Maud Newton's 'Conversations You Have At Twenty': Narrative Magazine's Friday Feature
Narrative Magazine: Online literary maven Maud Newton pioneered the world of bookish blogs, and the intelligence and good taste of her observations earned her a vast and devoted following. Lately she's emerged not only as a connoisseur but also as an author in her own right, winning the $4,000 Narrative Prize for a work of fiction and publishing a short memoir about a tumultuously sex-crazed part of her youth. The memoir is vivid, funny, and insightfully self-deprecating, and it demonstrates more than just survival after wild, potentially destructive events. Newton tells a hell of a good story, and in the pleasure of reading it, one perceives her success at life as well as at the mastery of her art.
"Conversations You Have at Twenty"
by Maud Newton
JAKE AND I would have sex anywhere: golf courses, libraries, busy parking lots, other people's closets, driving down the highway. Once we did it in a hotel room while his mother was awake and lying in the next bed. I guess I must have gotten some physical pleasure from our escapades, but in hindsight I remember only an urge to impress him--the boy who at seventeen had enjoyed a ménage à trois with Swedish twins and by twenty-one had laid a total of forty-three women--and a mutual callousness that bordered on violence. He moved me around like a rag doll, twisted me like a flex toy. I handled him like I was taking revenge on everyone who'd ever wronged me.
When I tell stories now about our relationship, he's the crazy one who drove the wrong way down roads with his lights off, the asshole who berated me at public gatherings, the monster who gave me an STD and then insinuated that I'd given it to him. I leave out all the events that implicate me in the madness. The day I ripped my glasses from my face, twisted them until they broke, and flung them out of his speeding truck onto the highway. All the nights I fled our apartment in my nightgown to lie in the bushes and weep. The crazed summer afternoon that I brandished a kitchen knife at him, then at myself, then threatened to jump from the window.
We were living in the Gainesville student ghetto with my previous boyfriend, Todd. Being a sane boy, he had more or less stopped speaking to us about anything except who would buy the next round of toilet paper. When the phone rang, he didn't pick up. It was too likely to be Jake's mother, Mindy.
"Hi, kids," she would say, on the answering machine. "I've been in the hospital again, but don't worry. You're busy. You have more important things on your mind. And the doctor says it's not fatal--not yet, anyway. Speak with you when you have a moment."
MINDY FEATHERED HER hair back in a style ten years out of vogue. She kept it a purplish red that drained all the warmth from her already wan complexion. Her eyes were dark brown, almost black, and there was something dead in her gaze--maybe only a reflection of the gray half-moons that lay beneath her eyes like an accusation. As far as I could tell, she didn't sleep. She stayed up all night, worrying and starving herself.
It was 1991, the era of aerobics and bicycle shorts, of frozen yogurt and rice cakes and baked potatoes as health food. Mindy's larder was stocked with fat-free pudding, fat-free butter substitute, fat-free cheese product, fat-free wheat bread, fat-free frozen waffles, and bananas. She said she'd once gone two years without eating solid food. "I lived on laxatives and fruit juice," she told me, "and I annihilated my colon." Perhaps this explained her enthusiasm for enemas. Her bag hung by its tubing from a hook in the bathroom, right above the basket of Playboys that, within an hour of my meeting her, she chastised Jake for hiding from me in the closet.
"Where are my naked girls?" she called from the hallway, where her robe had fallen open to reveal a lacy black bra and underwear. "Where did you put my magazines?"
"Why are you such a disgusting pervert?" Jake said. "And put your fucking clothes on. Did you forget you're meeting my girlfriend?"
Mindy led me by the hand to the magazines and opened one. A University of Georgia coed who professed to enjoy "a whole lot of sugar in my black coffee" lay back on brownish-pink satin sheets exactly the same shade as her nail polish and her nipples. "It's nice to look at other women's tits," Mindy told me. "It makes you feel sexy." She worked as a junketeer, organizing gambling trips to Vegas, the islands, and Atlantic City. Sometimes a high roller gave her money to stay in his room for the weekend. Between trips she supplemented her income by blowing her boss at $50 a pop.
