Pictures of You
Bob Arter

Sylvie is a freak, is six feet seven of high school Amazon, monkey toes, banana fingers, bushy blazing orange hair like a torch lighting smooth mocha skin. She has oversized knobby knees and elbows sharp as a screaming match. Coach wants her for basketball, for volleyball, for bedtime stories over Puerto Rican rum. No one else wants her for nothing.

She loves a boy like the Father and the Son. He is Tony Macaroni to the girls in their belly shirts and tight black jeans. They are cheerleader cute and they smoke in the girls’ rooms blabbing like fools about Tony. Sylvie slumps to the house and cries on her bed over Tony, only Tony’s maybe five foot ten, got pretty black curls with eyelashes look like a model on a magazine. A tank-top boy in a candy-apple Ford with a megawatt stereo, Tony plays his satin Stratocaster at the dirty-dancing parties Sylvie never gets to go to.

Aunt Pumpkin tells Sylvie, says Listen here, girl, you got a big old brain in that long tall body, you forget about all of that boyfriend juju. When y’all gone to college and you got a education, make a living on your own, then the men come running, hear? Sylvie thinking, Oh yeah, right, I want to waitress till I’m forty like you in your little bitty skirt in your fishnet pantyhose low-cut demi bra just to boost the tips.

Sylvie loves Pumpkin, but she loves Tony more. Loves Tony like a rock, pulling pale-blue lined spiral notebook from between the mattresses. And a pencil or a purple grape pen. She writes about a life as a wife, as a mother, writes him letters so he’ll know, make him see where she stands on the Mrs. Macaroni issue. Honey, we will live in a Motel 6, eat HoJo clams, buy Charles Shaw wine, that Two-Buck Chuck, come home drunk and fool around on the bed, yo Tony, want to fuck me? But she hides the book away.

Then she starts with geometry and ends with desire, until she's finally thankful for her long feely fingers. And she thinks about college and she thinks about her life and she winds up dreaming of a chicken-fried steak she will learn to cook for Tony.

Maybe streaky gravy, too. Just depends on Tony.

* * *

They have a homecoming picnic in the low brown hills near school. Catered by the cafeteria, Jesus, but no way to get the Health Department off the principal’s ass, so the kids bring sacks of reasonable food because the dietitian’s notion of some really tasty shit is boiled canned spinach with a poached egg lying on top, just looking at you.

Sylvie wears cutoffs and a tube, Chaco sandals cool on her long skinny feet, pinky-mauve toenails that she hopes resemble sexy, but the cute girls are painted up in Pussy Galore.

She brings a little bitty pizza. She is hungry all the time, but the pretty girls eat like people being poisoned, Diet Pepsi and a Wheat Thin, God, I’m so full I couldn’t take another bite.

So Sylvie’s got her pepperoni, and it rhymes with macaroni, and it isn’t any bigger. If I ate what I want, she’s thinking, all these hairdo girls take to puking just to see such a sight as an Amazon gobbling a couple dozen burgers, maybe fries, Sylvie thinks, maybe every fry in Idaho, wash it down with a shake.

Tony’s band is playing on a flatbed truck, playing “Pictures of You,” wearing black coats white shirts no tie and Sylvie can’t take it any longer, takes a walk instead across hardpan land, just digger pines and scrub. She climbs uphill wishing she’d worn work boots and canvas, like a guy installing toilets, thinking, What’s the fucking difference?

She finds a wide flat rock, walks out to the middle for a look. Some spray-can man wrote BABY PLEASE COME BACK I CHANGED. Like her father took a walk when her mama got arrested, like Pumpkin’s husband, Pumpkin’s men, just hanging like apes till the woman runs them off—what the hell, Sylvie’s thinking, just what the hell, anyway? Don’t men want nothing else? Think about nothing else?

She has a marker in her little red knapsack, book bag, some damn thing. She finds it and is down on her knees about to write a little note to the fool claimed I CHANGED and here’s Tony.

He has taken off his coat and he has tracked her like a Navajo guitarist. Stopping at the edge of her rock, he says, Hey. She looks over and her mouth falls open and she drops the marker. It rolls down the rock and he catches it. What you writing, Sylvie, he says.

This is some serious shit, she’s thinking. This boy, my dream baby, my babies’ daddy, he—she says, You doing some kind of voodoo? Or that you right there? By my rock?

He says, You write songs? and he tosses her the marker. We could use some new words, Tony says, but in Sylvie’s head he says, We could be drinking cheap wine in bed, if you like that kinda thing.

She decides he’s a vision and she uncaps the marker and writes to the unseen fool in her bright red calligraphy, Honey, I wish you well, now please don’t let this air-vapor boy go away, not ever.

When Sylvie looks up, Tony’s gone. In his place is the rest of her life.

“This was an attempt to get inside a teenage girl’s head. Maybe she survived, maybe not. Maybe she wound up in the East Village, selling smack. I hope not.”

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