Princess Manor

Fiction

It felt like a violation to be in Princess Manor alone. It felt like a violation to be a woman there at all, wearing floppy jeans and a wrinkled sweater. Men looked at me as I walked to a booth at the rear, then averted their eyes, like I was a living person in the land of the dead.

Fiction by Ariel Courage

The discharge nurse at the treatment center for adults who hate their bodies gave me a meal plan to take home and a pamphlet on balanced diets to reinforce what they’d tried to teach me during my time there. Somehow, I still didn’t know how to feed myself. I nuked soup in the microwave until there was a gold ring of residual evaporate around the lip of the bowl. I ate discounted candy, a boxed pound cake dense with chemicals and calories, vegetables from dented or punctured cans, what my sister called depression food when she came over once to cook for me and I hadn’t bothered to hide the evidence of a plastic container of generic miniature supermarket cupcakes, of which I’d eaten six in one sitting. I started to thicken around the middle. When I sat down I could feel the waistband of whatever I wore pinch at my belly.

I rented an apartment and started dating an attorney with back acne. If he slept on his back the pimples bled, peppering the sheets. He wore two undershirts to work. The back acne was the most appealing part of him. I popped his zits even when he told me not to. He had horrible self-esteem issues. By this I mean he was excellent to date, as he didn’t judge me for how I looked or what I did. I didn’t find a job right away so sometimes he gave me money for rent that we pretended were casual loans.

He took me to a place called Princess Manor. We’d walked past it before and laughed at the name, not knowing what it was. It turned out to be a strip club. It didn’t look like other strip clubs I’d seen, with shadowed entrances, windowless façades, jokey, winking names. It was built from what looked like sandstone, awash with pink floodlights, with manicured planters out front and a red carpet extending to the sidewalk. It didn’t blend well into the block, which was mostly anonymous brick and cement: an orthodontist, a community bank.

The interior was dark and filled with frat boys and the kind of men who touch themselves in public. There were dispensers of hand sanitizer discreetly mounted on the walls. I turned to leave, but the attorney took my hand and guided me to a table. A dancer with tasseled pasties over her tremendous breasts gave the attorney a lap dance while I fiddled with the tab on my canned beer, trying to look neither interested nor bored. It was degrading but I could see glamour in it also. I wasn’t sure what effect the attorney was going for.

I expected him to be horny afterwards, but he didn’t touch me. I realized that I knew nothing about him, which I liked.

#

I found a job cleaning hotel rooms. I probably could have gone back to my old office job, or any office job, but didn’t. They gave me a starchy uniform with an apron of pure white. I helmed a wheeled cart of rags and cleaning fluid in spritzy cans. I was a foot soldier in the war on filth. My fellow soldiers were middle-aged women each supporting a family of 10 on a salary that could maybe support one. They were heroic and therefore distant from me.

The only cleaner my age was Miranda. Like many of the other cleaners, she was Guatemalan, but unlike the others, she spoke fluent English. I never told anyone anything about myself, but within two days I’d told her about the treatment center. After that she brought me food leftover from her church, mostly miniature Costco pastries. I had nothing to offer in return. She braided my hair on our smoke break. She knew all these complicated hairstyles because she wanted to be a hairdresser. I liked that. It was simple, useful, achievable. She said I was good practice. I became the best-coiffed cleaner to ever clean.

The hotel manager yelled at us for minor things like leaving smudges on the bathroom mirror not because it was a nice hotel, which it wasn’t, but because he was a miserable troll. Miranda called him El Jefe and laughed in his face. I admired that, though it required no bravery for her to do so because she was beautiful and El Jefe would never fire her.

We would go to the diner across the street from the hotel and share a milkshake and trade the little things people left in their hotel rooms. Unused condoms, cufflinks, an elementary school photo of someone’s kid. I always hoped to stumble into something interesting, a suitcase packed with cash or a gun.

