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Conatus by Annalise Mabe | Word Riot
Creative Nonfiction

July 20, 2016      

Conatus by Annalise Mabe

I drove up to the mansion tucked back in the Lutz woods on New Year’s Eve, the trees looming tall in the dark. My black heels crunched on leaves and pine needles as I stepped up to the front porch, ringing the doorbell. I fidgeted, breathing out loud. Shane and I had only been on a few dates. Once he picked me up before a movie but stayed in the car. He didn’t want to say hi to my parents. Another time I watched him smoke weed and play beer pong with two of his friends in his backyard, his mustached dad coming out of the house, shirtless, to tell us to keep it down. I wondered what Shane was wearing tonight, or if later, we’d kiss.
      The door opened, swinging wide.
      “What’s up girl?” he asked, a lazy smile spreading. He was shorter than most guys, blue eyes blazed, blonde hair buzzed close to his head. He invited me into the mansion, the stairs curling down from the wide upper-floor.
      He migrated over to his friends, a group of guys in backwards caps, sporting oversized cubic zirconian squares in their ears. They surrounded the red cups and the circle of full liquor bottles, elbows propped on the slab marble counters. A few girls stood in a group holding cups by the fridge. I didn’t know them, but I knew they called themselves S.M.A.C.K.S., the combination of their names. I inched in, listening to Sarah and the rest of S.M.A.C.K.S.
      Sarah laughed loud, her lips spreading wide over her squared teeth. Her blonde, highlighted hair lay thick in beachy waves around her almond face.
      Shane handed me a drink.
      “What is it?” I asked.
      “Whiskey and Coke,” he said.
      I sipped from the plastic cup forcing a flat grin, staring at the clique of girls, the unnatural goddesses, bronze and glimmering in their clinky jewelry. I sipped more and listened to Sarah while Shane refilled me. I couldn’t help but stare at her: her eyelids heavy, lips in a grin like she was amused by other people.
      I sipped more. Refilling more. The rest, a spinning montage of snapshot fragments: The chunks of ice hitting cold against my teeth. The music blaring loud from expensive speakers. The chandelier’s crystals glimmering in geometrical angles as I moved around the room. The couple kissing on the couch. The beer pong in the back, the ball plopping in, the cheering. The boys smoking blunts. The girls smoking cigarettes. The bottles and bottles of liquor that seemed to keep emptying themselves. The crushed ice from the churn of the fridge. Another pour of whiskey, a loud crack of the temperatures colliding. The taste from the liquid gone. My edges going easy. I couldn’t feel my lips but continued to bring the cup up to my mouth because no one else had stopped.
      We missed the countdown somewhere in between the gulps and loud laughing. Or I don’t remember it. There weren’t any blow horns. No paper-coned hats like Mom always had. No kiss to seal the deal. There was me looking down into the cup, Sarah dancing on her knees on the marbled counter. A boy in a backwards cap chasing after a girl, in a black, short dress running up the stairs. 


I opened my eyes to it happening, dizzy in the dark. Shane’s body moving on top of mine. Not violent and hard, but not like love. Lazy and heavy like a fumbling boy too scared to tackle me in after school football.
      I ran my hand over my stomach, over the ribbed white wife-beater I wasn’t wearing before. My head pounded with the weight of bricks, but I couldn’t move. My body wanted to stay still. To go back to that heavy sleep.
      And then I saw her lying next to me in the same bed, inches from my body. Sarah, wearing nothing at all. The moonlight slipped in from the blinds, pooling in the inside of her hipbone. I’d never seen a woman so pale and bare, her prickling skin that stood in bumps from the cold air, from the fan that hummed above us. Her long blonde hair lay in waves against the pillow; her peach parted lips slightly open like a person napping, like she was someplace else, in some far away sleep.
      My eyes went to the movement. To her thighs reverberating from a guy, a shadow, taller and skinnier than Shane, thrusting his body into hers. He groped and oh-ed, but she didn’t move. I wondered when he would stop, when Sarah would wake up, wash off and put on pajamas.
      I wondered if they had taken turns. If the shadow had been inside of me, too, looking to the gold past my shoulder. At the confetti pieces that covered the floor. They looked so matte and flat in the dark, devoid of the shine, the flickering illusion that light offers when they fall. I saw my black heels strewn far apart, my clothes scattered. The glow of the yellow light seeping from under the bathroom door.
      A cough and then a gag came from the other side of the bed. I tried to turn my neck quickly. But I couldn’t. I felt too easy and light and heavy all at once, like I didn’t even need to breathe. And then I saw her sitting up on the edge of the bed, her legs hanging over the side, her back arched like a new tree that’s trying to grow. Her knobbing spine, a loosely beaded string. The shadow stood in the corner bringing a lighter to the cigarette perched in his lips while Sarah retched into a wastebasket by the side of the bed. The shadow mumbled, the cherry glowing in the twist of his mouth.
      “Don’t you wish you had someone to hold your hair?” He clapped his hands together, the smoke dissolving into the air, the cheap smell swimming into my nose.
      Shane finally flopped off of me. I slid off my side, slumping to the floor, my limbs still too heavy to move. My hands planted in the carpet. What a clean carpet. I pushed my body up, finding my legs under me. Finding walking to be easy as I glided like some broken Birth of Venus towards the humming yellow light of the bathroom.
      I closed the door, locking it behind me, pressing my hands against the wood. I closed my eyes for minutes, then opened, staring at my pale feet, the blue veins bulging like tiny mountainsides. I floated to the sink, towards the oval-staring mirror, my vision edging with white dots and the shrill rush of blood to my head, like standing up too quick. Squinting under the bleaching fluorescents, I looked back the mirror: my raccoon eyes, the black liner smudged, the whitest sides of my breasts peeking through the wife-beater’s chest. My dark hair matted and tangled. Lips, bit and swollen. Neck bruised from teeth.
      I stared at the beige tiling of the bathroom floor. How could this happen? How did you let this happen?
      No.
      It didn’t happen. That happened to Sarah. You are fine. You drank too much.
      Nothing happened to you. You are fine.

Bio PicAbout the author:

Annalise Mabe is a writer fro Tampa, Florida. She is completing her MFA at the University of South Florida where she writes nonfiction, poetry, and comics. Her work has appeared in Brevity, The Offing, The Rumpus, Booth, Word Riot, Hobart, and was nominated by The Boiler for a 2016 Pushcart Prize. She reads creative nonfiction for Sweet: A Literary Confection and teaches composition and creative writing at USF.

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