I was a Docs-wearing, Shulamith Firestone-reading, porn-hating feminist, but as I leafed through the magazines later, I could see her point. I practiced sucking in my stomach, pursing my lips, lounging back on the sofa pillows as though I had no ambitions other than to have sex and be an ornament. That night Jake and I screwed on the beach. Then we did it on a lounge chair by the apartment pool. In the night, he reached for me and took off my clothes and said my name. His eyes were black and glittering. He pushed inside of me and then jolted awake. "Oh, my God," he said. "Did I start this? I'm exhausted." He disengaged and rolled over.
I was sore. It burned when I peed, and I didn't know why. But this was a triumph: even in his sleep, I was the one he wanted to fuck.
ON FIRST MEETING, Jake repulsed me. He was dark haired and lanky, with a rock star sneer and long legs to match, but I'd never been into tall guys. And between his hair--short on the sides, cascading between his shoulder blades in back--and tight white jeans, he looked like he'd just been beamed out of a South Florida mall and into my friend Matt's apartment.
Matt, a sweet, long-eyelashed Catholic boy who'd vowed chastity until marriage but had a crush on me, had invited me over for dinner. I was mooning over a breakup, writing furious and interminable poems in my journals, too bereft to feed myself.
The hallway of Matt's building smelled of garlic and marinara and melted cheese. His hand trembled slightly as he turned the key in the lock, and I was touched by his awkwardness, by all the trouble he'd gone to. Maybe tonight I would kiss him. His hands would slide up my shirt, he'd know intuitively how to touch me. By morning I'd be cleansed of my ex, and Matt and I would realize how much time we'd lost.
And then he opened the door to reveal Jake sprawled across the couch, drinking a Heineken. "Hey." He toasted the air with his beer. "I see we're having lasagna."
He turned to me. "I'm Jake," he said.
JAKE WAS JUST OUT of a relationship too. His girlfriend of four years had left him, and he was drinking and fucking his way through the resulting heartbreak. "The only bad thing about sleeping with four different girls is how fast the sheets get dirty," he told me, while Matt set the dishes on the table. "Good thing I have lots of sheets."
Matt sat down, put his napkin in his lap. "Don't you want to settle down again?"
"With who? I like that girl Cara, but her pus--"
Matt cleared his throat. "There's a lady present," he said.
"--vagina makes this loud farting noise no matter what position I try." Jake turned to me. "Have you ever heard of anything like that?"
"No," I said, daintily patting lasagna from my lips with my napkin. "No, I have not."
After dinner and a six-pack, Jake stumbled off to find the blond-haired girl who'd just moved into the apartment downstairs.
Matt raised his eyebrows. "She's seventeen, man."
"Who cares?" Jake turned in the doorway, mimed breasts. "Like a couple of grapefruits," he said.
Soon we heard him joking with the girl in the hall. "So I ask the waitress, does it matter who pays the check? 'No,' she says, 'I don't care.' So I say, 'Okay, then why don't you pay it?' " His laugh sounded like a tin can falling down stairs.
MY OWN EXPERIENCE was essentially limited to three relationships. There was my devoted car-obsessed high school boyfriend. We'd been together for three years, until just after graduation. Then I'd fallen for Nelson, a sweet-talking boy who'd enlisted and been shipped to Kuwait but still sent letters that turned my life upside down. And finally there was my most recent ex, Todd. He was clever and handsome, with black architect glasses, a bowler hat, and a collection of Elvis Costello posters, and, in the midst of our relationship, he admitted that he was attracted to my mind but not my body. I dated him another four hopeless months after that. Hard as it is to fathom now, ours was the breakup I was still reeling from.
I wasn't prim so much as picky--and prone to serial monogamy. But after I cruelly raised Matt's hopes one February night by rolling around with him on the couch, convincing him that sex before marriage might, after all, be desirable, and then deciding I wasn't interested, it did occur to me that a quick fling might finally get Todd out of my system. Maybe I didn't need to fall for every guy whose bed I woke up in.