Miranda had a boyfriend. She showed me pictures. He was a white guy with a red, puckered face who always wore an army jacket and a black keffiyeh draped over his shoulders like an old woman’s shawl. In every picture he was throwing up a different gang sign. They’d met at a gas station and I wasn’t surprised. He gave her lots of those perfume gift sets you can buy at chain pharmacies. Miranda was very impressed with him. He was a DJ, she said, at a place called the Princess Manor.

#

At the DJ’s suggestion, Miranda started dancing at Princess Manor. When Miranda announced this over fries at the diner I told her about my experience there with the attorney. I wanted to suggest to her that maybe it was a bad idea without sounding stuck-up. Miranda wasn’t discouraged.

“No doubt it’s shady,” she said. “But it beats El Jefe.”

I went to see her dance on debut night. It felt like a violation to be in Princess Manor alone. It felt like a violation to be a woman there at all, wearing floppy jeans and a wrinkled sweater. Men looked at me as I walked to a booth at the rear, then averted their eyes, like I was a living person in the land of the dead.

The club served food. I looked at the stained menu and ordered a steak from a midriff-baring waitress. When it appeared, it was overcooked and under-salted and soaked in its own juices. I ate it like a feral person, with my fingers and teeth. I guess I needed the iron.

I could see the DJ from where I sat. He was chewing a toothpick and introduced Miranda with genuine delight. It was nice that he was supportive, I guess. Miranda’s stripper name, she’d told me in advance, was Jezebella, “like in the Bible, but prettier.” I always forgot that Miranda went to church; no one else our age did.

Miranda didn’t dance so much as slouch theatrically. She looked okay out of her cleaning uniform, in a silver g-string and plasticky heels, the stage drenched in a merciful magenta light. When it was over she crouched to pick up dollars from the stage, looking for all the world like a little white terrier I’d seen earlier that night hunching to shit on the sidewalk.

Miranda came to sit with me, shellacked with glitter and sweat. I was surprised that I was her only friend there. I helped her unfold her damp, crimped dollar bills and pile them into neat, consequential stacks. We laughed. She held my hand under the table and squeezed it tight.

#

My sister was getting married. The engagement had happened while I was in treatment. She was going to be wedded in a sprawling field in Pennsylvania with two barns. The barns were old and looked like two collapsed, rotted apples. She’d be wearing a nightmarish meringue that our mom had worn at her own wedding. The supremely expensive cake was as tall as a man. The barns had a website with pictures of other unknown, smiling couples. To me they all looked propped and tense, weathering disasters.

I tried to be excited for her. At least her fiancé seemed not to have a disfiguring skin condition.

She held an engagement party. All the women in the fiancé’s family wore heavy eye makeup and unusual dress pants. Loose floral-print drop-crotches or tight leather leggings with strips of pink silk piping. I found that you could learn almost everything there was to know about a person by looking at their pants. I declined to mingle, sipping champagne and standing near the buffet table alone.

I’d met the fiancé before, when he was just a boyfriend, and briefly. He was wholesome and good-looking in the generic white person way of brochures or advertisements. He looked like someone who not only plays but enjoys golf. He looked not like he’d been born of woman, but like he’d been incubated in a cubicle from the sperm of a mid-level manager.

He took a crust of bread from a gilded tray and dipped it into one bowl, took a bite, and then into another. He saw that I saw him do this and winked at me.

#

My sister was the nicest person I knew. I don’t mean that in a saccharine Hallmark-card sort of way. She worked for an organization that gave underprivileged New Jersey children money for intramural sports but wasn’t annoying about it. She had thick chestnut hair and a balletic figure. She resembled our mother but unlike our mother wasn’t at all mean at her core.

The apartment I rented was in a bad area. When the window broke the landlord replaced the bottom half of the pane with a sheet of thick plastic. Every morning I stepped over empty 40 oz bottles on my stoop. I had to walk a long ten minutes to the Orange Street train and if I came home after dark I held my keys in my fist so that they poked out between my knuckles. I don’t know what I was thinking. I felt bad making my sister come from Jersey City to see me in Lower Roseville.

