Alice, Darling

By Golda Fried

At night in her dorm room, she didn’t think anyone would listen to her as a film director. She cried on the phone to her father that she would really prefer to be at a film school somewhere like maybe New York, but he said no; it would lead nowhere and she needed a college degree. Her mom agreed. After the conversation ended she did somersaults on the bed.

She called Walker. She knew him from high school but he got to stay back in Toronto and go to film school at Ryerson.

He had made Super-Eight films in high school. He sat up on the cafeteria table in the mornings before the first bell would ring and he would push his black fifties glasses up the bridge of his nose. He used his hands a lot while describing the dramatic moments of the story. Almost every moment was dramatic.

She watched those hands and she would smile.

He let her float around him but he kept his distance. She had never been over to his house for instance.

One time, just to know him a little better, she interviewed him, for a class assignment. She used a hand-held cassette recorder and everything. He talked through the whole 90-minute tape and only then was the interview over and she was sad because she didn’t think she could ask him any personal questions after that.

When she called him from her dorm long-distance, he always made her wait while he got a cup of coffee or lit a cigarette.

This time he asked her, “So, have you lost your virginity yet?”

She laughed nervously. “What?”

“Well.” This was someone who had already “pulled” a lot of girls.

“No,” she said.

“I’m dating a model.” He had never offered to have sex with her. She was very aware of that. She waited for more. “Only this model has a boyfriend but she keeps jumping me in the elevator.”

“There’s a Children’s Lit guy I like.”

“I think she might even be married.”

“Or you would have been with her already you mean.”

“What is a Children’s Lit guy?”

“Someone in one of my classes.”

“Do you picture having sex with him?”

“No, it stops at kissing. It’s like I want to reach out and touch a wave but I don’t want it to wash over me.”

“Do you have any sexy underwear?”

“I doubt it.”

“Maybe that should be your first step.”

After that conversation, she opened the top drawer of her dresser and checked out her underwear. She had about ten cotton pairs that her mom had bought her in bulk. She got out her scissors and cut the little bows off all of them.

***

She followed Rally to a party a friend of hers was having after a Film Society meeting. She was wearing black lace underwear she had gotten for the occasion. They were as scratchy as hell. She didn’t know anyone else there. She watched as people came in and put their beer from the depanneur in the fridge.

One guy just sat down in front of her and seemed interested. It puzzled her.

He had brown eyes like Alice only he had a bit of black eyeliner under his eyes as well. He wore a white shirt with the cuffs open, the kind that would dangle molecules away from the butter if he reached for a roll at the breakfast table.

“You know you walked by me earlier,” he told her, “and all I saw was your feet and your sandals. I never like hippie girls in sandals but something made me follow you over here.”

Yes she was wearing sandals and it was a cold fall already and she had no business wearing sandals.

She found out that he was not in school at the moment. So they talked about music.

She had definite opinions about rock music. She had listened to her fair share of Q107 ROCK growing up in Toronto and had even tried a few guitar lessons.

Of course, he had his own definite opinions about music too and their first conversation was an argument.

” ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ is the best song on Blood on the Tracks,” she said. She knew her Bob Dylan.

“No way. It’s definitely ‘Tangled up in Blue’,” he said.

His shirt was buttoned but only at the bottom so his chest hair showed a bit. She normally preferred guys with no chest hair and was embarrassed seeing it. His pants were tight, like black stirrup pants you would go horseback riding with. His arms were muscular as he brought a beer bottle to his lips.

She found out his name was Nellcott. He wouldn’t let her leave with Rally until he got her phone number and until she agreed to go on a date with him the next night.

He knew her name was Alice but he always referred to her by her last name, “Darling.”

Rally smiled knowingly on their way out the door but she did not say much.

***

For Alice, getting ready for a date meant slapping some blue jeans on, wearing a tight black top and maybe some eyeliner.

There was no perfume, no silk stockings, no collection of beaded necklaces. No dumping of the closet onto the bed.

No purses. That was for people who wanted to get mugged.

She waited by her windowsill for Nellcott. When Alice smelled love in the air, it wasn’t the type of love that would comfort her or hold her or ask her if she was okay. It was a crazy love like an accordion player who would show up under her windowsill outside and play for her in the rain and that would comfort her.

Rocks hit the window. Nellcott was the one making her wait but now he was there.

She came down to meet him passing people on the stairs who she said to in her head, “I’ve got a date. I’ve got a date; isn’t that weird?” Like they cared.

Nellcott and Alice went down the hill and then down Parc Avenue and then into a diner. He didn’t talk much. He didn’t grab for her hand. But in the booth he sat back and stared at her.

She guessed diners could be romantic but the lighting was all wrong. Instead of candlelight there was blaring in-your-face fluorescent lights.

She liked coffee with cream and sugar. He didn’t drink coffee at all. She was lethargic. He was manic. It didn’t make any sense.

He ordered a pastrami sandwich on rye with potato pancakes.

“Do you want apple sauce or sour cream with that?” the waitress asked him.

“Both,” Alice answered. She didn’t order any food. She wanted to eat off his plate.

The menu was a paper menu that served as a placemat as well. Nellcott turned it over and took out a pen from the inside of his beat-up leather jacket. He wrote on it and asked her a question. She wrote back. It was kind of fun.

He told her he either wanted to live on a farm or buy a van and drive all over the country and live out of the van.

“Well, which one are you leaning toward?”

“I’m still deciding,” he said.

He wrote on her paper placemat, “There is one of us now you know.”

He wanted her soul from the beginning.

He walked her back to the dorm. He wanted to go out drinking at the Bifteck but it was getting late and she had school the next day. He started to get all shifty with his eyes when they were back at the dorm.

She was uncomfortable too. She was wearing her black lace underwear for the second day in a row.

“Okay then,” she said and ran inside the glass doors.

Golda Fried is a Torontonian who lives in North Carolina and dreams of Montreal. She is the author of the short story collection Darkness, Then A Blown Kiss. Her novel, from which this excerpt is taken, is forthcoming from Coach House Books.

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