The Festering

I sent my boyfriend Jeff’s best friend Michael this poem:

 

“I don’t know if I told you that I love you.

I do.

I am shameful and wish it were not so.

I’m not supposed to love you.

You don’t have to worry about yourself

because you are immune to such things;

they take up too much rational energy,

and although you are quite intense you are also

blessedly rational.

I don’t know how I’m supposed to forget

that I will never kiss you, and never did.

Drown the kittens.

Hold them down in the bucket until they stop squirming.”

 

This was two days ago and I have fallen asleep every night since wondering if he received it, and if he knows it’s from me. I hope he doesn’t. The very thought makes my stomach sink and I have to sit down.

 

“For sweetest things turn sourest my their deeds;

lilies that fester smell far worse than weeds.

You’re a fucking bitch.”

 

I sent this to my ex-best friend Shari. The first two lines is a couplet from my favorite Shakespearian sonnet. I added the last line myself. Last year she started working at Tracks, the local record shop where I’ve been for two years now. She won over all my friends from there, and then turned them against me. And before that she managed to hook up with every guy I told her I had a crush on. She has long blond hair and sometimes I have fantasies about wrapping that thick mane of hair around her neck and strangling her until her face turns blue.

There is a party tonight and Jeff and Michael and Shari will be there. It’s at our friend Jamie’s house. Nobody knows about the letters. I have to pretend many things, and have practiced the look of shock that should register on my face if Shari or Michael or both figure out that the letters are from me and decide to call me out on it.

“So Nicole, I got this interesting poem in the mail. I don’t suppose you’d know who sent it, would you?” Michael would ask me.

Then I would kind of tilt my chin to one side and say, “What sort of poem? Like a funny one?”

Shari would be standing right there with her over-glossed cherry lips and say, “That’s so funny because I also got a poem in the mail.”

Then I would ignore her because it’s what I’ve been doing for months now. I go into work and even if it’s just her at the register I walk right passed to the back where we have cubbies for our stuff.

I don’t know where the conversation would go from there. I’m just practicing my various reactions in the mirror. It’s two hours before the party, and I have to make sure I wear something that a person would wear if they were not the type to send anonymous poems to people. If I wear too much black eyeliner I will look suspiciously capable. I have to wear clothes that make me look like I don’t care about anything. Ripped jeans, an old Jane’s Addiction t-shirt my brother Bobby gave me, and my hair in a ponytail. I practice my reactions in the mirror one last time. My best one-liner is, “Wow. That is weird.” Then I have to shake my head looking a bit puzzled, but not too puzzled.

The front door rings and I hear Bobby opening the door and talking to Jeff. I can tell from the low way he is speaking that he got high before coming to pick me up, and he knows I hate that. It’s depressing being around someone who gets high all the time. It’s one thing if it’s at parties where everyone’s passing around a joint, but every day – in the morning, in the afternoon, at night – I hate that.

When we get to Jamie’s house I can hear a crowd of voices coming from inside. Nobody comes to the door so we turn the knob and walk in. There aren’t as many people there as I thought. A bunch of them are sitting around the coffee table doing Yager shots. I don’t see Michael with them, but when we walk into the kitchen he is there with his head stuck in the refrigerator.

“Hey!” he says when he sees us. He and I are dressed almost identically except for the chain wallet hanging off his hip. I want to make out with him. His eyes are dark brown and he has shoulder-length brown hair. It’s soft and parted in the middle and I love the rings he is wearing on his fingers. Jeff nods at him and smiles and I go over to give him a half-hug. I have to sit down, but I stand still and force myself to not avoid his face. Then he’ll know.

“Nice t-shirt,” he says to me, and points at the one he’s wearing, which is a Jane’s Addiction one, but different.

“Bobby gave this to me,” I say.

