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Authors: Rachel B. Glaser

Paulina & Fran

BOOK: Paulina & Fran
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All the girls knew how to dance. There were barely any boys and the boys were soft or vain or so sought after that they seemed cliché or used. This was all in a cold, cold town. People moved to the college and their families forgot about them. Snowflakes died on their faces. They endured the human struggle.


aulina was dissatisfied with her lover. He was too tall. He leaned on things. He thought he knew everything. Lying next to his sleeping body, Paulina considered his narrow, serious nose. The sheet was pulled to his waist, exposing a pale chest—like a CPR mannequin, she thought. She moved to feel if Julian was hard, but his penis was mushy in her hand. She dropped it and rose to her feet.

Paulina fluffed her curly, shoulder-length hair. She knew that curly hair was the hair of creative geniuses. It was a mark of originality in a woman, though she found it frivolous on a man. She yanked off her nightgown and stuffed herself into a tight dress from
. It was long and virginal in a daydreamy, Renaissance-fair way, but with satisfaction she cut it to show her thighs. The remnants of the dress—strips of netting and cheap satin—she threw in the garbage over the ruins of last night’s dinner.

Julian mumbled in his sleep. Paulina nudged him and he
didn’t wake. Julian slept through everything, even her industrial hair dryer. Months ago, she’d picked him up in the college library, initially impressed by his height, surprised when he had brains, a voice, a way of slouching that showed disappointment in the world. Paulina took a pen from her nightstand, then scrawled her name on his bicep and drew a wreath of flowers around it. His water glass was empty and she found herself walking to the sink to fill it, though this was something she refused to do when asked.

Paulina studied herself in the mirror, admiring her hair, which hung in elegant auburn curls, but faulting the dress for failing to express her mood. She felt a big ambition, a great horniness, the conviction that she was a genius, and pride in not knowing what kind. She wasn’t beautiful, she knew, but she was striking. Her face was not easily forgotten.

Paulina listened to the washing machine’s low rumbling from the basement. She threw off the dress and pulled the nightgown back on. She drew firmly on her eyelids with her eye pencil, then put on a massive fur coat. It weighed on her like the next decade. “Good-bye, Brains,” she said, then left.

Paulina walked quickly, anticipating the boys at Angel’s party—each the keeper of his own tepid garden. She smelled them in her classes. She slept with the boys in bathrooms at parties, in parked cars in the
parking lot, in the
woods behind the college library. She kept seeing Julian out of habit, but slowly he was becoming a souvenir to her, something better off sealed in resin and hidden in the back of her drawer. She imagined saying this to Sadie and Allison, both of whom she hadn’t seen for almost a week.

Across the street, an intimidating girl Paulina called the Venus Flytrap was covered with face paint and bearing the cold with hard nipples. Paulina shrank back in her fur coat. Oblivious to Paulina, the Venus Flytrap walked gaily in the other direction. One drunken night after Paulina jauntily linked arms with her, the girl had said coldly, “Just because we have friends in common doesn’t mean we must be friends.” It had been a stunning rejection, one Paulina wanted to try on someone else.

Paulina expected cheers when she walked in. “I have arrived,” she said loudly. “Straight from my bed.” She was instantly disappointed. Acquaintances were scattered around the small apartment. Grating techno blared from another room. Paulina looked expectantly for Sadie and Allison and waited to be found.

Paintings filled up a whole wall salon style. Paulina studied them—messy landscapes and muddy, vague portraits—automatically critiquing them in her head. Which best created the illusion of light? Questions like this had been eerily placed inside her by a charcoal-covered man who awed them and
taught drawing. The school was one entirely focused on visual art. The students had a skimpy understanding of the world. If they’d followed current events before, if they’d known math, this information dimmed and dissolved. Here, any danceable music was exalted. A tidal wave of nostalgia knocked everyone over before anything even happened.

Paulina flung her arms around Sadie, an excitable apparel major. Sadie was obvious. She beamed when she said something worthwhile. She had butt-length black hair and bangs. Whereas Paulina was curvy, or one could say sturdy, or even, as her enemies would say, chubby, Sadie was thin with small breasts that bounced braless in her shirt. “Is that a nightgown?” Sadie asked.

“Julian prefers a child’s bedtime,” Paulina said.

“I thought you were breaking up with him.”

