Wednesday, March 30, 2011

LIEF: Twenty

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She was too close to it; she couldn’t really see what it was.

    “So.” She heard him behind her. “What kind of name is Lief?”
    She squinted. She shouldn’t have left her glasses in her room. It still didn’t look like anything.
    “Did you paint this?” she asked.
    She heard him make a guttural noise. She turned around.
    “It’s not really any good,” he shrugged. His name was Andrew. He was wearing his glasses. She wondered why she never wore hers. She thought he was smiling.
    “So, is it Viking or something?” he asked.
    She shook her head. “Your painting?”
    “Your name,” he repeated. “I thought Lief was a Viking name.”
    “Oh,” she said. She turned back toward his painting.
    “It’s just an interesting name,” he told her.
    She crossed her arms. He was standing close behind her now.
    “My mom was a hippie,” she replied. “It doesn’t mean anything.”
    He cleared his throat. “I think it’s pretty,” he said.
    It was something boys said even when they didn’t say much else.
    “Is your mom still a hippy?” he asked.
    She shook her head. “No.”
    His room was warm.
    “Are you cold?” he asked.
    The morning air had bitten her arms. She had left the window by her bed open and when she woke, her arms ached. She had woken with a start, and quickly closed the window.
    “Shit,” she whispered.
    “Why is it so cold in here?” Liz muttered from under her covers.
    “I had a cigarette before I went to sleep,” Lief explained. “I left the window open and fell asleep.”
    “It’s freezing in here,” Liz said again. “Why is it so cold?”
    “I was smoking,” Lief said. “I left the window open.”
    It was 6:00. There were two more hours before class.
    “I closed it,” Lief explained. “Go back to sleep. I’m sorry.”
    “Why is it so cold?” Liz murmured.
    Lief took her comforter over to Liz’s bed, and draped it over her. “I’m sorry,” she said. She could see that Liz was still asleep. “I’m sorry,” she said again.
    Lief went back to her bed. The room was still bitterly cold, and she didn’t think she wanted to fall back asleep, if she even would have been able to. She checked the window again, to make sure it was closed tight, and picked up her cigarettes from the ledge.
    She took a sweater from her dresser and pulled it over her head. Her bare legs covered with goosebumps, she tucked her knees inside the sweater. She was going to stretch it out, but she didn’t care. She held the cigarette pack in her hand and didn’t look at it until Liz woke up.
    “I didn’t think March was supposed to be this cold,” Liz said as they walked down to class together.
    “It’s still February,” Lief told her, taking a drag off her cigarette.
    Liz pulled her hair back. “Today’s March 1st.”
    “It’s the 29th,” Lief explained.
    Liz waved away the smoke. “I don’t…oh, it’s a Leap Year.”
    “Yeah,” Lief said. “Is this bothering you?”
    Some boys were looking at them. “No,” Liz replied.
    The morning sky seemed bleached of color. They walked across campus. All Lief could hear were their footsteps on the paved walkway.
    “Things always seem louder when it’s cold,” she said. “Do you notice that?”
    Liz adjusted her backpack to her opposite shoulder. “Who thought a Monday 8AM class was a good idea?”
    “Get it out of the way,” Lief replied. “Did you read?”
    “He’s just going to talk about Bush again,” Liz told her. “You know how he is.”
    Lief dropped her cigarette and stomped it out. “I think he was trying to tie it in with the reading.”
    Liz was smiling at some boys. “Hi,” she said to them.
    “Maybe it didn’t make sense because we didn’t read the earlier plays.”
    “What, there’s a Richard I?” Liz asked.
    Lief looked back over her shoulder at the passing boys. “Henry VI,” she told her.
    “No wonder everyone thinks Shakespeare’s confusing,” Liz said. “He’s just a Dukakis supporter. Arnold is.”
    Lief noticed something up in the distance. “Maybe,” she said.
    “I don’t think I’d mind it so much if it was like PoliSci or whatever…”
    Lief watched something moving up ahead. “Do you see that?” she asked. “It looks like a dog or something.”
    Liz squinted. “I don’t see it,” she said. “What are you looking at?”
