You are listening to “Jesus Was a Cross Maker” on a portable record player when I walk into your living room. You are in purple shorts and pink jelly shoes, sitting cross-legged on the orange shag rug, fiddling with the plastic ball of your hair tie. Your ponytail, a swooping black curve, reminds me of the S-shaped sound hole on my father’s violin. I think you are the most beautiful girl I have ever seen, but I know I have to keep that to myself. I don’t know about knocking on doors.
Your dark eyes find me. “Who are you?” you ask.
“I’m Jeffrey,” I say. “I’m six.”
You don’t smile. You appraise. I become suddenly aware of my shortcomings—my chubbiness, my paleness, my missing teeth. I wish I could look better for you.
“I’m Lisa,” you say at last. “I’m six, too.” You point to the record player. “This is my favorite song. She sounds like a princess.”
A door clicks shut somewhere, and your mother materializes at the other end of the living room, a large cardboard box in her hands. She does a little backwards hop. “Well, hello,” she says, her voice brittle.
“Hello.” I wave. “I’m Jeffrey.”
“Are you lost, Jeffrey?”
“No,” I say. “I live next door.”
We are drawing with stubby pencils at my dining room table as “Knock on Wood” blasts out of my father’s hi-fi in the den. We have it cranked to top volume so we can hear every word. The table vibrates slightly. It feels like a tremor from a distant earthquake. My parents are in the backyard pulling weeds out of the pachysandra. I wonder if they can hear the music.
For us, drawing is always a competition—a competition that I usually lose because you are far and away the better artist. Right now we are competing to see who can execute a more faithful recreation of the King & Queen album cover. I have the album sleeve propped up on the table. It’s a fantastic image—an illustration of Otis Redding and Carla Thomas as two-headed playing card monarchs. I’ve been working on Otis’s head for the past half hour. I can’t get the eyes right. They’re either too close together or too far apart. My paper is close to tearing because I’ve erased so much. You are already done with Otis and nearly done with Carla. Yours looks just like the album.
“I quit,” I snap. I crumple my paper and stalk away.
Ten minutes later you glide into my room and hand me a new drawing. It’s a picture of a king and queen on playing cards, but they aren’t Otis and Carla. The girl has a ponytail arcing out of her crown, and the boy has low bangs and serious eyes.
“It’s us,” you say, grinning.
I study your profile as you feed the cassette into my car’s battered tape deck. I marvel at the geometric precision of your features—the perfect diagonal of your nose, the delicate symmetry of your lips, the elegant arch of your eyebrow. You are still the most beautiful girl I have ever seen. And I still haven’t told you.
You said you wanted to talk, but you wouldn’t say what you wanted to talk about. We’re parked behind the high school football stadium. There’s a game on, and the stands are full of kids we despise. We despise them because they despise us. They shun us. They call us losers. Rejects. Trash. We don’t live in the right part of town.
An unassuming four note bass line begins to thrum out of the speakers.
“What’s this?” I say.
“The Pixies. This song is called ‘Gigantic.’”
The drums kick in with a scuffling beat. Guitar feedback sizzles ominously in the background.
“I like it,” I say.
We sit there for some time just listening. Our breath fogs the windows. Your floral scent fills the car.
“So what did you want to talk about?” I say, drumming my hands on the steering wheel.
“I want to die,” you say.
We sit on the hand-me-down couch in the living room of the shack you are renting by the lake. There is an empty place between us. We are holding bottles of Budweiser. “Candy Says,” plays on your mother’s record player, which you inherited last year. Recently, you’ve only been listening to The Velvet Underground.
You look better. You have put on weight. You are smiling.
A daddy longlegs creeps across the carpet by our feet.
“Should I squash him?” I ask.
“No,” you say. You lean over and address the spider. “You can stay here, but you’re going to have to pay rent.”
We both laugh.
I look at the painting on the wall across from us. It’s a portrait of your mother. You have captured every nuance of her face. The image is so lifelike it’s unnerving.
“Are you going back to school in the fall?” I ask.
“I think I’m ready,” you say.
You scoot over to me so that our thighs are touching, and for the first time in the sixteen years I’ve known you, the sixteen years I’ve loved you, we kiss. My body turns to water and evaporates and rises like mist into the ether.
Lucy looks just like you, which is a great mercy. She’s a talented artist like you, too. She sits at the kitchen counter with her crayons and draws sunflowers. We have The White Album on the turntable. “Long, Long, Long” echoes softly through the house.
You are standing at your easel in the den, putting the finishing touches on a jungle scene you are painting for Lucy’s bedroom.
I sit next to Lucy, a cup of black coffee cooling in my hand. I watch my two girls work, and I smile to myself, and I think this is enough. This is all. This is everything.