Throwback Thursdays! We’re brining back some of our favorite pieces from the last 30 years of Scribendi.
Claire Mikeson – University of Montana, Missoula – 2012
Maggie comes back from ballet rehearsal and finds the door to her apartment unlocked. Maggie does not leave doors unlocked; she remembers birthdays, lunch dates, dentist appointments.
“What the fuck are you doing to my kitchen?”
Cori stands in her underwear, the worn hem of a stained men’s T-shirt skimming the tops of her thighs. Her tangle of thick, dark hair hangs down to the middle of her back in rampant vines. It’s eight inches longer than the last time Maggie saw it. Cori holds an egg in one hand and an empty carton in the other. Eleven eggs ooze over the deep red ceramic tile of Maggie’s kitchen floor.
“I missed you too, Maggie May.” Her full, dark lips peel into a smile. Men have told her she looks like a Gypsy. A Gypsy, a Jew, a whore. It’s hard to tell. She throws the egg in her hand, and it pops on Maggie’s floor.
“I am not cleaning that up,” Maggie tells her, knowing that she will. She raises one eyebrow and sets her large purse down on the countertop. She hates her purse, like all purses, with its thin, gritty layer of primordial shit at the bottom. But her countertop is clean. It’s always clean. No crumbs. No drips. No Post-Its with phone numbers.
“I’ll clean it up,” Cori tells her. She won’t. “I was going to make cookies, but I couldn’t find the baking soda.”
“Well bravo, Cori. Breaking all my eggs was obviously the next logical step.”
Maggie tiptoes around the shattered eggs. Balancing on her toes, she reaches up to the top cupboard for a wine glass, her sharp calves stiffening. Relevé. Her feet are ugly, callused. She pours herself some merlot and sips it, swallows tightly and looks at her sister. They are twins, with the same bottomless eyes like small black oceans, the same caramel skin and trenchant cheekbones. The same high arches. But Cori spends less time en l’air. She moved away from home in high school. She burned her pointe shoes and perfected the art of being held by men offstage.
“When did you get here?” Maggie’s jaw is straight and hard. She has a bitch jaw, but Maggie does not feel like a bitch.
“A couple hours ago. I thought about calling.”
“I wish you would have. I would’ve hidden my key better.”
“Oh, but then you would have ruined the surprise, Mag. Here.” She tosses Maggie the spare key to her apartment. “It’s been too long, Sis.”
“Not long enough.” That’s what Maggie tells her, but she has dialed Cori’s number and hung up
before the second ring.
Cori walks on the eggs, and they crunch and squelch under her soft bare feet. Her ankles are unsteady as she reaches for a second glass from the cupboard. She pours herself some wine and hops up onto the counter, pointing to the leaky eggs.
“Do you think there’s twelve invisible, dead baby chickens floating around in all that orange?” Cori looks down at her feet. She wiggles her yolk-covered toes.
“I…I don’t know,” Maggie says.
“Ryan left me,” Cori says. “If you were wondering.” She sits cross-legged on the couch, watching Maggie stretching on the floor.
“I figured. That’s the only reason you ever visit.” Maggie folds in two, her small breasts pressed to her knees. After Cori left home, Maggie’s bones began to tingle, a little hollow. Her center of gravity shifted, her performance suffered.
“Did you sleep with this one’s friend, too?” Maggie asks.
“You know, you could try not to be such a bitch. What if I were suicidal? Some girls kill themselves over guys like Ryan. You could come home tomorrow and find me hanging in your closet. You’d feel like a real asshole.”
Cori stands up and tries to do a pirouette. Sometimes in her sleep her feet slide into fifth
position, but on Maggie’s floor she falters. Two and a half and her leg falls out of passé.
Maggie feels Cori’s elbows yielding to the spin, ineffective, no longer able to cut straight lines through the air. In frustration she stiffens her own arms.
“Really he just met Sylvia,” Cori says. “She probably has huge tits and doesn’t threaten to kill his fish.”
“Their little eyes never blink. It’s so jarring,” Maggie says.
“Exactly. But now I don’t feel so bad about sleeping with his friend.”
