On her twenty-fourth birthday, she decides to change her name to Nothing. At the courthouse, she waits in the lobby with a man who wants to change his name to Trout. Apparently, other people feel trapped in their own names as well, and this gives her comfort. She always thought her problem of identity a unique one.
She chews her fingernails while the man, Trout-to-be, sits next to her reading the sports section. The paint on her nails is called Scarlet Maven and flakes to thin chips on her tongue. It tastes like chemical strawberries. She swallows the paint chips down, afraid she will not get to become Nothing, that someone else has beaten her to Nothing.
For a few minutes, she thinks about what would happen if she walked outside and got hit by a bus. In her mind, she becomes a camera in one of those forensics shows in which they examine a dead person's stomach contents. Her camera self zooms in on organs, a tweezers, a fleck of Scarlet Maven. She wonders if the ME would actually find the paint chips. Probably, she would be too smashed from colliding with the bus and she would turn into a gelatinous pile of human slush instead.
Trout whips his newspaper into shape then, distracting her. Why Trout, she asks him. Earlier, when he first took the seat beside her, he explained his name change, their shared thread. She guesses she looked nervous to him.
Trout is a tall, beefy man with black eyebrows that dance over heavy lids when he speaks. His beard is full and neat, and he wears blue jeans and a poor-fitting plaid shirt that snags over his belly. He could skip a meal, she thinks. Eat more trout. Use fewer rifles.
What, Trout asks her, lowering the paper so she can see only the comical brow dance and his odd blue eyes.
Why did you choose the name Trout, she asks again.
I like to fish, he says, and up goes the paper.
I wanted Amelia at first, she blurts. Before, I mean. I wanted my name to be Amelia because I studied Amelia Earhart and I always admired the way she disappeared one day.
The newspaper sinks. The eyebrows perform their routine, but Trout doesn't say anything back, just looks at her like she is a fish he pulled out of the river who started speaking to him in Russian.
It's like the Charleston, she adds, and when he appears confused: your eyebrows do the Charleston.
He suggests to her that maybe she's in the wrong decade but what he really means is the wrong century. She doesn't correct him because she believes in the sanctity of subjectivity. Maybe to him, a decade is a century.
What is the difference in ten years and a hundred? She asks instead.
He glowers and the eyebrows appear to jump with heavy force. Ten years, he answers, is ten years. A hundred years is ten times more than ten years.
Only if you multiply, she points out.
Look, he tells her, I'm trying to get a recap of last night's baseball game.
She waits until he settles back into his article before trying again. When she's anxious, she likes to talk. She likes to hear other people's thoughts.
Do you think they'll let you keep Trout? She wants to know.
Look, we're not going fishing, he says with slow enunciation, it's a name change. Of course they'll let me keep it.
Why do you keep saying look, she asks. I'm looking right at you.
It's a figure eight of speech, Trout responds, his voice a sigh. His eyebrows are calmer now.
I think you meant figure of speech, she corrects inside her head. Aloud, she tells him that when Amelia Earhart disappeared, the U.S. government spent $4 million looking for her.
Trout ignores her and goes back to his paper. She chews off the rest of Scarlet Maven, and then steps on an ant that's skidding across the polished floor. It's her turn to face the judge first.
The judge sits on a throne erected of polished mahogany and scowls at her above a pointed wolf snout's nose. When she is done presenting her case, he tells her the name change is frivolous. The tips of his ears turn red. He looks like a jack-in-the-box about to hop out of his chair and spread his arms wide.
I spent all my life as Nothing, she explains. This name change is a formality.
The judge is unmoved. She decides to use Trout's logic. It's not like we're going fishing, she says. This is who I am, who I've always wanted to be.
He presses his bony hands together like he might be praying. For a breath, she thinks he will acquiesce to her wish. For a breath, she thinks of the paint chips floating in her stomach bile. She thinks of Amelia Earhart's last plane ride. And then she thinks of nothing.
About the author:
Laura Hirneisen lives on a farm in southeastern PA. Her recent work appears in or is forthcoming from journals like Blueline, Pisgah Review, 2River View, Convergence, and Ghoti Magazine. Read her blog at http://laurahirneisen.blogspot.com.
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