She has braces.
I do not remember kissing anyone with braces. I certainly do not remember sleeping with someone who has braces. Braces I would remember, of course. How could you not? Braces — braces! — would be sparkly and lip-cutting and orally catastrophic. Not even the sloppiest, most uninhibited of drunken stupors could black out the genital sensation of a steel-filled mouth … at least, I don’t think it could.
These braces, the ones on the teeth, in the head, on the naked body lying next to me, which is snoring a girlish wheezing snore, inhaling a polished blade of chestnut hair, are unfamiliar. I do not know any braces, or people with them. Only adolescents have braces, adolescents and motorcyclists who crash face first into things at high speed, like that Swedish kid down the road, Soren, who ran into a tree on his dad’s moped. This person, this woman, this adolescent, this naked orthodontic specimen, did not crash into any tree. Her nose is regal — pointy, but not sharp or birdlike. Her eyes are purposefully inset but not sunken, lashes not fettered with gunky makeup. Her skin is the healthy pale of an Olympic gymnast — no blemishes, no bags, no wrinkles … like an adolescent.
I don’t remember anything. I was drunk. I was a drunk asshole. I am a drunk asshole. I brought home a high school girl, perhaps, someone who snuck into the club with her older sister’s ID. My bandmates ridiculed me, perhaps, tried to warn me, maybe, bent guitar strings across their teeth, took bets on how much jail time I would do.
I’ll go to jail, I think, for de-virginizing a vulnerable adolescent. Her father is probably a trigger-happy hillbilly, mother is an attorney. I will plead ignorance, but in vain. I can hear the judge now: “How could you not know? She has braces, for Christ’s sake!”
They will put me away for a year, maybe two, maybe five, as a sexual predator. Upon release, I will knock on every door in my halfway-house neighborhood and admit what a moral degenerate I am.
She smells fruity, too fruity. Little kids smell fruity, like strawberry shortcake and bubble gum, like someone who should not be naked, in bed, in a studio apartment, with the nineteen-year-old singer of a mediocre punk rock band, like someone who should be in bed with fuzzy, inanimate, non-phallic things.
She will wake, and realize, and regret, and cry, and flee, and tell. And the police will come to my shitty little apartment and take me away, and put me into a gray room with metal furniture, and beat me with phone books. And I will be photographed, and fingerprinted, and handcuffed, and placed on a bus, and transported to a state prison for sexual deviants. And friends will come to visit me on the inside, close friends like my roommate, Matt, friends filled with pity, friends who gossip about my “situation” at family gatherings, high school reunions, and beer-handed barbecues, and we will speak through smoke-scented telephone receivers and slap hands on Plexiglas. And there will be other prisoners: hopeless, frustrated, sadomasochistic men with overgrown armpits and merciless eyes, and they too will assault me, like the policemen, not with phone books, but with tape-handled puncture knives and throbbing erections. And I will be put into isolation for my own safety, and I will be released one or two or five years later, and I will be the disgrace of my already disgraceful family, and I will become a janitor in Jersey City — because there is much to clean up in Jersey City — and I will live alone, in a basement apartment, beneath a home owned by a Vietnamese family who also own a sanitary-fowl takeout joint, and they will scream at each other every night in their squawking foreign tongue, and my apartment will be damp and brick, and in it I will masturbate to nothing in particular, and I will die young, forty-something, of liver failure due to alcoholic tendencies, and my death will be far from tragic, and I will go to hell and burn eternally, and the Devil will be there, and he will greet me, and he will be wearing braces.
The body, beneath the head with the teeth with the braces, shudders, as if stung by one of the many exoskeletal critters that scamper through the walls of this decrepit apartment home, as if dreaming of vibrating orgasms or Super Bowl victories with showering buckets of orange Gatorade. Her eyes do not open, however. Cherry lips yawn wide, snoring turns breathy as she rolls onto one side, facing away from me, scraping her suppleness against the gruff of my bare futon mattress, facing the wall and a thumb-tacked poster of Christa Paffgen, exposing a pale, slender backside, bony spinal curve, and the dimpled crown of a pantyless butt.
I hear the metallic, open-strike-shut of a Zippo-style lighter from beneath my statutory loft. Matt is down there, my roommate, wallowing in his portion of our tiny apartment.
Without Matt’s half of the rent I would be destitute, homeless, selling my body to old men in efficiency hotels for half-smoked cigarettes and cans of tuna fish.
The apartment was listed as a one bedroom — Spacious one bedroom w/loft. Walking distance to shops and campus. $550 per month, (609) 555-BULLSHIT, ask for Rusty — but it’s really a studio. A small studio, a big closet, a few square feet larger, and considerably more fusty-scented, than the cardboard-box clubhouse Debbie Chemerynski and I built in Kindergarten.
I turn away from the sleeping teen and crane my neck over the loft’s edge. Matt is seated, in boxers, shirtless, dangling a blue-filtered cigarette between chapped lips, black hair draped around milk-chocolaty shoulders and reading High Times or Spin or The East Coast Rocker or Jersey Beat or whatever magazine young people read beneath lofts in single-room apartments in New Jersey. I whisper down to him.
“Hey, what’s up, bro?” Matt does not whisper. Smoke ejects from his mouth as he speaks.
I do not ask him to whisper but continue to do so myself hoping he will tag along. “What time is it, man?”
Matt looks up at the wall clock, which I can easily see from my elevated vantage, and answers, still not whispering. “It’s 12:30.”
The clock is wooden, hanging unaccompanied on a wall of cream paint. It was selected from a Kmart bin of wooden clocks, all for $5.95, my adult contribution to the apartment’s décor. Because I am an adult: I live alone in my own apartment, with Matt; I am over eighteen; I can vote; I can fight in foreign wars; and adults who live on their own and can vote and fight in foreign wars have home furnishings made of wood, as I do.
“What time did you get in last night?” I ask him.
“Dude, I was at Larissa’s until like 5:30 in the morning. I probably rolled in here around 6–6:15. What about you?”
I lean in closer, torso now dangling over the loft’s edge, inverted, greasy hair stretching for the floor. Matt says, “You’re gonna fall and crack your head open.”
I ignore his warning.
“Do you know who this is?” My naked arm motions upward, pointing through the loft’s bottom.
“Holy shit, dude! You have a chick up there?” Still he speaks at full volume.
“Yeah … I don’t remember what happened after the show … nothing.”
Matt laughs, loudly, a chest-hearty louder-than- normal guffaw.
I pat down against the air with open palm, silencing him, and murmur in my most concealing voice, “She has braces.”
“Braces?” He is confused. He pauses. “How old is she?”
Matt then suggests that I “be careful,” which I find to be strikingly useless advice, as I am telling of this memory-lapsed event in the past tense, not premeditating a future sexual assault on an orthodontist’s office.
“Who is she?” he asks, not fully grasping the scenario.
“She has braces,” I repeat, and whip my torso back up into bed.
As I lie atop the scratchy futon, nude, belly-up, briefly pondering the stability of a bulging yellow ceiling stain, I notice, peripherally, that the eyes, in the head, on the body with the braces are now facing me, and open.
“My name’s Kerstin,” she says. “I’m twenty-one.”
I apologize to Kerstin, tell her how pretty I think she is, tell her how much fun I, possibly, maybe, might have had last night, and compliment her on her braces.
“I like them. They make you look … younger.”