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Me, Myself and Charlie
I hate the way they say my name. like they know it. Like they know me. It’s continuous. It’s repetitious. Awww, she’s so adorable. When did you teach her to write? How old was she when you took this one? Only my name is inserted into every sentence that oozes from behind whale fat stained, botox injected lips. So it sounds more like, ‘awww, riley was so adorable.’ ‘when did you teach riley to write?’ ‘how old was riley when you took this one?’ but all I here is ‘riley was so cute.’ ‘riley learned to write.’ ‘you took a picture of riley.’ Like it all happened and now it’s over. It happened and riley no longer exists. Riley’s the girl in pink pants with sparkly sequins in her hair behind the glossy finish of the photographs on the table. Riley’s the hands holding the puppy and the set of chocolate brown eyes peeking from above the small animals head in the middle of the Polaroid. Riley’s the upturned lips framing white teeth. She’s the small hands on hips lacking curvature. She’s the pointed toes with hot pink nails. She’s the brilliance, the life, the dolls, the model. They use her, they abuse her. Riley existed.
She doesn’t exist any more.
I haven’t seen riley for ten years. I haven’t thought about her. I haven’t heard from her. I haven’t missed her. She just upped and left. She disappeared without telling anyone, into a box of sparkly boas and rock star pumps. She doesn’t bother to write or phone home. I don’t miss her and I don’t think I ever will. Riley held me back. Riley couldn’t sing or dance. Riley couldn’t laugh at a real joke. Riley couldn’t tell people how she felt. Riley couldn’t stand up for herself. Riley was only riley. She wasn’t flexible. She was stubborn and soft. She was a bag of flour tossed out a window. I’m so much more than riley. I always will be.
The women continue their idle chatter as their coffee stained teeth flash like dull lighthouse beacons fighting a fog. They shuffle through photograph after photograph. Some eight by eleven. Some pocket sized. They liked riley. That’s what they say. They loved riley. But how do they feel about me, I wonder? Do they miss riley? They talk about her in so many forms of past tense I’m sure that some of them were just now created for their reminiscent pleasures. If they talk about her in the past tense, like she happened and then she didn’t, do they miss her? Do they want her back? If they talked about me in the past tense who would I become? Would I find myself trapped behind the glossy finish of a photograph? Never to cock my hips again, never to speak truths again, never to do up my hair or mutter hushed curses under my breath? Would I have breath?
One of their cups falls hard onto the small plate below it—submissive in it’s size, just right for the overbearing teacup—and I snap back into reality with a jump riley could never master. I smile, a smile that riley had never smiled, at this realization and glance over to my mother. She stands behind the counter, muttering things like ‘yes she was’ and ‘when she turned five, the summer.’ My mother amuses me. She doesn’t even try to be someone else. She doesn’t even try to escape like I have. She’s Adrian and she always will be. And that’s when I realize that those women could never talk about me in the various forms of past tense they created just for riley. They couldn’t and wouldn’t. Because no one can catch me like that. There’s nothing you can insert into that fill in the blank. I’m not a noun or a verb, or any other part of speech. I’m me. And no one knows me.
The phone rings and I sit up taller, attentive, hoping it’s for my ears only. Hoping my mom can excuse me from this farewell party we’re hosting for riley.
“Riley,” I look up at her, an annoyed and frustrated expression etched into every perfectly sized pore on my face. I told her not to call me that, she never listens. “It’s for you.” She looks depressed, she looks saddened. And for a moment she looks like she’s pleading with me. Begging me to stay with her so she doesn’t have to remember riley on her own. It makes me happy that I’m denying her of this. That she has to sit through it all on her own. Mom loved riley. Mom still loves riley. I don’t understand why. I’m prettier than riley was. I’m smarter than riley was. I’m more flexible than riley was. I’m more than riley was.