Just then I hear the slam of the front door and Shari’s loud obnoxious voice, “What up, people!” It’s like she knows where I am, because seconds later she walks into the kitchen with a six-pack of Corona and starts loading it into the refrigerator. Everyone says hi to her except for me. This is easier than with Michael. She coolly walks passed me with a cigarette in her hand and stands too close to Michael when he lights it for her. I want to leave the room, but I shouldn’t because it will be obvious I sent the poems. I ask Jeff to get me a beer and light a cigarette myself. I strain to hear the conversation between Shari and Michael. I don’t realize it, but I’ve been tapping my foot on the linoleum floor and a few people notice the sound and look at me. I press my foot down hard and take a deep drag from my cigarette. Jeff isn’t back with my beer yet. I wait. He finally walks in with blood-shot eyes and hands me my beer. I can smell pot smoke coming from the living room. I walk in and sit with the others but don’t do shots. I take a hit off the joint a girl passes to me. Michael and Shari are still in the kitchen, and stay there as the living room gradually fills with people. I tilt my chin to one side and rehearse the words in my head, “Wow. That is weird.”

Michael walks in first, and he’s finishing a conversation with Shari. All I can catch is the last part, “….And I sat there and read it over and over again. It was the weirdest thing because I still can’t figure it out…”

They plant themselves across from me and I realize Jeff is not in the room. Michael waves at me and grins. I wave back and return the smile. I offer him a cigarette, which he takes and then I go over to him.

“Did you start the paper for Pinskey’s class?” I ask. My chest feels so tight.

“Yeah, actually,” he says. “Before I got here. I kind of have to because I owe Ms. Lankman all this make-up homework from when I was sick.” There is a brief pause because I’m scrambling to talk about something. “Speaking of writing,” he says, and tucks a piece of stray hair behind his ear, “I wanted to tell you about this thing I got in the mail the other day. Actually, I brought it with me because I knew you were coming tonight. Apparently, Shari also got something too.”

“Wow. That is weird,” I hear myself say, unsure of the delivery. “Was yours anonymous? Because I got one and I have no idea who sent it to me.” I don’t know what I’m doing.

“Get the fuck out of here!” he says, and his body jolts upright. “What did yours say?”

Before I can answer Shari leans over to us and starts with her stupid Long Island whiny voice, “Are you two talking about that creepy thing that Michael got in the mail? Because I got one too. Don’t tell me you got one too, Nicky,” she says. When she says my name it comes out like “Nick-ay”. It’s the first time she’s spoken to me in six months.

“Yeah,” is all I say.

“Creepy, right?” she asks. “What did yours say?”

Before I can answer this kid Jeremiah saves me from a fit of stutters. “If you guys are talking about that weird letter going around I want to know what yours said. I brought mine with me to show everyone.” He stands up and starts pulling out random objects from his pockets: matches, a lighter, an empty Pez dispenser, until finally he finds a neatly folded piece of paper. He unwraps it from the dense compact square he had folded it into.

He’s about to read it, and then interrupts himself and says, “This is creepy. Only one person knows the reference. You guys remember Kirsten? She moved away a year ago? So I called her and she says she didn’t send it. Okay. So. ‘Night after night she lay alone in bed. Her eyes so open to the dark. The streets all look so strange, they seem so far away. But Charlotte did not cry,’” he finishes as if he just read a newspaper article. I recognize the words. They’re lyrics from a Cure song.

At this point nobody’s really talking, and thankfully instead of the whole thing coming back to my letter, this girl Simone says she also got a letter. She didn’t bring it with her, but she mentions something about it being personal.

Jeff walks into the room, his eyes now slits, and sits down. “I got this thing in the mail,” he says. He licks his lips and takes a sip from a random cup on the table text to him. He kind of just sits there with his droopy eyes while everyone waits for him to say something.

Someone finally pipes up and calls out impatiently, “Well?

“It was just a note. Nothing fancy. It said, ‘She doesn’t love you.’”

I feel people turning to look at me. The room is still and the only sound is the music coming from the cd player on the other side of the room, remote and pointless. People get up and migrate to the kitchen for more drinks. Shari and Mike follow them. Jamie is fussing with the cd player and it’s just Jeff and I. I’m playing with the lighter in my hand, flicking it over and over. Jeff is still sitting in the chair, his eyes still droopy. I want to know where all these letters are coming from. I’m one of the few who didn’t get one.

