Issue #16 |

Meet Cute 1989

She was a senior at Eastview and her name was Tally Wright and he was this younger left-handed kid called Dinsmore. She was a Libra and she didn’t believe in ghosts and she was thinking seriously of Hollywood and he was an inch taller than she and he’d read fewer books and they’d never spoken to each other.

 

But they’d both been at the afterparty at the house in the subdivision of Robinwood when the beloved asshole Sashery got himself killed. This was Evansville, Indiana. just after midnight. Sashery had gone to prom with one blonde girl, then to the afterparty with a completely different blonde girl. Sashery had been drinking Little Kings, running his hands through his own hair and standing with the second blonde on the porch—some kid’s house, some kid’s parents’ house—when the first blonde, the jilted prom-date, came up the porch steps in teal chiffon, slapped the second blonde like in a movie, then told Sashery how it was all fun and games to him, etc, her voice starting calm but going fast toward the end, like suddenly chased by bees, that one Survivor song from a couple summers ago playing on the stereo, I can’t hold back, a lot of kids on that porch, strange to themselves in rented clothes. The slapped blonde also wore chiffon, but peach. Peach chiffon rubbed her cheek and hissed. Teal chiffon measured an inch between her thumb and forefinger and said (to Sashery, to the entire porch) the word “microdick,” which caused Sashery to chase teal chiffon down the porch-steps and across Brown Avenue, which is where the body of Sashery got intersected by an El Camino driven by a late-shift nurse on her way home early, on her way home early from the hospital for once in her goddamned life. The sound banked against the sideboards of the house and most of the kids on the porch drained to the street. Most of the kids, that is, except the girl Tally and the left-handed boy, Dinsmore.

 

They were the only kids left on the porch and this decided something between them, and they glanced at each other to see what all it decided, exactly, whiskerless Dinsmore a sophomore party-crasher astounded by his own presence amongst this company, Tally Wright an eighteen-year-old misanthrope in a rehabbed silk gown and unencumbered by prom date and astounded only very rarely. One of the blondes in chiffon screamed, the El Camino’s engine crackling like cellophane. The barefoot girl Tally shifted on a folding chair at one end of the porch, her shoes tucked under her seat, black heels and borrowed from her mother, hair blonde but dyed black in weird black squares, the gown mint green and formerly belonging to a now dead grandmother. She didn’t seem at all concerned. The beloved asshole Sashery was probably dead out there. The Dinsmore kid (for it was not his prom) did not seem concerned either, or was concerned differently. He wore jeans and a T-shirt with a Hong Kong Phooey decal on the chest and he sat on an upturned laundry hamper near a trellis clawed with blackberry, trying not to look over at the girl Tally’s bare toes, one of which—the middle toe of the left foot—had no toenail. They both went to Eastview but, as has been established, they’d never spoken to each other. Tally ran in no circles and didn’t wish to run in any. Dinsmore wouldn’t mind a circle if he could find one. Tally looked over and thought how the boy’s chin did not match his face, nor his nose or his forehead, like he’d been created in a lab out of random face-parts, but half-cute, deep-set eyes, the prettiest boy on planet Frankenstein. Tally also thought the boy Dinsmore looked somewhat familiar, like maybe he had an older brother her age (he did not). While Dinsmore, for his part, knew very well who Tally Wright was. For example, she’d played Imogen in the Fall production of Cymbeline and the sight of her on stage in Elizabethan hose (black leotard from Goodwill) had convinced the boy Dinsmore, for the first time, that this Shakespeare person was probably on to something. He liked to see her , sometimes in the halls at school, always alone, or leaning down to the drinking fountain when thirsty (or bored enough she’d pretend to be thirsty), hard-eyed and her composition book pressed to her chest, polka-dot dress all the rage forty years ago, a look on her face like all the water was hers. Or for example Dinsmore knew that the story going around about the girl Tally and the psych teacher Mr. Ephram was more than just a story. One night out with his parents, the Dinsmores, he’d seen the girl Tally and the psych teacher Mr. Ephram at a pizza place two towns over, Dinsmore peeking from beneath a menu, Mr Ephram holding the girl Tally’s hand on top the table, petting at it like it was a chipmunk. The teacher even made a sly production of letting the girl Tally take sips of his beer, which she did with a natural boredom that made her look, to Dinsmore’s eyes, about twenty-seven years old. With her untimely clothes and strict eyes, Dinsmore thought the girl Tally, in general, had a European air, or what his idea of European was, maybe German. He liked how she blacked out chunks of her blond hair with dye. To Dinsmore this gave the girl’s hair the black and white look of a chessboard, cool and strategic. The game of chess scared him—all the impossible moves, the shine of the pieces—and so did the girl’s hair. He knew she wrote poetry in her composition books because he’d looked over her shoulder, many times, in the lunchroom. He even thought it was pretty good poetry.

