By Laurel Dammann
I am Woman walking.
I’m nine blocks from the long way home, my bag stuffed with dark bread and thick books, $2.50 in scattered change jangling against my hip. My shoulders are bare and burning in high noon, but my feet are still cool from their earlier bath in shaded grass. There’s a boy on my mind, a girl too, and the memory of kissing one and wanting to kiss the other. I know that there is a bottle of bourbon on the counter at home next to a mountain of lemons for squeezing, that the afternoon is long and the world warm, that there are so many things worth smiling at.
“Tits! Those titsssss, though! Girl, you fine.”
He’s gnawing Twizzlers in front of a corner bodega, his mouth red as a clown’s. As he looks me up and undresses me down I flash the obligatory finger, remote and robotic. The truth is that some days resistance is more screws than skin.
“Oh, alright. I get it. You a bitch. Fine as hell, but a bitch.”
I am Bitch walking.
I dip into a 7-Eleven for a pack of mints and a kiss of cold air. Mindlessly, I flick a finger through the rack of lady’s magazines on the way to the register, each a cage for flat women with glassy eyes and shiny bodies tattooed with words and phrases I can recite like the preamble to the Constitution. Sex. Thin. Kama Sutra. Butt lift. Lose weight. Get slim. Fashion do’s. Style don’ts. Be Your Best Self: How to get your High School Body Back. 21 Lipsticks to Boost Your Confidence. What Does He Really Want? 10 Ways to Blow his Mind. 3 Tricks that Will Drive Him Crazy.
Who is “he?”
I am 3 Tricks walking.
As I emerge back into the heat, a name and a number flash across the screen of my phone— the man I am not ready to love. He feels good to hold, but not for too long.
I stare at his name until the screen goes dark. Liars wait for voicemail.
“Call me,” he says in the message. “I miss you.”
His voice is blurred against a backdrop of giggles and conversation, the chime of ice against glass. I rewind and mark the snort-laugh of a woman. What Does He Really Want (from you)?
“Please. Let’s not play games. I know you’re not that kind of girl.”
I am That Kind of Girl walking.
Three blocks further down there’s a cobweb-embalmed mariachi band glowing dully on the sign of a crumbling Mexican restaurant. I find an open table by the window because drunk is easy. The margaritas are salty, like drinking ocean. Two waitresses swap confessions about the last thing they ate, the calorie content, the hunger that ruins their moods more than sagging skin.
“Anything but those grapes this stupid diet has me fucking with,” says the one with nails like fans, raising her hands to a ceiling lamp draped in Mardi Gras beads as if it’s God with a scale.
“I wanna be her size,” the other waitress tilts her ponytail in my direction.
Wiping salt from the corners of my mouth, I feel them judging sections of my flesh. Thighs: 7 out of 10. Waist: 8 out of 10. Belly: hard to tell from the way I’m sitting.
“Not tiny, no way, but with curves,” they continue. “Men like that, y’know. Feels better in the hands.”
I am Something that Feels Better in Men’s Hands walking.
My pace is sluggish now because lunch was forgotten and the drinks were heavy with tequila. The summer day has made me vulnerable, streaks of sweat like fingers between my breasts and red blossoming across my cheeks like a slap. There’s a crumbling man slouched beneath a telephone pole to my left, pulling at the hem of his street-stained shirt. He stares at nothing, then at me.
Lifting one hand, he wipes at his nose and then drops it to itch a nick in his chin, eyes focused on my slowing steps. They’re burning holes in me and all the booze flows out, the soberness smothering.
I am shaken by my relief when he looks away, frustrated by the realization that I was prepared for a battle I didn’t have to fight.
A leaky hose has turned a neighbor’s lawn into an overflowing delta, rivers streaming in lost alphabets over the sidewalk. Three children dip their feet into the flood, jump, stamp, and watch their footprints disappear.
“Invisible!” they shout. “We’re invisible!”
They turn to study me as I come closer, whispering behind tiny palms as I let the water run over my sandals, soothing the swell of my tired feet. I smile at them, grateful for the dimples and missing teeth of three smiles returned.
“Hey, ma’am, this isn’t your hose is it?”
When I shake my head, they crow to the sky.
Cheeks round with glee, the children begin a dance that would look intoxicated if they weren’t so innocently thrilled by every droplet of water that splashes high enough to hit their cheeks. There is an overgrown garden in each of their eyes, unapologetically alive in this dying afternoon.
How easily they shout each other’s names.
I am a woman walking.