Note: To learn more about Penelope Przekop's novel, BOUNDARIES, and to start reading at the beginning, go here !
Chapter 11: Bartholomew (continued)
Then you will know the truth and the truth will set you free.
Remember the frat house where all this loving and hating started? I'm there again; my life is a circle I can't seem to escape. No matter how hard I pound on its boundaries, search for an opening, or scream for help, it's all connected. Like a mesh, I'm trapped in a dark space that's becoming much too small.
I am the circle. I hate the circle.
Hate me now because at least you'll feel something.
I'm ready to explode.
Just as before, blood red jungle juice spills from holes at the center of Lolita’s breasts. I hadn’t noticed before, but her nipples are gone. Amputated. I watch in a trance as I fill my plastic cup. The juice flows over the sides and onto my fingers. It’s my fourth cup and the three I’ve already downed bring a sensuous element to the task of refilling.
“Watch out!” warns Becca. "You're making a mess."
I jerk the cup to my mouth and suck up the overflowing jungle juice. “You don’t have to yell,” I snap, irritated by her intrusion. She rode to the party with me although I insisted that we drive separately.
Matt and I are supposed to meet.
After the night my back ripped open, I held my breath for days, forcing myself not to call him. It was painful, like the time I was ten and tried to hold my breath under water while a pack of kids timed me with the biggest kid’s new stopwatch. Floating in the swimming pool womb, knowing I might actually drown but nonetheless determined to prove myself, to prove I wasn’t a liar, I struggled to hold my breath, thinking, How could I be so stupid? Why should it matter how long I can hold my breath? I swore I could stay under a whole five minutes. Of course, as a kid I couldn’t hold my breath for more than thirty seconds so lasting nearly a week was a miracle I thought would never happen.
After five days, Matt finally calls.
“I just wanted to know how your back is,” he says, sounding like a healthcare professional. He patiently listens to my detailed explanation and then tells me about an upcoming frat party. As the phone falls into its cradle, I shoot out of the water like a rocket, gagging and choking until near hyperventilation set in. I jump up and down until my back throbs, reminding me that I’ve been hurt.
I assume we have a date. I try to tell Becca, but she forces herself on me, insisting that I owe her for all the times she’s driven me around lately. She’s still trying to keep me away from Matt.
She always keeps her promises.
“It was spilling,” she says about the blood red jungle juice dripping down the back of my hand. “Don’t be so sensitive.” Long, blond wisps fall over her eyes. They're like weeds, ruining an otherwise perfect arrangement, and I feel compelled to pull them.
I look at her as if she's dumb. “I think that’s why they have a big bowl right there?” I point to the punch bowl resting beneath Lolita’s spewing breasts. We stare at it in silence. I wonder how the contraption works. The bowl must have a hole in the bottom because it drains as fast as it fills. I lift the Garfield sheet draped over the table and see that a clear tube carries the jungle juice back to the mannequin’s body.
Becca bends down beside me to take a look. “I sure hope all that’s sterilized.”
Still squatting, I gulp down the entire contents of my cup. “Why are you like that?” I ask. Her stunned look eggs me on. “Why do you always ruin everythang? As long as I’ve known you, you always have to mention stuff like that.”
“What are you talkin’ about? You know, I think you’ve had way too much to drink.”
“Oh yeah, me? I’ve had too much?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?" she asks. "I’m not the one with jungle juice drippin’ down my shirt.”
I look down like a baby examining its bib. She’s right; Lolita’s juice also trickles down the front of my shirt. It's all over me. Becca's right about most things and she always makes good decisions. I look up with baby eyes, my chin still pressed down, and laugh. As my eyes meet hers, I hate her for being normal.
My hand suddenly slaps her as if forced by an anger that is separate from me, merely housed inside. The demons laugh as she grabs her face in shock. I feel their triumph. We can do whatever we want. We can hit. Strike out. Seek revenge.
“What was that for?” Becca asks, her face white except for the red splotch across her left cheek.
It feels good not to care. “Cain’t you take a joke?” I ask.
I almost expect her to say, “Ha! Ha! It’s so funny I forgot to laugh,” but she would have said that years ago, when we were still kids. Instead, she looks around to see if anyone noticed. A couple of guys, obviously unaware, head toward us with empty cups. “I don’t see the humor in it at all, Peyton. It’s not funny.”
It makes me lonely.
“Don’t worry about takin’ me home,” she says. “I’ll find a ride.”
“Mission accomplished,” I say to myself. You can walk for all I care. My agenda is set. I wait my turn before refilling my cup.
My fear that Matt won’t show up grows with each passing minute. Lolita’s juice pours into me and, like her bowl, it drains as quickly as it fills, creating a disturbing equilibrium. Her blood drenches everything. The partiers drink it from transparent cups held loosely in their hands. It’s on the floor and even on the walls, splashed from the cups of those drinking the most. Brilliant colors swirl, draped over the bodies moving around me.
My own outfit is bright orange; Madonna would love it. I’m wearing a long, full skirt that makes a perfect circle as I twirl around and around, ignoring the growing pain in my back. The jungle juice dries, leaving a dark red trail down the placket of my shirt. A wide black belt clasps my waist like a giant rubber band. My black flats are old. Earlier, when I put them on, I noticed that each shoe has a perfect imprint of its matching foot. But the worn, smooth soles enable me to spin in faster and faster circles. My sweaty feet stick inside them. My legs are bare; something my mother insists is “just not nice” when wearing a skirt or dress. Her long-standing example is the neighbor lady who never wears pantyhose. The attractive, tasteful woman has long, tanned legs. As a child, I never understood why they should be covered by something you can see straight through anyway.