“Slut.” Maggie knows the full names and occupations of the only three men she’s ever slept with.
Maggie and Cori have the same feral hair, but Maggie’s is in a bun. Maggie’s hair is always in a bun. Pruned vegetation.
“Why,” she says. It’s not a question. “Why do you always, always do this shit.”
The walls of her studio apartment were beige when she left for ballet in the morning. Pleasant. Neutral. Sterile. They were beige. Maggie loves beige.
“What shit?” Cori asks. Men have told her she is like a child, speaks like a child.
Maggie clenches her jaw tightly so words can’t drip out the corners.
“Oh, come on, Maggie. Your walls sucked. Look. It’ll be pretty,” Cori tells her, but she speaks precariously, as though a stranger’s hands mold her lips, her tongue, to form her words. She holds a paint roller in one hand. There’s a rusty orange center in the middle of Maggie’s beige wall like an old, bloody Band-Aid. Cori tries to smile, but her inky gaping eyes are tentative, and her whole body is poised, waiting. If she quivers her atoms might fly apart; Maggie knows Cori is prone to nuclear fission and not easily put back together.
“Ryan’s walls were blue, Mag. Dark, bright blue. They were pretty. You would’ve liked them.” Her words come fast like vomit.
“You can’t stay here. I don’t want you here.” Maggie is kind, and she feels the dizzy atoms of Cori’s body slow in her own.
“Please, Maggie? It’ll just be a few more days.”
“I like your bottles, Mag. They’re pretty.” With an upturned palm Cori points a finger at a shelf of empty wine bottles, arranged in a chromatic scale. Brown glass, green glass, clear glass. Their Technicolor labels point straight, like everything in Maggie’s apartment.
“How long did it take to collect them? Wouldn’t have taken me too long.” Cori laughs and looks at Maggie, waiting for her to laugh too, or smile, or just look up from her crossword puzzle.
Maggie’s fingertips are in her mouth. She’s a nail chewer. She chews her nails into tiny, swallowable shreds with her front teeth, which also point straight. She chews her nails until they bleed, jagged. All her tights are snagged.
Cori jumps off the kitchen counter and walks over to the wine bottles.
“Don’t touch those,” Maggie tells her. Grind, grind. “Don’t touch anything in my apartment.”
“Fuck, Mag, I don’t even know how to try with you.”
“Okay, but the thing is, you don’t try.” Maggie talks fast. “You come here when you know no one else wants you, Cori, and you do shit like that.” She points to the wall. “I never see you. Maybe once a year.” She has a caustic laugh that matches her bone structure, and she feels guilty when she uses it.
“Well, sorry I tried to fix your hideous walls. It’s not like you can’t go to any hardware store in the world and buy some more tan paint,” Cori says. “Anyway, I’m here now.”
“It’s beige, and that’s not the point, Cori! And I never invited you.”
Maggie sleeps alone with a pillow over her head because she can’t stand the lime glowing lights of digital clocks.
Blink, 3:23 a.m. There’s a yellow knife of light across the floor as the door opens and closes, and Cori collapses into bed next to Maggie.
“I puked out my nose,” she whisper-screams, laughing into Maggie’s ear. Cori has friends, men, wherever she goes. She times her jokes just right, and Maggie finds herself imitating the gestures of her body.
“Get out of my bed!”
“I’m going to sleep right here.” Cori wriggles closer into Maggie, pressing her butt into the warm curve of her sister’s hips and thighs.
“Get. Off!” Maggie yells and pushes Cori, who falls limp, hard onto the floor. Thump. Maggie tries to keep her mouth rigid, but she melts, she laughs. Fondu. Cori doesn’t even say “ouch,” and Maggie laughs harder, her taut stomach shaking up and down, up and down.
“I’m going to sleep right here, Maggie. Good night.” Maggie gets out of bed and puts a blanket on Cori, curled up helplessly like an overgrown fetus on the hardwood floor. Cori’s twenty-four now. Maybe she’ll call more often.
“I can talk to animals, Maggie.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’ll bake sugar cookies, and I’ll make a good housewife. Better than big-tits Sylvia, I bet.”
