The girl with the flaxen hair sits over there in her chair beneath the red/yellow/blue-striped umbrella. Thinking thoughts that are dirty, kinky. Thinking thoughts that would make them blush if she dared to say them aloud. Like, squeeze my peach. Like, thump my melons.
Them being the men who come and go, walking by, lingering at, buying from her little fruit stand in the corner of the park.
She cannot help herself; these dirty fruit thoughts just appear. Suck on my strawberry. See? They rise like bubbles, they simmer, they flood. She takes a deep breath each time these men pass, and she parts her lips just so. And she waits. And waits. And waits for courage to take over.
It is any ‘ole Saturday in LA, which means it is perfect and sunny and warm. In dark sunglasses she relaxes in her chair with one knee up, occasionally sighing and readjusting her black metal cash box so that it is perfectly askew not straight, closed but not locked, in hopes of projecting a breezy, easy-going-ness, not a just-so-ness. She worries about being just so. Ever since last Christmas Eve, when her mother, after her first bottle of wine, sneered her drunk sneer and made little drunk circles with her long drunk finger, and said, “You hafta haf ever’thing jush sho. Little Mish Tighty-Woundy-ly over there in your shair.” And the girl had flattened her lips and squeezed her napkin, and had tried very hard to make her mind go blank so as not to scream the things she really, really wanted to scream.
Ever since. Ever since.
Let me peel your banana, she wants to whisper to the young dad sporting a Baby Bjorn who stops to peruse her fruits. Later, a handsome, greying gentleman carrying a dozen donuts pauses to consider blueberries. Go ahead, she yearns to groan into his freshly-shaved neck, dig your fingers in my berries. From behind her dark sunglasses she stares into the face of each man, trying to imagine the expression that will form when she works up the nerve. Which is half the fun, the imagining. Will eyes pop from sockets? Will blood drip from ears? Will there be running and screaming in the other direction, or will she be faced straight on, a daring to keep talking? What would her words be worth, anyway, and what would they let her have?
The day goes by much the same way — this slow, long burn -– with men (and some women, too) coming and going, fruit thoughts filling her brain, buzzing her tongue. She parts her lips, she closes them again. She takes their money, fills their sacks, hands them back their change.
And she waits. And waits.
Not oftentimes, but sometimes, she can think of when the silence was worth it. Like that one night in high school after the musky-smelling boy from Art History, the one who’d always joked that she was uptight, drove them past the movie theater and back to his parents’ empty house, where he jammed his fingers into her mouth and into her pants and broke the snap off her Jordache jeans. After that, shaking and crying and ready to explode, she called her best friend from the grocery store payphone. He was a tall boy, a very sweet boy, a boy she loved but not in that way. He picked her up and they drove across town to the ferry, where they lay on the hood of his Firebird and did whip-its off cans of Reddi Wip, their fingers clasped loosely. Beneath the gentle breeze of the night, sober and high, they swore they saw shooting stars everyfuckingwhere, and as their heads swirled and the giggles faded she felt, finally, the breath empty from her lungs, a hush settle over her bristling skin. The silence of first love. Both inside and out.
It has its worth. But it can claw at the skin, too.
Tap my coconuts, she’d mutter to the yogi with the man bun. To his wife with the wonk-eye: I’ll pit your cherries. And okay, so they’re not all winners, but she has a million of them in her brain, locked and loaded. She readjusts her cash box and parts her lips.
Later tonight, she’ll lie on the floor of her tiny studio apartment, pressing her forehead into the once-mauve carpet made brown and matted by years and heavy feet. She’ll think of the last guy she loved, how she dumped him when he told her he loved her, and how she tried later to win him back. She’d invited him out for coffee, worn the red pants he loved and let him kiss her against the trunk of her silver Camry. How deeply he’d kissed her, squeezing the flesh of her waist between his fingers like she was just-opened Play-Doh, before whispering into her ear with a soft moan that, yeah, she’d better go home. So she did.
And later tonight she will press her mouth into the grainy filthiness of the carpet, and she will scream and scream and scream her muffled scream, and not even her downstairs neighbor will hear.
But for now, in her chair, she twists her flaxen hair into a low chignon, letting a chunk of it fall across her cheek. Easy, see? Breezy. And as the low afternoon sun slips beneath the umbrella, warming her right cheek, she imagines the sun burning a hole through her skin, splitting it open, spilling every word out of her mouth, revealing the worms inside, the flies, the fleshy fruit beneath. She smiles, a dare across her lips. She thinks, they have no idea. They have no idea how she could split their skins open, too.
Wendy’s fiction has appeared in Homestead Review, The Big Ugly Review, The Portland Review, and she is a past recipient of UCLA’s James Kirkwood Prize in Creative Writing.