writing: the cousin

The lights dimmed in the room and she left quickly. She did not want to see his face when he came in. It had been six months and she did not want to look at him. The picture was in her head, aggressive in clarity. She did not have to look. She left and stood in the adjoining room with her back against the curtains and heard him sitting down, coughing, sparking the lighter. He said something softly to the other girls and they laughed; she flushed. It was the normal set: Caroline with the deep set eyes, Livvy with the mole, Marcia with the cropped hair. All pretty girls, used to attention and light engagement at parties. He spoke again and they laughed, too loudly. He was not that funny. She made fists in the curtains and remembered her going-away party, the lights and neon sparklers. The boys from her college arriving in country-club suits and later sneaking away to a kegger party. Ivy Clotis, the white-trash girl who lived with the neighbors, making her first score that night and then bragging about it for a year. Pavilions, petite-fours, the sharp wind and shaking aspens, her mother shouting at the help. Sudden rain, watching through glossy windows as hours of work melted, the hired girls giving up and watching too. He came up behind her and she knew it was him. He coughed, the lighter sparking, no smoke. She turned around and met his eyes and then looked sideways for her mother. Don’t worry, she’s busy being hysterical, he said and she laughed like the girls were laughing now. He was not that funny. But he was the kind of person who made you want to laugh, to make him happy. He took her virginity in the upstairs study, and afterwards she lay naked on the rug panting. Sniffling like a dog or a kitten. How did I do? he asked. My first time, she said. Really? he said. Oh fuck. Fuck.

Yes, we just did. He stood up too quickly and she remembers his profile, his father’s sharp nose on his face against her father’s bookshelf. Byron and Shelley and Milton and the reference book collection. Things she has never read. She spent her childhood in the sun room and various yachts, yard parties, birthday parties. She did not like to read or sit still or play outside; she did not know what she liked. Now the place between her legs where she used to insert her fingers and twist, her summer pleasure, was sharp and alive. She had liked it: she looked up to tell him and he was gone. Fuck, she said. The party was in soft shambles downstairs and she lay on the carpet and cried.

Caroline and Livvy were not very interesting people and left quickly, but Marcia stayed long into the night, leaving with champagne-breath at four a.m. He left afterwards. She watched from her window, his fast purposeful walk and bowed head, his fingers in his pocket flicking the lighter. One day, she thinks, he will press down too hard, too long, and go up in flames. She did not know if this was a good or bad thing. The pine trees along the driveway shook like crying women, their dark heads phallic against the dark sky. She was wet again and she used her hands. He walked down her driveway to the road and then disappeared.

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