Whenever my thoughts drifted in this direction over the next few months, I considered calling Jake. True, he wasn't my type, but that was a bonus: there would be no danger of love, no talk of commitment. And with all that practice, he had to be good. Surely he would disprove my friend Rick's axiom: "No penis is a love-removal machine (thank you, Ian Astbury)." Late one afternoon I actually picked up the phone and dialed Jake's number, but his laugh came rattling out before I explained what I wanted, and I invented some other reason for phoning him.
"Matt's still all fucked-up about the breakup," he said.
I sighed. "What 'breakup'? We were hardly even dating."
"To him, you were practically married."
AFTER THAT I avoided Matt, Jake, and the rest of their gang till the start of summer, when we all drove to Tampa for a Yes reunion concert we'd bought tickets to months in advance. Between Jon Anderson straining at the high notes and Matt gazing misty-eyed at me for the duration of "Owner of a Lonely Heart," the show was a letdown from start to finish. That night we crashed at Matt's folks' place in the suburbs. I lay beneath a frilly bedspread, surrounded by Madonna posters, in his little sister's bedroom. His mother, impeccably but frostily polite, had ushered me there and handed me a towel and washcloth. "Use these in the morning," she said.
Jake was to sleep on the floor of the same room. Matt and the other two guys we'd driven down with were next door. We could hear the rumble of their conversation through the wall. From time to time, Matt lumbered to and from the bathroom, hovering a little too long in the hallway on each trip. His nearness--or rather, my confinement in his childhood home--felt like an indictment.
As Matt's step creaked down the hallway yet again, Jake looked at me and raised an eyebrow.
"Look, I said I was a bitch, okay? I shouldn't have kissed him. I shouldn't have let him reach up my shirt. But I've already apologized up, down, and sideways. I won't spend the rest of my life feeling guilty."
"Shhh," Jake whispered. "He might hear you."
I fluffed the pillow, turned on my side, pulled the covers up to my neck. "I don't care anymore. He needs to fucking grow up and get over it."
"It's hard, though. Love can make you crazy." Jake sat up in his sleeping bag, reached for the door and closed it. He rested his back against the wall. "Look at me--"
"What? Trying to cram as many lays as possible into twenty-four hours?"
"You didn't know me when I was with Ellen. I helped her quit coke. She slept with someone else, and I stayed with her anyway. We told everyone we were married. I used to put in her tampons."
Her tampons? "Jesus, that sucks."
"When she left me, I sat in her parking space and cried."
"Man." I propped my head on my hand. "How come she left?"
"I was an asshole."
I smiled. "So nothing's changed, then."
"No, really, I was."
"Oh, I believe you," I said.
IT WAS ONE of those conversations you have when you're twenty years old. You're crashed out in an unfamiliar place with somebody you don't know too well and never liked all that much, and there, exposed in your nightclothes, the dark hours until sunrise stretched out before you, you discover an uncanny affinity. Naturally I opened up about my own exes. Six months after the fact, there was still the drama of the breakup with Todd to be rehashed. There were many angles from which to examine the question of whether the new mix-tape and letters from Nelson--who was still in the army but safely in Germany now--proved he was my soul mate. No doubt we also discussed the guy in my Spanish class who liked the Replacements, or the boy one floor up at my dorm who'd stopped me in the hall to ask for my number.
Jake had a way of listening without judging. I soon discovered that people were always telling him their secrets. They'd spent their tuition money on two days with a prostitute, maybe, or accidentally hit a neighbor's dog with their car and been so horrified and ashamed they'd left it there in the street to die. One guy confessed to taping a girl's wrists, stuffing a sock in her mouth, and raping her.
Things I never told anyone came tumbling out of my mouth that night. The church my mom had pastored in a warehouse, a strip mall, and then in a warehouse again. The drug addicts and prostitute I'd known there. My stepfather, her copreacher, who did nauseating things to me in a bed one afternoon.
