The new Lois eats only carrot sticks and yogurt. ONLY. And only non-fat coffee flavoured yogurt. Because strawberry is for children, and Lois is not a child. Lois is nearly fifteen. The new Lois eats her yogurt in baby-sized slurps off the tip of the spoon, because it lasts longer that way. For example, one container of yogurt sees Lois through to the second commercial break of General Hospital (her favourite soap), which usually occurs at 3:14. Sometimes 3:17.
The new Lois patiently peels carrots every morning, while her parents rush around getting ready for work. She likes being a quiet thing, like the couch or a picture on the wall. She likes to focus on the carrots, on their colour, that blood hot orange colour against her pale hands. She likes to focus on that and not on her parents and their fighting. (“We’re not fighting, we’re talking,” says her mother.) Just by thinking on carrots she reduces her parents’ voices to the buzzing of distant bees.
Sometimes the carrot sticks stay nice in the fridge. But sometimes by late afternoon they are withered and stooped, like little old men. New Lois eats them anyway. She forces her mind around a corner, beyond the rubberiness of the carrots. She thinks about something else. For example, General Hospital.
The new Lois walks. Walking is good exercise. It’s summer, though, and there’s nowhere to walk to. The city has that empty, used up feeling. And it’s hot. Lois won’t wear shorts because her legs are round and white like bowling pins. Also when she walks her inner thighs rub together, and it hurts like a burn. Her bra straps dig into her shoulders, and every part of her jiggles and wobbles. But she walks.
Lois has always wanted to be on TV. Sometimes she sits on the bus and practices tipping her head and smiling a wholesome smile. She imagines the safety of being boxed in on that small screen. Being looked at without having to look back, except at the camera with a sort of generalized warmth that would make people feel reassured. She waits to be discovered.
The new Lois was born when Lois was on TV, the one and only time. She was in the audience for the local morning chat show, AM Philadelphia. She went because they were doing a behind the scenes look at General Hospital. But it turned out that part was pre-recorded in California. The audience watched it on a monitor. It was no different from watching it at home. Still. They showed some of her favourite actors learning their lines and having their hair done and talking about how much they owed their fans. Then reaction shots were taped in the studio. The audience was told to clap and smile, clap and smile! Bigger, bigger! Lois smiled the biggest she could, and even managed a small wave. She felt, in that moment, like Audrey Hepburn.
Her best friend Pammy taped the show, and they watched it together that evening. Just at the end, the camera found Lois.
Stupid slim-neck Audrey Hepburn dreams bit the dust. That thing, that squinting, thick fingered thing, that mountain in sweatshirt and stretch pants…as the thing waved at the camera, new Lois flamed to life.
New Lois walks to the pharmacy on 23rd, because it is air-conditioned. She stands and reads the movie magazines and feels the sweat slide cold down her back. No one in the place cares if you read the magazines. There is usually just one girl behind the counter, and she is usually reading a magazine too. Lois does not look at the candy display. She does not look at the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in their friendly orange wrappers. She holds out as long as she can, and then she plunges back into the raw, honest heat that burns the call of chocolate and peanut butter out of her head.
An air conditioner drips. It’s 1:48. An hour and twelve minutes until General Hospital.
Lois is so hungry she almost can’t stand it. Her stomach bubbles and gurgles like a fish tank. She pictures it that way, glass encased, with angry orange fish swimming in circles. She hates her stomach. She’d cut it out of her if she could. Slice away her ass cheeks and mottled thighs. Peel away her calves. Leave bone and joint, hard and curved and graceful.
She passes the Lombard Swim Club. The sidewalk at the entrance is wet. Smell of chlorine and damp cement, and suntan lotion; distant shrieks and splashes. She and Pammy used to come here. When they were small, and their bodies went straight up and down. Then Pammy’s family got a summer house at the shore, a bungalow her mother called it, no room for guests. Pammy’s mother wears lots of face powder and her glasses are on a little chain. She sits on a lot of committees. She seems really busy, which is funny because Lois’s mother says that Pammy’s mother is a perfect example of the idle rich. But she doesn’t seem idle. Neither does Lois’s mom; the main difference is, at the end of the day, her own mom looks sweaty and sighs a lot, and her hair sticks to her face. Pammy’s mom never looks sweaty. Lois wonders which kind of busy she will be when she grows up. Sticky sweaty angry busy, or powdered polished, marble cold, glasses on a chain busy? She can’t imagine inhabiting either possibility. She doesn’t think it’s up to her, anyway.
She misses Pammy. Misses the oblivion of swimming underwater. Headless legs and torsos, sightless and indifferent. Misses the days of straight up and down.
Broken glass glitters in the sun. Green. Lois finds it beautiful.
A gang of kids stand by the corner shop, eating ice cream cones. New Lois looks away. She isn’t, is not, a kid.
Home. She avoids herself in the elevator mirror; gratefully dives into the apartment’s shaded silence. 2:51. Pushes the button and the television welcomes her, blossoming bright and loud.
The new Lois heads to the fridge. Lifts out one non-fat coffee yogurt and one Tupperware container of carrot sticks. So hungry she is shaking.
Then, on the counter, a box of donuts.
Country glazed. With a note from her mother. “Lois, for God sake. Eat!”
General Hospital’s theme music plays. Lois starts to sob.
This story was originally published in print by Lapwing Publications.
Photo By: Kyknoord