I came home tired from scrubbing carpets and arranging sheets to hide unsightly burns or stains. Rusty and unpracticed at living, I had no friends, no hobbies. I was trying to write some poetry, but it all disgusted me. I saw my sister mostly at special occasions: the engagement party, a rare unavoidable birthday.

At one of the latter the fiancé greeted me by wrapping his arm around my shoulders, my eyes level with his damp armpit. He smelled like the cold hollow of a tapped beer keg.

“I like you,” he said. “Okay,” I said.

“Do you like me?” he asked.

“Um.” I had to think about it. “Yes.”

“Good,” he said, shaking me gently. “You’re so quiet. I didn’t know.”

I was endeared toward him in that moment. He was basically not a bad person. I couldn’t blame him for being hopelessly wrong. It was not any great sin, I reminded myself, to like golf.

#

If I wasn’t at home or work I was at Princess Manor, the fly in the other patron’s soup. I liked to watch Miranda count her rising earnings. She was becoming competent and efficient and had stopped wearing glitter. “That shit’s amateur hour,” she told me. She’d gotten tattoos of stars on her hipbones. I’d seen that before on other girls and found it stupid, but it suited her for whatever reason. She was getting sharper just as I was getting softer, more blurred.

Usually she went home with the DJ, but once they were fighting and we took the bus, shockingly fluorescent after the dark of the club.

“I’m tired,” she said, yawning, her pupils dime-sized even in the glare. She pinched her cheeks hard.

“Stop that,” I said.

“I don’t want to miss my stop.”

“I’ll wake you up.”

“That’s boring,” she said.

“It’s a bus ride, it’s supposed to be boring.”

“Ugh, you’re boring,” she said.

We were quiet for a minute. “Want to braid my hair?”

“Get the fuck out here with that white girl shit. I’m not your maid.”

“Clean up in room 115, Miranda,” I said, in poor imitation of El Jefe. “An honored guest has shat in the tub, Miranda.”

Miranda snorted. “Dork,” she said.

She didn’t braid my hair but she rested her head on my shoulder and gave me one of her headphones to listen to her music. She had an MP3 player that she covered in colorful stickers shaped like machine guns and skulls. Her taste in music was somehow charming in its predictable shittiness.

When she got off the bus she leaned forward – I guess maybe trying to kiss me on my cheek, she sometimes did – but I turned my head all wrong and she kissed me full on the mouth. I had my hand on the inside of her arm and the skin there was cool and soft and smooth like fresh hotel pillows. She was drunk often and sometimes high, so I could never tell what she meant and what she didn’t.

A group of teenage boys boarded and we pulled apart to avoid their attention. Miranda left and as the bus pulled away from the curb I saw her walking barefoot in the litter on the sidewalk, holding her glimmering heels by their straps.

#

For my sister’s wedding shower I bought an unnecessarily complex and large food processor with many whirring chrome parts for much more money than my income allowed, paid for in installments. I then idiotically refused to spend more money on a cab and so carried it across town cradled in my doughy, quaking arms like a baby. I must have looked frightfully sweaty.

There were books on shelves behind the bar and miniature terrariums. Our mom had picked the venue. Whatever planning I wasn’t doing our mom was with her usual malice. My sister tried to drink a mimosa and my mother snatched it from her and told her she couldn’t have it until she stood up straight, then laughed. Our mom pretended to have a sense of humor, but I saw the brittleness in her smile when my sister opened tacky gift-wrapped lingerie from her friends.

Our mom could still victimize my sister, but not me. I’d fallen too low to be within the scope of her powers.

I’d gone to the treatment center after fainting at my old job and my boss called an ambulance. “I see,” my mom said when I told her I was voluntarily committing myself. I believed, though she would never admit this, that my mom found the voluntariness of my commitment distasteful; the admission of the weakness rather than the weakness itself. Later she was as cautious and distant with me as one would be around a domesticated animal that had turned on a human, teeth bared, ready to bite.