Toward dawn Jake brought out his own skeletons. There was an eight-year-old roommate in a home for asthmatic children who brutalized Jake when he was four. There was Mr. Nitzblum, the second-grade teacher who used to keep him in at recess, fondle him in a closet. And later, when Jake was in high school, there was the Haitian tennis coach his mom had dated. Jake had sex with the man but was confused afterward: he didn't exactly consent, he said, but neither did he object.
As the first rays of daylight shone through the blinds, the air was electric with confidences. My head was light--from excitement or lack of sleep, or some giddy combination of the two. I noticed for the first time that Jake had a striking jaw, nice high cheekbones, beguiling dark eyes. Something was different. "Hey, when did you cut your hair?"
"About a month ago," he said. "It was too Miami before, don't you think?"
Though we didn't consummate the attraction for another week, our launch into a poisonous three-year love affair was now inevitable. At breakfast Jake and I were exhausted and aglow, barely able to string words into sentences. Matt glumly pushed his eggs around on his plate.
"It doesn't have to be a big deal," I told Jake, after he and I first slept together. "I might be in love with that guy in the army who's getting out soon anyway."
WAS IT MY indifference that inspired him to cut things off with the other girls? To wrap his gold chain-link bracelet around my wrist and tell me that he loved me? At first I said I didn't feel the same way, but he was so interested in me, so solicitous, I convinced myself I'd been wrong.
We had sex in the campus music listening room, and we had sex out on Cedar Key. I never said no. I made a point of being ready. One night I led him to a porch swing in front of a doctor's office. We were absolutely shit-faced. Cars whizzed by, up and down University Avenue, but he sat, and I straddled him and held on to the back of the swing. It was over fast. "Jesus Christ," he said. "I saw stars."
I didn't trust Jake's compliments. He'd probably seemed euphoric to the girl with the farting vagina too. I needed independent verification, and eventually I got it--from his mother. On a visit she left her journal lying out, open to a page with my name on it. "I thought Ellen was hot stuff," the entry said. "But he tells me Maud is better."
WE'D BEEN TOGETHER a month or two when I came home from the student infirmary with a prescription. "The nurse says this should clear it up," I said. "You'd better go talk to her."
"Thanks a fucking lot," he said.
"Don't look at me. I'm practically a virgin next to you. Go talk to Grapefruit Tits or Farting Pus--"
"I'll make an appointment," he said. "You don't have to be such a bitch about it."
We fought about the STD, and we fought about our parents. We fought about my writing, his music, and his motorcycle. If I hung out with other guys, he paced and stewed until I got home, then sat me down and quizzed me. If he ran into one of the girls he'd slept with, I feigned disinterest and then flew into a rage about the volume of his guitar, the way he swept the floor, how he failed to appreciate my attempts at baking. "Sorry, but your cookies just aren't very good," he said.
When Nelson was discharged from the service and came to visit, Jake followed us around campus. He roared up and down University Avenue on his Kawasaki while we sat in Joe's Deli eating sandwiches. "What did you tell him?" he asked me that night. "Does he know we're together?"
"But you'd rather be with him, wouldn't you?"
"Of course not," I lied. Anyway, it didn't matter who I might, theoretically, prefer. I was with Jake, and with Jake I would stay.
"Don't give me tomatoes," he would say to restaurant servers. "If there's a tomato on my plate, you're not getting a tip."
I would stare out the window. "Can't you just say you're allergic?"
"But I'm not."
"Who cares? That way you're not an asshole. And that way they won't spit in our food."
Once he propositioned a department store mannequin. I took offense.
"It's plastic," he said. "I was kidding."
I stood in the mall parking lot, ten feet from his truck, arms crossed, refusing to move. "It just shows me how you really think about women."
"Spare me your feminist diatribe," he said. "And just get in the fucking car."
