In a roller skating rink in West Hollywood, the man doling out skates from behind a carpeted counter can be your father. The man can be your father’s height (below average), and the man can have a head of hair that disappears completely when the lighting is just right. The man can wear two-sizes-too-big bowling shirts in a roller skating rink, and the man can chew permanently on round wood toothpicks, and the man can perpetually burn over top of his suntan.
The man will be skinny-skinny and the man, your father, will be careful never to meet your eye. Your father knows never to get you in a crowded room. In a room this crowded, there’s plenty of bait. There’s red, brown, black, and blonde, so many blondes, you’re dizzy with why your date chose you, why he’s guiding you by the waist and not the eleven other blondes just like you. But you’re the only Barbie there. When news of your California move spread, all the high school boys started calling you DreamHouse. Your opponent was DreamBoat. You always let her win.
Behind the counter, your father is trading a teenage girl’s size sevens for size eights. No half-sizes here. The toothpick wiggles with his words. Back in North Carolina, the toothpick left scratches on your cheek. Back in North Carolina, your father had become a sort of Teflon cancer. Parents no longer took their little girls to Dennison’s Rock ’n Roll. The man behind the skate rental counter leered. His eyes locked onto a girl a fraction of his age and didn’t know when to let go. The town’s mothers and fathers begged the Dennison in Dennison’s Rock ’n Roll to fire him, but your father was a dependable worker and above all: he hadn’t done anything wrong.
You okay? In time, your date will give you his last name, a daughter, and never your dream house, but tonight, all he’s giving you is a steady arm to hold on to. With a trill in your voice, you answer him: Never been better. Roller skating was his idea. Had you ever been? Yes, you had, too long ago. You might’ve been eight. Eight stuck out to you. Well, then we have to go, your date decided for you, eight is a lifetime ago.
There’s a girl in California with love in her eyes and flowers in her hair and she’s not you. You went to California with an aching in your heart and the aching is right behind the counter. You’re eight and the aching is yanking you closer to him in the cab of his Ford pickup. The slippery leather bench seat is longer than your body. There’s enough room for another one of you, but he cuts the cab in half like you’re the only two people in the world. He cuts off the oxygen next. When you finally start to breathe again, you breathe the words right into your mother’s mouth.
You’re rounding the bend with your date. Your waist is steady without his hand holding it together, but your knees are beginning to buckle. Your knees are what need holding. You put on the brakes. You jerk to a stop. Your date nearly falls, nearly busts his face open on the polished blond wood.
You pull him off the rink, past your father. No, you pull him off the rink, past the man behind the skate rental counter, into the lobby, into the lot. Your date drives a Mustang, and you’re a living tragedy. You’re a statistic in some far-off decade when there’s cab-of-a-Ford-pickup-we’re-the-only-two-people-in-the-world stories just like yours, only different. These stories are broadcast on television in tell-all interviews, and these stories are crafted into memoirs laced with words like forgiveness and healing. In many beds, over the course of many years, you read these memoirs raw until the rims of your eyes are tight and stinging like a friction burn.
In some far-off decade, you suffer alone although the world is telling you that you no longer have to, but for now, in the backseat of his Mustang, you beg your date to please fill your mouth with his tongue. He replies with tongue and his finger on your zipper.
You’re twenty and you’re begging him not to stop.
CHRISTINE NAPRAVA — Christine is a writer from South Jersey. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Contrary Magazine, trampset, Kissing Dynamite, Spry Literary Journal, Overheard Lit, The Friday Poem, and Thin Air Online, among others. You can find her on Twitter @CNaprava and Instagram @cnaprava.
Art by AUDRA KERR BROWN — Audra is a writer, photographer, and creator of The Flashtronauts! YouTube channel. Follow her on Twitter: @audrakerrbrown.