Virginia is for Lovers – Maxfield Francis Goldman
November 10, 2023
Black. The slippery porcelain squeaks against my back as I slide down to the bottom of the tub, the shower runs beady and cold as the pink shampoo meant to tone my hair has fallen on its back, won’t get up, stagnant like Samsa— dead like autumn. Tilting my head up at the water I let the hints of metal and blood sting my tongue as I wet it like a dog, I feel tired, alone. My chest looks weird, my ribs protruding more than they used to, adorned with Warholian knife marks cast laterally across each rib, still risen and rough to the touch.
Staring at the faucet, the scene rewinds.
I remember her best in the line of the post office: a white t-shirt with big vinyl letters reading “virginia is for lovers” fitted tight on her chest, outlining her in a perfect quality, lit by the sun glaring through the stained glass window. She was on her cell phone mumbling about how she was gonna be late to something, I couldn’t tell what despite trying my hardest to listen in as I moved up in line. Two spots ahead of me she’s at the teller and ships her parcel flat rate, $5.99, she pays in cash and I watch as she’s handed a single penny in change, and walking out she looks straight past me, onward forward to the heavy iron doors.
My package was overweight, costing me extra to ship. I set it on the counter as the lady asked me if it contained gasoline, batteries or other flammables, I said no— following this she looked over her triple chin and asked sardonically: “well what is it then? If it’s some sort of bomb or TV.”
Grim fucking question for a USPS lady. Putting both my hands on top of the box I leaned in close and said: “well maybe on second thought it is a bomb.” She didn’t laugh and I quickly rescinded my statement and spit out the truth, it was my typewriter. A powder blue Smith-Corona with enamel white keys, gifted to me by my stepfather Chanukah in my senior year of highschool. The pages I once wrote on it shoved into a desk and forgotten, my hands were of a lesser caliber of romantic entanglement with the thought that I had something to say. It hurt me to think that this gesture of pure belief from my stepdad to myself had been boiled down to a barely profitable eBay sale and a painfully awkward encounter with the post office woman involving terrorist jokes. As I signed the receipt I felt my tearducts swell for a quick second, thinking about how it would have broken my stepdad’s heart to see me sell the machine, I watched my hand form the lines and curves that built this symbol which dictates me: and I felt just that— that this, was all I was.
Walking down the stairs into the parking lot the bus stop was sparsely populated: a hunched over old man in high-waisted chinos sporting a twill newsboy cap, a tall Asian girl wearing a sweatshirt with a wolf lit by an exaggeratedly detailed moon on it, and the girl with the stupid slogan t-shirt from the post office.
I stood against the side of the bench where the old man sat as I drew the t-shirt girl into my periphery as much as I could without making it obvious I was staring, but I was, and I saw she was slender but in an unusual way, her body taking shape to both her bathing and her posture, something about the way she stood was anachronistic, foreign, something of the mannerisms of a background character in the set of a Pre-Raphaelite painting.
As the bus came into the terminal she stopped and looked at the ground standing right before the door waiting for it to pop open, her downward glare felt heavy, I was trying not to pay too much attention. She got on the bus in elongated and elegant strides, sitting in the closest seat to the door, I sat one seat away. The doors shut, we began to move, the bus heading toward Division Street.
The bus stopped for a hoard of elementary schoolers crossing the road, a crossdressed woman in pink heels sat between me and Virginia shirt girl, she smelled like patchouli and bubblegum and music blared from her headphones so loud it seemed as though they were vibrating over her extravagantly voluminous weave. She pulled out a cigarette from the lining of her tanktop and put it in her mouth unlit. Just catching the tail end of the yellow light we moved through one way roads increasing in speed limit the farther away from the post office we got, passing by homeless men missing limbs sat patiently outside concrete strip malls adorned with neon signs reading titles like “VIP massages” and “NuChina4u,” advertising advantageous discounts on discreet foot jobs and lunch combo meals including an egg roll and pork fried rice. This all stung my eyes a little bit, stayed in my head, floating around like an orphaned balloon drifting away from some child’s birthday party. The signs lit up beneath my eyelids as I batted them in an obnoxious attempt to blink. I saw Virginia girl lean forward, and put her palms on her face and sigh, her jet black hair wavered when she did this: making it undulate and pulsate with the shifting of the bus from one lane to the next, and as she wiped her face repeatedly, she turned her head first right, then left, and landed on me, staring straight through the crossdresser between us and dropped her lip as if trying her best not to frown at the sight of me. We pulled into the stop at Lake Ave. as she returned her direction to the floor of the bus and away from me.
