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Still Life by Caroll Sun Yang | Word Riot
Creative Nonfiction

June 16, 2015      

Still Life by Caroll Sun Yang

We met in a country club break room in the late-bloom of our teen years. Summer virgins fated to sit across from one another at a lopsided banquet table, rich men’s day-old meats and brûlée spread before us. Fellow employees flanked us with their world weary bodies and gossip, each a touch jaded in their own way, showing delicate trails of wrinkles on hard worn skin made prominent under the cheap fluorescent lighting. Charming, salt-and-pepper haired career bartenders flirted with spray tanned banquet ladies sporting French-manicured nails. We did not realize then that they were once like us. How could we yet? I was barely nubile, a hard green plum. You were hardly virile, fumbling paws still too big for you. They mocked our youth.
      I was suffocating in a female cummerbund, starched whites and slippery black heels. You were outfitted in a Grecian white caddy uniform, lowered visor and a Marlboro tucked coolly behind your ear. Your eyes took all of me in, stricken electric blue under the flickering lights. My eyes felt like bedroom braves and played fresh games with you. We were flushing, sun-kissed creatures emitting that variety of young bright light that we will only ever be blessed with on rare occasions. I bit my bottom lip. Chewed on my straw. Tried to memorize your face with every glance. Your pupils dilated, just as the teen magazines said they would- you really liked me. Your mouth curled itself into an outrageous grin, your cleft winked and I felt sick. I told you I was failing in algebra, you lit up and said you liked math. All of the other chatter in the room became muffled, sounds receding and pitching forward as if we were drifting off to sleep. A warning hum was born in me and a deal was sealed. The trajectory of our lives changed at that exact instant.
      You said you could help me with the math but only if I would teach you to dance. We locked ourselves in my forever humid bedroom, shut the cheap burgundy drapes, let our cumbersome uniforms fall to the shag, piece by piece we teased ok don’t look! In oversized pajama shirts advertising athletic shoes and fresh hamburgers we danced on the bed. (When I see us now, I love us then). We ate Doritos and nursed warm beers. We worried about nothing. Our eyes locked and retreated as we drew scented-marker drawings of a hallucinatory nature on each other’s skin, diamond eyed cobalt snakes and colorful exit-less mazes. We settled on our bellies, chewing pencils and trying to solve some difficult equation, but stopped when you kissed me real. I had not known a tongue other than mine.
      That summer was the longest one I have ever felt, bearing a strand of magical nights that ended in a sun that always rose too soon. After midnight we would sneak away from the others to cruise in your mocha flavored Oldsmobile, chain-smoking as we glided and creaked over moonlit asphalt. I never smoked until you. Inhaling the fertile rows of farmland mingling with vanilla-scented car freshener, god the sweet stench of it all. The Santa Ana wind nipping at our fingers as we made easy wavelike motions out the windows. We tuned into staticky classic rock stations and sang out of sync together.
      We always parked at the same spot near the sea. We let our backs lean against the base of a great sandy slope, side-by-side we were mesmerized by the phosphorescence breaking. We christened them stony lightning ghosts and believed we owned them. We tried to spill poems out into the salty air, whispering against the crash of waves while trying to make clumsy virgin love. It was a wondrous season of teasing, near penetrations and encouraging whispers. Sometimes we hid in the lifeguard tower with that dank plaid blanket swaddling us, our vapors separated from the fog of beach by nothing. You were patient and promised to be true. Our first time was so painless that I asked you did we just do it? And you said yes, I think so. One night we dared to lie together on the winding tar of the Pacific Coast Highway, kissing until we could see the glare of a distant car speeding towards us. We ran as fast as we could on our skinny legs, tripping and whooping towards the water and when we got to the black foamy edge, I said that I would die if you died. I think you said me too.

There is dying.
Gardenia replicates.
Fevers pitching.
Salty waters.
Oppressive heat.

