Monday
Jun112012

Is It You, Kelly Weiner?

Liz Wyckoff


 

Old brace-faced, metal-mouthed Kelly. Kelly with kneecaps round as real knobs. One look at your legs under that flowered skirt and who else could you be? Pushing your cart up the pet food aisle of Price Chopper. I should have known I would come back to find you. Still here. You pause to take something off the shelf to our left. Examine the can in your hand. It is Fancy Feast, Kelly Weiner. One glimpse is all you need. With that ponytail and those shoulder blades, it's like time just stopped. Like five years haven't passed since I left town because of you.

 

Kelly Weiner, your house stunk. Between your father and three brothers, we knew when a man was in the next room—that sweet manure smell seeped out of their clothes, the cologne of Carhartts and flannel. They shook bits of straw and hay dust out of their hair and onto your mudroom floor.

They kept your fridge stocked full of cheese bricks, milk cartons, syrup jugs. A sour-smelling house full of your mother's ugly, useless crafts—stained-glass hearts twisting in the windows, crocheted potholders dangling from the stove, the quilt made out of old shirts folded on the back of your couch. And the overflow from her fourth grade classroom. Shopping bags of paper towel rolls; coffee cans of popsicle sticks; plastic bags full of blunt pencils, broken crayons, dried-up magic markers.

You tried out for all the pageants and you never, ever won. You were a farmer's daughter, but never the Dairy Princess. A sugaring child, and not once a Maple Queen. How could I not join the ranks of people who pitied you? Who could stay by your side? Weiner, Weenie, Ween-bomb, Queenie.

By high school, the Dairy Princess Parade was a joke to everyone but you. Our lame town on display. An occasion to get away with things and away from our parents. We had learned not to care. To curse it all and roll our eyes. We laughed at the aproned assholes serving chicken barbeque. The children grabbing at the shit-covered petting-booth goats. The duck pluck raffle in the fucking park fountain.

No one cared about the crowning except you and those other not-quite-pretty girls. Your competitors. You daughters of the dying dairy farms. I just stood on the sidewalk, cooler than you in my cutoffs, paying no attention to the tractors and farm equipment chugging by. I paid no attention to the mayoral candidates cruising past in their borrowed convertibles, or to the floats, just pickups covered in crepe paper and balloons. I paid no attention to the candy, thrown from fire trucks, skittering across the black top in my direction.

 

The year I vowed to leave forever, hours before the parade, I'd been in Cody Palmer's apartment on Water Street, where the boys were always drunk and singing. I'm going down, all the way down, I'm on the highway to hell. Everyone left for the parade but Cody and me.

Come here, he said when the door closed. He spun his beer can and a few sips tinkled inside. I smiled, held a Pepsi, said nothing.

He said, You don't care about the parade, and I didn't. I didn't care about anything. I would graduate in less than a month. He used his head to call me to his chair, his open legs, the vacuous V of his lap.

I imagine that across town, Kelly, you were getting ready to make your appearance on the Dairy Princess float. You were second runner-up in a contest of three. Dead last. But it meant so much to you. I can picture you smoothing your dress in the bathroom mirror of the North Country Savings Bank. Pushing the plastic teeth of that tiara deep into your scalp. I was climbing into Cody Palmer's lap, sliding my scuffed-up cutoffs over his thighs. He slid one hand down my back, under the hem of my shorts, and I leaned in to set my Pepsi on a windowsill behind him. I was smiling and Cody Palmer was not and, across town in the bank's bathroom, I imagine you were doing both: smiling and not. Smiling and not.

 

Kelly Belly, K-Y Jelly. It's really you. My friend until you weren't. In eighth grade gym class, Matt Branson pegged you in the back of the head with the kickball, propelling you forward, your prematurely-large breasts landing on the floor before any other part of your body. They pulled you down of their own volition, those breasts.