“Every house needs a house cat,” Paulina replied. Sadie laughed. Paulina felt glad they were friends. Sadie launched into a story about a boy she had met on vacation. As Paulina listened she looked Sadie up and down, wincing when she saw the red leather boots. Years ago, Paulina had stolen them off a scarecrow, but had sacrificed them to Sadie in exchange for completing her design homework freshman year. The boots pinched the feet of whoever wore them, but gave the wearer power. For the hundredth time, Paulina regretted the trade. A dull pull tugged at her mood.

“Where’s Tim?” asked Paulina. Tim was a tall, confident furniture major. Sadie shrugged. “The things I would do to Tim,” Paulina sung in a low voice.

“He’s with Cassie!” Sadie said.

“Who?” Paulina asked with mock curiosity.

Allison walked over and gave Paulina a beer. Allison was a painting major with bleak, depressing hair. She was imposingly withdrawn. Though Paulina had looked forward to seeing her, her capacity for enthusiasm was diminished by Sadie’s boots. Paulina gave Allison an empty hug, then stiffened when she spotted a boy with glasses whom she’d seduced and regretted in the girls’ cafeteria bathroom. “That beast follows me,” she muttered.

“Which one?” asked Sadie, turning.

Paulina dismissed her with a wave of her hand. The party showed no potential. The music was alienating. Paulina retreated into the palace of herself. She needed to end it with Julian. He was weighing her down. He was ruining her. She looked frantically for Tim, nearly making eye contact with the beast.

“I’m bored,” she announced, sweating in her coat.

“Maybe this will get fun,” Sadie said and did a dinky dance in her boots.

“Is there anything happening at the Color Club?” Allison asked.

“I’d know if there was,” Paulina said, finishing her beer. She watched two girls from her art history class try to convince a boy to dance. She overheard a girl named Eileen say, “He wrote his dad an e-mail to tell him not to kiss him on the neck.”

Allison walked over another beer for Paulina. The three girls were silent. People they knew talked and laughed around them, but they stood like trees. Someone complained about a bad crit he’d had, and someone else one-upped him with a worse crit she’d had. Sadie played solemnly with the fringe on her skirt, and then the fringe on her shirt.

Paulina watched Sadie and Allison dance around a hairless boy who made tribal masks. Initially, Allison and Sadie were solely friends with Paulina and merely tolerated each other, but when Paulina started dating Julian, Sadie and Allison became genuinely close. They enjoyed simple things Paulina abhorred—walking for the sake of walking, working side by side, and long, leisurely lunches at Thai Dream.

“Aren’t they uncomfortable?” Paulina asked.

“What?” Sadie said, dancing.

“The boots.”

“I love them,” Sadie said.

Paulina was in disbelief that anyone could dance at such a lackluster party. I should be running through a field, she
thought. I should be drafting my will. I could be betting on horses. She imagined there was a car outside waiting for her. “Just drive,” she’d tell the driver in a sultry voice. “Drive until we run out of gas,” and the driver would be Tim.

A powerful boredom pushed Paulina into Angel’s kitchen. Though she wasn’t hungry, she searched the cabinets for something to eat. She was thirsty and she was dizzy. On the counter was a vial of orchid food she thought she could use in her latest homemade conditioner. She put it in her coat pocket and drifted into the bathroom. Shoving aside the shampoos and lotions, she found a mud cream from the Dead Sea and read its label.

She crouched in the bathtub, feeling faint, noting the faded ring of dirt. Paulina closed her eyes and remembered buying her coat at a vintage shop she had believed at the time to be mystical, when she believed in such things. But what was she thinking? She still believed things to be mystical. She always guessed the correct time on a clock. Certain foods gave her visions. Paulina weakly pulled the shower curtain shut. Sweat dotted her hairline. A sun burned behind her eyes.

“Party at the Color Club!”

They ran down the street in a pack. Sadie’s face was lost in a dream. “What’s with her?” Paulina asked.

“She met a boy,” Allison said, “on the train—”

“Oh yes, the train,” Paulina said, striding ahead.

“We forgot Gretchen!” a boy said and stopped, but no one went back.

They passed old Victorian houses. Paulina hugged her fur. The cold air stung their faces. Occasionally a car drove past, its headlights thrilling Paulina.

“What’s Color Club?” a small graphic design major asked, and Paulina pitied her.

“Club Homo?” Sadie said. “Have you heard of that?”

The girl shook her head.

“Do you know that beautiful boy Dean? Angelic face, really funny?” Sadie asked.

