Matthew Di Paoli
Issue 14 · Fall 2014
There was an actress I once loved. She was one of those girls who always wanted something more flammable. One day she just disappeared.
Three months later she called me up, and we had coffee. She’d become blonde. We fucked like old darlings, and then we took some yellow pills and sat on a rock in Central Park trying to remember all the things we’d defiled. The green lights in the park that night swirled like bowls of lentil soup. I felt unconditionally vital.
“Did you know in Japan they sleep in little boxes?” she asked. Her thin lips moved only slightly when she spoke as if the words were escaping.
“I did know that.”
“I guess there’s no room,” she said.
The pills came on. I mashed my fingers into the rock’s grooves.
“When I was small I used to have a babysitter named Claire. She smelled like hairspray and shoelaces.” I wasn’t sure why I told her that.
“She took me to watch a car crash,” I said. It was something I hadn’t thought about in years. That sound—I imagined my insides spilling out. My stomach felt like I was wearing someone else’s long johns. The grass in Central Park burst out of the soil, barbed in pistachio green.
She had that old lady smell that everyone knows but no one wants to discuss. She had a tendency of meeting her friends in the street and talking about other equally inconsequential people they knew.
“Harriet had a splenectomy, the poor dear.”
“The poor dear. Her husband isn’t long for it. Isn’t it sad?”
They said it with such relish as if they kept each illness in a tiny glass jar behind the radiator, and every leaking organ and malignant cell afforded them a lean comfort. They would live forever as calcified tentacles.
It was one of those days, where the sun never breaks the clouds. I was nine. The air smelled of Windex. A block away the sound of metal and skin collided. Glass ruptured onto Main Street.
“Was it bad?” she asked.
“Two old people, covered in windshield glass. They’d flown straight through and onto the pavement,” I told her.
I thought of them as broken flowers. It was a young thought. My mother loved tulips, and when they died they got that smell. I love that smell. Most people hate it.
“My uncle died in a car crash in Turkey. They don’t have any rules there,” said the actress. Her long hair covered her bare, sun-freckled shoulders. I saw her eyes in the wreckage.
“Did you know it’s a high crime to insult Turkishness there?”
“I did know that,” she said. As she lay down, she bent her knees toward the sky. Her cotton dress rode up to her hips, baring her thighs. “So did they die?”
I lay down next to her so that I could smell her sunburnt hair. I squeezed her thigh. “I watched them. There’s that moment you hear about when the spirit leaves the body.”
“If an Indian dies on the side of the road his soul jumps into yours,” said the actress.
The actress nodded. “Uh huh. Dots not feathers.” She drew her slender arm up to my head and held up three fingers like raven feathers.
“Who told you that?”
“Don’t remember. Some Indian, I think.”
I remember telling my mother about the car crash. I had dreams in different colors where sometimes they survived, and sometimes they didn’t. Claire got fired after that, and my mom quit her job and took care of me until she died on a warm day in March.
I kissed the actress flat on the lips. She got up and jumped down from the rock. “I’ve got to get to the restaurant.”
“Wanna see that Jackie Chan movie this weekend?”
The mint grass snapped against her calves. “Sure.”
That was the last time I ever saw her. She just kind of disappeared. Sometimes I imagine she’ll call me up one day, and she’ll be brunette again, and we’ll start over like a worm that got split in half and became two worms. The truth is I have no idea what color her hair is now or which rock that was in Central Park the night everything turned the color of soup.