“You’d make a horrible housewife, Cori.”
“You’re probably right. But I’ll have pretty babies.”
“Yeah, with fetal alcohol syndrome.”
Cori laughs loud, infectious. “You’re the biggest bitch in the universe, Maggie. The universe.”
Cori sits on the floor, legs straddled, back slumped. There are six of Maggie’s empty wine bottles lined up between her legs and a bag of dirt that she bought at a greenhouse down the block. Six desperate pansies are squeezed into their brown-green plastic containers. They can’t quite burst out, so they just look dejectedly at the flowers in the picture on the dirt bag. Flourishing.
“Don’t you ever wear pants?” Maggie asks.
“No, I’m a whore, remember?”
Maggie laughs. She forgets sometimes.
Cori fills the wine bottles half full with dirt. Most of it falls on the floor. She transplants the flowers, pokes their roots down into the round glass apertures. She fills them the rest of the way up.
“There!” She rubs the dirt off her hands, off her naked legs. She smiles at her flowers. When she waters them they won’t be able to drain. Their wet roots will rot, and their petals will fall. They’ll all die. Cori didn’t consider this.
“What are you doing?” Maggie asks with an empty face, too consumed by nine hours of rehearsal to be angry or interested.
“Meet Ryan.” She points to the first flower. “And Ryan. And Ryan. And Ryan. And Ryan. And Ryan. I named them all Ryan.”
Maggie frowns. She feels Cori’s restlessness, the buzzing in her muscles; it exhausts her.
“It’s part of my grieving process,” Cori explains.
“So what happens to them?”
“Beats me. I’m kind of new at this. Whatever I feel like, I guess. The Ryans are at my mercy.” She rubs her hands together mischievously. She once told Maggie that a man had called her a nymph, asked about her family.
“You’re sick. Seek help,” Maggie says.
Cori has a masculine laugh, unexpected coming from someone who looks like she does. Some call it sultry. Most call it unnerving.
“I did love him though,” she tells Maggie as she carries the bottles one by one to the kitchen countertop. “Whatever that means. You probably don’t believe me, but I did. He made me want to chop up my heart into a million tiny bits and hand them out like grocery store samples.” She giggles, pleased with herself, pleased with her Ryans in a line.
“I guess that counts,” Maggie says.
“No, but really, Mag. I even told him my middle name.”
“Well, I guess that settles it then. Mom and Dad’s use of alliteration is sickening.”
Maggie feigns sleep, cracking her eyelids as Cori clutches a Ryan by its bottleneck and walks out onto the small balcony. It is after 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday, but there are still car horns and neon signs and the smell of fried vendor food on Maggie’s street.
Cori presses her hips flat, hard, against the iron railing of Maggie’s balcony, tilting her upper body out over the street. She uncurls her fist and watches the Ryan fall, five stories off-center, to the sidewalk. En diagonale. Maggie waits for the crunch of glass that cannot be heard over the traffic.
A faint scream emanates from the sidewalk. “What the fuck, you psycho bitch, you could have killed me!” Cori’s smile is neon-illuminated. She has a mouth that must make men shiver. A man told her once that he wanted to shake the gold out of her.
Cori is allowed to sleep in the bed now and slips under the covers next to Maggie. Cori is a night kicker and a blanket hoarder and murmurs Ryan’s name.
On Maggie’s kitchen counter the five remaining Ryans are still in a line, dying timid pansy deaths, but no one sees the signs. When Maggie walks in she fights the urge to point all their labels straight.
“Look Maggie, I made omelettes!” Cori says.
“And you actually managed to not burn the building down. I am impressed, Cori. Where’d you find the recipe?” Maggie thinks she’s making a joke, and she laughs.
“Google. I wasn’t sure if you had to put butter in the pan first.”
Maggie takes a hesitant bite and chews. She opens her mouth, sticks out her tongue, letting the chewed eggs drop back onto the plate with a wet plop.
“These taste like shit, Cori.”
“Yeah…Yeah, you’re right.”
“How do you screw up eggs? It’s eggs.”
