Fiction · 07/14/2010

The Architecture Of Two Closets In America

Once upon a time in the wheezing heart of America…

The leaves are dying all their little deaths. On the way home, Elle’s cigarette whispers smoke into her clothes. Jo joins her, kicking up dust in her ass-kicking boots. They pass a women’s clinic and its handful of protestors. “I hate our fucking school,” Jo sighs. “I hate this town,” Elle deadpans. Jo watches the wind mingle with Elle’s copper hair. While they cross the street their shoulders collide in a brief electric union.

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This movie tells us what we all want.

Jo’s father, Bill, drinks three beers and stares out the kitchen window. He has long dishwater hair in no particular style. Jo alternately glares at him from the den and drinks in the salt flats of skin that lead to Elle’s vulva. They munch nachos and barely speak. Bill retreats to his bedroom with a mumbled, “Good night, girls.” Jo licks her fingers and sends them down Elle’s jeans. A stair creaks. They leap to opposite sides of the couch and Jo turns up The Notebook.

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Don’t ask don’t tell.

After school, Elle and Jo walk to an empty park and pull blooms of pot smoke down their throats. They exhale and cough and giggle. They don’t talk about feeling ugly or miserable. They share a bag of trail mix and anxious kisses. Their eyes flit about for adults and familiar faces. Elle ignores a phone call and Jo stares at her hands. “Do you think we’re gay?” she asks. Elle frowns and looks away.

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Let the good times roll.

It’s Friday night and young bodies are multiplying in unsupervised rooms. Elle is with some Dude and Jo polishes off a fifth of whiskey with tear-shot eyes. She passes out in a random bedroom, muttering about mind-games and teases. The music is monotonous and everyone is yelling over it and someone shows up with moonshine in a big glass jar. By his car, Dude snatches Elle’s legs apart in a rough blur. “You are fucking gorgeous,” he slurs, trying to secure her arms. With one quick elbow his nose cracks and gushes. Elle sprints down the street, trying to breathe.

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I’m gonna kill you / I’ll cut you up, gouge out your eyes / I’m gonna kill you / I’m not your prey, I’ll make you die.

“I’m sorry, Jo.” Jo massages her temples and sighs. “Don’t be. I’m sorry… Wanna come over? My dad’s gone all day.” In fifteen minutes they are slam-dancing, roaring along with Corin Tucker, and sweating stolen beer in fragrant beads. They yank off their shirts and shove each other and lick tears off of flushed cheeks. They imagine cutting off Dude’s fingers and wearing them around their necks on strips of linen. They imagine hundred dollar bills and men’s magazines pouring out of his limp mouth.

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Socially acceptable renovations are so hot right now.

Cicadas buzz contentedly and Elle’s mother Lee nibbles at an orgasm of blackberries with her collagen-plump mouth. Elle slices yellow squash and rinses a colander of snap peas. “Hey Red, how about a leg wax on Wednesday? Just us girls. You’re looking pretty furry over there.” Elle mutters, “Okay,” and flips a sheet of hair in front of her face to avoid Lee’s appraising eyes. “Pity your father isn’t here tonight to enjoy this. Him and his jokes about what kind of woman can’t cook a good meal.”

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But Walt Whitman was a homo and we love him.

Elle sits on a bench outside of the neighborhood organic market. Gnawing at a nectarine, she struggles through Leaves of Grass for AP English. The tenuous shifts of Jo’s muscles against hers colonize her thoughts. Dude drives by, yawps, “Fucking dyke!” and chucks an empty PBR can her way. Elle flicks him off and wipes a dribble of beer off her face. A market employee steps outside and touches her arm. “Are you okay?” She recoils from the concern of a stranger and shoves Whitman under her arm. Weekend traffic sighs around her all the way home.

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Beneath the raspberry morning I dream of a happy ending.

During the first fits of sunrise, Jo hums “Jesus is Just All Right with Me” and observes the suicide in people’s shrugged shoulders and banal cheeks. Their fatigued bodies shuffle under clouds in pale overcoats. Cyclists pass with sagging messenger bags and wind-blown hair. Jo slides behind a tree momentarily when Bill rides by on his motorcycle. Jo flips open a switchblade as she approaches a quiet, well-maintained estate. Her heart cocks like a firearm while she slashes Dude’s new tires. She closes her eyes and mimics the hissing sound.

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We love living in little pink and blue boxes come see us pose and shine.

Lee scrubs pots and pans in navy daisy dukes and a white sweatshirt. She turns off the water and spins to face her daughter. “I see you’ve been spending more time with that girl.” Elle’s ears pound with blood. She pushes her eggs away. “She’s just so… gay.” Picking at the knots in her leg warmers, Elle chews back a scream. “Mom, please stop.” Lee’s lips thin into a straight line. “Come on, Red. You know she needs to tone it down. Pity her momma died.”

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Two hearts meet behind columns of clothes and make their trade.

It’s five past midnight and the moon streams pale light into Jo’s bedroom. She is smoking one of Elle’s cigarettes. She is watching something unremarkable on TV. A telephone ring sears into her cochlea. “Hello?” “I love you.” Jo can hear the stampede of horses in Elle’s voice and there is nothing left to say but: “I love you too.” They repeat it with the grind of dying newspapers. They talk low and dirty in coy whispers. They fantasize that it’s safe to come out now.

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Dawn West (b. 1987) is a nice young lady and a cheap date. Her work has most recently appeared in Sleep. Snort. Fuck. and Postcard Shorts.