    Lief pointed ahead. “Next to the library,” she explained. “It’s like an Irish terrier.”
    It seemed for a minute it was looking right at her, whatever was there, before it turned and trotted into the woods at the edge of campus.
    “I don’t see it,” Liz repeated. “Where are you looking?”
    Lief watched the woods for a little while. “It’s gone,” she said. “I think it was a lost dog.”
    “I thought you were supposed to be wearing glasses,” Liz said. “How could you even see over there?”
    “I’m far-sighted,” Lief explained. “I only need my glasses to read. To see up close.”
    Professor Arnold leaned against his lectern. “Is Richard a villain?”
    Lief struggled to stay awake. The room was quiet, except for the professor’s labored breathing.
    He scratched his beard. “Is he?” he repeated. “Is Richard a villain?” He paused between each word, for emphasis.
    Someone spoke up. “Well, he tells us he’s a villain. In the opening soliloquy.”
    The professor shifted his weight. “Does he?” he asked. “He tells us a lot of things.”
    No one said anything. “Is Reagan a villain?” he continued. “Is Vice-President Bush?”
    “Told you,” Liz whispered.
    “Quiet,” Lief laughed.
    Professor Arnold turned toward her. “What?” he said, cupping his ear. “Miss Schwartz, did you say something?”
    Lief shook her head. She started scanning the pages, but without her glasses she couldn’t make out most of the text.
    “Well,” he continued. “What do you think? Is Richard a villain?”
    Lief swallowed hard. “I’m not,” she began, then coughed. “I can’t really tell.”
    The professor smiled. “Ah,” he said. “Well, yes. Is villainy even an objective term?”
    Another boy spoke up. “What about Hitler?”
    Lief shifted in her seat.
    “Jesus,” Liz whispered. “I hate when they bring up Hitler.”
    “What about Hitler?” the professor asked. “Was Hitler a villain?”
    “Clearly,” someone else offered.
    The professor nodded. “Hmm-hmm. Was Hitler a villain at his fourth birthday party?”
    “What?” the boy asked.
    “What does this have to do with Richard III?” Liz asked out loud.
    The professor smirked. “Interesting question.”
    Lief wrote something down in her notebook.
    “I can’t stop thinking about that dog,” Lief said. She was sitting with Liz and her friend Cathy in the cafeteria.
    “What dog?” Cathy asked.
    Lief pushed her salad around her plate. “I saw this dog this morning.”
    “That was like five hours ago,” Liz interjected. “She thought she saw a dog behind the library this morning,” she explained to Cathy.
    “Weird,” Cathy said. “Who has a dog?”
    “No one,” Lief explained. “It was lost.”
    Liz bit into her sandwich. “You saw it for, like, ten seconds,” she said. “Don’t pretend you know its entire life story.”
    “It was probably lost, if it was on campus,” Cathy offered.
    Lief ate some salad. “I don’t know why I got this,” she sighed.
    “You don’t even like salad,” Liz told her.
    “I do. Sometimes.”
    “I’ve never seen you eat it.”
    Lief just decided to listen to the crunching noises the lettuce made inside her mouth for a minute.  
    A boy approached their table. Liz wiped her mouth with a napkin.
    “What’s happening?” the boy said.
    “Not too much,” Liz replied.
    He pulled out the chair opposite Lief.
    “So, you’re in Arnold’s Shakespeare, right?” he asked. Lief nodded.
    “I hate that guy,” Liz said.
    The boy looked over at her. “Yeah, he can be a real drag.” He turned back to Lief. “I thought it was interesting what you said in class today.”
    Lief put her fork down on the table.
    “My name’s Andrew,” he told her.
    They were all sitting in a circle. Professor Jacobs played with a foul smelling lozenge in her mouth. Lief listened to the clicking it made between her teeth.
    “Thoughts?” Professor Jacobs said.
    Lief looked down at the stapled paper in front of her. She ran her fingers along the edges, where she’d ripped off the perforations.
    “I thought it was good,” someone said.
    Jacobs made a sharp noise with her tongue, or maybe with the lozenge. “That’s not what we’re looking for, Richard,” she said. “What were the strengths, the weaknesses? What worked and what didn’t?”
