In the damp disco, we dance to forget. To disremember the boy named Billy who charmed us with ballads on his banjo. We want to undo the indentations he left on the fragile filaments of our flesh. Margie flags down a waitress and orders another round of Tomahawk shooters. Jess’s eyes are lowered, her body moving in smooth circular sequences. KellyAnne flips her pink, angry hair and shakes bra-less boobs in the direction of two guys in tight t-shirts. Sophie stares at me through swirls of smoke, her face brooding on a serious subject. I glance away, uncomfortable under her gaze, and concentrate on the cheap crystals creeping down from the ceiling. When my head swivels back, Sophie’s expression is softer, forgiving. We’ll get through this, Lucy, she seems to be saying.
Margie holds up her shot glass. “To the bastard!” With red-rimmed eyes, we drink.
We’re in the East Village, somewhere we’ve never been with Billy. Earlier, we scouted available apartments in the neighborhood; we need to vacate our uptown digs as soon as possible.
KellyAnne takes Sophie’s arms and drapes them around her bare midriff, and they sway in a downy embrace, attempting to attract the attention of the t-shirt guys. It works, partially. One cuts in and takes Sophie’s hand. The other whiffs our desperation and beelines for the bar.
“Fucking Sophie.” KellyAnne’s lips form a curl. “Always the top pick.”
But that wasn’t the way it happened with Billy.
We thought he was gay. He was better at dancing than Jess, better at empathy than Margie, better at baking than KellyAnne, better at acting than Sophie, and better at poetry than me. We welcomed Billy as a younger brother into our circle, as if the fivesome forged in our childhood had always been a sixsome.
Another round of drinks leaves us dizzy.
Now we know he was playing us. Now we know he wasn’t gay.
Was he lonely? Bored? Perhaps he thought this would make a good college essay or newspaper headline: “17-year-old seduces five young women from neighboring apartment.”
With whispered verses and gentle caresses, he carried us away with his charisma, swore each of us to secrecy.
I confess: I believed him. I bear the burden of his betrayal on my wrists. KellyAnne’s been cutting herself again. And the others? Their scars sit somewhere on the inner valleys of their souls.
The beat blares on and in the crush of steam and sweat on the dance floor, we blot out his treachery. The messy consequences.
We locked ourselves in the apartment, hurling hateful words and Jess’ grandmother’s dinner plates at each other before our rage rocketed outward. I sent back his sonnets with seething stanzas. Sophie and Jess deposited chards of glass into the belly of his banjo. Margie and KellyAnne clobbered him with curses.
Billy’s pleas for understanding were met with our battle cry: Let the building combust.
For days, we wailed and railed, until the super banged on our door. Have some respect for the family, he said. The boy next door has bled out in his bathtub.
Now we dance in dazed denial. We’re dissolving, but no one’s ready to completely detach from our unit.
I’m nauseous from the swaying strobe lights and Margie wipes away my perspiration with a cocktail napkin. The fire in KellyAnne’s face has dimmed to a ghoulish yellowish-white. Jess’ moves are slower. Sophie hugs herself.
In the middle of this nightmare, I am the one who noticed: we’re two months late with our periods. “Are you fucking kidding me?” Sophie said.
We dance to camouflage our uncertainty over our collective culpability, our anguish at losing our brother-lover. We swear fealty to the gods of drink, praying our bodies will take preventative action.
But we can’t rely on black magic. Tomorrow, Sophie says, we go to the clinic.
— End —
Julie Zuckerman hails from Connecticut but moved to Israel 23 years ago, where she works in high tech marketing and lives with her husband and four children. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Ellipsis, Riggwelter Press, Crab Orchard Review, SFWP Quarterly, Salt Hill, Sick Lit Magazine, Sixfold, descant, 34thParallel, The MacGuffin, andThe Dalhousie Review, among others. She is working on a collection of linked stories and a novel. Twitter: @jbzuckerman