Person Lessons

These days I am surprised to see my own face when I look in the mirror, so much time do I spend looking at Franny’s. We wear each other’s clothes and read each other’s books by day, she is my early morning and late night phone call, the person I reach for in my sleep. She tells me stories of kissing the movie star, and as she tells me she reaches out for me to draw me in to her, showing me how he held her, how he touched her. “But he snores, and you don’t make any noise in your sleep,” she says, and my head is on her heart, on the beating softness of her heart and her breast.

We call this autumn the autumn of our bravery. This is New York we live in, where we link arms and synch steps, when we plan to walk across every bridge in the city by the end of the school year.

The movie star leaves a crumpled theater ticket in her bed, which she shows me when I see her in the morning. Months later, for my birthday, she buys me tickets to the same Broadway show, which she likes, even though someone throws up in it. I like it because I discovered last summer that there are plays written after the year 1600, which my family never told me.

We call this autumn the autumn of our bravery. This is New York we live in, where we link arms and synch steps, when we plan to walk across every bridge in the city by the end of the school year. This is us dancing with our shadows overlapping, so we look like one body with four arms. Our shadows come together and rip apart fluidly, lengthening with the afternoon, disappearing behind trees and buildings as we walk across the avenues of New York. Sometimes we make men fall in love with us just for the fun of it, and then we leave them wondering as we walk away, singing, arms around each other’s waists.

This is the small apartment in Brooklyn I live in, where the day is pure light and our skin feels like the night blooming jasmine back home in Santa Barbara when we touch it with our eyes closed. When it is warm, we drink tea on the fire escape and glance at all of life as it passes below us, clear to the East River and the spires of Manhattan, an old-fashioned city in our modern time. We sit on my fire escape and make plans for our lives, which are about to start in a few months. Mostly this means we sit and try to conceive of making ourselves look more Victorian than ever.

We sit on my fire escape and make plans for our lives, which are about to start in a few months.

The apartment is a shingled owl house of improvised charm, full of found objects used for propping doors and decorating stolen end tables. It is a haven of improvised warmth in the pit of winter, with tiny heaters in corners that take next to no time to heat the small spaces they are responsible for, to dry the laundry that hangs on the backs of chairs snatched from cafes around the neighborhood. Its kitchen is a place of improvised cooking, with pots just large enough to coat with olive oil and fill with the things that are in season, to bake apple bread and lavender cake, although the stove only has two knobs left on it and the floor creaks like a frustrated child. It is a place also, as many have remarked, that despite sweeping and bleaching and scouring, betrays its unrenovated state when you look behind furniture at handy man jobs on the floorboards, and find the bathroom by going back out to the landing from which you came and opening a hidden door, where the toilet and gray bathtub are in a long corridor.

We match completely, my best friend and I, and in a perfect world we would have been born two halves of the same thing and would know all the same people. Even though it is day we wear white night gowns, cotton to our knees, monogrammed with our initials in cornflower blue script. We wear black leggings and wool socks and our matching necklaces, made from two old keys we found in an antique store in the East Village on the most perfect Saturday that anyone ever had. Franny’s Ouija board says our keys date from 1845 and belonged to a Ukranian bakery girl. “Pegs Apron,” it spelled out, in darting certainty. It told her she could trust the movie star the night we asked it, the warm night that had breath like a person. Conditions good, it said, and spelled his name, his movie star name. I don’t believe in the Ouija board, I tell her, and she says that’s why it doesn’t work when she plays with me. With her other friends it works, but the spirits know that I believe in about a hundred things before I believe in them telling us our futures.

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