Chapter Four. Ouisch.
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The week was crawling by, and I lived out my suitcase until I finally found the energy to make my room a home. Putting aside pointless gobs of homework and new textbooks one day after school, I took out my butterfly knife and one by one slit the tape on my boxes, which had arrived some time before. I put up all my posters of Marilyn Manson, Star Trek, and the Crow, and strung up my Halloween lights. I threw the books I’d brought in the corner and my stuffed crow against the chair, and my full-length mirror I screwed precariously onto the door. My giant lava lamp, to my immense irritation, had been permanently broken in the mail, but nevertheless I put it on the desk next to my makeup and things, to take up space if not to serve any other purpose. Then I proceeded to take the mattress and shove it back in the closet, and was pleased to see it fit perfectly.
When all this was over and the empty boxes broken down and tucked away somewhere, a lot of time had passed since I’d started. I cranked up the fan, stood back, and admired my handiwork. Not too shabby, though it did look more like a storage closet than a room and was far from homely. Then I shook my head. Not like I had a good sense of what “homely” was.
“Looks like you’re finally getting comfortable,” said a strange voice from behind me. I whirled around. Standing in the open doorway was a dark-haired Navaho girl with sharp black eyes. For a moment we just stood there and nobody spoke, and I couldn’t help but notice that the feeling she gave me was weird, almost spooky, and I didn’t like it. And the way she looked at me… it was almost like a challenge, but a challenge for what, I had no idea. I had never seen her before.
Casually, I saw her eyes glance down at my hands, and it was only then I realized I’d balled them into tight little fists, like I had to defend myself. I forced my fingers to uncurl and jammed them deep into my pockets, scowling. The longer she stood there, the more uncomfortable I became, and I suddenly had the overwhelming desire to tackle her, just shove her into the hallway and up against the wall, and remove her from my personal space.
In this corner, Ouisch. Height, 5’4’’, weight, 103-lbs. status; defending.
In this corner, unknown challenger. Status, undetermined.
Maybe Jack or even Joe would have actually tackled her, but I’m not such a physical person as all that. So I tried the more subtle approach of trying to stare her down, but to my surprise, her steady and piercing gaze had an intensity that matched my own and there was no effect. And yet, she had still not spoken except for that first comment, nor made any move leave. She just stood there.
I thought, surely, if I just face her and look hostile for long enough, she would leave. But what she did next was shocking and completely unexpected. I watched in dumb amazement as she pushed past me and sat down in my chair.
It was then she chose to speak. “My name is Sarina,” she said.
Slowly, I sank down on the mattress in the closet, and my eyes never left her tanned, curved face. The shadows in my head were muttering angrily, and it showed. Still, Sarina didn’t seem to feel awkward; she just sat in the chair and smiled, and it was right then, when she smiled, that the whole feeling in the room changed, just broke… Like someone had abruptly changed the radio station to something with much less static. I can’t describe Sarina’s smile; this first time that I saw it, so confident and warming, instantly I felt my face go slack. I may be a bad person, but I’m not an ice queen, and even Ouisch can sometimes appreciate a little slice of genuine humanity.
Mesmerized, I told her my name. “I’m Ouisch.”
“Well now, Ouisch,” Sarina said conversationally, still perfectly at ease, “rumor has it you’re a real bitch.”
Suddenly, when she said that, everything seemed so silly. My parents, fighting. My teeth, broken against a kitchen cabinet and glued back together by a doctor out of town. Joe, plotting his revenge. My anger, my hurt, and my distrust of anything to do with love… Trace back to all the moving days, all the highways in California I watched roll by… Did all my childhood suffering reflecting in my eyes make me a bitch?
Now, here, at Verde Valley, I sat very still on that bare mattress and picked at a loose thread with one fingernail and wanted to laugh. But Sarina was still watching me intently for a response and I didn’t want to offend her by laughing at her, so I just smiled my first real smile since my arrival and said, “Yeah. Well, they’re right.” Ding. End of Round One. Return to your separate corners.
This seemed to satisfy the darker girl, because she got up and shook my hand, very unexpectedly and very hard. I saw she wore a Nine Inch Nails shirt. “That’s great,” she said, still shaking, “because they think I’m a real bitch too. Now get up.”
I got up. Sarina held a hand over my shoulder and pointed me to the door. “There’s someone I want you to meet,” she said.
Who? Ouisch wants to know.
