JoAnna Novak

Skin

She was Darlene Connor pretty, with dark hair and stubby fingers decorated with plain silver bands.  She kept her college nose piercing with a plain silver post.  She brought herbal tea steeped with dandelion root to Group.  The Polish bottle wrapped in rubber she used for water.  She had pale skin, blue eyes, and a wide nose.  She ate raw vegan.

She missed New York, but she was glad she’d found an apartment that allowed dogs.  Golden lab Jack bushied himself for fall; she went on a carob and cayenne cleanse.  She joined two new bands and wailed pain.  She wrote the songs and nerded the blog.  She’d been gifted an army green parka with a fox fur collar.  Someday her mother would learn.  Fortunately, the fur snapped off.

It was her mother who insisted she keep a wardrobe, even though she, her mother, was long past the point of caring about clothes herself.  She sent her daughter nice things.  No animal products, no leather—that was all.  Her daughter wore vegan ballerina flats printed with a black pattern of lace.  Her daughter hadn’t even gone through a vegetarian phase: she’d grown up timid around animals.

Her mother kept her hair big and her cheeks vodka-peaked like the painter she’d once been.  In high school, her mother had been a cheerleader and a knockout.  The two weren’t always synonymous.  When she thought about her mother, the cynicism she’d cultivated in her dorm room, in her buggy apartment through the internship at the magazine, burned off, water on a hot stove.  She accepted her mother’s gifts and encouraged her mother’s attempts on the Internet.

Girlfriend: negative.  Boyfriend: nope.  She wore sheer black tights and shredded jean shorts; sometimes she forgot to take off her coat.

It was a size-small Marc by Marc Jacobs parka.  It cost $585.  Saks pre-sale, I bought it, one size smaller.

She Sharpied cartoons in a journal instead of taking notes.  Her cheeks pinked when she spoke.  Her words came out nasal, alternative.  She had never worried a day in her life about having a friend.  She complimented my dress.

“Alexander Wang?” she asked, and I nodded.  “I have the exact same one.”

Also, Alexander Wang: a buttery soft lambskin leather backpack I had purchased to look more like another woman.  It was not as small as a mini-backpack, but almost.  I held it on my lap; I zipped and unzipped it as the other girls spoke.  I made her touch it.

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Chico

Dustin needed the wax.  He needed the wax to spill and he needed to watch the wax harden.  If the girls wore shoes, Dustin didn’t give a rip.  Without tops, the girls’ bodies screwed a hot racket but, without shoes, they were strippers all the same, just more cave girl.  Hot wax spill pussy, ooga booga.  Me silver.  Ramble interstate.  Zoom truck.  He would ride his Ram and cross the bridge, but then, please, girls: the shop, the curtain, the velvet, the cards, the glass, the cords, the lot, the gravel, the bed, where once he ate out this Bostonian sculptor while his girlfriend manned the cab.

He liked their open relationship.  The two girls on stage flung handfuls of white wax at one another, and Dustin watched it harden onto their brozen breasts.  Wax he pretty much ached to peel off, mash those strips to crumbled bits: he felt this in the dip of his throat.  For more than a month, he’d wanted to return.  Without his girlfriend, he grew his maleness acutely in the club, he ran his tongue over his maleness like a big open sore.  Ordered a Beam.  Licked his fatboy lips.  Watched and hardened, juicy, juicy, what the other PhDs did on Wednesday night, he’d never know.  He nursed what all his Chico brothers had caught after school: a perfidious need for something used and wet and sticky.

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Life and Death

I come alive when I see a rack of clothing.  I love, really love shoes.  I’m not your average twenty year old.  I’m not organized like my sister, and I’m not studying architecture.  I am taking a break from school right now.  I have never met Christian Louboutin but Karl Lagerfield admires me.  I am not ashamed to tell you I never wear clothes around the house.  I am not ashamed to tell you I used to worry about spiders creeping into my mouth when I slept.  I am not ashamed to talk about my learning disability.  Leonard, my bodyguard, makes me giddy when I think about him alone.  I avoid commenting on my love life, though I will remember the photos.  Because I believe that if you can see it, you can believe it.  Believe in my sporadic interest in sporting events, basketball and tennis.  Never baseball, hockey, or football.  I have never been stung by a bee.  I dyed my hair dark brown for high school graduation.  I consider my past-self with disbelief.  When it rains, I miss my father and being thirteen.  My therapist told me that a dog would help me take care of myself.  She told me having an animal depend on me would provide a model; I would be happy to model in Karl’s spring ad campaign.  I have perfect vision, many vintage dresses, and a baby blue espresso maker from Italy.

