A few weeks past and Mimi had started school. She ate her lunch alone in the courtyard, reading. She liked her English teacher best of all, a young man just two years out of college. He had the kids call him by his first name, Tim, and on the second day of class, screened a short film he and his friends had made. It was a twenty minute adaptation of Romeo and Juliet. A beautiful girl with long legs and cropped blonde hair wore a tight majorette outfit and tap-danced while narrating. There was lots of fighting with cardboard swords, and ketchup blood splattered everywhere at the end. There was no sound, beyond the skittering of tap shoes and the girl’s silvery, near-giggle voice; her mouth moving a beat off from what she was saying. Mimi had seen the old film version of the play on TV once, and she had loved it, but Tim’s movie was nonsensical. She liked it anyway, mostly because she liked him. Her classmates sniggered behind their hands and called him a weirdo in the hallways after that, but Mimi thought he might be some kind of genius, and perhaps they were all too stupid to understand his brilliance. Or maybe he was just weird. His class was fun though, and he read stories out loud in strange voices, and their homework assignments were to write haikus and create a comic book version of Raymond Chandler’s Cathedral story. Her classmates freaked out because the characters smoked pot, and one prim girl, with impeccable posture, told her parents. Tim came into class one day and cheerily stated they’d be following the approved reading list for the rest of the year. Everyone groaned and one of the boys called the ramrod-spined, tattle-tale girl a stupid cunt. Tim heard, Mimi saw him wince, but he just kept talking. The girl never said anything in class after that. For awhile Mimi was disappointed in Tim for not standing up for the girl, even if she was the source of his trouble. Soon she pushed the incident out of her mind, and would catch herself doodling his name on the curve of flesh between her thumb and forefinger.
On the first brisk day, just a week or so before the official beginning of fall, Mimi sat in the courtyard shivering in her short sleeves and meditatively chewing on last night’s cold grilled cheese sandwich. She had a biography of Buddha in her lap that she found in the school library, and was considering becoming a monk. She did not hear anyone approaching; just saw his legs, two loose columns of khaki, frayed at the cuff. She looked up slowly, past the worn leather belt, the tucked-in, wrinkled polo shirt, the broad stubble chin, girly pink lips, long slope nose, and big hazel eyes framed with bushy brown eyebrows.
“HEY!” Tim boomed.
Mimi choked on a glob of congealed cheese.
“What are you reading?”
He leaned over and flipped the book, losing her page.
“Cool. Cool.” He paused, staring up at the clouds. “Mind if I eat here with you?”
Mimi shook her head, then fearing that was confusing, sputtered, “No. I don’t.”
He sat a foot away from her, his legs collapsing beneath him like a lawn chair. He opened his shoulder bag and pulled out his lunch: a lacquered black bento box partially-filled. Inside there were two rolls of sushi, dried apricots, bits of an energy bar, and hard-coated candies. Mimi had never seen anything so clever and cute as this little box with its myriad, tiny compartments. She wanted one, even though her cold, greasy leftovers weren’t fit for anything more than a paper bag.
“See how banged up this bottle is?” He asked, pulling a plastic water container from his bag. “I take this climbing with me and once it fell down a mountain, nearly a hundred feet. I thought it was gone forever, but a park ranger found it. It dents but never cracks. Look at this pockmark, here.” He handed it to Mimi, who spun it round and round like a cyclone in her icy hot palms. She traced the perimeters of the dings and dents, pressing her thumb inside to gauge their depth. She felt like, though she was only holding some thing of his; truly, she was holding a living body part still connected to him. The bottle was warm, as though from blood heat and it grew hotter, searing not the visible skin of her palm, but the more sensitive layers beneath. She blushed and handed the bottle back to him, holding it by the barest tips of her fingers, embarrassed by her thoughts. She knew the bottle was cold, the water inside was cold, the day was cold. Yet, it was hot like an animal, like fresh welts raising across one’s flesh, like a young man’s thick, throbbing heart.
She didn’t know what to talk about, so she asked him about the bento box, and he promised to get her one next time he visited the Japanese grocery in his hometown. She made him guess what color she wanted, just to see what he would say. He cocked his head, squinting at her for several, long, tremulous seconds. “Pistachio.”
Mimi nodded. She hadn’t a favorite color, really. She liked bright pastels some days and dark, woodsy palettes on others. Sometimes her color love was seasonal, more often dependent on her moods. Pistachio was the most lovely, she decided. It was Kelly’s favorite ice cream flavor. It was the first buds of spring. It was the floral embroidery on a little girl’s Easter dress. It was half a year from this very day with the wind hinting at ice, Tim offering his jacket, the two of them finishing their lunch, her first taste of salmon and sushi, each of his steps nearly two of hers, laughing at his impersonation of one of his high-strung college professors, opening the door for him, farewells, promises to eat together again, separate ways.
That night Mimi ran out of distractions. Her library books were all read, the crossword puzzles completed, Sirocco was sleeping and Kelly had not come home. Lately she had been staying at Mike’s apartment. She had yet to bring him home. Mimi sighed, and rolled side to side on her bed, brushing against Sirocco who opened his eyes just wide enough to convey his annoyance. She made up a song about how fat he was. The clock’s ticking grew louder and louder. She turned on the bedside alarm and radio for a lack of anything else, inching through the dial. It was mostly country and classic rock, but low down, in the 80s she found the local public radio station, airing from a vocational high school. Jazz was playing, and a man with an even, soothing voice talked for ten minutes between each song, rattling off dates and session players. Mimi stretched out on her bed, nearly asleep. She dreamed, with her eyes still open, that she was on a picnic by a pond. She spread a peach blanket under a willow tree, with branches swinging low to the ground. She opened a wicker basket and pulled out handfuls of tiny, pink frosted cupcakes. Topping each was a red candy in the shape of a bodily organ. She arranged them in the rough shape of a person; the brain cupcake at the top, the heart to the left of the lungs, the intestines below, and so on. She was waiting for someone. They were late. Who was she waiting for? She was anxious, shooing flies from the cupcakes. She heard a thrashing in the water. A shark was circling the little pond, faster and faster, wearing an old-fashioned black and white striped men’s bathing suit. It rose up on its back fins and grew legs, then arms, all meaty and chiseled like a carnival muscle man. The dream Mimi watched the shark striding closer, and she calmly ate the brain cupcake. The shark stumbled and shrank. She ate each cupcake, quickly, and the shark was paralyzed, growing smaller and smaller, the thick man arms and legs disappearing, then the fins, the body, the teeth, till only the eyes and the internal organs remained suspended in the air. Mimi swallowed the last bite of the last cupcake and the organs all fell to the ground in sticky pile. The flies descended on what was left of the shark. Mimi looked around, a man was approaching. She stood up and waved.
A blast of metallic, screeching noise woke her. An experimental music show was on now, and the host was a girl who shrieked and giggled over the songs. Rarely, she mentioned the song titles and bands, but mostly she read the goriest articles from a newspaper. She called herself Thor and claimed her fists were made of cut diamonds and smelted iron. She recited a love incantation, then a revenge spell. She screamed that she bled from her eyes instead of her crotch. Mimi was transfixed. The music was horrid and the girl was crazed. She had a doughy voice, sweet and still padded in baby fat. The contrast between her voice and her monologues thrilled Mimi, she wrote down the telephone number for the station. Thor’s show was only an hour, only once a week. A bluegrass show came on next, with an elderly husband and wife hosting. You could hear their relief when Thor left the studio. Her last words were, from afar but still discernable, YEEHAW KIDDIES.