Fiction from Alexandra M. Matthews

Photo: Jordon Conner

Clare

Clare was all teeth and giggles, biting the edge of her cup. Ethan was coming to the concert. They had been texting for weeks.

She tore the bottom away from the cup. It looked like a small paper crown.

“What if I give this to him?” She placed it on my head, laughing.

We went straight to the mezzanine, where we could feel the energy of the throbbing mass and still have enough room for our bodies to channel the ambient pop. There she could look for Ethan from above.

She left me to find him. “One song,” she said.

I danced with my eyes closed so I wouldn’t search for her in the crowd.

—§—

The night I met Clare, I knocked on her open door and guessed the name of the band playing on her laptop. We ended up cross-legged in the hallway, comparing playlists until an RA shushed us.

We went to nearly every free concert on campus. We moshed to death ska and skipped to accordion techno. The more obscure or niche the band, the better. We were after the release more than the music—to sway together until the lights went on, to dance until we couldn’t breathe.

Soon I needed to see the music pulsing through her body before I could enjoy it.

—§—

I found her alone. Her face shined wet under the strobe lights. Ethan was half of a drunk couple, mid-make out, that I had pushed past on my way to her.

I put my arms around Clare from behind. I nestled my head on her shoulder, her red flyaways sticking to my cheek. She leaned into me.

I let go and began to yell. She startled but followed my lead. It was a game we played during loud songs. We each screamed a secret into the noise and had to figure out what the other was saying. It was thrilling.

With closed eyes and outstretched arms, Clare shouted about Ethan and loneliness.

I yelled my secret again. My muscles tensed.

Clare shook her head.

Maybe if the noise reached dangerous levels, the venue would have to pull the plug, instantly stripping the music away.

—§—

It was late. We were splayed on the throw rug in Clare’s room, sober and sweaty.

Clare asked me to soothe her. I twirled a lock of my hair and pulled it taut, leaving a paintbrush-like tip at the end. Lying on my side, I tilted my head toward Clare and ran the bristles across her face. I made careful circles around her eyes. I drew soft lines down the narrow bridge of her freckled nose, over her lips and under her chin. I knew Clare’s markings better than my own: the nearly identical moles on each peak of her upper lip, one slightly larger than the other; the faint, raised birthmark in her hairline below her left ear.

I remembered the makeup tutorials I had watched that day. How the girl applied her products with rhythmic, confident strokes. She had perfected the art of hiding herself. But first, she bared her naked face with ease. She made me want to expose myself to the world, eyes open, lips relaxed.

Clare’s breath steadied. I lay back down and started singing our favorite song about cooking waffles at midnight.

As my voice waded through the silence, I prepared for the crescendo. Clare would turn to me with an irritated smile. I would finish the song. I would ask to make her a paper crown.

.

.

Alexandra M. Matthews is a teacher and writer living in the Hudson Valley. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Jellyfish Review, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Barren Magazine.

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