Cori shrugs her dark, slender shoulders. She grabs Maggie’s plate and sets it on top of her own, smashing her omelette between them. Cori is a food squisher. Food squishers are notoriously volatile, an insurance liability. She feeds a bit of egg to one of the Ryans.
“Will you make me grilled cheese, Maggie?”
“Make it yourself. Hey, here.” Maggie reaches into her purse, pulls out a small rectangle of thick paper. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, row C seat 12. “I’m Titania,” she says as she hands Cori the ticket.
“Oh my God. Are you serious?” She turns the ticket over in her palms. “Mag, you’ll make a stunning fairy queen! I’ll bring my giant foam finger.”
Maggie throws the eggs in the trash and makes grilled cheese.
Maggie’s toenails are bloody. Her balance was off all day, she kept landing too hard. She sits on the kitchen counter, her feet soaking in the sink, but they won’t stop bleeding. The water turns pink.
“I thought about him too much today,” Cori says.
“Hmm?” She dabs her toes with a dirty dishrag.
“Ryan. I kept telling myself I wouldn’t think about him, but then I figured that counted as thinking about him so I just let myself.”
Maggie peels a piece of skin off her big toe. Her lips move soundlessly, and the nods of her head are slight, rhythmical. She counts to four again and again, watching the progressions of her feet at the back of her eyelids. Maggie speaks little French, but certain words litter her gray dreams like small objects she’d been searching for.
Cori continues. “He makes my stomach all twisty, like it’s full of butterflies flapping their wings, all pissed off at being trapped inside me. I’d be pissed too.” She pauses. “I thought about him covered in my bright butterfly puke.”
Cori walks over to Maggie at the sink and looks at her bloody feet, then down at her own, then back again.
“If you were a color, you’d be that color.” She points to the pink water.
The beats in Maggie’s head subside. “Blood water? Oh, thanks, Cori.”
“What color would I be?”
One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four. Maggie is annoyed sometimes when Cori is around because her body is not her own; her limbs, her chest, adopt a familiar mass that is not their own.
“Mag! What color would I be?”
“You’d be…” Maggie stops picking at her toes and looks around her apartment, “that ugly orange.” She points to the wall.
“Thanks. Oh, and now that you’ve insulted me, I don’t feel so bad about this…you might want to call the plumber, Maggie. Don’t get pissed.”
“I’m not paying the bill,” Maggie tells her, knowing she will.
“I’ll pay it,” Cori says. She won’t.
Maggie walks into her bathroom on her heels, with her toes up so that she will not smear the floor with blood. Her bath mat is sprinkled with soil clumps. Two soggy petals spin slow and aimless in the toilet water. Pas de deux.
When Maggie found out she would have her own makeup artist she cried. She’d never been a soloist before. She’d always worn the same pale pink pointe shoes as every other woman in the corps de ballet.
Now her shoes are deep purple, and she has a name and a headshot in the synopsis, a summary of her training and her three favorite ballets. On the stage, her body wanes and swells, radiating a violence of twenty years. Her straight, hard jaw is an asset, admired by men in the audience. She is blinded by the glaring spotlights. En face. She cannot see that seat 12 in row C is empty.
Tomorrow’s entertainment section of the newspaper will feature a small, grainy picture of Maggie’s sissonne on the second page.
Maggie closes the door to her apartment. Cori’s phone is still there. Her clothes are still there in a crumpled pile on the floor. She hasn’t left. The four remaining Ryans watch Maggie, rotting from their kitchen countertop, as she leans over the balcony, her arms holding an open suitcase of Cori’s haphazard belongings. Maggie’s dark eyes are blurred with tears as they follow her sister’s clothes floating to the ground.
Maggie is still awake when Cori comes home. Her fist tightly embraces the spare key that Cori fumbles to find.
“Maggie?” she yells from the other side of the door. “Maggie, let me in!” she yells, and hits the door with her palm. “Maggie, please!” she begs. Cori is frantic. She is frantic when she is sober. She is frantic when she drinks. Allégro.
“Maggie! Maggie, I know you’re in there!”
The neighbors shout, “Shut up!”