And on the ice! Oh, Kelly. You were a sight to behold. All knees. Knees as bent as the number seven, as stiff as a calf's, as solid as the PVC pipes beneath your sink. Your knees never straightened—not when you lifted your leg high into the air for a spiral or trailed it behind you in a lunge. Extend! Coach O'Dell would shout at you during free skate. And once, when she crooked her finger and you skated in closer, she said, loud enough for us all to hear, You look like a dog taking a piss out there.

My mother said it was a female thing. Bad luck with your body. All of our bodies. We were either too fertile or not fertile enough. Our breasts were too big, or not big enough. We got our periods early and tried to quiet the crinkling of sanitary pads in the bathroom, or we got them late and dreamt of blood pouring from our noses, our mouths, our ears. We gush and run like Maple trees, my mother said once, that's just what we do. We were capable of filling buckets. Our bodies betrayed us and betrayed us.

 

I left Cody's with my Pepsi in hand and walked fast to the parade, cutting through the alley I always avoided—that narrow path for pedestrians wedged between two windowless brick walls. In that alley, we all knew, someone had raped a girl from Rensselaer Falls. It happened years ago. Someone's second cousin. Thinking about it now, I think I feel the gritty pebbles on my back, pressing into my shirt, rubbing the cotton raw. Probably, the same pebbles that touched that girl are still in that alley. Even all these years later. I don't know who would have moved them.

My mother says, Trouble follows some girls and some go looking. You, Kelly— trouble clutched your ankle and you dragged it with you. You muscled on. You stuck your chin out, kept your jaw locked, puffed up your big-bosomed chest. I went sniffing around. Asking for it, my mother said later, and surely I was asking for something.

I knew nothing about your candidacy—who decided that you would be second runner-up or how. I just ended up on that Main Street sidewalk and there you were: stuffed into the backseat of that convertible, wedged between the closed knees of the high school princesses sitting above you. Kelly, you were beaming. The State Senator stalked around shaking hands ahead of you and the marching band swung their shiny instruments behind you and the air was heavy with barbeque and my panties were damp against my upper thigh and it felt like the sort of dampness that might never go away.

That's when I sent that can spinning—heavy and half-full of Pepsi. I launched it high and watched it plummet like a hit duck into your shiny convertible. Who can say whether I remember correctly? The stream of liquid that left a dark, dribbly trail in the sky. The pouf of your cheap polyester dress. The can's crazy brown splash. A space forming around me as the crowd stepped back, ready for blame. But when your face, and then the faces of the other farmers' daughters found me, I'm sure we all looked the same. Smiling, then not.

 

Big-boobed, stiff-jointed, pale-skinned Kelly Weiner. Your milk-fed bones have always been stronger than mine. I never told you how I couldn't help it. But five years later, here in the Price Chopper, some part of me knows what to do. I say your name. Kelly Weiner. And you turn to face me. You and the cat on the Fancy Feast can. A Maine Coon with blue eyes, covered in fluff.

You smile before you say my name. You place the can in the top rack of the cart, next to the toddler whose legs are swinging through the metal bars. It's been so long.

I know, I say, and I remember all the colors and contours of your face. You have always had dark circles under your eyes. Even as a child, you looked tired. Banged-up. And your toddler's curls are matted to one side in the back. We all know the Fancy Feast cat did not grow up here. That cat eats from crystal goblets. She has kept her fur clean.

Kelly, I haven't tied on a pair of skates in years, but I still dream about the ice. When that music bursts through the grocery store speakers, I remember all the steps. I stroke through the frozen food aisles. Bags of carrots and corn become my audience behind the Plexiglas. I twizzle-step past rows of packaged meats in Styrofoam parkas. I'm better than I ever was. Better than you, in this dream. I toe-pick my way around the vegetable bins. I cut a spiral toward the bakery, my knees straight as knives. I cast my strong shadow onto boxes of birthday cakes and baguettes. Then I do crossovers, waiting for the music to stop and for this town to cheer my name. Cross over, cross over, cross over.