RED LIPS (an excerpt from Jigsaw Youth)

RED LIPS
By Tiffany Scandal

“My mother tried to commit suicide the day she found out she was pregnant.”

Red lips curling into a smile. Pale hand gently tucking jet black hair behind an ear. Black nail polish, slightly chipped. She seemed nervous, of course, it was the first time she’d let me in. This was Hope, twenty-one and broken. I was twenty-four, much the same.

She’d entered my life at a time all I could do was sleep, I was so angry at everything. I’d wake some nights and cry myself back under. Everything like a bad dream. It was winter, and she seemed so beautiful and warm.

We were out for coffee, sitting by a large window and listening to freezing rain. We laughed each time people slipped on the ice. Hours feeling like minutes, the mugs warm in our hands. In the middle of the story, she stopped, smirked at me and stared, mouthing, “You’re going to be in trouble. . .”

jigsaw cover

Hope reached across the table and took my hand, and led me to the restroom. She locked the door, and I understood the trouble she meant. Her hand tracing up my skirt, pulling down my leggings. Mouth on mine before I could make a sound. She smelled like vanilla. I leaned my head back.

Someone knocked at the door.

She pulled her hand away. Lipstick smeared on both our faces through the mirror. She licked her fingers.

“You should come over.”

I was in heaven for one month.

“You’re fucking boring,” Hope hissing from the corner of the room.

She slumped into a chair, crossed her arms to her chest, pouting. Her studio reeked. I had started on the mountain of dishes overflowing the sink. She wanted to go out. Islands of mold in half-empty mugs. She always wanted to go out.

There was an open bottle of Two Buck Chuck on the counter. I reached for it, wanting to pour out the remnant. A small cloud of fruit flies escaped. Even at arms length, the wine smelled of pure vinegar.

“Hey!”

Hope tripped over discarded clothing on the floor, and went after the bottle in my hand.

“You probably shouldn’t drink—”

She took a swig. Dark reddish-violet fluid dripped from the sides of her mouth, down her chin. She made a bitter face, then smiled, picking something off her tongue.

“Mmmm. I love Merlot.”

She walked off with the bottle and set it beside her chair.

I finished the dishes. She changed into a slinky dress, faux-fur coat, big boots—everything black. She applied a thick layer of red to her lips and kissed the mirror. Took her purse and keys.

“I left you a note,” she said, gently scratching my shoulder before walking out the door.

I shook my head and went over to the vanity.

I love you in lipstick.

The first time she told me that, she’d been crying. We were sitting in Mount Calvary Cemetery watching the city lights shine like stars. Distant traffic buzz, the occasional horn. Feeling like gods watching the universe twist.

We held each other for warmth and drank from a bottle of whiskey.

She talked about her dreams. How she wanted to move to France, write a book, be a mother. I listened and imagined her doing these things, and welcomed silence that followed.

She turned to me, tearing up, and said it. I love you.

I kissed her forehead and held her closer. I didn’t say anything back.

We’d known each other less than a week.

Back at her apartment, I listened to my Riot Grrrl playlist and cleaned.

Dishes washed and scrubbed. Laundry cycled and folded.

I cleaned the floors and the bathroom. I made her bed. Tidied the vanity, dusted the Siouxsie Sioux shrine, lit incense to mask the odor.

Two AM: Hope still wasn’t home. I tucked myself into her bed and waited.

Some time later, I woke to the door unlocking. Keys, purse, coat tossed on the floor. She stumbled and dropped onto the bed, her arm landing heavily on my side.

“It smells good in here . . .”

But she smelled like booze and a perfume that wasn’t her own. I looked at the clock. Five AM. I wondered where she’d gone after last call.

Over coffee the next morning, she told me about how she’d given her first blowjob at the age of eleven. That was how she thought she could get boys to tell her she was pretty. All she ever wanted was to be pretty. Hope looked at the table a moment. She asked me if I thought she was pretty. I told her she wasn’t pretty . . . she was beautiful.

“I want to have babies with you.” Hope held my hand, leading me through the mall.