“You don’t love me?” Jeff’s says out of the blue.

Jamie leaves the room. I hear a roar of laughter coming from the kitchen. It seems the party has temporarily moved and it’s just Jeff and I. I put the lighter down and turn to him. He’s wearing the same clothes he wore to school the day before. He keeps pursing his lips, rubbing them together, and he leans his head back to rest on the wall.

“Jeff…” I start to say.

“ – Did you send me that note?” he asks. His voice sounds hoarse and faded.

“No. Of course not,” I say.

“Well, then who did?” he asks.

“I really have no idea,” I say, suddenly feeling my throat tighten.

“It doesn’t matter anyway,” he says, “except for what the note says.”

“But, why does it –  ” I try to finish, but he interrupts me again.

“I don’t get it, Nicky,” he throws his arms up and then lets them flop to his sides. “I love you. Why don’t you love me?”

Jamie comes back in the room, followed by the rest of the entourage. Jeff and I sit in silence, and someone passes a joint to me. I take a deep hit and hold it in. I look around the room; everyone is talking to someone. I watch Michael for a while and count how many times he tucks a strand of hair behind his ear while he’s talking to Jamie. I forget that Shari is in the room. My guidance counselor at school says that because I feel threatened by Shari I am hyper-aware when she is in my presence. I see her walk up to Michael and interrupt his conversation, and her back is to me.

Just as I start thinking about the letters she turns around and looks straight at me. I watch her lips curl into a smile, and I know what the smile is telling me. I figured you out. I wrote the other letters. She tilts her head to one side and cocks an eyebrow, and in an instant turns her back to me again and leans into Michael. And then I know how: Shari used to be friends with that girl Kirstin when she was dating Jeremiah, Shari used to be Simone’s best friend before me, she knows how I feel about Michael because I had told her last year. She got my poem in the mail, must have known it was from me and then wrote more of her own to look like I did it all. When was she planning on uncovering me? Dumping it all on me?

A minute later she walks passed me on her way to the kitchen. “So we never found out what your letter said, Nicky,” she whispers in my ear.

The letters were my idea first! I want to yell. Why do you have to take everything away from me?

I remember what my guidance counselor told me to do in these situations: take slow, deep breaths. “It says for you to go fuck yourself,” I hiss as she walks away all nonchalant. And she doesn’t get very far because I lunge at her and grab her by the hair. I pull her down and throw her on the floor. I’m on top of her, throwing punches like I’ve done it a hundred times before. She’s covering her face with her hands, squirming beneath me, but I have her pinned and I’m screaming, “Tell them you wrote the fucking letters! Tell them you wrote it! Tell them!” Someone is trying to pry me off, but I push them away and keep punching her face. “You fucking bitch! You fucking bitch! Tell them!” There is blood but I don’t know from where. Finally two pairs of hands grab me by each of my shoulders and drag me off.

Shari is lying on the floor crying, her hands still covering her face. I keep screaming the same thing over and over and everyone is very quiet.

“Alright,” she cries. “Alright. I wrote the letters. Now get that fucking bitch away from me!” she shrieks. She’s sitting up now, wiping her face, heaving.

I promised Bobby I would call when I was ready to leave. But I don’t. I walk out without my coat and head home. All the houses on my block are asleep, including mine. The blue hue of the television is the only light in the living room.

“Nick?” It’s Bobby.

“Yeah?”

“How’d you get home?” He sounds sleepy.

“I walked.”

“Don’t do that next time,” his voice slightly warning.

“Okay. Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” As I head upstairs he calls me back. “Nick?”

“Yeah?”

“Mom left some mail for you on the kitchen table.”

When I turn on the kitchen light I look at my hands; my knuckles are covered in blood that has dried to this dark red color. There is only one envelope, and I should have expected it. I tear the damn thing open.

“I wonder who’s the lily and who’s the weed? It’s not a tough guess. Ha ha.”

As I walk up to my bedroom I wonder if I broke her nose. Not to be a dick, but I hope so. I really do.

 

 

Suss: Another Literary Journal – October 2009

Sucker Lit – February 2012