We tried to change the subject, the mood, the setting. He took me out for pad thai, but the base was made with pork, and I was a vegetarian. I made him a pound cake. It turned out so dense that he suggested we use it to solve his roach problem. We drove around town, yelling at each other till our voices were hoarse. Then we had sex in some new and twisted locale. The afterglow upon us as we hitched up our pants and drove home, we laughed about the fighting and tried to blame it on something. It wasn't us, it was the weather, our classes, living too far apart.
Yes, we decided, that was it: Jake should live closer to campus. And how convenient: my ex-boyfriend Todd and I were becoming friends again, and he had an empty room to rent! Jake moved in. Soon I was living with them too. Strangely, this arrangement did not end up being the panacea we had counted on.
IT WAS ONLY December, just four or five months into our relationship, when Jake and I shacked up with Todd. That was also around the time I helped Mindy plan a surprise birthday party for Jake down at her place. She invited one ex-husband, all three of her sisters, and a handful of distant, wealthy relatives who were visiting from New York for the winter.
Jake's truck broke down en route to Miami, so we showed up late, dressed in old T-shirts and cutoffs, toting our laundry in trash bags through a lobby newly decked out in art deco pinks and blues. Two years after the end of Miami Vice, the rest of the country had moved on, but South Florida was still colored with the same palette, its reliance on Nagel prints, track lighting, and mirrored walls unwavering as ever.
The small living room was filled with people I'd never met. Cousin Marly, who answered the door, eyed our outfits disapprovingly. Everyone else embraced us. "Eat," they said, handing us plates. Dill pickles, pastrami, fresh rye bread, and every other offering from the nearby kosher deli were laid out on the table.
We'd been there maybe forty-five minutes when Mindy called us into her bedroom. She reached into her nightstand and pulled out a box. "Let me show you what my boss gave me for Hanukkah," she said, laughing. She held up a piece of gold jewelry the size of one of Run-D.M.C.'s nameplates. "HEAD," it read at the bottom, in diamond-encrusted letters. Above that was a carved-out etching of a woman bending down in front of a man, her mouth down deep between his legs, his testicles jammed between her lower lip and chin.
"Sue for harassment," said one of Mindy's sisters. "But your son's party, is this really the place?"
"What?" Mindy said. "I like it. If I had a thick enough chain, I would wear it around my neck."
"Of course you would," Jake said. "Because you're a fucking slut." He stalked out of the room, slammed the door. A few seconds later the front door slammed too. The elevator door dinged shut before I could catch up.
I found him standing beside the pool. I put my arms around his waist, and we stared at the water. "She can't help it, you know," I said. "She's trying to prove to herself that someone wants her."
"To herself? Or to all of Miami?"
"Let's go back upstairs. There are presents. People are waiting."
"Screw the presents." He led me to a place next to the Coke machines where two people could fit, and if they were quick about it, no one could see. He reached to unfasten my shorts.
"Seriously," I said. "Your family wants you to open the things they brought."
Leaning back against a cigarette dispenser, he sighed and looked at me. "Some birthday."
When we went upstairs, he opened my present first. I'd spent weeks looking for a sweater just the right shade of blue, in a loose-knit style I thought he'd like. His face fell as he lifted it from the box. "I'm allergic to wool," he said.
"That's okay," I said. "We'll exchange it."
But he pulled the soft crewneck over his head. He wore it until his eyes turned red and he started to wheeze.
Mindy smiled, gestured grandly in his direction. "See how much he loves her?"
"Who buys wool for an asthmatic?" Cousin Marly muttered into her wineglass.
"IT'S A METAPHOR for our relationship," I told him later. We were parked next to the Ft. Lauderdale airport, looking out at the runway as planes took off and landed. "Even when we try to do nice things, we make each other sick."
"Life isn't a novel, Maud. We're not in one of your stories."
"But why are we so sad? Why do we fight so much?"
He held me close against him. His breathing was shallow. "I don't know," he said. "I don't know, but we have to stop."