I push up out of my seat and rise to my feet, glancing menacingly at the ladies who ignore my departure. Their eyes remain glued to riley’s single face. Her never changing visage. I roll my eyes. They are so naïve. “Make it quick,” mother orders in a soft voice, as I snatch the phone from her. She knows I won’t listen. I let her hope.
I dangle the phone from my hand as I stroll down the hall, the thick carpet tickling my toes and the pictures of riley on the walls watching silently. I ignore them, smile at the newest additions to the walls—pictures of me, not riley—and push open my door.
“What,” the phone stays silent for a moment and I consider hanging up. They probably hung up anyway. That had been my goal. If it was Cody he would’ve called my cell phone. He knows not to call my home phone. And he wouldn’t have asked for Riley. He doesn’t know riley. My mom doesn’t know me.
“It’s Jake.” Silence.
“I have a problem with my stuff.”
“What are you talking about Jacob?” I fall back onto my bed, let my feet dangle off the side. Stare up at the pictures on my ceiling. The various faces. All one person. All different people.
“The stuff you made me? You know… I don’t think I should—”
“What do you want from me Jacob?” he knows what he’s doing his wrong. He knows it won’t get him anywhere. I’ll win. No matter what. He already paid me. Christ, I’m the best in this down. Probably in this state. Aside from Cody. But Cody is in Florida. Cody is in trouble. Cody isn’t working.
“I just…” his voice cracks, I smile. Pick something from my teeth.
“I want my money back.”
“But I said I—”
“Jake shut up,” I sit up, folding my feet underneath me and staring at the mirror across the room. Staring into it. Staring at me. This is Charlie. “Do you understand what you’re saying? I don’t think you do. I don’t do refunds. I don’t have the cash anymore. You paid me. I took your picture, I made the prints. That’s it. If you want another one then you’ll pay me again. If not then you’ll forget it happened and find someone else that can do it like I do.” The line stays quiet for a few moments and Charlie is satisfied. I stare at her in the mirror, she stares back. She looks like a predator. Ready to strike. I love Charlie.
“I’ll call the police. I want my money back.”
“No you won’t.”
“I want my money back Charlie.”
“No, Jacob, you don’t.”
“I’m calling the police.” The line stays silent for a moment before a series of repetitive beeps echo from the other line. I sit there a moment and Charlie waits. “Please hang up and try your call again. If you need assistance—” Charlie stares at me, I stare back. She glares at me. I glare back. We hang up the phone. I hang up the phone. She looks down and I follow her eyes to the foot of my bed.
Another smile tugs at the corners of my lips and I look back up at Charlie. I love how she thinks. This jerk made the wrong move.
I hop off the bed causing the box of jewelry on the dresser to rattle. “Wrong choice Jake…” I mutter and reach under the wooden frame. A Smith and Wesson model ten meets my fingers and I shiver from the cold metal. I bet Cody thought he could get rid of me with this gun. He was wrong. I got it first. I beat him. He’s in florida. He’s in trouble. He’s not working anymore. I pull the gun from under the frame and smile down at it. It’s a beautiful thing. It’s the enforcer of my law. It’s the end of Jake’s resistance. It’s the one thing he cannot deny.
The blue bag from last night, sitting on my bed and filled with a book of identities offers itself and I grab it, toss the gun inside. Last night I was Stella Rooney. Right now I’m Charlie. One quick swing of the strap and it’s on my shoulder, I can feel the gun tugging the bag toward the ground. Not even the thick material can deny it. Out the door of my room. Past me. Past Riley. Past the women and their decaying teeth. Past the table of the departed and her one face, her one choice. Past my mom and her worried look. Her, “Where are you going Riley?” Not until she calls me by the right name. Not until she figures out who I am. Not until she lets go of Riley.
Out the door. . I know where I’m going. They won’t make me wear shoes.
Through the grass, no one’s shouting at me to keep off. No one mows it. No one cares.
“Wrong choice Jake. Wrong choice.”