The look Sarina gave me was a peculiar combination of amusement and mystery. “Another bitch,” is all she said, and she led me into the hall and thumped her fist on the first door next to mine, the one covered with pictures of moose and snow dogs and colorful magazine clippings. The metal number on it was a 6.
There was a lot of banging around in there after she did that; a few audible crashes, and a soft “Shit!” and then a girl opened the door.
The first thing I noticed was that it was the girl with purple hair. She saw Sarina, and then saw me. Her eyes got all wide and scary, and she didn’t invite us in, but Sarina didn’t seem to expect her to.
“Ouisch, this is Molly. Molly, Ouisch has something for you.”
“She does?” Molly shrunk behind her door like the thing I had in store for her was a hard right uppercut and a left cross to follow.
But I was as equally confused as Molly here, and I turned to Sarina. “Yeah, I do?”
Sarina waved our confusion away with the same impatience one would have with a swarm of gnats. “Ouisch here wanted to donate to the Cause by giving you some hairdye, Molly.”
What? To my amazement, Sarina whipped out a small carton of Quick-N-Easy black hairdye from one billowy sleeve like she was conducting a magic trick. Poof.
“For you,” said Sarina, and gave it to her. It’s right then I realized why that hairdye looked so familiar…
“Where’d you get that?” I demanded of her.
Sarina winked at me, a frightening thing. “I pinched it from your room. It was right there on top of your dresser. Real easy.”
Fuck! I’d been watching her like a hawk, too. This Sarina girl was definitely something else. Molly stood there in her doorway holding that stolen hairdye and her eyes flicked nervously back and forth between us, clearly uncertain as what to do with it.
But I wasn’t. I stepped forwards with my hand outstretched, because in my book Christmas break was already over, but Sarina shut the door in Molly’s face and mine and grinned.
This time, I didn’t grin back. I wanted my hairdye. I had been planning on changing my look for a while now and just hadn’t gotten around to it yet. This was utter bullshit. I felt my temporary cooperative humor drain out of me like happiness always did.
“What the fuck?” I asked Sarina.
But she only looked at me with those charcoal eyes like I was transparent as a pane of glass, and pivoted on her heel, going down the hall and back the way she’d come. Right before she disappeared into a doorway, she threw one last comment over her shoulder; “I like your hair,” she said, and slammed her door.
I stood openmouthed there in the hallway for a long time. My jaw was like its own door, snapping shut.
She’s down! Somewhere, there’s a referee slapping the ground with his hand, counting, 1…2…3… This match is over, folks! And the winner is the challenger… Sarina!
Molly showed up later that night with my hairdye clutched to her flat chest like an unlikely life preserver. I was feeling pretty crappy. If you asked me now, I couldn’t tell you why I invited her in.
“Do you want this back?” she asked.
The window was open, and the fan was at maximum power, humming like an oversized and constipated tomcat from the corner. It was fucking hot in Arizona. Well big surprise, since it is the desert, but it was January, and I was seriously frying. California had been like a tall glass of lemonade compared to this sweltering, stinking heat, and sometimes in California it had been so hot you could spit on the sidewalk and watch it sizzle.
Lemonade. I could really use some lemonade right about then.
“No,” I said, talking about the hairdye. “Keep it.” It didn’t matter to me anymore, though I wasn’t sure why. I watched Molly’s soft face turn grateful, and she looked around my pitiful living quarters.
“So…you’re living here now, are you?”
Wow, wasn’t she observant. I was twisting the rings I wore around my fingers, a nervous habit. I didn’t have all of them on, though; after me and Jack broke up the ring he and I had matching ones of went straight to my jewelry box, never to be seen again by the light of day.
“I have to admit, it’s weird seeing you in here. I used to know the girl who lived here before you…her name was Natalie. We had some good times, me and Natalie.”
I had decided that Molly talked too much, but I hadn’t yet decided if I liked her or not. She obviously wanted to tell me more about her good old friend Natalie, but I really didn’t give a shit, so I interrupted her by saying, “What do you do around here for ‘good times’?”
Molly watched me twist my rings and considered the question. “Um… nothing, really. Homework.” She gave a nervous little laugh, and I felt her watching me, though I avoided her eyes. She was hiding something, I thought.
There was a long silence. In that pause, I couldn’t help but think; I want a cool drink. I want to smoke a cigarette. I want her to leave.