#

I wrote a poem for Miranda. I’m embarrassed by it, so I won’t reproduce it here. It was short enough to be copied into the margins on both sides of a dollar bill; I marked the beginning with a star and the end with an x so she would know where to start reading. I walked up to Princess Manor’s stage. To help with my anxiety I wore sunglasses, as though not being able to see well made others see me less. I also had several martinis. I held the dollar bill up to the light. Miranda crawled across the stage to me. When I placed the dollar bill in her bikini strap, she licked my neck from my collar to my ear.

#

 

My sister offered to help me shop for a bridesmaid dress. I hadn’t washed my hair in days and hadn’t realized until then how fat I’d grown. The saleswoman hardly suppressed her displeasure with me. My sister gave me a choice of four dresses; I deliberately chose the least flattering.

I dragged her to an ice cream place afterwards. We were the only adults there unaccompanied by children. I ordered a butterscotch sundae. The kid behind the counter didn’t put a maraschino cherry on top as depicted on the menu illustration and I shamelessly requested that he correct the error. I then ate the sundae while my sister, worried about fitting into her dress, sipped ice water. She knew I’d been in treatment and I hoped she might take this as a sign that I was recovered.

Maybe I was recovered, I thought.

My sister asked how I was. I said, “I’m great, I’m in love.” She must’ve thought I was kidding; my voice has always been inflectionless and I have often been falsely accused of sarcasm. She moved on to discuss the wedding, referring to her fiancé as “my fiancé” as if I hadn’t met him. She was so moony I wanted to throw my spoon at her. This was the girl I’d let puke into my hands at a party to save her dress, who used to make me laugh until soda spewed from my nose. We’d read the same books growing up, books about good women and bad men. She must not have remembered the lessons of those books. Or, worse, she remembered and had concluded that none of them mattered.

We had the same features, she and I, except on her they were perfectly proportioned like a Hellenic sculpture, while on me everything was too big or too small and a little askew. A funhouse mirror without the fun.

“Do you ever think, ‘I’m making a huge mistake’?” I asked, trying and failing for a joke.

“Haha,” my sister replied, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her perfect ear.

“No.”

#

I didn’t hear from Miranda after the poem incident. It had been a stupid idea; the poem was bad. Perhaps she was insulted that I was too cheap to write it on a twenty- or fifty-dollar bill. Or else she hadn’t read it. It was languishing in a shoebox under her bed, wired to her faraway family, exchanged for tacos from a truck. I started texting her too frequently, based upon whatever flimsy pretext. Her answers were brief and inconclusive. Haha. Lol. Me 2. When I asked when she was dancing, she didn’t answer.

I went to Princess Manor. The DJ was outside, smoking a cigarette while also holding a toothpick in his mouth. This seemed his best and only talent.

“Miranda?” the DJ said. “Haven’t seen her.”

He’d never liked me and wouldn’t answer my questions. I didn’t know where she lived. I didn’t know where she went to church, if she even still went to church. There was high turnover at the hotel, and none of the other cleaners remembered her. I asked El Jefe as he sat in his windowless office, forever stuffy from an overenthusiastic radiator, blowing sweat off his face with a personal fan. “Leave me,” he said, dismissing me with a wave of his hand. I snuck into the office when El Jefe left for lunch, hunting through metal filing cabinets, only to find her address was a post office box.

As patrons filed out of Princess Manor I tried to show them pictures of Miranda on my phone and ask if they had seen her, like she was a missing child on a milk carton, until the bouncer chased me off.

I thought: Fuck Miranda. I don’t need that kind of negativity in my life. I’m better than her. I also thought: I hope she’s alive.

I spent more time with the attorney. He asked if I wanted to be official. I said sure. Why not? I apologized to my sister for not helping her more. In thanks she tasked me with planning her bachelorette party.