The person sitting between Virginia and I lit their cigarette completely indiscreetly and began blowing it downwards as their only attempt to not get noticed by the bus driver who seemed so unattentive he barely looked at the road. The smell of the smoke seemed pretty off but nonetheless brought upon what at the time felt like an insatiable craving for the bitterness of smoke in the lungs accented by the chemical taste of the filter when it just scrapes the tip of your tongue. The last cigarette I smoked was on the first day of college this year, in hopes to have a “relatively sober sophomore semester.” No one else got on the bus at Lake Ave, but the Asian women moved seats, one to the left and changed the way she sat: now holding her knees in her palms with legs crossed awkwardly displaying a gangly nature no longer obscured by her previously immature posture. The old man looked at me angrily almost as if judging me for looking too modern to meet his standard of respect. The bus sat idle for just a minute or two until pulling away. The breaks screeching like that of a tortured rodent, pedestrian heads cocked themselves at the sound as we pulled away— the driver announcing over the speaker that our next stop would be at the hospital and after that our last stop would be downtown. As the bus torqued forward Virginia is for lovers fell forward and dropped what looked like a severely outdated cell phone on the floor, she gasped but didn’t pick it up, just set her bag down beside it and looked out the window solemnly. The pixelated sign at the front of the bus wasn’t long enough to display the full name of the coming street at once, so trading the B, r, and i for the concluding a, v, and e, the sign moved through the pixels, reading “Brighton Ave.”
The sun glared white; refractions of these glimmering flashes penetrated my eyes, they hurt as I peeled them open looking down at the stop, staring at the man who was walking on board with a sullen expression, his face both sagging and austere— as he stepped up to the bus, my stomach sank for a moment, his beard was riddled with what looked like grease from a fryer beginning to congeal, his upper cheeks were welted as were his skeletal hands moving limply to the driver to pay his fare. All in change, he let each coin fall from a distance high enough into the fare box to make anyone a little nervous, there was a mist of discomfort perpetuated by the egregiously pungent smells of grease. As he sat down, directly across from me I could see his eyes solely divert to Virginia, drifting them lowly upon the outline of both her just slightly protruding stomach and breasts, he moved his hands across the seat and landed them on the worn out crotch of his jeans. The bus pulled off jolting everyone forward just a little bit— the woman beside me threw down her yellow snakeskin pattern bag and yelled across the aisle at the man to “save it for when he is back at his cardboard box or shack or whatever.” This was followed by a series of incoherent noises and moans from Greasebeard, shaking rapidly until he got up and lunged at Virginia, tackling her to the ground hard, his arms varicose and deathly; reminiscent of an autumnal branch held in silhouette by streetlamp, twisted, demented, and crooked. He thrashed her over and over again as the Asian girl paid no attention, just looked down at her ratty Converse and the old man began to yell at them to shut up. The bus driver screamed back to sit down, to which Greasebeard responded by groaning incoherently to the point of vocal fry and shoving his fist into Virginia’s nose. Blood shot out of her like a water gun at a childhood birthday party.
The bus stopped, he yelled back to keep the engine running or else he would turn her face into a stain on the isle-seat— this remark rang with dissonance into the ears and out of the lungs of each passenger, he continued holding her down, the bus moved ever forward.
The old man’s solecisms turned to fear as his pants darkened in the groin displaying a piss-stain which cast like a shadow onto the seat, a general fog of elementary fear— of pain: like an early apophenia of a cloud showing itself as animate, a bird, a fly, the face of your mother, the stain on his pants to me looked like a bat.
