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Nonfiction by Jean Kim
I’m just about to take my final pull of a cigarette and stub it out in a heart-shaped ceramic plate when the phone rings. It’s Jade. I’m curled up on the couch, watching silhouettes of tree branches dance on my ceiling, hungover from a night spent drinking gin and tonics and attempting to French inhale in front of the bathroom mirror. We met at an AA meeting when I had eleven months sobriety and she had six. Then we both relapsed. How quickly everything began to shift. She comes over every Saturday with a jug of cheap wine and we give readings in my cramped Brooklyn apartment. I listen and watch as her body shakes while she fumbles over the words. She always wears a black-hooded knit dress that reaches the floor because she thinks she's fat. I think she's beautiful with her kohl-lined eyes, red lipstick, and the pain that swallows her face.
“I’m going to a D-I-Y party. Come out, bitch,” she screams.
“What’s a D-I-Y party,” I say, pulling out another cigarette.
“You’re such a loser, Jean. It’s a do it yourself, performance art…sort of thing.”
“It's in Bed-Stuy. Get to Drew’s now
.” She gives me an address in Brooklyn Heights.
I hear Drew calling in the background: “Bring your favorite party favor.”
“What’s a party favor?” I ask.
“Drug of choice. Beer, wine, pills; Jesus Jean, what the fuck?”
I slip into my favorite jeans, throw on a silk shirt without a bra and consider wearing underwear. From the window, I hear the impatient honks from the livery cab. I give my dogs a biscuit each and the English bulldog, Annie, refuses and sits by the door. She watches as I leave before settling into her bed. Gas lamps leak light against the monochromatic blue sky and a few stars emerge. Street lights shift from yellow to red to green. The driver hums while tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. The digital clock reads 12:38 a.m.
Drew’s apartment building is squeezed between a 99-cent store and a bodega. I pick up a six-pack of Stella and hit the cash machine. I buzz apartment #2 and scream, “It’s me, beyotch.” Her door is propped open and Jade jumps onto me and kisses me near my mouth. She’s wearing a lace chiffon dress that relaxes along the edges of her breasts. Her hair is wrapped in a bun. “Meet Drew,” she says, beaming.
Drew sits up from her mahogany desk and behind her is an oil painting of a naked woman with her hands touching her vagina. Drew holds me and runs her hands along my breasts as she releases her soft grip. Chunks of her hair are swept into a dustpan. “I cut my bangs tonight,” she whispers. A tabby cat slides around her slight calves. Her eyes are the size of half dollars and her porcelain skin gleams against her shocking smoky brown eyes. She looks like a Grecian statue in her long paisley tunic. She pulls out a cigar, spits off the edge and lights it. Jade jumps between us and she says to me, “Isn’t Drew the most beautiful person you know?”
I grab a beer from its plastic ring and take a seat on her worn out yellow couch. Jade does twirls in the middle of the room and I take photos of the cross tattoo that takes up her entire back. Something she did when she was fucked up. “More photos,” Jade yells as she tears the bun from her hair, lifts up her dress, and reveals her g-string. She collapses on the floor amidst books and beer bottles and stray cigarettes. She kicks a neon green lighter with her heels before she exposes herself. No one photographs better than Jade. That first night we met, she told me that she hung out with socialites and celebrities until they got sick of her when she started entering psych wards and rehabs.
Drew’s at the desk typing on her laptop with her left hand and I ask her what she’s writing.
“Oh, it’s for school.”
“What’s it about,” I say, popping open my second beer.
“It’s sp-eri-mental. Mental. It’s about being bipolar…yea, yea I know we’re all bipolar.”
I start laughing until foam leaks from the edges of my mouth and I’m hardly listening as she reads her story about ending up in Arizona during a manic episode. I cut her off.
“How many drugs are you on? Let’s play that game.” The three of us start talking at the same time.
“Um, what’s the other one called?”
Jade rolls her eyes and says, “Jean, take a Valium.” She offers me two from her cupped hands.
“If I’m going to party tonight I need Vyvanse,” Jade says.
“Yo, Yo. I’m going to play Tupac!” Drew closes her computer.
I hate rap but bop my head anyway. Drew raps over the music, a lyric too late. I’m peeling off the wrapper from the bottle and trying to make origami cranes from it. Jade’s rifling through Drew’s closet and pulls out a suede-fringed vest. Her voice drops, “Sweetie, can I wear this tonight?” Drew throws an eyeliner pen at her, “No, you always steal my shit, Jade.”
“Jade, will you do my make up?” I say.
“No. I’m tired from doing my own, Drew will do it.”
Drew grabs my hand and seats me down on the toilet.
“Stay still,” she says, and I do my best to sit stoically. She pulls out my bottom eyelid and pokes at it with the end of a Q-tip.
