“You’re a slip of a woman,” he said as he put one hand against her waist to dance. Placing her hand in his remaining, uplifted one, Jolie supposed he was right, but made no association to his reference of the five feet, four inches and one hundred ten pound space she occupied at any given moment. She felt that his intended compliment was an adequate reflection of the quicksilver existence she’d led for some thirty years.
Before the dawn of Jolie’s time, two senior high students glanced at one another from across a room of sweaty, inattentive scholars. Where said glances progressed from sheepish to admiring, they became the shamefaced furtive looks of two who wished they’d never met. The slip of paper that made its way back to Desiree, Jolie’s mother, read: “Get an abortion! I’m not raising your child. I don’t even know if it’s mine or not.”
As the story went, Desiree would shun food for two weeks afterward. But, in God’s great economy, the space a child occupies inside of its mother is as permanent as a parasite defying the scratch of a host; the passenger eats, even to the detriment of its sustaining savior. Jolie imagined growing fatter while her mother starved and contemplated other ways to passively exterminate her. Did Desiree daydream of a prince with a turn-of-heart knocking at her door, begging forgiveness? Did she dream of spontaneously combusting, of hopping a Greyhound to a friendly border-country, like Canada or Mexico? Jolie didn’t know for sure, but Desiree was still child enough to surrender to Twinkies and save them both. She found a box of the oblong spongy treats waiting on her dresser during the fast. It was a gift from Desiree’s father, Jolie’s grandfather, understanding his younger son’s voracious appetite and Desiree’s need to horde all snack food protectively. “Fathers are good,” Jolie imagined her mother saying aloud, killing Twinkies left and right. “Every girl ought to have one.”
“I get it,” Jolie said, coming out of her daydream and into a lazy rumba to ‘Ferry ‘Cross the Mersey.’ ‘Nothing wrong with a lady, dancing with her father for the first time,’ she thought, cynicism rising. ‘Except that he can’t go back. And that I’ve searched for him in every broken relationship spanning more than a decade. Except that the pastor of the church where I’m trying to turn things around speaks of a “Father” when he may as well be saying, “Your eleventh toe, Jolie. Do you know how much your eleventh toe loves you?” Well, no. Actually, no.’
“Get what?” he asked, sensing her anger without knowing her inner conversations. Slow, quick-quick, slow, quick-quick, slow.
“That I was a slip-up.”
“Jolie, that’s not what I…” It was incredible to him to hear a grown woman speak with such lack of esteem; a woman he created. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Oh,” she responded with down-turned eyes, watching the invisible box their feet kept making together on the wooden dance floor.
“I was only sixteen, Jolie. We were both young, stupid.”
‘Great, so now I’m the product of two stupid people.’ Her rancid thoughts had gutted her out like a queer jack o’ lantern over the years, too poked full of holes to protect its inner light, its reason for being.
From across the room, he noticed a gallery of watercolor paintings from local artists. Something an art teacher once told him suddenly came to mind, a sentence he repeated out loud in desperation. “It’s the mistakes that make the masterpieces.”
Jolie stood, rapt. He knew he had to continue; she didn’t seem the type to occupy any amount of space for longer than a minute, constantly trying on time. He doubted he would ever see her again. “In a beautiful painting, most artists don’t know what direction they’re going. The subject is often an enigma. The unplanned things are what give it character. The ability to believe in a piece instead of scrapping it all, well, that’s the mark of a master. You’re not a mistake, Jolie.”
She seemed to feed upon his words, though they were drops attempting to stain a stormy ocean. He told himself she walked a little more lightly across the floor, and it made him feel better. In his mind’s eye, he followed her out of the door, back into her borderless world, one she would stop ranting and raving at, and liken to a painting forevermore, beginning with, “My father always said…”
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