j a n e l i d d l e
Between You and Me
I'm going to sit next to you, if you don't mind. I almost did the whole "Is this seat taken?" routine, but you look like the kind of guy who'd rather avoid all the cliché manners. You must be Jane's new neighbor. She told me she had a new neighbor she'd like to get under and that he had the face of 1940s noir and the body of a pre-steroid Olympian.
Well, like I said, you don't seem like someone that goes for dishonest small talk. I'm Ava, by the way.
I find this whole midnight brunch thing a little precious, to tell you the truth. All this sugar and bread is a cruel joke this late at night, don't you think? Not that I don't appreciate all the work Jane does to put these little parties together. It's so sweet that she goes through the trouble and the food is mostly good, although the quiche is oddly flavorless, but that's not the end of the universe. After all, nobody's perfect, right? But don't tell Jane I said so. She'll be devastated to find out she's not perfect.
Oh, no, she's not laid back at all. That's a bit of a front. Sure, she self-deprecates and shrugs at spilt milk, but I've been around when she's trying to put her hair up in a ponytail and if there's a single bump or spot that even hints at thinning then the whole process starts over until her arms are trembling from holding them over her head for so long. I try to tell her that the reason she's alone has nothing to do with her ponytail.
No, but of course it's sweet of her to go to all this work, no matter what the hidden motivations may be.
Well, since you asked, Jane has always said that the point of parties is to get the hostess laid, which I agree with. See that guy over there, the one wearing the denim jacket? I know, right? His name is Van. Back in the day, he was an it-boy. I mean, the first and the most, you know? One of those charming types with floppy hair and confidence and looking like he just stepped out of an exclusive drinking club with important men. Always was at an underground place, never told no by a woman, and that includes his mother. I think he started shaving at thirteen. So he's always been advanced, socially speaking. And he moved to New York City right out of high school and just soared. This was in the late nineties, back when low-rise jeans came into our fashion lexicon but hadn't been perfected yet, so we were all walking around with our thongs hanging out, our belts not able to do a thing about it. Women don't wear those anymore, do they? I wouldn't know, I haven't worn underwear in years.
Anyway, Jane was burned by Van an age ago, back before she learned how to pluck her eyebrows properly, or at all. Kind of like her forearms right now. Like, why shave your upper arms and not your lower arms? It makes the whole thing even weirder and just shows a discomfort with commitment. I can't even think about what other hair she let run roughshod in those days, but I have theories on why I've never seen her in a bathing suit until a year ago. And those theories have been confirmed. Don't ask.
Van had done his usual pick-up thing, gave her some pretty lines, and I mean really pretty. Oh, lines like, "I never felt this understood before. You're different from other women, you have soul. I want to read all the passages you've underlined in the books on your shelf." Stuff like that. Then he went cold for a few months. And right when she was out of it and fixated on some other screwed-up artist he sent flowers. Then he told lies about the girl exiting his apartment when Jane visited him on New Year's Day. I remember that part because all I could think was, "Girl, he didn't spend New Year's Eve with you, you think he was at home reading Murakami and sipping sparkling water? I don't think so, honey." Anyway, like I said, that was an age ago, over a decade! Which, shut up, is depressing to think about.
Well, two weeks ago they ran into each other at the Strand. He was trying to sell his Lance Armstrong books and she was thinking about finally reading some David Foster Wallace.
No, she still hasn't. I know! How can someone be an aspiring "novelist" and not even glance at one of his essays let alone read his fiction? I mean, sure, Infinite Jest may be too much of a commitment if there's shit you got to do with your life. So read that posthumous one that didn't win the Pulitzer, right?
Anyway they ran into each other, had a little chat during which Van informed her that his model girlfriend, as in actual model, not a girlfriend who lives up to some platonic ideal of his, his model girlfriend is in Europe for a fashion week, I forget which one, but I think she's doing all of them. So naturally Jane invited him to her midnight brunch party to show off her new fabulous apartment, and the paintings and record collection and friend collection, and also to actually be wearing makeup, because she wasn't wearing any when they ran into each other at the Strand. Then she had to plan the party, which she wasn't having until that moment when she invited him. I mean, she didn't say this to me explicitly, but I've known Jane forever and this is exactly the kind of shit she pulls when she's been spotted inadequately attired. I've told her not to leave the house in anything less than lipstick and a pedicure in the summer, but she insists she's too busy for that every hour of every day, and look where it got her. I say if basic grooming is too much of a burden then take some uppers and voilà, you have more hours in the day.
Not that Van is above posturing. I mean, he told Jane about his model girlfriend but neglected to mention how the night before he was arrested for pissing on the window of Rosario's Pizza.
That is between you and me, by the way. He told me that in confidence. Van and I actually took a car here together. That is also between you and me.
So that's the story about why we're here, in Chelsea on Friday night, drinking bloody Marys out of old tomato sauce jars and admiring the centerpiece of oranges in a fish bowl with coffee table books of botanical drawings of hemp and poppies artfully displayed on reclaimed wine crates. Jane's a big fan of that Design Sponge website.
The other day I was here to watch the Oscars and I checked my email on her computer and I couldn't help but notice in the Web history that Jane had Googled Van, and checked out his Facebook and OKCupid profile. And, I'm sorry, I love Jane and all, but there's something sad about a woman in her thirties on OKCupid.
