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Coming of Age Contemporary

Even then, shifting in front of the mirror surrounded by her white walled room and its massive windows exposing the thick grey sun setting over the ice, while the room ruptured like a street cleaner from savage blasts of drums, and the static squeals of guitars, and the depraved howls of embittered words transfusing from her stereo speakers into her innermost wounds, she could still taste the picture of cold turkey on her mind. Rosa reached straight for a cigarette as she did whenever her hunger pangs started to act up, cracked open a diet cola and then proceeded to squeeze her belly until the heat of blood burned her fingers and she began to tear from the pinching agony of her sharpened nails. She pondered the nail marks for a moment and then inspected the neat cutting lines along her wrist with a sense of pride, her badges of honour, her battle scars from her intense battles with adolescence.

 As she went screaming along to the music in the speakers, Teddy managed to remain snoring in the next room before television ads for soup blenders and organic dog food. Rosa and her relentless pubescent struggles took Teddy back to the bleak moments from his teens, the feelings of isolation and insecurity when he got dumped by Henrietta Cantini, who had her friend Sophia do her the honours one spring afternoon in the cafeteria. It took him to the cold gravel behind the school where his friends held Henrietta's boyfriend, Dominique to the ground as Teddy kicked his ribs until they broke. He could remember his first days holding up liquor stores, his insatiable heart salivating and fluttering, and somersaulting, the blood inside him turning into motor oil as his life sped like a fighter jet. He remembered the crack from his hairy knuckles colliding with frail jaws of the easy victims he found walking late at night near the Royal York cinema. The delicious thrill of lying on his tiny bed in the tiniest flat he could afford, without any light but the cherry burn of his cigarette, and the heat of cinnamon whiskey in his throat and the green glow of stars glimmering through his spotty window, laughing to himself in the darkness, revelling in the bloody savour of conquest, the bitter relish of violence, the endless freshness of adolescent destruction. And just as Rosa felt, the next day was always a hangover. No matter which chick he banged, no matter which poor sob he pummeled into oblivion, no matter which shop he raided, his nights existed as a seperate life, and the few hours he didn’t sleep away during the day were druderous affairs, held together by coffee, cigarettes, and trips to the pool hall. The daylight and the whistling trains and the birds feasting on insects and the insects feasting on dead carcasses and the stale trash piling in his bin and the newspapers shuffling and the fat sizzling on grease pans induced nausea and heartburn and a heady despair in Teddy. Teddy tried to crawl back into the deep chasm of his half drunken sleep but the relentless onslaught of piercing sunlight and chiming sounds and his floorboards vibrating, stirring up along his spine were enough to shock his eyes cold and open as a gun barrel. The cheap booze and porno in his drawer did nothing but tie him over until another night of brutality and lust and savagery presented itself through his bedroom window. 

As the night settled in, the icy lake became shrouded in the black winter sky and the wind stalked the walls of the house, but remained unheard over the loud television and the even louder music from Rosa’s bedroom. Rosa had her outfit ready, the ripped stockings, the torn shirt, the stuffed bra, the high leather boots, and a freshpack of cigarettes and bottle of painkillers. Val had arranged for them to be picked up by Bruce, an older guy who Val kept around for car rides, shopping trips and the occasional lay. 

She surprised herself in her ability to walk down along the icy gravel down towards Bruce’s Malibu, only slightly stumbling wearing those high heeled boots Teddy had bought her for getting a good mark in art class. Rosa had had a “gift” according to mr Stevenson the art teacher who consistently thrusted Picasso books her way, informing her about her bright future at some prestigious art school somewhere in Paris or somewhere else in Europe. When Rosa later bragged about this to Val, Val was quick to let her know that art was for “weirdo virgins” and this Mr Stevenson sounded like a real ‘pervert’. It wasn't long before Rosa had been skipping even her art classes, which also happened to be Val's lunch, or, dope break, superseding the lone class Rosa actually had even somewhat applied herself towards.

As Rosa entered the leather upholstered backseat, it was as if she hadn’t arrived at all, the pounding freezing rain against the windshield, the wipers scraping in rapid succession, the blasting music, the same bands she had been playing in her room, coupled with the suction from the open windows sending back blasts of wind and icy rain pellets directly into her face as they sped through the streets, made it near impossible to hear anything from the lovers quarrel in the front seat, and her presence was hardly, if at all noticed. 

“That’s not what I meant, I get it, you‘re not ready for anything serious. I’m not trying to pressure you.” 

“That’s not what it sounded like.”

Said Val, emitting a puff of smoke carelessly towards the window.

“Listen, it’s just. Well, I told my parents about you and...”

Bruce gripped the steering wheel and struggled to continue looking at the icy roads ahead

“See? Do you hear yourself? This is getting pathetic, Bruce. “

Said Val, not even bothering to turn to face him, distracted by the liquidation sale advertisements on the outlet mall they drove by. Val had been thinking about a new top for sometime, and she saw that Choco-loco was having a massive clearance sale. The inflated prices never prevented her from finding one of her richer, or just more desperate boyfriends to purchase the distressed pink and black, tattered, hole ridden, moth eaten tops, she coveted from grunge music videos. But Val had lately been so busy building up her shoe and jacket collection, she had forgotten about her need for a new shirt, a need which was especially urgent after seeing the worn out, sexy, new, old-looking shirt she had seen Rosa was sporting beneath her tiny leather coat. 