As I twirl, I’m not sure how high my skirt is rising and I don’t care. People are looking. They’re still looking when I crash into the wall. I slump to the dusty floor like a big orange Christmas ball falling from the tree—only to be forgotten.
As children, almost every summer my brother and I found at least one dusty Christmas ball in the corner of the living room or beneath the couch. I always wondered how something so fragile could fall so far and not break.
My brother’s voice rings through my head. “Maybe it fell from the lowest branch.”
“Don’t you think it has to do with how it’s made?” I asked. “Maybe the structure saved it.”
But he just walked away, shaking his head. “No, must have fell from the bottom.”
Now, legs move around me until I realize that I’ve fallen into a hole. They rise on either side like the edges of a pit. I unfasten the silver hook that holds my belt together and hook it back. I unhook it again and hook it back. I can’t stop. Three punk rock songs play, resulting in a communal jumping ritual. Just when I begin to wonder how long a person can jump without stopping, a song from The Big Chill soundtrack cuts the jumping short as if Simon himself said to stop.
I hate the name Simon.
Madonna begins to sing and a cry of joy rings out. I begin to see a pattern in the music. As I unhook my belt and hook it back I decide that it must say something about the group, or at least about whoever is choosing the music. The students dancing around me are so frenzied by the punk songs that by the time a Big Chill tune plays they’re relieved, filled with a security only the past can bring. Perhaps it’s their way of running back to momma. Of course, they have to play Madonna. She’s holy mother to us all. When space became available, three or four guys run toward each other from the corners of the room. They jump, crashing into each other, and then land in a football heap. It hurts to watch. I know Becca wouldn’t like it.
Paralyzed by my drunkenness, I fantasize about Matt’s arrival. I had planned to drink enough to lose my inhibitions, but not my ability to function. It’s a tight boundary, and being on the edge already, I opt to pass on additional refills. The remaining people are regulars: frat members, their girlfriends, other girls who hang out with the group. Last summer I enjoyed the status of the girlfriend category. Now I barely fit into the latter group. The other girls appear to be best friends, a herd that relaxes in cool parts of the house until they feel the urge to stampede toward the dance floor.
It’s Madonna’s turn again and the customary cry rings out. Bodies smash together in front of me, the final shutout. But the dusty remains of stomping feet begin to fall from my skirt as four hands pull me up. They pull until the faceless, uncaring legs and feet of strangers become my friends. The wide black belt I’d unfastened moments before falls to the floor. I don’t pick it up.
Matt and Peter stand on either side of me.
“What are you doin’ down there?” Peter asks.
I smooth my skirt, anticipating the moment when I’ll finally look into Matt’s eyes. “There was nowhere else to sit.” I turn to Matt, my heart racing. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
“What do you mean?” he asks, glaring at me.
“You know. I was waitin’ for you.” Something is wrong. “You told me you were comin’. Remember, you called me about it?”
The music suddenly becomes louder. “I said I was comin’ but that doesn’t have anythang to do with you,” he says.
We both look at Peter for some reason.
“But what about last weekend?” I ask, confused.
“What about it?” He eyes are blank, as if he left his contacts at home.
The register is beyond jammed now. Smashed pieces fly in a whirlwind around me until finally, it all lands in a pile at my feet. No amount of Lolita’s juice can push the receipt through. I stare at him. As he turns and disappears through the crowd, my hope shrivels. It sinks back into the hole next to the wall, down by those legs and dirty feet.
“I saw that you were at his house last weekend—durin’ the night,” says Peter.
“I’ll never understand him,” I whisper, trying to calm my whirling head.
Even though he doesn’t hear me, Peter sees the problem in my face. “He’s freakin’ out. His dad’s in bad shape." He looks to see where Matt went and spots him on the other side of the room. "His dad’s havin’ a quadruple bypass tomorrow and they’re not sure he’ll make it through the surgery.” He shakes his head in disbelief. “You’d think he'd wanna be at the hospital; I’m surprised he wanted to go out.”
I stare at Matt through the crowd of people—all strangers to me now. I know why he came.
“I’m still your friend,” Peter says, bending down to pick up my belt.
I take it and pull it tight around my waist. “Cain’t imagine why.”
“Because you need one.”
“I need a lot of friends.”
“No, you don’t. All you need’s one or two as long as they’re real.” He pulls me close and we begin to dance. It works because a new dance floor has been created by several other couples a few feet away
Madonna’s voice travels through the ancient house. She understands. Her voice, her interviews, and the crucifix she wears as she gyrates on the stage beneath that white wedding dress convinced me that she and I share some unnamed trait. I envy her ability to tell the entire world what she feels.
Someday I’ll find a way, too.
Tears run down my chin and neck, dampening the placket of my shirt. My lips rest against Peter’s ear. His small, muscular arms suddenly tighten, forcing out my question. “How do you know which friends are real?” I ask.
“They love you. They tell you the truth,” he whispers in my ear.
Matt stands in the kitchen doorway, bathed in light. I think of the magical night we met. “Nobody loves me,” I say.
“Somebody does.” Peter runs his hand down my back. He doesn't realize how painful it is.
More of Chapter 11 coming this week.
To find out what BOUNDARIES is about and start reading at the beginning. go here .
BOUNDARIES is Penelope Przekop's first novel. It's a work of fiction based on true events. Since writing BOUNDARIES, she has completed two other novels. ABERRATIONS was published by Greenleaf Book Group in 2008. CENTERPIECES is currently being considered by several publishers. Penelope is working on her fourth novel, DUST.