If I come alive when I see a rack of clothing, am I dead the rest of the time?  Someone tells me that I love, really love shoes, will that influence my relationship with the man I will marry?  Will we both love, really love shoes?  Will we have better sex because of the shoes?  Will we start conventionally—me in a pair of Christian Louboutin black leather slingbacks, four inch heels and peep toe?  Red soles pointing to the ceiling, will I sit on a dark cherry desk in his den with my legs spread into a V?  Will old flip-flops turn me on?  If my looks go, will I go back to school?  Because I don’t know a thing about flying buttresses or the Duomo, will my house collapse?  After the catastrophe, will I be forced to buy t-shirts in packages of three or five, rescue my shoes from the rubble?  Will I wear men’s button-downs for the rest of my life because they remind me of my father?  Will I be able to remember the color of his eyes, the way he took his coffee, what he told me as we rode in a limousine to my high school graduation?

My father taught my sister and I how to think smart, think sharp before we’d lost all our baby teeth.  Except for when he played tennis, he always wore a button-down.  I used to marvel over the fact that one of his eyes is green and the other is blue; I never could remember which was which.  He took his coffee with two sugars and plenty of milk.  In the back of the limousine, I swear he told me he loved me more than my sister.  Throughout our childhood, he’d insisted he could never choose.  He had no favorites.  My mother picked happily, easily.  The furniture in our house changed with the season.  She bought my sister and I perfect, slim noses for our fifteenth birthday.  She could say yes and make decisions like a man.  Yes, we’ll spend the summer in Italy.  Yes, the girls will get new ponies.  Yes, the new Blahnik stilettos, a pair in each color.  Yes, Ashley.  My father told me, Mary-Kate, you are my favorite.  He looked me in my baby blue eyes and told me, little girl, little girl I come alive when I see you.

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The Hairdresser

…when Tony heads home from the shop on Armitage and, instead of his usual detour to the Clubhouse, twenty minutes past Westchester, stops for Italian ice by himself, he orders cherry and remembers his own hair-color progression, the affronting, awkward red he sported in his early twenties, when he was just sweeping up hair at a little shop in Lyons, a no-frills utilitarian place that smelled like cleaners—the progress they’ve made with scents and smells, shampoo, the newest fragrance at his salon boasts organic mallow extract, mallow as in marshmallow, cocoa butter, when you shampoo, ladies, that’s the only place where these kinds of sweets do you any good, kissy, kissy—his hands would be raw from shampooing, once he got promoted to shampoo boy, which is how he met a bunch of girlfriends, or at least how he met some ladies to light up his dreams—at night, in his first apartment, he’d curl his knees to his chest on an old sofa that had come from his parents’ house, a big sofa he covered with black sheets to hide the upholstery—thatched and avocado green and orange, colors he’d never be able to stomach—and, tangled in those sheets, he’d dream of getting out of the country with some of the honeys and babies whose scalps he massaged during the day, those girls in polyester and denim bellbottoms with asses in fruity candy-colored panties, asses that reminded him of those dumb postcards Alfonse kept sending him from Italy—his older brother, apprenticing with the real masters, those men in Milan that would fly here or there for a weekend, their scissor skills, their blow drying, their foil applications so masterful that masterpieces all over Europe—statues in the Louvre, El Prado—would cry champagne tears when the Milan hairdressers came to work the shows in Paris, Madrid—all those years, Tony thought, as he scraped at the little red hill of ice in a Styrofoam cup while he walked down the street to his car, a sporty little beemer, and he can still smell his mother’s hands on his shoulders, smooth hands, clean hands, sweet from kneading dough and rolling cookies…

JoAnna Novak

About JoAnna Novak

JoAnna Novak is the Pushcart-Prize-nominated author of two chapbooks Laps(Another New Calligraphy, 2014), and Something Real (dancing girl press, 2011), a prose chapbook. She received an M.F.A. in fiction writing from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.F.A. in poetry writing from University of Massachusetts Amherst. A finalist for the 2014 Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction and a nominee for Best New Poets 2014, her writing has recently appeared or is forthcoming in BOMB, Joyland, DIAGRAM, Guernica, Hobart, the New Orleans Review, Caketrain, and the Los Angeles Review. She is a founding editor of Tammy. She lives in Massachusetts, where she is working on a novel and editing a memoir about living with a chronic eating disorder.