    Lief didn’t need to read the words on the paper. It didn’t matter she didn’t have her glasses. She had written it.
    “I think she does a good job with description,” somebody else said. Lief didn’t want to look up and see who.
    “Yeah,” somebody else said. “She has a real good eye for detail. I thought she did a good job with the playground. Like, we’ve all been to playgrounds, but she made us ‘see’ a specific one. I thought that was good.”
    “Alright,” the professor said. “What was weak?”
    The room was silent. Lief continued to look down. She ran her fingernail against the paper’s perforated edge. She let it drag against the bumps.
    “The characters,” one girl said.
    “Yeah,” another added. “I felt like we didn’t get to know anything about the girl, or her brother.”
    Lief was hot underneath her sweater.
    “They were just there,” somebody said. “They weren’t.” He paused. “They were just there.”
    Lief listened to the phone ring, then to her father’s voice on his machine.
    “Hi Dad.” She wrapped the phone cord around her fingers.
    “It’s me.”
    “I’m just calling to say hi. See how everyone’s doing.”
    She took a deep breath.
    “I know you’re probably sleeping, but I really wish you were up.”
    “Or Glow. Say hi to Glow for me.”
    “Or if you’re listening to this first, Glow, say hi to Dad for me.”
    Her fingers released on the cord and it fell and bounced excitedly until it stopped. “I think I’m going to drop the writing workshop class.”
    “I don’t know. I miss you guys. Call me soon.”
    Liz came in and flopped on the bed. “You should be taking Stats with me.”
    Lief cracked the window. “I told you. I took it over the summer.” She lit a cigarette.
    “You know those are bad for you.”
    “I didn’t,” she replied, taking a drag.
    “Are you going to see that guy tonight?” Liz asked.
    Lief leaned toward the window, and blew smoke through the crack. “I guess.”
    “He’s cute.”
    “I guess.”
    “Cathy says he’s an art major.”
    Lief looked out the window. It had begun snowing. She blew her smoke at it. “We have art majors at this school?”
    “I think he likes you,” Liz said.
    Lief watched the snow. “Maybe.”
    “Is that snow?” Liz asked. “When is spring going to get here?”
    Lief put her cigarette out on the ashtray, and leaned back.
    “It’s still February,” she said.
    The snow stopped before it even became anything. Lief walked to Andrew’s dorm, watching tiny little squalls of snow twirl along the walkway. She carried her copy of Richard III under her arm, and kept both hands in her pockets. It was still early, but it was dark, and the lights lining the walkway buzzed on. There were some people hurrying across the quad, but all Lief heard was the buzzing.
    She sat down on a bench, and watched her breath for a minute. Maybe she’d head back to her room. Maybe her Dad would call her back. The wooden bench was cold, and stung at her through her pants.
    “No, actually, it’s pretty warm in here,” she replied.
    Lief turned around and Andrew was sitting on his bed. She leaned against his desk.
    “I don’t really know why I’m here,” she told him. “I haven’t even read the book.”
    He smiled. “Really? You sounded really…like you knew what you were talking about.”
    Lief felt really warm. Her sweater was itching, too. “I don’t even remember what I said,” she told him.
    He crossed his legs on the bed. “Just about how you weren’t sure…you couldn’t tell if Richard was a villain.”
    Lief looked at a poster across his room. She was far enough away she could pretty much see it. “Is that guy’s back really hairy or am I seeing things?” She walked towards it, but it just became more unclear. She pointed to it for him.
    He laughed. “That’s the Pixies. You’ve heard them, right?” Lief shook her head.
    “Oh, you have to check them out!” He jumped up and fumbled through his cassette tapes. “They’re from around here. I saw them last fall. Right when the album came out.”
    Lief watched him put the tape in the player.
    “You’re an art major?” she asked.
    He shook his head. “I don’t know,” he replied. “I mean, I am, but I’m thinking of changing.” He pressed rewind. “What’s your major?”
    “I’m in the writing program,” she told him. “I might change, too.”
    “Cool,” he said. “You’ll have to let me read your stuff sometime.”
    He pressed play.
    “They sound cool,” she said. “Kinda noisy.”
