Abra’s Tattoos - part 2
At lunch, Abra avoided her classmates’ gazes. She sat in front of the wide cafeteria windows with her earbuds in and her music loud enough to kill the universe. She watched seniors in the parking lot get into their cars. She studied their gaits. They used to seem so old to her, but now they were like overeager children who hadn’t yet mastered the movement of their legs.
The glass reflected someone standing behind her- someone whose bony shoulders shifted up and down nervously.
Abra said, “Hi, Aaron.”
She couldn’t see the reflection’s eyes, but she could see the white of his teeth as he smiled. He set his tray onto the table beside her. On the tray was a book with its spine so creased it looked like its pages were attempting a mutiny. As You Like It. William Shakespeare. Penguin edition.
Abra removed one of her earbuds. Aaron crumpled into a chair.
Aaron said, “Hi, Abra.”
“Hi, Aaron,” Abra said again. She wondered if that was polite enough or if she would need to make small talk.
Aaron clapped his hands over his ears in a dramatic gesture. He said, “Loud enough?”
Abra paused her music. A thousand vacuous voices chattered in the cafeteria and fought for her attention. She clenched her jaw and tried to focus only on Aaron’s voice.
Aaron said, “You’re going to go deaf by 18.”
Abra considered saying, “Who are you, my father?” but it wasn’t actually the sort of thing her father would say. Instead, she said, “That’s the point. I don’t want to have to hear anyone.”
Aaron nodded. Then he shook his head and said, “Yeah.” He gestured to the window. “Aren’t you so jealous that they can leave for lunch?”
Outside, a boy with a varsity jacket and a military haircut had pinned a girl with a dress-code-inappropriate skirt against the passenger door of his SUV. His hands rested stiffly on her breasts. Her hands fluttered at random as if she couldn’t decide what to do with them. Abra could see spit bubbling from their lips.
Abra said, “Why? So I can have a quickie at someone’s house? So I can smoke at the edge of school grounds? So I can go into a diner and have exactly the same insipid conversation I’d be having here?” Abra took a swig of her coffee. Aaron stared at his lunch. The coffee was too bitter. She hated the taste of it. “No. Those assholes have to come back just like everyone else. 45 minutes isn’t exactly an escape.”
Aaron ran his fork across his plate. He said, “I got you all wrong, didn’t I?”
Abra started to say, “Sorry,” but then thought better of it.
Outside, the kissing couple broke apart and drove away. The flurry of activity was over; the rush of bodies was gone, scattered throughout suburbia. The remaining cars looked abandoned.
Aaron straightened his back. He said, “I thought you were lonely, but really you just want to hide from everything…”
Abra said, “Something like that.”
Aaron said, “…including yourself.”
He stood and lifted his tray. Abra looked up at him. His big eyes seemed to shake in his head. Abra said, “Look, I don’t mean to be rude. I just get like this sometimes. I…” She stopped and smiled, trying to make it look sympathetic. “Probably best just to leave me be.”
Aaron said, “Come with me.” Abra tilted her head. “Come with me,” he said again. “We’ll go hide together.”
It was a cheesy thing to say. It was like a line in a movie, where the two mixed up strangers came together to learn about themselves and fall in love. Abra wondered if Aaron saw himself that way- as the protagonist in a bittersweet story about growing up. She said, “No, Aaron.”
Aaron’s chest sank. He reached out his hand and touched her shoulder where her birds looked like nothing but tiny stars. His fingers trembled.
Abra said, “You should probably just leave me alone.” She turned away from him and unpaused her music. The noise drowned the chorus of the other tables. She breathed easier. Aaron’s drooping reflection lingered behind her.
* * *
“And now, good sir, if you would be so kind as to tell me which card it is you want.”
Abra stopped outside her front door. She could hear her father speaking in the kitchen. He was using his booming “Alexander the Great” stage voice. Abra knew he would be alone, practicing.
“No, I’m serious. What do you want? The ace of diamonds? The three of clubs?… or, and this is just between you and me, are you the kind of man who’s after the queen of hearts?”
Abra opened the door and stepped inside. Something came flying at her face. Instinctively, she ducked and a playing card sailed past her. It bounced off the door and fell neatly into the umbrella stand.
“Ab! My good girl! Sorry about that! I almost took your head off.”
In the center of the kitchen, her father stood stiff and tall in his white tuxedo with its long tails. Cards were scattered across the floor, the table, the countertops, the stove, and each step of the staircase leading up to the bedrooms.
He said, “And I don’t do that anymore.”
Abra set her backpack down and fished the queen of hearts from the umbrella stand. Her father went through at least six decks each night, rehearsing for his show. Every nook and cranny had a card in it. She’d found cards on the tops of cabinets, inside pages of books, stuck to the shower wall. Their house was filled with cards the way most were filled with dust.
Abra said, “No, no you don’t” and held her right hand over her left bicep to cover the tattoos.
Her father said, “So, Ab…” She waited for him to ask how her day was and what was new in her life. They didn’t talk much, except when he was pretending she was an audience member. He said, “So, Ab, what card would you like?” and produced two decks of cards, flourishing them in perfect fans.
She said, “The hanged man?”
He stared blankly. She didn’t know whether he didn’t get her joke or was ignoring it or was trying to figure out a bit of patter in case someone said the same thing during a show.
She said, “The two of spades.”
He said, “Of course!” and flicked a card from the deck at her. “I should’ve known that’s what you’d want.”
She caught it and held it up to show him. She didn’t look at it.
He said, “Yes, the two of swords is more your speed. Best to let the major arcana be…”
His voice trailed off. Abra looked down at the card. Two of spades. Then she realized she had let go of her arm and he could see the ascent of her tattooed birds. She dropped the card.
His expression was blank. He let his stage voice go and said, “I should clean these up. I need to go in an hour.”
Abra nodded. Her father looked around the room like he was seeing it for the first time and didn’t know what to do. There was flawless pallor to his face, broken only by his high, red cheekbones that appeared as if he had carefully applied rouge to look young. Abra knew he had not.
She said, “Dad, where did Adelaide go?”
He stared at the wall. His chest rose and fell evenly. Abra sucked in her breath and held it.
The wallpaper throughout the house was yellowed and peeling. Some rooms contained single walls that were brightly colored from days when Abra had decided she should brighten the place. Once when she was feeling feisty, she decided the upstairs hallway needed a mural. She painted ferns and jungle cats, exotic fruits and waterfalls, but the project was abandoned after a day and half the hall remained a dull off white.
Her father said, “When you’re 18, all your sentences tend to begin with the word ‘I’. She’s doing what she needs to.”
Abra said, “Do you have an email address?”
Upstairs, Adelaide’s room was covered by a thick layer of cobwebs. Abra had never forced the rusty lock, but she had peered through the keyhole many times.
Abra said, “Or do you know what city she’s in?”
Abra’s father said, “She’s doing what she needs to.” Abra couldn’t decide whether he heard her questions.
* * *