“Perfect. Now you look like one of us.” She grins.
I stare into the grease-stained mirror and feel like a glittered porn star. Jade pops her head into the bathroom and shrugs her shoulders. “You look better without it.” She’s sucking on a lollipop. She lifts up her dress.
“Do I look fat?”
“You couldn’t look fat,” I tell her. She’s lost twenty pounds since she stopped taking one of her meds because it was making her “bloated like a whale.” Jade claps her feet with her high heels and tap dances. “It’s time, ladies,” she says. The tabby arches his back and scurries down the hall when I reach down to pet him. “I pulled him from the trash can,” Drew says.
When we exit her apartment there’s a homeless man rummaging through the recyclables. He has a plastic bottle of Coke in his hand and Jade says, “I want to take a picture with him,” standing closer while opening her purse, “Yo! A dolla for a picture.” We ignore her and Drew flags down a yellow cab.
Jade sits in the front seat and fiddles with the station. “You got rap, sir?”
“Just find a fucking station,” Drew says.
“Do you think that we can get coke?” I ask Drew.
“Yea maybe, I don’t really have any connections, though,” she says.
“It’s not like I’m a cokehead,” I tell her.
She places her hand on mine and looks me square in the eyes, “It’s not like I’m judging you. I used to live with dealers and we always had it.”
“Jean’s a cokehead!” Jade yells from the front and punches the dial on the radio, switching the music from country to rap.
Jade spins her head around,
and says, “Do I look hot?”
“You’re so vain,” I tell her.
“No, this is good. She used to be so messed up ever since Gabe. He totally bled her to death.”
“What was he like?” I ask.
“What wasn’t he like?” Drew says, and presses the window down.
Our cab stops in front of a building that is without a sign. “It’s this one,” Drew says and pounds on the door. Two men in their forties wearing cheap suits open the door for us, and the one wearing a silk bow tie says, “What’s up, babes?”
“Do we have to pay?” Drew wants to know. She’s got her bangs casually hanging in front of her eyes and one hand on her hip. Her bra is slightly exposed. Above her right breast is a tiny tattoo of a blue bird. The bald man nods and Jade says, “What the fuck? You have three hot girls and you’re going to make us pay.” Drew shrugs and hands him three crumpled up ten-dollar bills.
“Let’s leave. They’re vultures,” Jade says and wraps her arms around my waist.
“Just check it out,” I tell her.
“No. Manhattan, baby. Fuck this place, it’s full of vampires,” she tells me.
Drew grabs both of our hands and leads us toward the back of the warehouse. Trash spills out from large metal garbage cans. “Long lost friends,” Jade jumps up and kisses two guys sitting on vinyl chairs. “This is Jean,” she says. I plop down on a stool next to them. I sit next to a guy with a nose piercing with the left side of his hair shaved. He’s wearing a wool scarf although the heat is running in the building.
“I’m Shane,” he says, and hands me a pipe.
I shake my head, “No, thanks. It makes me paranoid. But do you have coke?”
He chokes, “You mean, you don’t smoke pot but you want coke.”
“What do you do?” I ask.
“Um. I’m kind of a poet. That’s how I know Jade.”
“Oh. You’re so clinical,” I tell him.
“Yeah, people tell me I’m dismissive. So, how do you know Jade?”
“You know she’s crazy, right?”
I pause, “We’re all crazy.”
Jade manages to yell above the music that blares from downstairs. “I’m going to get a bounty hunter.” She’s talking to an Indian guy, Tab, that looks like he stepped out of a seventies movie. His hair is plastered to pronounce the chops along the side of his cheeks. He’s wearing coke bottle glasses and a powder pink jacket. “If I had a gun I’d kill him for you,” he says.
Jade’s talking about the gangsters that she used to be friends with. “Mexican gangsters,” she stresses. She’s told me this story about how they stole her laptop in ten different ways.
“I mean you can always have a laptop,” he continues, “But, it had your pictures, music. Man, you can’t get that back.”
I hate him for egging her on. I want her to give up this “computer case." It happened five years ago and she’s even called a bounty hunter. She found her on Myspace and called but the woman refused to get involved.
“Man, I wish I still had my gun,” Tab says.
I glance at Shane. “What is he saying?”
Jade glares at me, “You would, Tab? You’d do it for me?”
I walk into a narrow hallway and as I turn the corner a kid with a Mohawk is standing on the stage and clapping into the microphone. The crowd gathers around him, pumping their arms toward the ceiling. A neon glow stick whips across the room to a beat blaring from a synthesizer. Drew is sitting on top of a guy on a couch. She gets up when she sees me and I kiss her on the mouth and say, “Don’t let anyone tell you you’re not beautiful.” She steps back and looks at me and so I kiss her again. I buy a five- dollar beer from a guy with stringy hair at a makeshift bar. Tab and Jade join me. They do whisky shots and eat lemon rinds. Tab has his arms around her skeletal frame. Every few seconds Jade yells, “Woo hoo, vultures in the house.”