Through the winter and the spring and the summer we fought, and then we moved again, into a two-bedroom place with dark blue carpet that quickly became infested with fleas. My legs and ankles were riddled with bites. I kept a glass of water beside me to drown the bugs I caught. That autumn Jake and I were always setting off bug bombs and taking the dog out for four-hour walks. When we returned, the apartment was hazy with sweet-smelling poison.
I WISH I COULD recall how our worst fights got started, how they built to a blind and furious crescendo that had him pushing me into walls and me brandishing knives, but the truth is, I look back on those days and nights, and all I remember clearly is the rage and the hurt.
When my parents argued, my mother cried and screamed and threw things. She opened the kitchen cabinets, hurled dishes and condiments and cutlery into the middle of the floor, and left. I carried this conflict-resolution strategy into adulthood. I followed Jake from room to room, crying and accusing, until he yelled at me, laughed at me, pushed me. Then I broke figurines, ripped dresses, tore up books. Some nights the apartment seemed too small to hold my grief, and I wandered outside, half-dressed, and cried there.
Every couple of months I packed up my things, planning to leave for good.
I would check myself into a hotel, but Jake would track me down and bring me flowers. "I've been emotionally abusive to you," he would say. "I'm going to change."
But was he the abusive one, or was I?
The night before his brother's wedding, I ran down the hall of the Charleston Marriott, sobbing, in sheer pink pajamas, while Mindy yelled at Jake in the room we were all sharing. "This is how you treat your girlfriend? These are the things you say to the woman you love? She's like a daughter to me. And you, my son, are a stranger. I blame myself, staying with your father when you were a baby. From your crib, you watched as he hit me."
The insults, the shouting, the utterly unhinged theatrics: so much grief, and I have no idea what set us off that time. Conflict was routine by then, as was making up. Mindy lay awake watching MTV as we writhed under the covers in the room's other double bed. I like to think we were at least quiet about it.
ALL THE DRAMA exacted a toll. My hair began to fall out in clumps. My eyes bulged, giving the constant impression of rage or insanity, or both. My hands shook so furiously I couldn't hold a piece of paper without it rattling. When I lay down to sleep at night, my heart pumped like a broken water main. I believed I was losing my mind.
In desperation I moved back home, into my mom's house in the Kendall section of Miami. Mom had fourteen dogs and a couple hundred birds. The kitchen was infested with rats. When I went swimming, my stepdad watched me inappropriately. But, I reasoned, I'd only be there for four months. In January, for want of a better plan, I'd be starting law school. Meanwhile, maybe the distance would take me far enough out of Jake's orbit that I'd be able to quit him. But no: we pressed on. He drove down every few weekends. I would meet him at Mindy's.
"What's wrong?" he would say. "Why are you shaking? Why do your eyes look like that?"
My thyroid had gone haywire. It was Mindy who figured that out; the doctor just confirmed it: Graves' disease. When at rest my heart was beating 127 times a minute. I was put on a beta-blocker and told to stay in bed. The hospital flew in a radioactive pill that I had to wear protective gear to take. Soon I was sluggish and chunky, no longer interested in manic sex and rabid fights, and, consequently, in Jake.
I RETURNED TO Gainesville just as he took a job in South Florida. This was convenient: I kept his dog and his desk and moved into the place he was vacating--a studio in a converted motel adjoining a trailer park. The apartment featured a wall-mounted air conditioner/heater that could be set to "lo" or "hi" with little discernible cooling effect but a significant increase in clattering. A Texas-like shape repeated several times on each slat of the faux-wood paneling that covered the walls. The bathroom cabinets were sticky and yellowed from the cigarette smoke of some prior occupant.
Law school started, but after the first week I attended only sporadically. Mostly I lay around petting the dog and eating candy and luxuriating in my solitude. It dawned on me that I was getting fat, so I adopted a tried-and-true weight-loss regimen: cigarettes.
When Jake called to pick a fight with me one afternoon in late January, I dumped him. "I can't do this anymore," I said, exhaling loudly. "I need to concentrate on my health and my schooling."
