The Emancipated Girl

A pretty girl in art school coveralls jumped up and down during the whole show. She was small and lithe, draped in denim coveralls. Dark dark chopsticks poked out at odd angles from neat buns in her hair. She danced emphatically and with abandon. After the show, this small, adorable creature caught the attention of the band.

The band left right after the show, leaving a devastated pool of ladies standing around by the bar, looking angry and sad, unsigned copies of the new album dangling sadly from their hands. Serena, the dancing girl from the front row, was not one of them. 

What a display, thought other girls in the audience. None of them knew the odd girl, but they were all oddly jealous of her all the same. I wish I was like her, they thought. One particularly sad eyed, sour-faced lady in tight Capris started saying something nasty, then stopped herself.

The next afternoon, Serena crammed herself into the back of the downtown bus. She disappeared inside her big red hoodie, her feet tucked underneath. Hers was a coiled beauty, one that took months to unspring on those who crossed her path. She chewed her lip and fumbled with a notepad. Words all along the page were hastily scrawled then crossed out, scribbled over and indecipherable. Off in the margins, she drew a stick figure of a person with exes for eyes, and a lolling tongue, hanging from a rope, next to a huge word in all caps.

She held back tears and laughed bitterly at her folly. She knew the game too well. She hurt. She was used and spent and sore from the night before. She was coming down with a bladder infection. Her throat and lungs screamed. The band hadn't opened windows on the tour bus; fans were always slipping notes through the cracks. She and the singer went through three packs of American Spirits before they called it a night.

The words on Serena's pad said things bright and beautiful and loving in places, but most of them were scratched out. I knew better, she thought. I knew better, and I still fucked him. She chastised herself repeatedly. She marveled at her own surprise at herself for her behavior. This is, after all, what people do, right? Her friends at school called her out on her cheating all the time, but she always hissed back with 'I don't cheat... I copy!!"

As afternoon waned, Serena bounced off the bus and through the square. She tossed off her disappointment and looked around for her first victim. She sketched the lamppost near the drugstore first. She then stopped to sketch the square from different angles. She drew strings of lights and decorations all along the along the winding paths branching out through the square. She drew snowdrifts, wagons, and trees. She traced the cute little curling wisps of air that only artists can see, all along and around the page. By the time purple winter twilight descended on the square, she was ready to move on from her art pencils. She reached inside her camera case and got everything set up.

Serena could not draw people, or their expressions. She could not capture anything about them. She never could, and hated this about herself. Instead, she let her camera's eye do the heavy lifting. She snapped toward them with purpose.

Parents set out on their evening strolls with heavily bundled children in tow. Each cast a sidelong glance at Serena that only took a moment to decipher. She got shots of them all. One mom just about kicked her girl up a curb, and it took all of Serena's restraint to avoid screaming at the old bitch. Some parents dragged their kids through the Nativity in the center of the square and then shoved them impatiently into their cars and headed homes to their brandies and sherries and whiskys.

She caught a shy little boy hiding behind the wastebasket. He clearly didn't want to go home. He was having too much fun and about to cry. She captured, to her delight, a pair of young, hot Mormon guys on their bikes. They wore wearing earmuffs and rode with a kind of deliberate purpose that cut right through the otherwise bucolic scene. They smiled at Serena, despite themselves, and she curled her hands in a little hello. She caught the middle aged Dad with the mustache checking her out, and she snapped a picture at him in mid-leer. That picture alone was worth her visit out to the square. In it, a look of embarrassed, impotent guilt crossed the his lined face, and he held up his arm, as if to shield himself from his desire.

Once she finished, she caught the bus and scanned through the photo previews in her camera. They made her so happy. She pulled out her notebook and thought of places there to paste the pictures. It was all coming together so nicely. She resembled a spirit there, in the back of the bus, as the camera's soft blue light lit up her face.

Her stop was just two blocks away. She took a deep breath, and flipped back a few pages to the hanging man in the margins of her book and took a long, still moment staring at it. She had to get home. She had to call Tyler and tell him the truth. She had to stop blaming her behavior on a bad end of a cycle.

Once off the bus, she stopped by the liquor store and grabbed a Skyy and some cranberry juice - kill two birds with one stone, she figured - then pushed through the metal grating and up to the loft

In her corner of the space, she lit a candle and set it on the sill. She stared out across the street three floors below. It was lined with bars and shuttered antique stores. Her roommates was spun out somewhere, or dealing, or both. Not her concern. Whatever. She set the camera down, laid the notepad aside and sat cross-legged before the flame. She sought stillness, and she was as sure as hell going to find it before the real cold came and extinguished the flame.


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