I redeveloped some habits I hadn’t had since I left treatment, looking at nutritional labels again, being particular about the number of food items on my plate. Everything had to be even; a fifth fry or a seventh broccoli floret meant I wouldn’t touch the food at all.

It felt good, like coming home.

#

I disliked bachelorette parties. I disliked the planned allowance for vice. I disliked the name bachelorette, condescending in its artificial cuteness.

Mostly I disliked parties.

My sister had said she wanted it to be low-key. Our mom had given me a lot of money for it, which I think she assumed would be spent on canapés and a string quartet, but I’d pocketed a portion for rent and spent the rest on a lot of penis party paraphernalia. Penis lollipops and penis straws and penis party flavors. Oversize penis-shaped balloons. A penis-shaped cake smothered in pink frosting, necklaces made of bright plastic beads interspersed with tiny rubber penises that produced sticky fake ejaculate when squeezed, a penis-shaped piñata that I struggled, in my drunkenness, to hang. There isn’t a thing you can buy in this world that doesn’t lead a parallel life as a penis.

The effect was overwhelming; a hypersexed theme park. What I lacked in originality I made up for with vulgarity. I thought my sister would hate it. I thought she’d throw her drink in my face. I thought it’d be like reality TV, which I would’ve loved, because I loved trash.

My sister arrived with her friends, a herd of high-strung gazelles. I draped a silver sash that said World’s Sluttiest Bride across her chest, then hugged her. For a second, she didn’t hug me back. Then she wrapped her arm around my waist, laughed, and proclaimed me “a riot.” Deflated, I sat at the end of the sofa for the rest of the night, counting the bubbles in my drink and catching snippets of conversation.

“What’s the bachelor up to?” asked my sister’s friend, biting the tip off a phallic chocolate truffle.

“I’m not allowed to know,” my sister said.

“Probably Princess Manor,” snickered another one of her friends. It startled me to hear someone from my sister’s world say the name aloud.

“Haha, probably not,” my sister said, though Princess Manor was probably exactly where he was, or if not there then someplace just like it.

“We should go there,” said the phallic truffle friend. “Tonight.” A chorus of “oh my god, yes” struck up.

“No way,” said my sister, shaking her head.

“Come on, it’ll be fun. Haven’t you always been curious to know what men are doing when you’re not looking?”

“Not really,” she said. In 8th grade, when I told her that her then-boyfriend, and all teenage boys, looked at porn, she’d cried. “Besides, stripping is sad.”

“It’s empowering,” said the phallus eater, picking a chunk of hazelnut from her teeth with a manicured nail. “Or so I’ve heard.”

I was no authority on the subject.

A combination of prosecco and persistence won out, and a cab was called. My sister plopped herself on the sofa next to me, the strap of her dress loose off her shoulder. It was well past midnight, and I was by now less drunk than the others.

“I don’t know. Should I go?” she asked.

Sabotage wasn’t my intent. I couldn’t have known that he really would be there. I couldn’t have known that my sister, drunk, would take a photo of him receiving a lap dance and send it to me with a demand that I share in her outrage at the “slut.” I couldn’t have known that slut would be Miranda. I couldn’t have intended to use Miranda like that.

“Sure,” I said. “It’ll be an education.”

“Come with us?” she asked, clutching my arm. “No,” I said. “You go ahead. I’ll clean up.”

My sister’s friends carried her off in a swarm of delirious, girlish screams. I felt momentarily bad about the havoc they were about to unleash. All those men wanted was peace and tits. What was the harm in that? I thought, sweeping crumpled pink napkins into a garbage bag, flattened mylar balloons swirling at my feet.

#

I awoke late for my shift to a festering, impacted hangover and several misspelled messages from my sister: i’m drunkk he’s here terubk i h8 him. Dump him, I wrote tactlessly. Dump him dump him dump him, I thought as I changed into my uniform, struggling to do up the buttons with my clumsy fingers. I cried a little in frustration. I’d hurt my sister even as I saved her; I’d confirmed Miranda was alive even as I’d confirmed she’d been avoiding me.

