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December 13, 2017 | Fiction

None of This is a Metaphor

Jane Liddle

None of This is a Metaphor photo

I was at a party for the end of the world. I came so I wouldn’t be alone. I guess so did all the other women. They must have known there’d be no men at this party because they wore beautiful clothes that weren’t sexy. They complimented each other’s fashionable ensembles and made definitive statements like “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” and “Polaroids are the only pictures worth taking.” The first floor of the house filled with dancing, and even though outside was still deadened with snow, inside turned into a live hot hive. I twirled a little bit on the outskirts, regretting my high heel shoes.

Monica, my best friend and the host, pulled me into the coat closet. She wore a black velvet turtleneck and gold silk pajama pants. “I have a confession,” she said.

“Why didn’t you tell me only women would be here?”

“I wanted you to come.” My eyes adjusted to the darkness.  “But I don’t want to talk about that. Remember when we were in college and I backed out of going to Lollapalooza because I was sick?”

“I ended up giving my ticket to Meredith and she hooked up with Scott Weiland.” Meredith had Scott’s baby. I didn’t talk to Meredith again.

“I wasn’t sick. I met up with JD Salinger instead. We were having a secret epistolary romance and he invited me to spend the week with him. I wanted to see if I could go through with it.”

I lowered my voice. “Did you give him the time?”

Monica didn’t get it. “Yeah, but I didn’t like it. I’m sorry.”

I also had hooked up with someone that week, an alcoholic who ate chicken nuggets in bed as the sun rose. He was complimentary and told me with the amazement of a child that I had such soft skin. Repeated it like a child too. I never heard from him again.

“It doesn’t matter,” I said, which wasn’t the same as forgiveness. We didn’t waste time on details.

Monica opened the closet door and the light from the hall was bright and rude.

I went upstairs, squeezing past a couple making out on the stairwell—how nice for them—and went to the bathroom. I sat on the toilet and noticed that Monica’s tub was freshly scrubbed.

I ran the water, waiting for it to be hot like a sauna. I took off my silver sequined gown that also had fringe in the skirt and hem, so when I did the twist I was my own party. My mom had bought me the dress at an estate sale in a small town we were passing through after she finished graduate school. Now, twenty years later, I finally got the chance to wear it. The dress was only a little tight. I lowered myself into the bath. I hadn’t been alone in water since I was a child. I was always with a man, always with a goal. I studied my body, not with the mastered loathing, but as though it were an experiment, a science project. I noticed a bruise on my knee, a skin tag on my inner thigh, the fine hairs around my belly button. I caressed my left bunion, squeezed my thighs between my fingers to make them ruddy, bent over to see how many rolls of fat I could create. Four. I splashed, slapping the water with my palms. Growing up I had an above-ground pool. I would walk and swim along the edges until I created a private whirlpool, and when I had deemed the water ready, I’d go under and tuck into myself, let the current carry me until it faded. I thought of this now, how I had the ability to create small pleasure through solitary work. That pool collapsed when I was twelve.

I heard Monica laugh. Then everyone else was laughing and the party sounded big. I started to laugh too, a giggle that turned into a crack-up. I was swollen with laughter and I worried I might pee in the bath. I didn’t want the laughing to end. I wanted to suspend the moment in a snow globe so all I would have to do was shake it to get the feeling again. I laughed until my brain was empty. When I was done laughing the fit already seemed so long ago.

I got out of the bath, dried off, cleaned the eye makeup off my cheeks. I found a velour tracksuit in Monica’s closet that she had worn to an ironic sleepover. It was pink and soft and I put it on.

Then I took drugs. I danced some more, with feeling this time. I smoked cigarettes indoors. I ate Doritos and licked my fingers then wiped my fingers on my thighs. I played a halfhearted game of Truth or Dare during which I chose truth every time and admitted to flushing tampons in the toilet and having sex while my sister was in the room and stealing my grandma’s pain medication, one pill at a time, and when she died I was sad about her dying but also sad about not having access to any more of her medicine. I dared Monica to perform her old gymnastics floor routine outside in the snow. We stood on her deck, shivering, as she tossed herself in the air with obvious effort. On television those girls made it look easy but watching Monica I could see how hard it was. When she finished we went inside and sat around the fireplace. We stared at the flames. We were silent.

Then it was time to go.

As guests left Monica handed each one a candid Polaroid of herself. In mine I had just taken off my coat and was looking to my right where all the women had convened and were admiring each other’s clothes. My face looked heartbroken. The light from the candles reflected off the sequins of my dress, making a galaxy out of me.


image: Mike McGowan