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FICTION Mary, Staring at Me SEJAL SHAH Maybe you knew someone in your younger life who was beautiful. Do you remember your fascination with the pink ofher face, with the books that lined her bookcase, with the doll bought in France, with those flat stacks ofrecords? Did this girl have an antique dresser with a lock? And did she string the key on a ribbon? Was it a white silk ribbon—was it a slender key? Rememberwhereyourparents shopped. Your mothertwisted yourhair and your sister's into two plaits, so you wouldn't forget where you came from. You had no words to tell her (you could never tell her) that seventhgraders don't let anyone forget. She sent you to school in imitation Zips. Your metal lunch box banged againstyour hip as you ran to catch the bus. Your hair slapped the air behind you, too tightly braided to sail the way white hair sails. Youwanted whateverit tookto getthe antique dresserand the doll from France. Every girl wants a white ribbon pulled straight by the weight ofa key. A ribbon for your hair, a key that doesn't have to open anything. I want to tell you about Angela. We stole food, and we stole dance classes. I met her in class, at Pamela Pointer's studio, Our Lady of Lourdes, lower level. We arrived early to change from our street clothes, to prepare. We stepped into the immediate coolness that basements and churches have. We tied our hair back. We soaked our mouths with ripped grapefruit, and stepped onto the black floor to stretch. We stretched, tugging our ankles and the loose elastic ends ofour leotards , citrus fiber caught beneath our nails, poor French manicures. All around us, other girls, butwe never talked until class was over. Demi-plies, tendus, port de bras,jetes. [Meridians:feminism, race, transnationalism 2002, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 36-40)©2002 by Wesleyan University Press. All rights reserved. 36 Our Lady ofLourdes smells ofdust, ofBen-gay, ofthe faint remainder of incense, of prayer. We turn on our sides and swing our legs like metronomes, but more heavilyweighted, so that there is a pause, a breath at the top of the motion. We pray through the first stretches, runner's stretches, knees at ninety-degree angles followed by abdominal crunches. Our legs in ripped tights: fuchsia, black, navy, jade. Chassé, pas de bourre'; glissade! glissade! Sometimes we checked our names offwithout stuffing money into the envelope. Bill never said anything, but he had a way oflooking at you. Even though he was slow in the head, Bill, he could look at you. I never talked about itwith Angela. I pressed my cheek against the cold concrete pillar until the red lifted from myface. I found my smudged fingers pressing into piles of discarded prayer books. Cracked maroon leather. Hymnals spill outofstacks ofbreaking boxes under single moon-colored bulbs, frayed strings fluttering. Here a tarnished mirror, a rotting section ofbench. A costume rack ofchoir robes, unhooked. Everything exhales prayer. Everything begs to be remembered. Some days we had money to buy smoothies after class. Some nights we went to her apartment for tea. Angela was between boys, ignoring the ones who flocked to her. They were insects to a light, lacking imagination . I don't think I would have ignored them—maybe because I never learned how. We drank fruit: kiwi, bananas, passion fruit, strawberriesAngela and I, after class. Everyone wants a key that opens nothing. Angela lives alone and moves when the rent climbs over her tips and second-hand ingenuity. Men fall over themselves to dance with her at W______'s, where we go nearly every Friday night. They come to her, their tiny wings thrashing. She sits at the bar, smokes her cigarettes, looks past them. Some nights I am there with her, watching them falter, taking note—the white boys in the punk bands; the suburban sleepy-eyed blackboys; the universityboys exhalingtheir uniform scentofwool, cash, and cigarettes—janglingtheirkeys likea threat. I metAlan when Iwas sitting with Angela. Sometimes I wonder ifhe wasn't really coming over to talk to her. Isn't everyone always hedging his bets? Angela says, "I don...


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