My heart beat like a drum, a snare rattling through a midsummer march tactlessly and shrill; it was pierced by one thing: Greasebeard letting his voice slash uncannily and throwing his arms around her neck, he told her to do what he said, or else she would die that instant. He dropped her and went into her bag, pulling out firstly a moleskine notebook yellowed around its edges with what finger oils rubbed off when grabbed repeatedly, a wallet made of pink duct-tape of which its color reminded me of bubblegum and the dish soap I used to get my mouth washed out with, and lastly a pair of lavender point shoes.
He took out a knife from his waist and pointed it at her, telling her to put on the point shoes now. And this was the defining split in the milliseconds which clued all us passengers alike in on just who Virginia was— she said no, that they hadn’t been broken in. Greasebeard flashed a brown grimace displaying teeth like wooden pegs, rotted like the core of a worm-eaten apple, eaten quick in one bite and spit out even quicker. Taking the shoes and beating her over the head with them with a relentless vigor and an almost musical cadence, over and over that leathery tip connecting with her scalp causing it to redden like a sunburn, he beat her for at least a minute until their stiffness faded, and she said stop, and that she will put them on. Virginia’s face held a gossamer veil of sweet wine-red blood cascading down her forehead, a circumferenced crown of blood and sweat like a halo dropped down from above the evening jacket pocket of the angel of death. She stretched out like a Central Park swan cutting through the thick morning fog outlining an arch, a wingspan, her skeletal back yet contradicting prominent zaftig calling back to the figures of an antiquated aristocracy, one would think that the scene of her on this bus was something out of a Van-Der-Goes or Van Eyck painting. We stopped at the red light, her dirty Adidas now lying like midwestern ghost towns abandoned in the aisle: an arid silence was cracked by Greasebeard’s lowly voice speaking slowly: “Now dance, dance what you know best.”
Even the bus’s filtered and plasticized air stood still as everyone held their forthcoming breath at the sounding of these words: dance, now, best—they stuck in our gums like fishbones and dental flood, lingered in our lungs like the smoke of a full bodied cigarette: dance what you know best. Virginia’s eyes were wide, an infernal hazel which when struck by my leftover sunlight bouncing off the bus windows, stung like wasps and concretely stained my memory like an overly catchy pop song. Greasebeard’s great paroxysm of flailing his arms simply just to emphasize his bull-frog toned screaming of “UP NOW, GET UP NOW.”
And with this our lungs remained stiller than morning, colder than night.
The moments which ensued accounted for a time elapsed in which our lives were ceaselessly beautiful; an overstretched second pertaining to the incomprehensible slowness of a beauty, because it felt as though in the second it took her to stand up, everything outside the bus felt extraterrestrial, there was a novelty just in the way that she rose from the ground. Beginning in fifth position her feet stood opposed from one another; north and south poles radiating a light mutually equidistant from both myself and one another. Amber gleaned off of one windowpane to another, casting her in bronze light as she moved from Fifth, to first— her leg rising like our lonely sun itself, casting upon us great waves of this burning grace. I remember what this one is called, “Pas de Cheval.” Her skirt was risen above her knee held there tightly via the suspension of her leg, her calves were large yet tones and knees looked double jointed and strong— a fortitude shown through a look of dissociative professionalism painted dutifully across her oddly pale lips reminded everyone on the bus that what we were seeing was beauty; it was violence.