I gathered damp towels into a hamper and laid out fresh ones, replaced the soiled sheets, vacuumed the carpet, dusted the top of the TV, shook out the curtains, emptied the garbage cans, wiped the counters, replaced packets of coffee, and because it was Sunday, and Sunday was toilet-scrubbing day, scrubbed the toilets. There was a fixed decency to the boxy, beige rooms, the untouched Bible in the same unopened drawer, until I found Miranda’s MP3 player and her headphones on the floor between the nightstand and the bed. I wondered if she had stayed in the hotel, and with whom.

I went to the diner. I hadn’t thought to look for Miranda there before. Miranda was in a booth with the DJ. The DJ was wearing a keffiyeh of a different color.

I put the player and her headphones on the table and said, “Hey.” “Thanks,” said Miranda. She kept her eyes fixed on the table.

“Why don’t you join us?” said the DJ with such exaggerated courtesy I was sure he was mocking me. One of his arms was slung over the back of the booth, and the other he was using as a crane to shovel limp fries into his mouth.

“That’s okay,” I said.

“No, seriously. Sit,” he said. “Miranda, scoot.”

Miranda slid over to make room for me. I don’t know why, but I obeyed. “You look mad skinny. Have a fry.”

“I’m fine,” I said.

He slid the french fry plate over to me. “Come on.”

I hadn’t had a fry since my last diner visit with Miranda. In fact, I hadn’t eaten much of anything except saltines and frozen blueberries from a sack in my freezer that I measured out with a spoon. I did a rapid tally of the fries on the plate; all eleven were oily brown and rimed with crystals of salt.

“No,” I said.

“Just one,” said the DJ, holding up one to my closed mouth.

“Leave her alone,” said Miranda. “She’s sad.”

She said this like she wasn’t sad, too. Like that wasn’t the reason I loved her. “Shut up. I’m curing her,” said the DJ.

What a strange sight we must’ve made. I imagined it from the perspective of our waitress, an absurd tableau like out of a religious altar: father, son, and holy snack.

I closed my eyes, opened my mouth, and let it rest on my tongue. Then I spat it out.

The DJ laughed. “All that for one fucking fry. Wild.” I wiped my lips on my sleeve.

“Look. Miranda’s Miranda. But number one,” he said, leaning forward and counting on his fingers, “She’s mine. Number two, she’s a nice Christian lady. Number three, you’re creepy. And number four, you got some extremely basic shit to figure out, like how to eat french fries like you’re not from outer space.” To emphasize his point he threw a cold one at me. I flinched.

The DJ put several bills under the ketchup bottle on the table as Miranda squeezed past me out of the booth. I could still taste salt on my tongue.

#

Later I called Miranda. “Hey,” she said, casually. “Been a minute.” We tried to meet at Princess Manor, but the police had raided it. We sat on the curb and watched customers in line at the taco truck. I invited her to the wedding. We took a bus to the two barns. My sister had misplaced the fiancé and couldn’t be married. “Oh well,” she said, “May as well dance in this silly, overpriced farm I have so foolishly rented.” “Oh yes!” we all said, and then did. Miranda met my parents, who were both on Quaaludes and had an excellent time. Miranda and I then had vigorous, meaningful sex in a hayloft. The end.

#

My sister made up with the fiancé, deciding not to take his transgression seriously. “It’s a normal and healthy expression of male sexuality,” she told me over the phone, sounding faintly robotic but otherwise well.

In the week leading up to the wedding I didn’t leave bed. I missed work without telling El Jefe and he called to fire me. I didn’t pick up, but later listened to the message he left. He said I’d been an awful employee, often late, with bad habits and a slovenly appearance. Fine. I decided I wouldn’t go to my sister’s wedding. I didn’t tell her of my decision, but mentally I sent her apologetic vibes. I would stay in bed, where I could safely feel sorry for myself. She probably wouldn’t miss me; it would be egomaniacal to think otherwise.

