Thursday, June 9, 2011

Chapter 1 ~ Trilby

Trilby was fast asleep in her bed on the morning of her 16th birthday when the little icon she hangs from the door to her closet started shooting off sparks. The icon is a silver image of a naked woman--a universal woman with no face or hair, just the rounded breasts and hips that signify her gender. She has a name. According to the decorative stamp glued to the back of the piece of wood she is mounted on, she is Joan the Wad. But Trilby likes to call her Babs, in part to diminish the unreasonable attachment she feels for the silly piece of not-even-precious metal. Trilby doesn’t pray to Babs, exactly. She talks to her--a little detail of her personal life that she chooses not to share with anyone, not even her best friend Kore, who lives in the flat upstairs. But Trilby was sleeping when Babs started sparkling and then detached herself from the chunk of wood and flew across the room over to Trilby’s pillow. She landed with a little “omph.” Very cute. Then she crawled over the pillowcase to Trilby’s ear, got right up against it, practically burrowed inside it, and was about to tell Trilby the most amazing news she had ever heard--but Trilby woke up.

Trilby sat straight up in her bed like she was drowning or having an exorcism or something and looked immediately over at the icon. But Babs was in her usual place, not sparkling furiously or flying crazily around the room, so Trilby was forced to concede that she wouldn’t be getting any astonishing news that morning. Still, the dream had been a thing of wonder.

Just as Trilby was absorbing those contradictory facts her alarm rang. She slammed it down with a fist and dragged herself out of bed. Standing naked before the full length mirror in her bedroom, Trilby had to admit she didn’t look 16 -- she looked about 12. She was short, just 5’1”, and somewhat underdeveloped. Her face was covered with childish freckles. And to make matters worse, she had a huge mass of red hair that framed her face like a halo. Trilby scowled at her reflection before spending the next 20 minutes transforming herself into someone a little more respectable. She started by tying her hair back into a messy bun. Then she pulled on skin-tight black jeans and a black tee shirt with her band logo on it: an open mouth with the word Bitten scrawled across the middle, rimmed with fangs that were dripping red blood. She snapped on leather wristbands covered with spiky silver pyramids, and deliberately didn’t lace her enormous black army boots. Once she was clothed and coiffed, she applied a big band of black eyeliner around each eye, a blue-black smear of lipstick, and she was ready to go.

Trilby gathered up her jacket and book bag and walked down the hall to the kitchen where she encountered the second wonder of the day: her dad. He was standing at the sink with a cup of coffee in his hand, staring out the window at the back “garden,” which was really just a cement slab with cars parked on it surrounded by a three-foot ribbon of dirt which barely nurtured two spindly trees.

“Hi, Dad. What are you doing home?” she asked, since usually he’d be up and out of the flat before her alarm went off.

“I’m going in late today.”

“How come?”

“It’s your birthday.”

That was cool. Her birthday had always been a pretty touch and go thing with her father. Sometimes he remembered. Sometimes he didn’t. She didn’t blame him, though, because had a lot on his mind. So she was happy that he remembered that morning, and even happier when he offered to drive her to school. That meant she could linger in the kitchen 45 minutes longer and check out how many random people had wished her happy birthday on Facebook, which was a helluva lot more pleasant than standing out on the corner of Mission and 24th waiting for Muni, fending off the homeless alcoholic losers who were always asking her for a “date.” Instead, her dad personally drove her across San Francisco to Santa Inez High School, and even let her hop out of the car and grab a mocha frappuccino at Ritual Coffee Roasters to drink on the way.

But that wasn’t all. That was just the beginning. The third thing of wonder on Trilby’s 16th birthday was Luz Garcia showing up to first period English class in the lowest-cut blouse Trilby had ever seen. It was a wardrobe malfunction looking for a place to happen. Trilby couldn’t keep her eyes off of Luz’s breasts, which were spilling over the top, and she wasn’t even a lesbian.

Luz slid into her seat next to Trilby, who tensed and waited for the impending confrontation, since the blouse was an obvious and utter violation of the school’s dress code. And Sister Cerdwin saw it, for sure. There was no mistaking the moment. She stopped handing back papers and stared straight at Luz’s breasts for a full two seconds. Her mouth even dropped open a little. But then she just went back to handing out papers, and ignored the flagrant display of cleavage. Trilby wasn’t sure why. But there was no second guessing Sister C. She often surprised. She had on another one of her Magic Schoolbus-inspired outfits, for instance, with the glasses and shoes and dress all the same shade of kiwi green, and what looked like little red caterpillars crawling across the cloth. It was pretty over the top for a nun--for anyone, really. So maybe Sister Cerdwin felt that, you know, she shouldn’t cast the first fashion faux pas stone or something. Or maybe she was just embarrassed. She probably didn’t want to precipitate the moment when every single person in class turned to look at Luz’s breasts while Sister C accused her of a dress code violation.