 

“I think the party’s over,” the girl Tally looked over at Dinsmore and said.

“Holy hell,” said Dinsmore, looking down at the street, the gnashing and wailing of party friends, the two rival blondes standing on opposite sides of Brown Avenue with more in common now than even five seconds ago, teal chiffon on the far side and peach chiffon on the near, the body of the beloved asshole Sashery stretched senseless between them like punctuation on the asphalt. The fatal nurse hove from the El Camino with her tri-cornered nurse-hat unpinned, the little crescent moon up above like horns. To Dinsmore it seemed safer to be looking at all this than it would be to keep looking at the girl Tally. The girl Tally hooked her heel-straps with her fingers and she stood with the shoes and she felt the kid Dinsmore looking at her despite himself and she walked to the steps of the porch as if to sit down and watch the street from better vantage. She made sure to leave room on the porch for someone to sit down beside her. She hadn’t liked the asshole Sashery nor either of the blondes, whose names she couldn’t remember and whose personalities could make no difference. She was once again and not unkindly thinking of herself as a sociopath. She set her shoes on the step between her feet and leaned down and touched superstitiously the nail-less middle toe of her left foot and she looked over at Dinsmore. Dinsmore looked away. The girl whose porch and house it was—Tally thought the girl’s name was Rachel; Dinsmore thought the girl’s name was Rebecca; the girl’s name was Lauren—came running from the street and up the porch steps in a froth of white dress, sweating past the girl Tally and into the house. You could hear the girl Lauren’s important telephone-voice and then she came back out of the house and down the porch steps, the girl Tally slanting to let her pass. Tally looked at the empty spot beside her and the boy Dinsmore stood as if programmed and walked over and sat in the empty spot next to the girl Tally. With her two bare feet bookending the empty shoes and the gown’s hem framing her at the ankle, the girl looked, to the boy, like she had four total feet. The optical illusion made him a little dizzy. From a soft pack of Kools the girl offered him a cigarette and she lit the cigarette for him. She watched him pretend he knew how to smoke and then she flipped her gum to the street and she lit her own cigarette and tucked the pack beneath a black bra strap and together Dinsmore and Tally eyed the street again. The El Camino huffed and flared like it had been bombed and neighbors in nightclothes were starting to come out of nearby houses.

“Don’t you have an older brother my year?” Tally asked Dinsmore, slight underbite, light of the car fire in her teeth.

“I don’t have a brother,” the boy said.

She looked at him. He seemed younger than he was and she knew she knew him from something. She pointed her cigarette. “Weren’t you a cheerleader at the Powderpuff Bowl?”

The Powderpuff Bowl: flag-football game between senior girls, homecoming, a kind of carnival complete with boy cheerleaders in slutty make-up, Tawny Kitaen wigs, overstuffed bras, the pornographic choreography. Yes, she remembered the kid quite clearly now. His face had made more sense beneath the wig. She’d been high on a ditch-weed joint her mother’s brother had given her for her birthday and she’d watched the boy from the stands. The boy’d worn a lacy turquoise tank-top and a jean mini-skirt. Of all the cross-dressed boy cheerleaders he’d seemed more interested in homage than farce. Of all the cross-dressed cheerleaders he’d shown the most restraint in cup-size.

 

To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of our spring 2023 issue or subscribe to the magazine.

Josh Bell is the author of two poetry collections, No Planets Strike (Bison Books) and Alamo Theory (Copper Canyon Press). He teaches workshops at Harvard and is the recipient of an NEA grant. His fiction has recently appeared in Bennington Review, Ninth Letter, Hobart, and Peach Mag. He lives in Massachusetts.

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