think it’s because you don’t have a proper office. So we’re making you one, she’s looking at him a bit like he’s on display in a museum. Let me know when to send the movers?

Movers?

She shrugs, This is getting a little ridiculous, don’t you think? She hands him the manuscript and turns on her heel to walk away.

He imagines her coming through the door, her hair blowing behind her, jumping into his arms with joy at seeing him, wrapping her legs around her waist as he twirls her around. There’s someone in the kitchen and someone on the couch and they are all laughing. He usually doesn’t let himself think this far.

Wait! Dawn, wait. He dashes to his desk and grabs the pile of papers he’s been pretending don’t exist. He thrusts them into her arms and says, I could get it right.

She shakes her head, You could get close. But you’d never write it right.

She wrote a story about a girl with a heart as cold as ice who refused to love and ends on her knees in tears.

She wrote a story that was just a story, and it was a beautiful one.

He tells her to call the movers.

 

 

She hesitates before knocking on the door, but Paris won’t let her use the bread machine for a month if she doesn’t pussy up! and get him to the new place. They found something with enough space for all of them, which was some kind of miracle or fucking sign. He opens the door and wobbles a little with the effort, his eyes bloodshot, a stain on his white t-shirt. He’s an idiot.

She babbles, she knows she babbles, but he doesn’t seem to notice and she comes home with a maybe (which gets her an eye roll from Paris) and a stack of papers for Rory to sort through while she finishes packing up the DVDs and books.

Well it’s something! Rory sits back with a satisfied sigh.

What kind of something? Paris looks down at the dubious piles of mismatched papers with Jess’ scrawl all over them.

A play I think? Or a movie? Rory wrinkles her nose, Think Garden State but slightly more of a rom-com.

She pokes her head over the edge of a pile of boxes, Is there a manic pixie dream girl?

Rory shakes her head, There’s a manic pixie dream boy.

She dissolves into a pile of hysterical laughter in the middle of her stacks of boxes, hidden from view. She knows they exchange glances without seeing them – which might mean she is in love with them or that they are in love with her.

She writes a story about a butterfly lost in a desert, laughing up at the sun that is killing it. Three journals and a magazine reject it for being too dark and one tells her personally to get a grip and she sets it aside for the short story collection her editor has been pushing for her to gather together for the past year.

 

 

She’s standing at the stove in bare feet in one of his t-shirts and a pair of Paris’ old scrubs that are four inches too short and are frayed against her calves. She’s giggling over the pancakes she’s insisting are going to be delicious but he’s pretty sure she just put crumbled up potato chips into the batter. Rory is perched on his lap, playing it safe with a banana and a yogurt and Paris is standing guard with her arm around Dawn’s waist as if she could fly away and lose the fancy new spatula on the roof or something.

He’s trying to read the political section of the New York Times, but Rory keeps snatching it out of his hands and he can’t find a reason to care.

The pancakes are truly disgusting.

He looks up at her and says, I hate you.

She kisses him on the lips and smiles brightly, I hate you, too.