But I’d forgotten that I’d invited the attorney. When I didn’t respond to his texts he showed up at my apartment. When I didn’t answer the door he broke in through the plastic sheeting over the window frame.

“What’s the matter with you?” he said. “Are you sick?”

“No,” I said.

“You seem depressed,” he said, like a dull pupil solving an equation.

He wrapped me in my mangy bathrobe and carried me across the threshold to his sedan, treading carefully to avoid the piles of clothing and empty beer bottles scattered on my floor. He pulled some clothing haphazardly from my closet and brought them, too.

We drove in silence. He didn’t seem to mind. He didn’t even turn on the radio.

I dreaded seeing the fiancé. I knew something catastrophic would happen when I did: a 10-car pileup or a stock market crash or a tsunami, men and women running in the streets, frantic, abandoning shopping carts and vehicles, tearing at their hair, screaming, We’re all doomed! At the rehearsal I dared to look at him, but the apocalypse didn’t come. He was an ordinary man with no particular gruesome power. He was wearing a blue shirt with the top three buttons undone, relaxed, well rested. At dinner afterwards I picked apart my bread roll and arranged the pieces in patterns on my plate while my mom eyed me warily.

I heard a tinkling of glasses. The best man demanded speech, speech. It wasn’t until the attorney elbowed me that I realized this was directed to me. Breadcrumbs fell from my lap as I stood. I took stock of the faces in the crowd: white, upturned, healthy, expectant, like new roots in earth. I didn’t know what to say. I sat back down.

#

The hairdressers came. The hairdresser to whom I was assigned was ruthlessly efficient. I thought of Miranda’s gentle hands and then I thought I was going to cry so I put on my sunglasses. I wore them for the rest of the day, even for photos. I hadn’t brought my bridesmaid dress, or any dress, with me and had to borrow one of my sister’s friend’s, which was the wrong color and too big. I let it drape off my body, daring someone to comment how much weight I’d lost.

I felt I was a witch come to cast a curse on the proceedings. It must have been obvious from my appearance: my head rotated backwards, my skin green and warty, my tongue too thick for my mouth. Yet no one seemed horrified. I thought my sister would be furious at the speech fiasco, or the dress fiasco, or the simple fiasco of my existence, but she seemed only to pity me. She’s having a hard time, I pictured her whispering to faceless wedding guests.

My mom cried, my dad patted her wrist. The priest asked if anyone had any reason to object to the marriage of these two people. What objection could I bring? The attorney looked at me, checking to see if I was crying, I guess, so he could try to comfort me, but I wasn’t, so he didn’t. If he’d tried to I would’ve bit his hand. All through the wedding people made menacing jokes about how we would be next.

The barns were too rotted to use, so for the reception we sat under tents on the lawn. I surveyed the guests from behind my sunglasses. I could find no flaw with any of them. They all looked respectable, tame. Happy. No star tattoos, no body glitter. I watched the fiancé travel to different tables giving fond greetings like a benevolent lord taking stock of his vassals. He said something to a table of grandparents that made them cackle audibly over the general din.

The attorney, ever full of surprises, had brought with him a little cocaine. I appreciated his foresight. We snorted it right at the table from the backs of our hands. No one seemed to notice. I was revived. The dance floor was all lit with magenta spotlights. A disco ball had been hung crookedly and rotated slowly like a planet kicked out of orbit.

The attorney asked me to dance. There was a tiny speck of blood on his shirt. I said yes.

 

Ariel Courage holds an MFA from Brooklyn College, where she received the 2016-2017 Creative Writing Scholarship and was the editor-in-chief of The Brooklyn Review. She will complete a residency at the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts in 2018. She lives in Brooklyn.

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