What I'm trying to say is don't be fooled by Jane's persona. She's as self-conscious and petty as the rest of anyone. This party is not about us, as nice as it is.
She does know how to put together a little party, it's true. Though I think the "No photos, No tweets" sign on the door is a bit strict. She says it's because she wants people to be fully present when they're here but I think it's because she doesn't like not being in control of her image and is worried that someone will snap a photo of her at an angle that captures her lazy smile.
It's like a lazy eye except with the mouth.
I think she wants you to help her with the coffee because I'm talking to you so much. Her cock greed often overrides her philosophies on sisterhood.
Trust me, she is very greedy on that front. Big appetite on that one, when it comes to cock anyway. She could win a competitive cock-eating contest, easily, hands down. Especially hands down.
Although there's a fine line between greedy and totally indiscriminate. Someone said that once.
Do you smoke? Let's go to the fire escape. You don't happen to have any cigarettes, do you?
Okay, now I can tell you this. It's really sad. This apartment is not exactly in Jane's budget, but she wanted to treat herself after living in Inwood for so long. I know. But she really can't even afford to throw this party. I told her, you don't have to do a big thing, just throw some chips in a bowl and some salsa in another bowl. Or throw the chips and salsa in the same bowl, who gives a shit. I mean, obviously that would be terrible but I was trying to provide her with some perspective on the limits of a party's power to change one's life into that of a picture-ready tableau of self-actualization and personal bliss, and that there is a directly proportional relationship between the amount of effort you put into effortlessness and feeling ridiculous.
Did you know that she once spent sixty dollars on a pair of cut-off jean shorts that had paint pre-splattered on them and studs around the pockets? Then you understand what I'm saying.
So she can't really afford to throw this party but she did, all because a past-prime long-lost like is with a fashion model and she wasn't wearing makeup. Now she has false eyelashes glued on so she'll at least not have to bother with mascara. For a month anyway. Then it's another two hundred dollars. They do look great though. I'll probably get mine done.
Get this. Van isn't even dating the fashion model. Not seriously, anyway. Not for real. That's what he told me, last night. According to him, they screw around sometimes, though he doesn't even want to do that anymore. She doesn't understand him at all. He says that Sky, that's her name, when they fuck she just lies there, banking on her looks to get him off without doing any actual work. He says that she's so boring in bed he can barely get it up half the time. And trust me, he does not usually have that kind of trouble.
Van's been drinking a lot of those bloody Marys so of course he's going to start flirting with Jane now. And she doesn't even lean away from him, she's so desperate in a way. Now she's doing the classic move: fixing his shirt tag. You know what she says after she fixes it? "Now you're perfect." She got that line from an old Cosmo. She can't help herself, bless her heart. Jane sometimes misinterprets friendly affection as sincere interest and it can be embarrassing to watch. She thinks bartenders hit on her. There's been a few occasions when she hinted to a bartender to meet her in the bathroom only to wait in there for a half hour, rearranging the paper towels in an origami menagerie, and then finally someone knocks loudly on the door, but it's not the bartender, it's two girls needing to use the bathroom together. That's happened a few times. If she was a dude she'd definitely be the type who would think a stripper he'd only seen at the club was his girlfriend.
That's the thing though, she has a really good relationship with her dad.
I love your jacket, by the way. Is that Fred Perry? I've always been into men's fashion more than women's. There's just something cleaner and more honest about men's clothes. Women's clothes are all lies and illusions while men's clothes illuminate the truth. I honestly believe that.
Oh, what am I talking about.
I met Jane in college. She worked at the library and I thought she was kind of adorable in a scrappy kind of way even though her foundation was a shade darker than the rest of her neck. Even perfectionists have blind spots, or imperfect lighting in their dorm bathrooms. I had been checking out a book and I cracked a joke and she threw back her head and just laughed like I had made her day. And we became friends and she made me feel like the funniest person alive. I've never felt particularly funny before, but around her I felt like freakin' Joan Rivers. Eventually I realized she made everyone feel this way, that I wasn't really anything special, but the feeling was irresistible. It still is. So that's a little something about me.
I hope I didn't burst your bubble about being the funniest person in Jane's life. Did you think you had a chance with her? No offense, but well-adjusted successful men aren't really her thing. She likes the help, if you get my meaning. If I told her about Van's pissing incident she'd probably renounce her vow to not hook up with him ever again. She's kind of fucked up like that.
Oh, hi, Van, do you know Garcia? Garcia, this is Van. I've been talking his ear off this entire party, unfortunately for him. Why are you holding that Steve Miller album? Jane's taste in music sometimes, I mean really. Anyway, Van, shall we? I think we have the last half hour of Magnolia to watch. Garcia, it was really nice meeting you and sorry for talking your ear off, literally, I think I see your ear over there on the floor by the chair Jane made out of a pallet. Oh, you didn't know she made that herself? You must be the only one. Well, take care now, and stay away from Jane's bed, she changes the sheets maybe once a year.
JANE LIDDLE grew up in Newburgh, New York, and now lives in Brooklyn. Her short-story collection Murder will be published by 421 Atlanta in 2016. She is currently working on a novel and a book about daydreams. You can find her on Twitter @janeriddle or at liddlejane.tumblr.com.
in issue twenty-one
a l i c e b l u e t w e n t y - s e v e n
I S S N 1 5 5 9 - 6 5 6 7