I’m not sure if it showed on my face or not that I was getting cranky, but I guess Molly sensed it because she stood up. Then, halfway to the door, she stopped and turned around.
“Hey,” she said cautiously, and smiled a quick, shy smile. My ears pricked forwards at that smile, and not without reason. Even here, even thousands of miles away from anything worth calling home, that smile trigged every green light I’d installed into my brain.
Molly’s voice had dropped to a low, conspiring whisper over the thrum of the ancient fan. “Hey,” she said eagerly, and her eyes gleamed. What she was about to say would change everything. “Do you wanna do some lines?”
Molly, it turned out, didn’t do cocaine. She had a migraine prescription, and loved to abuse substances as much as I did, (though she tried to be, without much success, much more subtle about it.)
Much later, after four ground Vicaden had been absorbed somewhere deep within the thankful recesses of our nostrils, we lounged languidly around on her bed, put on some music, and began to talk. It’s surprising what a great mood sedatives can put me in, and Molly was not only a good talker but an avid listener too when she needed be.
“So you broke up with him?” she said, stretching a bit, her back making reluctant popping noises.
“Yeah. I mean, you should have seen what was going on. Once I actually walked in on him doing it.” I winced a little at the memory, but Molly didn’t notice.
“Um… sure. Yeah.”
“God, that’s so awful, I’m so sorry Ouisch.” Her obvious sympathy was incredible.
I waved a hand weakly, determined not to remember how miserable I’d felt. “Eh. I don’t blame him. If I were Jack I’d cheat on me, too… and probably would have done it sooner. I mean, shit, we went out for a whole fucking year, and that other girl was eighteen, gorgeous, a homecoming queen…” I remembered how Jack had looked at me straight in the eye and denied all the cheating accusations that turned out to actually be true. I didn’t want to confess to Molly how intolerable it is to be tolerated.
Molly bit her lip and watched me with glazed, saddened eyes. Those eyes shocked me, for there was a somewhat sisterly concern under all those sedatives. Swiftly I was comforting her as well as myself, though it was so unlike me to do so that I wasn’t sure why I wanted to.
“It’s all right now, I’m over him,” I said, “I’m just focusing on remembering the good memories so it doesn’t bother me so much. We had a lot of good memories.”
“Mm…” agreed Molly sadly, and I wished I were better at making excuses. Then she dug under her bed and came up with a red plastic bag. “You want some chocolate?”
Chocolate. Calories. My face hovering over the rim of the toilet bowl, eyeballs stinging from the disinfectant. I held up my hands in refusal, but at the same time wondering when I had eaten last.
“No thank you,” I heard myself say, “I’m not hungry.” Right as I said that, my stomach growled, and Molly’s eyebrows went up.
“Well, okay,” she said, peeling the wrapper off a Dove bar. “But chocolate always makes me feel better when I’m sad. It’s comfort food, you know?”
Please, don’t mention food. And for crissake, don’t eat that in front of me. Goddammit… “I’m not sad… Oh, fuck, may I?” I said, watching that chocolate being devoured and hating myself for being weak. Oh well. It would end up coming back up anyway.
She passed me the bag, and I selected a luscious Dove bar identical to hers. We sat there and munched the candy in silence. Then I asked her, “Well, what about you? You have a boyfriend?”
Molly sniffed and blinked her eyes. “No. Actually, I… I guess you could say I have relationship issues.”
I broke off one perfect square of chocolate and placed it carefully on my tongue. “You a lesbian?”
Molly laughed, and looked embarrassed. “Oh, no, nothing like that… I get claustrophobia in relationships. Maybe it’s a guilt thing, I don’t know. None of them last very long.”
I looked at her, sitting cross-legged on the bed clutching a huge bag of candy, her purple hair wild and her eyes blurred, and I chose not to answer.
I stayed in Molly’s room for longer than I thought was possible to be around a stranger, even under the influence, and I might have stayed even longer if Molly hadn’t eventually passed out sometime around dorm check-in. Maybe I overdid the new girl routine, of staying too long. She never told me.
But, while I was there, sitting on the bed and talking with this strange Alaskan over really stupid shit like life and relationships all the while glazed out of my mind, I began reflecting over things, and it occurred to me that Sarina had something to do with this. She’d tricked me. All because of some dumb Navaho bitch and a crummy package of cheap hairdye, I had somehow found a friend.