Her motions became a life all to themselves, tenacious within the circumstances her Pirouette hailed close to Greasebeard landing inches from his feet— his abject grimace filled with a most sensual pleasure, he watched as a vulture. As she cut past me, blurring quicksilver strokes of her leg obscured the head of the old man and the crossdresser alike, in my periphery I watched her mouth hang suspended from her jaw, open just enough to let a fly in, whereas the old man sat stoically in the cradle of the bus row, sordid and painted with an expression conveying a great ennui. Weaving through the feet hanging astray in the row Virginia’s posture was nothing short of prim; an essence of grace, working in a beautiful proximity to every object around her, just missing each one delicately—glissade past the straggler bags left unattended in the rows, her blurring was transcendental; working in accordance with each inch of space and breath of oxygen her movements framed them as if all the sudden you were standing in front of a painting at an impossible perfect angle, able to both visualize it and conceptualize it at the same time without obstruction—Virginia is for lovers danced like a pair of glasses which put things into a focus I, or anyone else on the public bus that day had never seen. Savoring each return to fifth position, watching every angle which her limbs contorted to a life flashed before me: The life of someone like Grease, whoever he is, filled with pain booze and soot— I mean how could he not know what capacitates beauty most, after being down so long that skyward is the most obvious direction to look in— I understood this, he saw a moment which he couldn’t lose. His whole body trembled as his leathery skin turned marron he shook and groaned louder as the bus began to slow at its last stop. He screamed at her “MORE, MORE, MORE, NOW”— but her face stayed porcelain, delicate, unmoving. I, too, wanted more. With Virginia I felt alive, I felt familial, interwoven to something—like we all became wrapped up in that gossamer web of serenity spewing from every pore of her body as she danced, we felt a scarce oneness.
Hearing the shuttering wavelengths emitted from the enclave of early evening traffic, the amber fell once again upon the dirty bus-row seats, elucidating Virginia one last time as the traffic lights fell red, the bus driver looked back, and she landed once more, into an arabesque so perfect, so still she looked floral in construction, nothing less, nothing more. A flower.
The door of the bus opened, that sound of hydraulics shooshed like a cartoon sound effect— Greasebeard turned around, and screamed “WHYDIDYOUSTOPISAIDKEEPTHE FUCKING BUSFUCKING RUNNING STARTITSTARTITSTARTIT AGAIN.” No one got on the bus, but my stare was one of intrigue, not at Virginia, but at Grease. He stared at her, I stared at him. Until he pushed her down, and turned around to see me staring like a dog at the sun straight into his porous mug covered in dirt now shining with perspiration. He looked me in the eye, reached into his coat, grabbed an X-acto knife, and for a second I thought I saw Virginia dance again. Intermittent flashes of light, his face above mine, the feeling of being on the ground. My shirt was wet and warm, the realization that I was probably going to die. Black.
I woke up in a hospital bed after what felt like weeks of dreaming, dreaming of Virginia. Not dancing, but of her standing in the post office line talking on the phone before everything changed. They arrested Greasebeard weeks after, although unrecognizable in the moment, the police clocked him as Virginia’s ex-ballet instructor— Michael Biely, a Soviet expat turned crack addict, who was fired after an incident involving some brush with pedophilia, who apparently harbored some type of feelings about Virginia.
I remember her best standing in the line of the post office. Maybe I could remember her dance if things were different, if true beauty could do anything but fade, maybe the world would slow down once again and align its rotation and magnetic fields all over again to the perfectly harmonic key of Virginia is for lovers. But I had something now, a feeling that stayed, a human one, of her face pressed against the cell, of the way she paid in cash at the teller. I wouldn’t lose what I knew, Grease—Michael— wanted to see her dance again, I understood why. To have a first love come and go, die entropically the way that only a true symbiotic grace can, and Virginia had shown us just that. Maybe he attacked me because he couldn’t deal with someone sharing that, or maybe to him taking that from his hands, that love which exists so scarcely in human life. Michael and Virginia made that real. That, I knew would be with me forever.
Falling all back into place the pictures slow down as Cold rushes of tap-water stream down my eyelids as I dream again of her just waiting in line, staring at the scared which gift-wrap me in memoria, I call out to forever, to Virginia all over: Virginia is for lovers, forever. Slowly, but surely, the memory of grace turns the world on its side, in a way that could only make it better, so one last time I’ll call out to the depths of my shower, to the shampoo bottles and soap bars, to distant bus seats and ballet flats, like a song I’ll sing:
“VIRGINIA IS FOR LOVERS—FOREVER”