Angeline Yost keeps a switchblade in her sock.
Angeline Yost has B.O.
Angeline Yost did it in her parents’ bed and a week later they had crabs so bad they were in their armpits.
The Gospel of Angeline Yost is graven into desks with housekeys and the blood of Bics; it is written in the glances of girls—low arcs of knowing that span the hallways and ping off the metal lockers.
Angeline Yost walks with her books soldered to her chest.
Angeline Yost bites her nails until a quarter-moon of roseate nailbed rises at the top of each finger. When she laughs, her eyes narrow; the laugh is bitter and quick in her throat.
Angeline Yost once stuck a hot dog up inside herself and couldn’t get it out and her parents had to drive her to the hospital.
Angeline Yost eats lunch with two older girls: Dierdre who has a forehead broad as a man’s, and a girl whose brother Keith went to jail for almost killing a guy. Dierdre and the other girl are blond the way Angeline is blond, with ribbons of brown raveling along their side parts. They are juniors. They could get Keith to fuck you up. No one calls them a slut.
It is not true that if a girl squeezes her legs together she cannot be raped.
Not that Rainey is being raped. She doubts it, though she is not sure. Either way, it is true that the thirty-nine-year-old male knee, blind and hardheaded, has it all over the thirteen-year-old female thigh, however toned that thigh by God and dodgeball. You may as well shove Bethesda Fountain into the lake as try to dislodge the male knee.
That’s where she is: on her back, on the grass near Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Angels darken in the dusk on the fountain’s dry tiers, and Rainey watches through the slats of a bench. She had started to walk the lip of the muted fountain, but Richard wanted to inspect the thin silty edge of the lake.
Not far, he said. A constitutional.
How far is far, that’s what Rainey wanted to know. She didn’t care what a constitutional was.
Richard plays French horn, and Rainey’s dad says all horn players are a little strange. Rainey likes to court this strangeness because Richard is three-quarters safe, he is appreciative in ways that do not register on the social meter, he responds invisibly, immeasurably. She has tasted the scotch in Richard’s glass. Her dad’s attention was elsewhere. He was riffing on the piano in their living room, spine straight and hands prancing.
Her first taste had burned and she looked at Richard why don’t you just drink bleach and he smiled try growing up first, and she was good at this kind of talking, eye dialogue, with nuances from the angle of the head. Then she swallowed without wincing and he raised his eyebrows are you sure you want to go farther and she arched her neck I want to go far, and she drank the entire rest of his glass.
At the lake, Richard tilted her chin so she stared at his big face against the bruised sky. “You generate energy,” he said. “You could turn on a city of fountains.”
The eighth-grade boys do not have pores.
Richard said, “You radiate power and light,” and he led her, electric, to the grass.
It rises to completion like a sun within the egg.
Some scientist wrote that. Leopold Auerbach, like a million years ago. Eighteen-something. Leah sees him storklike, rabbinical, the ocular of his microscope imprinting a ring around his eye. Muscle cramps to stone between Leopold’s shoulders as he presides over holy union of sperm and egg.
Leopold forgets he is thirsty. He forgets he is married. He hears cytoplasm ticking. He walks the labyrinth of the thumbprint of God. For ninety lost minutes he watches the pronuclei fuse. Vacuoles, he calls them—they didn’t have pronuclei then. He gropes for a gold pen, gift from his father, and his handwriting travels off
the page as he stares at the dawning nucleus. It rises to completion. Leah has read it. She reads a lot of stuff they don’t assign.
But this is not a thing to say, not now, with Angeline weeping on the edge of the tub. Angeline is a junior and Leah is a nobody. Angeline is the most silvery person Leah has ever known. Her voice, her hair, her skin, even the narrow light of suspicion she casts from her eyes, all silver.
Angeline is the moon.
“Why won’t it just die?” says Angeline. “How do I make it die?”
Leah wonders why she has been brought here, into the locked bathroom of some guy named Jay, to answer this specific question. Maybe it’s a trick question. She says,
“Have an abortion?”
Mrs. Prideau looked at Leah like they might actually share some sliver of understanding.
She lit a clean cigarette with the old one and jabbed the old one out. The butts in her ashtray were all kissed red at one end and bent jagged at the other.
“Your parents go anyplace fun?”
“Upstate,” said Leah. “They’re kidnapping my grandmother.”
Mrs. Prideau’s eyebrows lifted into question marks, thin and elegant. “Are they taking her anyplace fun?”
“Old folks’ home,” said Leah. “Her mind is deteriorating.”
“Really.” Mrs. Prideau looked at Leah like she was trying to figure out where to insert a key. “How can they tell?”
Leah shrugged, but Mrs. Prideau kept waiting, so she went on. “She sticks plates in the oven and they melt. She’s going to burn down the house.”
“She might,” said Mrs. Prideau. “If she has dementia, your parents are probably doing the right thing.”
In the bathroom Pansy said, “Gloss or frosted?” and Oleander nudged her out of the mirror.
“Plus,” said Leah, “she sees things. She says nine is green, vowels are white, stuff like that.”
She hated the way she sounded, as if Sophia Rose were someone else’s crazy grandmother, so she started biting her cuticles.
Mrs. Prideau sat straight up and looked at Leah. She didn’t say stop biting. “Well,” she said, “I don’t know about the vowels. A is light pink and E is almost scarlet. But nine is definitely green.”
Mrs. Prideau was not beautiful. She had short spiky hair and she wore black turtlenecks and jeans. She had ink on her fingers instead of nail polish. But there was some kind of light that went on inside her, and at that moment Leah thought if she stood very still, the light might shine on something she needed to see.
“Not all vowels,” Leah said carefully. “She said O and I were white like an onion. I thought it was because they’re in the word onion.”
“No, it’s because they’re white,” said Mrs. Prideau. “I also see Q and X as white, but you don’t run into that as often.”
Leah didn’t move. Tap now, her brain instructed, but for the first time in her life she disobeyed.
“It’s called synesthesia,” said Mrs. Prideau. “It runs in families, but it missed my daughters. You too?”
Leah shut her eyes and concentrated. She wanted Mrs. Prideau’s voice to reveal a shape, a scent. She thought it might smell like Diorissimo, or float like a string of pearls.
“It missed me,” she said.