Shane comes up to me and says, “You dance like a sorority ho.” He starts dancing with Drew and she’s swinging around a pole with a flashing ring on her pinky finger. I take a seat on a couch next to a man scribbling onto a notepad.
“I’m a rapper,” he tells me.
“Cool, can I hear something?”
“Nah, I’m shy. Not on the mic though.”
He hands me a beer. I swallow it in three gulps and all that’s left is a lipstick stain. Turns out he performed in the last act and it’s hard to get “street cred” when you’re a white kid. I glance down at his notepad and he shuts it when he notices that I’m reading the words. “They’re beautiful,” I tell him.
“Going downstairs. I’ll get at you later,” he says with a smile.
Jade marches towards me and swings her hips. “Jean, do you want to do a cartwheel?”
“No, just tired.”
“I love you. Don't hate me when you wake up.”
“I’ll never hate you.”
She grabs my hand and we sit together on the couch. We’re both wasted and she plays with the ends of my hair. “I love you,” she says. I slump over the couch and mouth “coke.” She sits on my lap and grips her hands around my neck and squeezes slowly, “You don’t need coke.”
She tilts her head slowly and purses her lips. “I want to be the one you remember,” she says. She releases her grip and kicks her small feet onto my lap.
“I’m tired of everything,” I tell her.
“I know. I’m tired of everything too,” Jade says.
She pulls me close to her until our faces almost touch. “I know it hurts. I’ll take it from you. Come here.” She places her hands on my chin and kisses me while sucking air from my mouth.
Her face is doe-like and I say, “Do it again,” and she does.
“It’s all gone,” she says. “Nothing is going to happen. I took it from you." I start to cry without sounds. “You need to get your meds fixed. I don’t want to die. And you won’t because I took it from you.”
“You’re an angel,” I say.
“Here take this, it’s Vyvanse. It’s like coke. Why do you think I take it and don’t need coke? You’ll shut up now.” Shane and Tab come upstairs and sit between us. The three of us start dancing. I watch Shane dance like a robot. He leans in to kiss me when Jade starts screaming and grabs my shoulders. “Jean, you thought the last guy was bad? He’s nothing compared to him.”
“What do you mean? Is it because he’s a writer?”
“No, he’s a ninja and a vampire.”
“What the fuck?”
“He’s trained. He can break your neck and he’s all about messing with your head. Don’t mess with him. You’ll never come back. Forget it. Never.”
“The party’s over,” Drew says, squeezing her body between Jade and me. Shane comes up and pulls a cigarette from my pack.
“I’m going home. It’s four a.m.” He leans over and gives me a hug, “I’m gonna crash, but you can come.”
“Okay, I need cigarettes.”
“Byyyyee, Jean!” Jade calls out, bolting past me. Her purse swings in the shadowless night. Tab runs next to her, and almost trips over his feet. I watch as they descend the stairs to the D train.
“Where the fuck did they go?”
“I live like two blocks from here.”
“I’ll come with you,” I tell him, reaching for his hand. I try to talk to him in a purr, but everything that comes out of my mouth sounds like a growl.
He grabs my hand and leads me into his building. We climb the stairs and my four-inch boots scrape. He turns up his radio in his windowless room, he turns up the radio, a faint tambourine plays, and he begins to undress me.
“Gotta go,” he says, fumbling on the third button of my shirt.
I stare at him blankly. I hear him rustle around in the kitchen. When he walks back into the bedroom he is holding a cast iron pot.
“Are we going to cook?” I say, sitting up.
“No, I’m gonna puke.” He gags.
I grab my heels and race down the stairs. When I step out of the building there is a homeless man rummaging through the trashcan. “Hey, babe,” he says, clutching a velour pink purse in his right hand.
“I’m Mike. Do you want to buy this?”
“No, I need to get home. I need a car.”
“There’s a car service right around the block. I can take you there. What’s your name?” he says. I attempt to smoke a cigarette that refuses to light. Three cars barrel past, one without a bumper, and a driver issues a series of honks. Gasps of yellowish haze wreck the sky and I stare past him into an alleyway that’s been stripped, wishing I could rearrange this, all of this.
Jean Kim's Her work has been published in LUMINA, First Inkling, and The Boiler Journal. She won the 2011 Nonfiction Award in LUMINA, and was the recipient of a Walker Award, scholarship prize, to study at the Fine Arts Work Center.
Volume 2, Issue 1
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