“Sort of,” the girl said.

They passed people they knew and the group got bigger. “What about Troy? He looks like a nutcracker figurine.”

Paulina shut out the clueless graphic designer. The boys at the Color Club were the coolest guys in school. They weren’t hippies or punks, or part of any group. They were unlike the mainstream gays one got used to. They’d formed a woozy cult-like community. There were drugs, but that was only some of it. There were rocks in their bathtub, cats with dyed hair. Their clique was like a dance song—catchy, violent, beating with life.

Paulina, Sadie, and Allison had spent their sophomore year discovering this house and the boys inside. Sadie squealed
each time the boys drove by in their old van, blasting “the song”—their theme for a while—a seductive redemption song sung by an electric, androgynous voice, recorded in the eighties then forgotten. Paulina scolded Sadie and Allison for being obsessed with them, but Dean&Troy was the password to her college e-mail account.

“They’re like sexy orphans,” Paulina said.

The graphic designer made a face. “Dean is gay?” she asked.

“Everyone is gay,” said Eileen. Paulina had yet to form an opinion of her.

Far from the college, they walked past Portuguese bakeries and soccer fields of dead grass. Before she could see the house, Paulina felt the beat through her shoes. The house was big and crumbling in places. Dream catchers and colored glass hung haphazardly from the porch beams. A painting had been smashed into a tree and remained there, gathering rain and leaves, breeding mold.

Inside, the house was hot from bodies. The living room was dark and empty of furniture. Paulina immediately separated herself from the group she’d come with. There was beer and she took one. Everyone looked good at the Color Club—everyone danced. No one hunched in the corner making small talk. A boy Paulina had once made out with was wearing a
George Washington wig and making out with the Venus Flytrap. Paulina could hear Sadie speaking loudly over the music, again about the boy she’d met on the train, and how they’d kissed in their seats.

Paulina ran to Dean, who was dancing in a crowd, his face coated with paint. “Paulina!” he shouted. “Sadie!” he screamed. Dean was as nimble and high-spirited as a teenage girl, and revered like a gay Christ. Paulina hugged Dean and Troy and felt drunk. Paulina searched the room for Zane, a boy so filled with good feeling that, using the bow on her dress, Paulina had once tied herself to him on the dance floor.

The Color Club boys were exactly who Paulina wanted to surround herself with. Her whole life had been a search for charisma like theirs. Unable to seduce them, she’d tried to be their best friend, but the Venus Flytrap had gotten there first. She lived with the boys and rejected Paulina, once forcibly pushing her out of the house. Paulina made friends with the boys, but she was still unsatisfied. She wanted them to replace Sadie and Allison. She wanted friends she didn’t talk shit about to other friends. If such friends existed, they must be boys like these, who seemed famous.

When cars drove by, Paulina saw the faces of her classmates in brief flashes of light. How necessary everyone seemed at a good party! People who’d looked lifeless at Angel’s looked vibrant here, and Paulina wanted to have sex with them all.

Apollo walked by and Sadie trembled with laughter. The figure models at their school were usually unattractive or awkward. They didn’t seem clean. Their wrinkles showed up in dark lines on the page. Some sulked in their poses, but not Apollo. He posed with a big walking stick and stared defiantly into the eyes of the figure drawers, who looked away. There was a sharpness to his movements, a fanaticism to his beliefs. Naked at the break, he walked easel to easel looking at the drawings. He was often spotted outside class, shirtless on a patch of campus grass listening to his Walkman, doing his own speed tai chi. He was a celebrity of the school, the subject of countless jokes, while drawings of his body smudged between pages of newsprint, and hung framed in the homes of the students’ parents.

“Don’t make eye contact!” Sadie whispered to Paulina.

“One day, I’ll go where no figure drawer has gone before,” Paulina said, watching Apollo, feeling his energy in waves.

Dean and Troy danced violently until they crashed into a mirror. Paulina watched the shards fall in blinking pieces. Dean laughed hysterically.

A girl danced in front of the mirror looking at her broken reflection.

“Farm Girl Fashion Disaster!” Sadie shouted to Paulina.

Paulina slowed to watch the girl’s crazed dancing.

“Why ‘farm girl’?” Allison asked.

“She caught a frog in the quad once, remember?” Paulina said without turning.

“Her name is Fran,” Allison said. “She’s in my painting studio.”

BOOK: Paulina & Fran
11.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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