      You passed me from friend to friend, let them feel me as my head lolled on its loose stem. I saw my own hands grabbing blue-jeaned thighs and stroking shadows, as if for dear life. The faux nails were long, square and cherry red. You had convinced me this looked sexy and felt good on your flesh. I saw locks of my own polished hair, draped on their young laps. So many hard zippers and buttons brushed my cheek. They unbuttoned my shirt. I had no bra, I felt small and firm as they felt me roughly. One of them dared to kiss a nipple and a primal sound escaped me. I still felt the electricity in that. My head throbbed but not with pain, my body felt stuffed with hot cotton. There were angry liquored words about who was next, one of the boys snarled and threw me onto the night cool grass. The dew felt good. You flinched and some of your playing cards fell to the ground. You picked them up and put them in some neat order. Your mute jaw was tight. I thought I saw a thick vein run down your neck and disappear into your shirt. Your lashes were a sorry kind of veil. You sat at that glass table, blank faced while your friends pounded one another senselessly with their alienating horseplay. You held your cards, looking at them as if they still mattered but no one was playing. I wanted in.
      My blouse was flung over the garden hose and the once clean silk skirt trampled. I still wore my pink panties, the ones with the crimson rose motif. I was beyond feeling naked then, past that kind of inherited shame, as there were more urgent things to confront. I was crying softly into the ground, just within your reach, and my heart was fucking begging at your feet. Down in the soil, it smelled like rain. The crickets were deafening. I could taste a fuzzy citrus on my tongue. Smell the pungent perfume of overripe flora, a cheap smell. My hand fondled the glittering pebbles of a manicured landscape. I felt clover pushing through. The sky was clear and the divine stars still twinkled, it seemed outrageous. I even whispered in a choked voice that I hoped you would hear, fuck you stars. My favorite tortoise shell barrette was trapped under your heel. I never did see it again, or find one like it, believe me I have looked.

      Your friends went indoors when they grew bored of the backyard game, but you stayed, sitting alone at a table littered with junk food packaging, playing cards, sticky glasses, ash and other boyish trinkets. You smoked with long draws that made you sigh on exhale. You swigged huge gulps of beer and wiping your lips on your bare arm. I saw the yellow light of tall street lamps and the heavens shining off of the trail you left. Hands that handled me all through the summer, were now shuffling a dead hand. I know you were looking at me. You thought I was asleep but I was not, I was waiting. I had nowhere better to go. This was someone else’s home sweet home, but it was mine that night too. We stayed that way for hours, listening to the loop of our favorite Led Zeppelin album trilling through an open window. When that song “Tangerine” started playing, I felt it so much. It was too beautiful.
      The music never stopped. It is patient and promises to be true. It teases and the penetration is bit by bit. It is painful sometimes. Youthful transgressions bleed through a special sieve. Flecks of shimmering gold appear. The ocean continues glowing without us. The Indian summers are always on time. Lemonade and moonshine is now and forever. There are many new queens being born. Spades too. A first is never not that. The last is absolute. You hold a dead hand. I am still a midnight nude, dewy blades of grass bending under the weight of my plea. You are still sitting there waiting to be a man.

Still Life- Caroll Sun Yang PicAbout the author:

Caroll Sun Yang earned her BFA in Fine Art from Art Center College of Design, an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University and is a certified Psychosocial Rehabilitation Specialist. Her work has appeared in The Nervous Breakdown, New World Writing, MUTHA Magazine, The Los Angeles Review of Books, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, Necessary Fiction, Identity Theory, Word Riot and other publications. She is spends hours hunched over her unborn debut collection, concocting artworks with her partner, mothering sweet spawn and organizing indecipherable notes to self. She can never have enough personality-disordered friends/ lo-fi anything/ human touch/ sarcasm/ cell photo filters/ art films featuring teens/ Latrinalia/ frosting flowers/ bio changes. She may be found spewing forth @

    2 comments to Still Life by Caroll Sun Yang

    • Julie Graham

      Beautiful and poetic. I’m glad this found a home, it’s worth sharing with the world.

    • Caroll,

      In a world of fall by the wayside journalism and benign wordplay, the images you shared are haunting, vivid, personal and well worth reading. The story makes one feel bad and good for you. Good on you.

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