“I know, it’s just. Well, won’t you just come?”

“Bruce... how many times, for fucksakes..”

Rosa stared out at the skidding cars and the glossy sheets of ice forming all over the streets, and the struggle continued from the front seat while she tried to evade the migraine crystallizing in her searing hot skull. 

“It’s going to be at Merton hall. My mom is getting it catered by Vinichini’s, their will be booze and a band and everything. Don’t come for me. Just come for yourself. It will be fun.”

Val nodded and the music continued and Rosa watched outside to see the steps of apartment blocks which had suddenly went from lush and decadent with sports cars and luxury sedans to newspaper windows and graffiti stained bricks with slogans like “please kill me” and “legalize everything”. Rosa struggled to keep her eyes open and the sights in front of her made her want to disappear back into a drunken sleep. The pounding of frozen rain continued and she blinked continuously as if eventually she would open her eyes again and the pain would evaporate. Instead, her bones hardened into slabs of ice, continuously shattering apart and melding together and then collapsing again, the pain more riveting with every moment, and every turn of the windshield wipers. 

The eyes on street walkers were glowing yellow in the moon and their skin was green beneath neon lamps, their teeth flashed from their teeth contorted, cracked lips and Rosa’s eyes met theirs with only pure recognition. Rosa could see the absence, the depersonalization, the annihilation and soullessness, she could feel the void behind their faces and the bleak sterility in their flattened, grey, nutrient deficient blood. Rosa locked eyes with one sunken, crusty eyed elderly woman with a twisted, matted web of damp hair, and jagged steel prong nails, her emaciated jaw seeming to protrude through her blotted, soiled tissue paper skin. Rosa peered straight into her twisting gaping hole mouth as the woman heaved on the filter of a cigarette, exhaling like a dying vacuum. The rancid breath exited from her face and the street lights casted a greenish mist and from her window Rosa could, or at least envisioned she could sniff the putrid waft of poultry and sewage streaming into the atmosphere. As the woman continued staring at Rosa, Rosa’s ears filled with screams, she couldn’t tell if they came from the car speaker or from the woman, and the screams reached down into the depths of Rosa’s rotting womb and through her cold hands. Rosa knew the sound as being beyond anything, unlike any other sound or voice she had ever encountered, it was like a scream of desperation and madness, and lunacy, but even more bewildering, even more wretched and unbearable. It was a scream of death. 

The scream told Rosa everything she needed to know about the woman. It told her about how Helen had had learning disabilities as a child, and how her father Glen used to burn her back and stomach with his cigarettes from every math equation she got wrong. Their dog, her beloved Dudley, was also the victim when it came to Helen's spelling errors, receiving lashes from a horsewhip Glen had inherited from his rancher uncle. They lived above a convenience store which Glen operated during the day, while also selling crack rock out of the back to junkies and winos. Helen had a grandmother who she often stayed with for her early years, and her grandmother loved her despite her impaired brain, and the two enjoyed making ginger cookies together and watching the late night talk shows before Helen fell asleep on the couch. 

“That girl sure is dumb as a post, Roger.” She would say to Helens grandpa. 

“But I do love her.”

Helens grandma made her meat pies and taught her how to play a song on piano which was near impossible for Helen to even play or to remember, before she died of a stroke and Roger, decided it was time for Helen to live with her father because Roger knew he would die soon as well, which he did, within several months after his wife’s passing. 

At first Glen seemed like he was a good father, and initially, he vowed to himself that he would be, even adopting a new terrier for Helen named Dudley. Helen spent long summer afternoons out playing with Dudley and telling him all her secrets about candy bars she had stolen and the crushes she had had and the tests she failed. Dudley was a slow runner and would trail behind Helen and her long strides and her whipping black hair illuminated beneath the midday sun. Together they would venture through long trails and hills before picnicking by the river just near the boarder of the town. Helen whispered to her Dudley how much she loved him and cherished him and how alone she would be without him, before finally they would scamper back to their shabby room above Glen’s convenience store.  

It was when Helen entered grade four her slowness became apprent to Glen, and made into a severe issue. Until then, there had never been any concern for helens academics, and since she was such a young age, her stupidity was assumed merely as being customary. Mr Watson, however, the new Fourth grade teacher, did not accept Helen’s simple charms as compensatory enough for her failed tests and unfinished homework. 

“You’re gonna need to do something...”

Mr Watson said through his black spectacles and Grey moustache to Glen on their parent teacher interview. 

“She doesn’t seem to be getting with the program. Each day we take up homework and I’m surprised if Helen even has one question completed. 

“Is that right...”

Glen asked, looking over at Helen. 