Maggie’s bitch jaw trembles, unstable. “Shut up, Cori!” she screams too and presses her pillow tightly to her ears. They sound the same when they cry, in tune, with the same feverish inhalations.
“Ma-aaa-aaaaag!” Cori sobs Maggie’s name with three syllables.
Maggie throws the pillow off her head and opens the door. Cori sits, just drunk enough to crumple, against the doorway, knees bent, back slumped, underwear showing. Her large eyes are smeared black.
“You don’t get to fucking cry, Cori!” Maggie screams at her sister. “You don’t get to cry at this because I let you stay here, and I got you a ticket, and you didn’t even come! I get to cry. You promised.”
“I’m sorry, Mag!”
“You could have called. You could have called so many times. No wonder Ryan left you. You’re so fucking selfish, Cori! You’re a child. I’d leave you too if I could.” Her voice feels like a razor in her throat.
Cori’s sobs have become more violent, are mostly silent now. “Maggie, I’m sorry! I couldn’t sit there all alone and watch you. I couldn’t do it. I know what it means to you, Maggie, I know, but I couldn’t watch you without crying.”
“You poor baby,” she says, but her voice wavers.
“Jesus, Mag, don’t you get it? You’re Titania! You’re a soloist! And I…I don’t even own a bed. And I wake up in the morning and remember that he doesn’t want me. Every fucking morning, Mag. When does that stop?”
Maggie feels the tightness of her sister’s lungs, the same hot tears on her sister’s face dripping down the edges of the same trenchant cheekbones. “When does that stop?” she sobs again.
Maggie slides down the wall next to Cori, and they sit in silence for several minutes. À terre.
“I don’t know. I don’t know when it stops.”
“I’m sorry, Mag. I would have sat there and bawled. I would have looked like a psycho, and everyone would have seen it.”
“Well, you do belong in an institution. I can see it in your hair.”
“We have the same hair.” Her sobs have diminished to sniffs.
“I know.” Maggie tilts her neck and lays her head on Cori’s bare shoulder. “I threw all your stuff out the window, Cori.”
“I guess that’s what I get,” Cori says.
Maggie absent-mindedly runs her hands through the tendrils of her sister’s hair. “Now I can’t call you a slut anymore when you don’t wear pants because you’re actually destitute.”
Cori laughs. “Maggie, I know how you looked, though,” she says quietly. “Tonight, I mean. You looked beautiful and hard and all glowy, like you weren’t even human. That’s how you look when you dance.”
Maggie comes home and Cori is sitting at the kitchen table. She points to a jar of paint in front of her. “Here. I got you this. I know it’s not beige. But seriously, Mag, your walls were God-awful.”
Maggie reads the color on the can out loud. “Soft Rose Petal.”
“Wrong-o. It’s your color, Blood Water Pink. I should try and patent that. It’s charming, isn’t it?”
“Extremely. You’ve got a real gift. Let’s paint tonight!” She takes the can and sets it next to the Ryans still sitting on the countertop. “Cori,” she says, “We should throw them away.”
“The Ryans. We should throw them away. Or something.”
“Yeah?” Cori looks at the flowers and wrinkles her dark eyebrows, hesitant.
“Definitely,” Maggie says. “We should definitely throw them away.”
“…You’re right. Okay.”
As Cori’s fingers release the second-to-last Ryan, her lips form the words, “I’m sorry.”
“No. No fucking way.”
“What?” Cori asks.
“No, you’re not sorry, Cori. This is what I think of your ‘sorry.’”
She reaches in the trash and beheads a pansy, rolling it tight in her hands until her palms are stained purple. She throws the torn petals at her sister and reaches for the last Ryan.
“Wait,” Cori says. “Don’t throw that one away!”
“Cori!” Maggie frowns at her sister.
“No, not to keep it…I think you should smash it.” She smiles, excited like a child.
“No, it’ll be a huge mess, Cori. Just throw it away.” Maggie thrusts the bottle toward her sister.
“It’s just a floor. Have you ever smashed anything in your life? You really should try it.” She pushes the bottle back toward her sister, and Maggie takes it. “Oh, just do it, Maggie! I’ll clean it up.”
And she does.