Trilby, on the other hand, wasn’t shy. “What’s that you’re wearing?” she whispered. “It looks dangerous.”

“Thanks,” Luz beamed. “I like it, too.”

“I didn’t say I liked it.” Trilby rolled her eyes. “You look like a woman of ill repute.”

Luz bunched her eyebrows together. “A who?”

“You know, a ho. A stripper. A slut.”

“Oh,” Luz laughed lightheartedly, as if she’d been complimented. “That’s why I brought this.” Luz held up a little woven jacket that looked about the size of a coaster. As she displayed it, Trilby noticed three things: two fingernails on her right hand--usually perfectly manicured--were broken, she had a cut on her lip, and there was a thumb-sized bruise on her neck which she hadn’t been able to cover up with makeup.

“What happened to you?” Trilby asked.

“What?” Luz’s hand flew to her lip.

“What do you mean, ‘what?’ Why are you covering that cut on your mouth?”

Luz was formulating an answer when Sister Cerdwin butt in. “Trilby!” she practically shouted, tapping her pen on the podium, as if Trilby had been ignoring her, which in fact, she had. “I have asked you to go to the board and diagram this sentence.”

Normally, Trilby didn’t mind diagramming because she was pretty good at it. But she wanted to hear what Luz was going to say about the cut and the bruise, and besides, the sentence was nearly impossible to figure out, with an appositive phrase, a participial phrase, an adjective clause, a compound verb, and about 105 random prepositional phrases. It was a syntactic nightmare.

“F*&^ing Faulkner,” she muttered.

Still, there was no avoiding Sister C’s glare, so Trilby was standing at the board puzzling, tapping the end of the marker against her cheek, when into the classroom walked the most wondrous thing of all.

He paused in the doorway and looked directly at Trilby for a moment, and in that delicious nanosecond, it felt like her entire body restructured itself on a cellular level. All the synapses lit up in her brain, the blood in her veins transformed into hot, flowing honey, and the tips of her ears tingled. She was pretty sure she was blushing. Then Sister Cerdwin asked what he wanted and he handed her a note from the attendance office. As it turned out, he was a new student, just moved to the City. Sister C seated him across the room from Trilby, over by her friend Kore, who might also have noticed that he was drop-dead gorgeous, since she gave him an especially welcoming smile. This was going to make English class a whole lot more interesting.

“How ‘bout that?” Trilby whispered to Luz, nodding in his direction, after she’d diagrammed the bejeezus out of the sentence and returned to her seat.

Luz shrugged. “He’s too young for me.”

“Too young? What do you mean? He’s exactly your age.”

“I like my men older,” Luz sighed, holding her chin in a way that implied that she knew what she was talking about, which Trilby knew for a fact she didn’t. Luz had been in Trilby’s class ever since grade school, and she’d never even had a boyfriend--until now.

“Oh yeah. I forgot about your imaginary boyfriend.”

“You wish. He’s not imaginary, Trilby. He’s just got more important things to do than hang around a high school.”

“Like what?”

“Like going to work. Like hanging out with his friends. You know: grown-up stuff. Why do you have to be so negative all the time? Don’t knock it till you try it, girl. Just wait until you get a boyfriend. You might be surprised.”

“Uh-huh. So...what happened to your face?”

“Trilby! Luz! If I could have your attention, please! I’ve asked you to turn in your homework.” Sister Cerdwin was rapping on her podium again, and Trilby was forced to dig in her backpack for the appropriate paper, then take it to the front of the room, making a detour by the new boy’s desk on her way back to her seat.

“So, what happened?” she repeated after she’d completed the circuit.

“Nothing happened,” Luz looked nonchalant now, arranging her hair. “I fell into a door.”

“With your neck?”

Luz’s story didn’t make a lot of sense, but she stuck to it for the rest of English class. Then in second period, after changing into her P.E. uniform and reporting for roll call on the track, Trilby was happy to see that Mr. Most Wondrous Thing of the Day was going to be in that class with her, too.