We went sometimes, to complain about how awful everything and everyone shopping was. We drank shitty bubble tea and watched a father point and tell his young daughter how wrong it was for us to be so close. It made me think about how hate is taught at such a young age. I wondered if she’d resist her father’s lecturing, form her own mind. We’d intended to look for records, but Hope wanted to look at shops I haven’t stepped foot in since high school. The shops still seemed the same, just occupied by a younger crowd. I felt older than I was. I didn’t want to be here anymore.

I started to notice things that didn’t belong to either of us when I’d clean the house. There started to be more activity on her phone. She would go out, rarely asking if I wanted to come along. And when I’d bring it up, she’d hold me close and tell me she loved me, and we’d fuck until the sun rose. But one night . . .

“My friend from Los Angeles is coming in tonight. We’re going out.”

“How fun! What are you guys going to do?”

I could see reservation in her eyes. “Um. Probably just go to a bar or something.”

I nodded, sensing an invitation wasn’t going to be extended. Hope sent a text message and sighed. “Did you want to go? It could be fun.”

I went. It wasn’t.

We went to three different strip clubs. Throughout the night, Hope seemed more and more distant. She drank so much she could barely stand. The cigarette breaks with her friend got longer. I felt foolish, and I chose to ignore it.

We were there with a group of friends. Each time Hope and Los Angeles got up, the others would shoot me a glance. I don’t know if they actually looked sad, or if I just saw them that way. I looked away at the stage. Fake blonde. Fake tits. Fake face. The dancer flirted with the audience. I imagined her smiling that same forced smile, perfect teeth, carving “I hate everything” into my skull.

When they came back, Hope and Los Angeles were giggling and holding hands. I tried to focus on another conversation in the group. They sat, leaning into each other. Los Angeles whispered in her ear. Cold blue eyes locking on mine. Los Angeles mouthed the word “ugly.” Then they stopped whispering, and she told Hope I was fat and unattractive, and that she needed to ditch the zero. I was watching them, now. Hope finally looked at me and laughed, resting her head on Los Angeles’ shoulder. Hand on her thigh. Hope cracked a shit-faced smile.

I imagined carving “I hate everything” into their skulls. Like a mantra or a curse.

The woman on stage stopped dancing. She stared at me, through me, past me. I became deaf to the sound. Everyone stopped talking, as if frozen in place. Shades of red, smoke filling the room. I walked to the stage and reached into my pocket and held out a ten-dollar bill for the lady. She crouched and took it, knees cracking. Face inches from mine. She had heavy bags of disappointment under eyes that looked like they lived several hard lives.. Lines of her face obscured by the lights of the club. I told her she was pretty. She touched my cheek and mouthed Thank You.

When I turned around, I saw Hope kissing Los Angeles. Everyone in our group just watching them blankly. I turned to the neon red EXIT sign and walked under it, hands in my pockets, not looking back.

The next morning, I awoke to the smell of pancakes and coffee. I sat up, confused. I was still in last night’s clothes. I walked into the kitchen and saw her there, flipping pancakes on the stove. On the counter was a French press with two mugs beside it. Hope turned to me and smiled. “Good morning, beautiful.”

Good morning. Beautiful.

            I was pretty sure I hadn’t dreamed what happened.  I sat down at the kitchen table, confused and trying to piece things together. I heard her say, “Are you hungover? Here, take this.” She handed me Midol and a cup of coffee.

Hope was in her underwear, wearing one of my shirts. It fit her tighter around the chest because her breasts were larger than mine. Erect nipples visible through the thin fabric. She looked good, but I needed to focus. She was an asshole. She leaned to place the items in front of me and I noticed the markings on her neck. Looked like hickies.

“What’s with your neck?”

She covered them with her hair. “Oh, nothing.” She laughed and worked the spatula.

My stomach started to churn. “Did your friend have fun last night?”

“Yeah! She wants to hang out again, but solo this time. She gets overwhelmed around a lot of people, y’know?”

This didn’t feel right.

Hope placed the plates on the table and sat across from me. She smiled, taking the first bite. Looked me dead in the eye and said that I was missing out.

Pfft. 

I walked out of the kitchen. Grabbed my keys and my jacket and reached for the door. She grabbed my arm and pulled me back.

