The Waif – Scott Litts
February 18, 2022
A girl, 21, pedigreed, enamored with fashion. Mugler, McQueen, Gaultier— men who seemed to understand that given the right form, primarily the female form, one could invoke God or something approximating God.
Her apartment stood opposite a school— a tall imperial high school with a massive tympanum featuring a spread of animalic figures carved with such studied precision that she could make out the veins on their thighs, the thrusting sinew meticulously chiseled taut and imbued with animal rape, the gaze of their faultless ruby eyes turned outward at florid brass, arcane lettering, fixed on something timeless and significant.
Sometimes while she admired this, she could hear faint recitations from beyond the arch.
Since spring had come back, weekday mornings she would go to her balcony and recline in time for the parting dawn. Sometimes she would catch the glancing eyes of a too-young boy and feel a fluttering in her chest. Other times she would leave her contacts out, preferring not to see, and she would stare into pink eyelids, feel sun bear down on her face, her chest, her quickening heart. Less frequently she would find herself imagining a boyfriend who would stop by unannounced to find her sunbathing, her eyes closed with a beautifully unslackened expression across her lips. He would smile and leave without interrupting.
On weekends she would go to parties and be spoken to academically, like an adult, about architecture, the concept of religion, the sacred and the profane, by those who seemed to revel in the thrall of conversation. They would talk about conceptual fashion, sometimes take her aside for a semiological reading of her blouse, or maybe to discuss textiles in greater depth. This would happen to her and then she would return to her part of the city alone, to walk in the quietness of the empty promenade that flanked her street, its canopy of oaks, or go to the Brooklyn Museum late at night to stare, or think, or both, if only to see the symmetry of its facade and try to feel that beauty could be objective, that it could be so deliberate. And she would feel as if time could only be wasted.
A morning, she’d gone to her balcony and laid propped slightly up, facing the school, to sunbathe as usual, when a voice came up from below. She’d left her contacts out that day, and opened her watery eyes just in time to see the blurry, colorful figure of a boy crumpling over as two others stood on either side, reprimanding him. She hadn’t heard what the voice said.
Later that day, feeling confrontational but not to such an extent that she’d get into a fist fight, she took up smoking cigarettes. She walked to a place she’d been told about at one of these parties— a long abandoned rose garden, its reflecting pools drained, now a gathering spot for the homeless and teenage addicts. She watched a couple exchange sarcastic sounding insults without making eye contact until they eventually gave each other a quick peck on the lips, and the three of them went their separate ways.
And later that night she felt as if she was— and she was— setting out on a journey across crunching snow, when she suddenly stumbled upon a carrion pile. And with the contrast of the impossibly pure whiteness and the exploded red viscera, with the heat of the smell staying in her nose and throat and forcing her gag reflex, she was reminded of older memories— of a vague awareness of adult ineptitude that had slowly ballooned into a pervasive distrust of most people; of a girlish inclination toward petty crime that had since been elaborated into libertarianism, into post-libertarianism, whatever that means; of senselessness and formlessness gradually solidifying behind boundaries that she and everyone else must contend with, must now and then breach and allow to be breached.
And days later, at one same such party, she had this experience discussed and vivisected, and after circulating among academics and their ilk for twenty-five physically exhausting minutes, it was determined that desire, desire itself— simply, literally, just desire— was the heart of the thing.
And after not much longer she left, and rode the subway, and closed her eyes to the reverberant boom of the Manhattan bridge, and in the sticky heat of summer posed herself in the center of the emptied reflecting pools, a toppled cairn with its skirt turned up, and was met with nothing— just feminine laughter she joined in with.
sick with having not seen you I wipe smudges from your eyes and feel like your mother,
feel like the world is healing and I’m breaking into something unrecognizable,
something I have not been again
I want to be bound by expectation
I want to turn inward and find someone else
I want to hear perfect and inexpressible words spoken with utter conviction
and since having been away, again and again,
I’m sick with what isn’t here, wasn’t there