    “Do you want another beer?” he asked her.
    Lief shook her head. “I haven’t had one yet.”
    He cracked one open. “They’re good,” he told her.
    She listened to the music for a minute.
    “Listen,” he said. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you for a while. I mean, I was in your British Lit class last semester.”
    She sat down on his bed. “Do you want to kiss me?” she asked. “It’s okay if you do.”
    He put his beer down on his desk, and brushed his hair from his eyes. “What?” he asked.
    “I don’t normally…” Lief started. “It’s a special day though.”
    He started walking towards her. “No,” he said. “I get it.”
    “It’s only February 29th every four years,” she explained.
    They kissed a little. They each used their hands to balance on the bed. He kissed softly and sweet. Only their lips touched.
    “That was nice,” she said.
    “You’re beautiful,” he told her.
    Lief smiled, and listened to the music. “Are they singing in Spanish?”
    He started rubbing her arm. “I took French.”
    “’Hermanita ven conmingo’,” she repeated.
    He was rubbing her harder now. “Take off your sweater,” he told her.
    “Hermanita means little sister,” Lief explained.
    Andrew smiled. “It looks itchy, is all.”
    They kissed a little more, but this time Andrew was all lean. His hands touched her stomach under her sweater.
    “You’re so beautiful,” he told her.
    “Andrew, let’s not,” she whispered.
    He was on top of her now. “I love you,” he told her.
    Her sweater rode up, and her stomach was exposed. The air was cold on her skin. “You don’t even know me,” she told him.
    “’Donde no hey sufrimiento,’” the stereo sang.
    Something shuddered hot and wet against her stomach. Andrew groaned. “Shit,” he said. “Shit.”
    Lief looked down. At some point he’d unzipped his pants. He’d come all over her stomach.
    “Shit,” he said again. “I’m so drunk.”
    He climbed off the bed, tucked himself back into his pants, and started rubbing the back of his neck.
    “I think I’m going to throw up,” he told her.
    Lief sighed. “Do you have a towel or anything?”
    “This has never happened before,” he replied.
    She lifted the corner of his comforter and wiped her belly.
    “I think I need to lay down,” he asserted. “I’m so drunk right now.”
    “Alright,” she said.
    “I usually don’t drink this much,” he insisted.
    There was only the one beer on his desk.
    “Alright,” she repeated.
    He sat down on the bed. “I should probably get some sleep,” he told her. “Maybe we can get together after class on Wednesday to talk about the book.”
    “Shit,” he said again.
    Lief stood up. She straightened her sweater, straightened her hair.
    “Alright,” she told him.
    In the hallway outside Andrew’s room, the bulletin board read “March Madness.” Lief looked at it a long time.
    “It’s still February,” she said.
    She walked along the pathway back to her room slowly. The wind was fierce and it hurried everyone along. Soon all she could hear was her own footsteps echoing in the cold winter air, and the wind rattling against the street lights. She kept looking back towards the library, but if anything was there, it was too dark to see.
    It was black in her room, although the light from the hallway was enough that she could see Liz huddled under her blankets. Lief inched open the window by her bed, and reached for her cigarettes. The pack was empty.
    Lief imagined for a moment the air spinning in through her window had a color and a shape, and she pretended to watch it in the darkness for a little while.
    She picked up the phone. She dialed, then listened to it ring, the cord around her fingers.
    “’lo?” The voice was small and quiet.
    “Glow? Glow? It’s Lief,” she whispered. “I’m sorry I woke you.”
    “ ’slate,” his voice murmured.
    “I’m sorry to wake you Glowworm,” she told him.
    She cleared her throat for some reason.
    “Glover, it’s Lief. Is Dad home?”
    There was silence on the line.
    A cough. “He’s stilla work.”
    “Glow?” she said. “Do you know what today is?”
    “’slate,” he murmured. “Call Dad tomorrow.”
    There was some silence. She could hear her little brother roll around in the sheets on his bed. She could hear his breathing.
    “Glow?” she said again, but she knew he was asleep.
    She put the phone in its cradle. She let the cord loose from her fingers.
    “It’s my birthday,” she said.

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