“Where are you going?”

“Out. Somewhere. Anywhere but here.”

“What’s wrong with you? We were having a good time last night and you left without me.”

“Are you mental? You were having a good time. You don’t think I noticed? The hand holding? The way your lipstick was disappearing? How she talked shit about me and all you did was laugh? You have hickies on your fucking neck.”

Hope leaned back, looking wounded. Tears welling, She pursed her lips to stifle her cries. “Fuck you,” she whispered.

“We’re done here.”

She hit me open-handed across the face. I didn’t taste blood, but my cheek stung.

Before Hope, I was never sure what I wanted. Now I knew it wasn’t her.

I went for the door again. She shoved me against it, spun me around and kissed me hard. I turned my head and pushed her.

“No.”

She lunged at me again, this time trying to get into my pants, pull them down somehow. I fought her hands back and cracked open the door.

“No!”

She dropped to the floor, sobbing loudly.

I was telling myself, Please don’t do this. Just walk away.

But I couldn’t. I turned. Hope was a mess. Veiled with tears and snot. Looking like total defeat. Not like the monster I wanted her to be. I got her a tissue from the kitchen.

I found myself sitting on the couch next to her, listening to stories about how she never felt loved or accepted. Traumatic events she claimed shaped her into who she was. I should have left. Actually, I should’ve stayed home and made her leave. I should have been moving on with my life. But we had the same lack of control.

Hope sighed. “When I’m with you, I’m grounded. I feel beautiful I feel loved. You’re the only one who’s ever made me feel like this. Please stay. Please.”

No.

“. . .I know you can help me be a better person.”

No.

I was about to tell her to get the fuck out, that no one could fix her. But when I opened my mouth, all that came out was this pitiful . . . “okay.”

Okay!

I wanted to hit rewind and do that moment over.

And surprise—things never got better.

It took a three AM phone call to finally break free. Hope had been ditched at a party on the other side of town. She was hysterical, crying, muttering that she’d blown a random guy so she could do a line with him. She wasn’t upset because she’d cheated on me, but because she’d done a drug she thought she’d grown out of. “I don’t know how I’ll even get home. I don’t have any money.”

I wanted to hang up, but I kept thinking Leave No Woman Behind.

“I’ll call a cab for you and have them pick you up.”

“Thank you . . . and hey, I’m really sorry.”

“Okay.”

I put the spare key to her apartment in an envelope and wrote IT’S OVER on the back. I walked the few blocks to her apartment and slid it under the door. I didn’t hesitate and it didn’t hurt as much as I’d expected it to, but it hurt enough. I called a taxi service. Sent her a text that a cab was on its way, then shut off my phone.

Once I got home, I bolted the door shut. She didn’t deserve my tears. I was taking clothes she’d left out of the closet and putting them in a box, needing to purge her from my world, when I noticed my Telecaster. It’d been a long time since I’d played. I’d almost forgotten about it. The strings were corroded and the body was filthy. I tuned it by ear and played until my fingers split, until I fell asleep with it in my arms.

It was still dark out when I opened my eyes, smiling.

You are beautiful. You are stronger than you think.

My fingers were sore and I didn’t care. I didn’t bother checking my phone.

I told the night I was going to start a fucking band.

*****

Tiffany Scandal is a writer, photographer, and Suicide Girl living in Portland, Oregon. Her words (fiction and non-fiction) have appeared in The Magazine of Bizarro Fiction, Living Dead Magazine, a handful of anthologies, and the limited edition Ladybox Box Set. Her photography and modeling have appeared both online and in print.

Her first novel, There’s No Happy Ending, was part of the 2013/2104 New Bizarro Author Series, and placed number seven in Brian Keene’s Top Ten Books of 2013 list. This is her second novel.

You can find her online at www.TiffanyScandalSucks.com

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One thought on “RED LIPS (an excerpt from Jigsaw Youth)

  1. Pingback: Vol. 1 Brooklyn | Morning Bites: New César Aira, NBCC Awards, Robert Spillman and Elissa Schappell Interviewed, Amateur Night at the Apollo, and More

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