Trilby was admiring him from afar as she stood with the rest of the girls, listening to Mr. Peters explain how to run the mile--put one foot after the other until you’d circled the track four times--when she saw him lay his black backpack down next to the bleachers and take off.

“Uh oh,” she told herself, “he must not be a City boy.” As soon as Mr. Peters excused them, she ran off to tell the new boy he’d better lock his backpack up, but before she got 20 feet, she saw someone messing around with it, so she veered over to intervene.

When she arrived, Moto’s hand was deep inside the new boy’s pack. “What are you doing there?” she asked, surprising herself. The words seemed to fly from her mouth of their own volition.

“Getting my phone.”

“But that’s not your backpack.” Now Trilby and Moto were both surprised. What on earth was she doing, challenging him? Moto crouched before the backpack. Trilby stood over him. They both wore SI’s standard issue P.E uniforms of baggy black jersey shorts and gray tee shirts, but that’s where the similarity ended. Moto must have weighed twice as much as Trilby. He was tall, dark, handsome, densely muscled. He looked like he could pop her skull between two fingers like a zit.

“Yes it is!” Moto put on an air of indignation. “And what’s it to you, anyway? Go on back to your business. Aren’t you supposed to be running the mile?”

“Aren’t you?” Trilby’s voice sounded cool, but her heart was beating wildly.

She felt thinly protected by the fact that dozens of students were running around the track behind them--if you used the term loosely. Some walked. But the teacher was eighty yards away, encouraging a group of laggards to put in a little effort.

Moto grabbed what looked like an iphone from the bottom of the pack.

“That’s not yours,” Trilby said. WTF? Trilby had no idea where her words were coming from. It was almost as if someone else was working her mouth, like a marionette.

Moto stood up. He was a good foot taller than her, big through the shoulders, small hipped. She knew he played on the football team, because she’d seen him wearing an orange tie on game days. His curly black hair hung loose around his shoulders. His teeth were bright white. He pushed his face into hers. “What are you getting into my shit, for?”

Trilby didn’t know. In fact, she wished pretty desperately that she would stop. But something--or someone--was pushing her on. She got a brief image of Babs dangling off her earlobe like an animated earring. She thought she heard whispering. Then she tried an old trick. “I’m not getting into your shit, Moto. I think you’ve made a mistake,” she crooned. “This isn’t the backpack you’re looking for.”


“The backpack you’re looking for is over there.” Trilby pointed over his shoulder to a black bundle at the other end of the bleachers that looked like a wadded up old sweatshirt. Moto looked confused for a moment, almost drugged, and when he turned to see what she was pointing at, she gently slid the iphone out of his hand.

The teacher’s whistle seemed to snap him out of a trance. “Moto! Trilby! Get back on the track!”

Moto whipped his head around and grabbed her by the shoulder. “What did you just do to me, you little witch?” He looked down with alarm at the iphone in her hand.

“Nothing! I was helping you find something.”

The teacher’s whistle blew again. “Moto! Trilby! Get moving!” Mr. Peters started walking purposefully in their direction. Moto made a grab at the iphone, but Trilby swooped it behind her back.

“You don’t want to do that, Moto,” she said, slipping it into her pocket, “because then I’d have to tell Mr. Peters you stole it, and you’d get suspended, and you wouldn’t be able to play in the game this weekend.”

Moto looked over her head at the teacher and scowled. Mr. Peters was only 30 yards away now, advancing quickly. Moto released her shoulder and spat at her feet. “I’m not gonna forget this,” he warned, fixing her with a fiery look. “You better watch your back.” Then he ran off before the teacher could reach them. Trilby waited for Moto to put some yards between them before running off, too.

Once she was back on the track, trotting easily, relief flooded through her. She had won! She had prevailed over Moto Unga, one of the baddest bad asses on campus. She had used an old trick--a trick she barely believed she possessed--of pointing people in the wrong direction. It didn’t seem possible that it had worked on Moto. But she had the evidence in her pocket.

Trilby laughed delightedly. “Thanks, Babs,” she whispered under her breath. Then she laughed again at her own foolishness. The little icon, of course, was not responsible. She was not a magical being, able to influence events. She had not whispered directions into Trilby’s ear. The icon was just some shiny bauble Trilby’s long-dead mother had purchased at an arts and crafts fair, probably because it shared her first name--Joan.

Come back next week for another chapter of Trilby Awakes.


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