Helen looked back with a timid shrug as Mr Watson continued. 

“Her reading, her math, it’s all below grade level. It seems even her social skills are lacking. She spends most of her time alone. It seems that the other kids want nothing to do with her. My guess it it has to do with her grades. “

“What do you suggest I do?”

asked Glen. 

“Well I've noticed she hasn’t really been completing all of her homework. Maybe we can start with that.”

“I see. “

Said Glen, his eyes jumping on Helens terrified face. 

“Yes, I’m sorry to say, but I’ve done all I can do as a teacher. Maybe you need to hire a tutor?”

“I can’t afford that!”

Glen said, his anger spewing through his voice. 

The two looked at Helen with a mutual contempt, before Mr Watson let out a deep sigh, and straightened his back in his chair. He swallowed hard and the dryness of his mouth and throat filled the noiseless tension in the room, while Helen’s mind drifted to the sound of Dudley's squeaky farting.  

“Well I think you may just need to teach her some more discipline. Some focus. She seems unwilling to really put the work in that is needed. “

“Discipline huh?”

Said Glen his eyebrows curling into his forehead. 

The two men shook hands and Mr Watson expressed a pitiful expression as Glenn craned Helen by the arm out into the cold November night towards his rusted old Saturn. Mr Watson, mixed with a deep self pity as well as self congratulation poured a glassful of whisky stored in a locked desk drawer and switched off the classroom lights. 

“You best believe things are gonna change.”

Glen said, frantically both driving and smoking, the engine throttling them to a sudden jerky hault over and over between every school zone stop sign along the path. His face was red and sweaty.

“No daughter of mine is gonna be some retard. No fucking way. Forget it.”

Helen looked at Glen as he spoke, but all she could think about was making it home on time for the return of the fairy cartoon she had become enthralled with every Wednesday night at 7 30 

Helen ate her supper and slept in Dudley's dog cage that night, and for the next few weeks. 

“You gonna act dumb as a dog? I’ll treat ya dumb as a dog!”

Glen said with a hiss, breathing a wave of hoppy fumes into Helen’s enclosed space. 

Helen didn’t mind being locked in Dudley's cage at first, and managed to find it cozy and fun in her own strange imagination, but eventually when Glen began thrusting math problems her way, the lashings began, and the cigarette burns, and so did Glen's tormenting Dudley, Helen writhed with tears and horror. Glen didn’t particularly hate Sid, he actually had a liking for the dog at times, but his deep seated hatred for stupidity dominated any semblance of tenderness within him for both his daughter and the helpless dog. 

Glen had memories of being ridiculed for is dyslexia, and the teachers who used to force him to read in front of the class as the students erupted into laughter form every little stutter out of Glen’s mouth. On the flip side though, Glen’s math skills were impeccable, even appearing freakish, which made Helen’s ineptitude even more enraging, even more revolting to him. 

“I’ll kill your dog! I swear Helen. What is it? What is 7-3?

"How much is a quarter?"

"9-1?!” 

The shrill dying shriek was still ripping through Rosa’s eardrums as Val’s voice reached back to her but Rosa was still staring at the screaming prostituite, stilll stuck in a world of street dreams. The thundering of ice rain, the blasting of screaming adolescent punk bands, the burning of vodka sodas in her empty stomach brought Rosa to a moment of sobriety. 

“Hello? Hello?” 

Came Val’s voice 

But Rosa had grown affixed to the figure outside, who slowly melded into an image resembling Rosa’s own reflection, but with scars carved into her face and missing several teeth.  

“For fucksakes, Rosa.” 

“Wh-what? Sorry!” 

“Did you bring the drugs, or were you too fucking high already to remember?’ 

Said Val, her voice filled with venom and disgust. 

“Yes, yes, that Jew kid gave me a bunch of painkillers from his dad’s pharmacy.” 

Said Rosa, relieved by her own good news

“Gurnstein” 

“How was his dick?” 

“He came before I could even touch it.”

“Gross.” 

Said Val

“Ive been with a Jew once.”

She went on

Bruce looked over uncomfortably, as she continued.

“He was an artist. Had big muscles actually. From the holy land.” 

“Sounds sexy.” 

Said Rosa

“Those sephardi Jews can be, He was tanned, muscular, knew how to dismember people, but then also—

Suddenly the car jerked, and the both the girls heads swung sideways simultaneously. 

“What the fuck, Bruce?”

“Sorry babe. Sorry”

“Anyway, we used to do it like all the time...”

She went on, glancing at Bruce from the corner of her eye. 

“He cooked too, It was a dream. But yeah, he was a weird artist type, always wanted to go to galleries, always wanted to go on theee long nature walks...”

Rosa drifted into imaginations of herself with the strange jew artist, wandering through forests, getting lost and making sweet love with rocks and dirt underneath her butt while a stream was flowing nearby...

“So obviously I had to dump him. Never wanted to go to parties. The craziest he ever got was dropping acid and painting in the nude while a pink Floyd album would play”

Rosa felt ready to tip over. 

January 08, 2021 17:41

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