To and From
You can see through my dress. It clings to me in pieces and reveals just enough. I can move in this dress, walk down streets, perch on subway benches, sit cross-legged in sand. Because of this dress a Coney Island man plowed into a street sign, a truck driver howled from the other side of the Henry Hudson Parkway, prick in hand, and someone tossed a bucket of water on me from a second story window to see my underthings. In this dress, hands have fondled tits, women’s hands, men’s hands, my hands. This dress is a tease.
It’s late June. I walk down eight stairs, nine stairs, ten stairs from the sidewalk and ring a bell. Eva stands there, glasses hanging from the tip of her nose, her purple hair bound in two buns on both sides of her neck. Her Russian accent summons me down another staircase into a basement that smells like rubber and nail polish, peach-scented conditioner. She looks at my dress. She smiles. She asks me to remove my underwear and climb on the table, all fours. A pot of wax drips on a shelf next to me. Used waxing sticks coat the floor and stick to the edges of the shelf. There’s pubic hair everywhere, dirty towels piled up by the door. I question why.
Just two weeks ago, I lived across the Gowanus Canal, on the fifth stop in Brooklyn from Manhattan on the N train. Just two weeks ago I slept in a bed with my boyfriend. Just two weeks ago, we were eating Peruvian chicken from the place up the street next to our apartment, sauce on the side. Just three weeks ago I had a dream about my friend and felt compelled to drive five hours north to a remote island in New Hampshire to see him. Just three weeks ago, I drove and started smoking cigarettes again with Broken Social Scene, windows down, arm out. Just three weeks ago it was raining on the island called Sandy. A corner fire and cheap wine warmed our insides, dried our wet clothes. Just three weeks ago my friend and I stopped chatting and sunk into heaviness while the gap closed between us. We pressed pause on the Broken Social Scene CD and sang a song with a three-string guitar. Just three weeks ago I asked him to rub my back as I lay on my belly. He moved his hands over willing patches of my skin. Just three weeks ago I turned over as the rain drowned us inside his cabin. I pulled his head close to mine. Just three weeks ago I said, come here.
If you’re ever in love with someone else, just leave me. Two weeks ago my boyfriend and I broke up and he asked me to leave, to stay with my sister. I packed up some things, left most for him, everything we built together: my record collection, Patti Smith, most of my books, even Jeanette Winterson. I wasn’t deserving of stuff we had collected together, sheets, blankets, dishes, table and chairs. Everything felt like his, except this dress. It’s yellow and fading and an 80s take on the 50s. I found it in a thrift store next to my grandmother’s house in New Jersey. It was four dollars. I wear it with boots and without socks. I wear it under jackets and without slips. There are at least twenty pictures of me in this dress and in every one of them I look naked.
Eva applies the wax. It’s hot and I smell the burn of hair. She asks me to spread my legs further, to move into sexy positions I like for the men. On my back, on my knees, standing. She wants to make sure all the hair is gone from where it needs to be and that all the hair that remains looks perfectly coifed. She hands me a mirror. It’s raw and the strip of hair she’s groomed looks like Adolf Hitler’s face. I don’t know whose vagina this is. It isn’t mine. It’s Hitler’s. I give her a five-dollar tip and tell her I’ll be back, maybe.
I haven’t seen my friend in three weeks. It’s my birthday in two days. I’ll be one year away from 30. I’m not catching up, I feel like I’m older than I should be. I pay for the rental car at JFK and drive without maps north to Sandy Island. My boyfriend, not my boyfriend anymore, sends me a text along the way. Have fun. I haven’t slept next to him in two weeks. We left each other wailing. My things are spattered around the guest bedroom of my sister’s apartment in Red Hook. I’m working as a waitress at a restaurant under the Brooklyn Bridge, a former whorehouse filled with licentious ghosts. I’m moving to Portland in one month. I don’t have a job and I don’t have a place to live and I’ve never been there, but I’m moving there to get away from this city, to hide in trees. I try to smoke cigarettes to stay awake. This dress falls between my thighs, my foot accelerates.
It’s twilight. A light opens up the night as my friend’s boat approaches the dock. I hop on. He grabs my hand, a little uncertain. I want him to hold me but he doesn’t. Are we still friends? What are we? We pass a bottle of wine between us looking for the rain with our ears, the rain we swam inside three weeks ago. He starts to call me creature. He no longer sees me as human.
We slip into his bedroom. He pulls off the dress, tugs my underwear down.
Felicity Fenton has presented her multidisciplinary work (social practice, photography, words, installation) in a number of public and private spaces around the globe. Her first book, User Not Found is coming out with Future Tense Books in October 2018. By day, she works a designer and radio host. She lives in Portland, Oregon.