"Are you smoking?" His voice rose into a familiar quavery tenor. "You know I'm asthmatic."
"Really, it's over," I said. "And please don't call me. We need some time, and I'm busy with classes."
For the next few weeks, my days were so aimless and relaxed, I felt stoned. From time to time I thought vaguely of making my way to the registrar's office and dropping out. Mostly, though, I walked the dog and sat out in front of my apartment, smoking cigarettes and reading magazines and shooting the shit with the neighbors.
Next door was Kenny, who worked nights as a janitor at the university hospital and slept days. Despite his penchant for watching porno flicks at top volume on his nights off, he was sweet, always inviting me over for dinner (although he couldn't seem to understand why I declined every time, that being a vegetarian, I would never want to join him for pork chops). Occasionally Kenny seemed twitchy and agitated--months later, he confessed to smoking crack regularly--but so far he'd lost his temper with me only once, when my dog spent an afternoon barking at a telephone repairman through the window. I'd opened the door to find him red faced with anger. As he'd yelled, he'd banged his palms on both sides of the door frame.
Out across the way was Felipe, a self-proclaimed alcoholic and dishonorably discharged ex-con who worked on his ancient Camaro in the parking lot. He was smart and funny and doted on his grizzled collie. But he liked to joke about watching me undress through the blinds. When he really got going in that vein, I took my ashtray indoors.
I DIDN'T HEAR from Jake again until Valentine's Day. Breaking with recent tradition, I picked up the phone. I was awaiting a call from some old friends about a single girl-empowerment dinner we'd planned for that night and were all secretly dreading.
"How's it going?" Jake said, in lieu of hello. "Been on lots of dates?"
"No," I said, reaching for my smokes and lighter. "It's only been three weeks."
"Well, I thought you should know that I'm sleeping with someone else." His voice was chirpy and gloating.
Blood rushed into my face. My heart leapt back into the crazed, thumping rhythm I'd come to know so well. I banged down the receiver. The dog shrank against the wall, then trotted into the other room.
I opened the front door, went outside, and slammed it as hard as I could. Then I slammed it again. I did it another twenty or so times, stopping only when it wouldn't open anymore. I stood on the step, pulling at the knob. The door was so stuck, it didn't even creak.
Kenny pulled open his door and stuck his head out. His face was blotchy, his hair wild.
"Sorry." I smoothed my skirt and tried to assume the pose of a sensible girl. "I was--uh--just kind of pissed off."
He stalked out onto the sidewalk. I could see that he'd been sleeping in his clothes. "Kind of?"
"Actually, I was really fucking pissed off. Had a call from my ex."
I heard a light step behind me, and then Felipe said, "So no free sex show tonight, Ken."
Kenny chuckled, his lips a little too tight. At this range--a couple of feet--he was larger than I remembered. He smelled of sweat and chili and something faintly metallic. "You're a cute girl, Maud. But we cain't have this door-slamming."
He raised his hand, and I wondered if he was going to slap me. Instead he patted my head.
I nodded. "Right. No more slamming doors."
I stood there, smiling and nodding, until Kenny went back inside. Felipe returned to his Camaro. I waited for him to slide underneath the car, for the sound of his tools clanging, but he sat on top of it and watched me instead.
I pulled the screen from my window and climbed inside. Then I closed the window and locked it. I realized that the phone was, and had been, ringing. I unplugged it.
When my friends came to pick me up, I didn't try to open the door. Afraid that they, like Felipe, would see me moving around inside, I slunk into the bathroom and sat on the floor.
The girls knocked and called to me until Kenny went out and yelled at them. "Shut up, you crazy bitches," he said. "All y'all crazy like that Maud."
As their car drove off, my heart was still hammering madly. I stood to get my cigarettes and caught sight of my bulging eyes in the mirror. They looked strange and robotic, as lifeless in their glassy protuberance as Mindy's grim black ones. I didn't see how I would find my way back.
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