Girl on Pavement

I turn in the night. I have offended the moon and tug the blackout curtains closed. I think of men and how little I have eaten. I am so alert. I get up to read by candlelight. I sink into laundry warm out of the dryer. I think of folding myself into a man. I am always bunching up my cotton dress, sick with it. I abandon friends and start to think they are on the periphery of the men that hang huge framed canvases over my face. They give the nail one good thump and hang them, then move along like busy movers. Now I am faceless walking through the streets. I can’t get through doorways, the gold frame of my canvas thumping over and over against door frames. I hit people with it if I turn too fast. Another man comes along, runs a finger along the canvas, paints a flower impasto. A carnation, white, red, and bleeding — it overtakes the landscape. I can’t breathe. I am running into everything. The wind billows my white tennis skirt.

No, the men don’t hang the canvas on me. I take it and hang it on myself.

The pavement is static. The sky is half sunlight, half rainclouds. I walk along with my baby braids, my cropped top. Vendors shout at me when I knock things over with my golden frame. Oranges roll on the pavement, persimmons bruise after the fall. Another man comes to paint on me. I am sitting on a bench in the park, feet kicked out, fragile. He sticks out his thumb, measures me, the proportions of the canvas. He paints a grey sky with a streak of pink and pregnant black clouds twisting out water like a towel.

I breathe. The clouds on the canvas move. There’s thunder. I am being hugged by an arm. It is not a man who has painted on me but a ray of the sun. I imagine it is what the hands that painted on me feel like – an arm of the sun. Another comes to paint on me. A peaches and cream sunset that melts down the canvas. Another comes, paints emerald cliffs and wind in fields of grass. I’m tired. I speak faintly to passersby. “Do you see me dripping in the paint of them?” They hurry past. I want the paint to dry but the men won’t blow on it. They won’t sign their name on the corner. I am always waiting for them to sign their name on the corner, for no other man to paint on it, the final painting: textured, beautiful. I don’t want them to own me. I want to sign my name above theirs. Or below. Alongside. Hyphen our names. Keep them separate. I don’t care.

The sun breaks through the clouds and singles me out. The canvas lights up in the center and a hole burns there. The hole grows bigger until my face pokes through it. I am crying. My eyes are navy blue. They are pregnant with rain. I squeeze the water out like a twisted towel. It wets my black, white-collared dress. I wring it out. My hair is brown and long. I wring it out too. The painting burns out from the center to the corners. The frame remains.

I lie in the square where I also sat on a bench until I am dry. People walk past me, see a girl inside a frame. There is a single carnation between my legs. It is white and red and bleeding.


Rewrites with a Future Partner

Walks Around the Neighborhood

The sidewalk path my mom and I take is lit by the floodlights of a middle school’s baseball field in Miami. I look up at the stars. I think about how they are spread so far apart, floating in solitary silence. I thought projection was just something you did to other people, not celestial objects.

I imagine another planet like ours. Someone on that planet is looking up at the same sky, not knowing that we are looking at each other. We are limited by the scope of our vision. I start to cry. My mom doesn’t understand why I am crying. “There’s something beautiful about space,” I say. “Beautiful but sad.” She says she doesn’t understand my fascination with it, that my aunt was the one who was interested in all that stuff, that I should talk to her about it instead.

Rewrite: we take a walk around a Miami neighborhood. If I look up at the stars and cry, I want you to let me soak up your shirt even as you stand there in stunned silence. This is the beginning of you understanding something is hurting inside me. Your stout chest and gentle tone will be enough that night.

The Beach

A cruise trip with my mother. A picture of us where she’s smiling like children do – without earnestness in the eyes but the form of a smile with teeth showing. My head is tilted. A taut, closed-lipped smile. Eyes to the camera but nearing a roll – I can’t get myself out of taking the photo, but I can rebel via my gaze to the camera.

Rewrite: I want to go on a weekend trip to the beach and not feel the need to take pictures. If we’re the only ones at the hotel’s rooftop pool, I don’t want to remember the silence but the color of our conversation, how closely we were pressed together in the water, how it beaded off your tanned arms. I want to smell the chlorine and not think about how black seawater looks at night save for the unwalkable path a full moon might create. I want to not think about how the night sky is exactly the same – a black expanse, the moon a lighthouse.

There was a double rainbow over the horizon when my mom and I went to Miami Beach for the first time. We’d gone to lots of beaches in Miami but never Miami Beach, not even after seven or eight years of living there. The water was warm, irresistible to sink into, like laundry fresh out of the dryer. The sun was setting on one end and stormy on the other (the side with the rainbows). We both acknowledged the beauty of it. We vowed that we must return but never did.

Rewrite: We take a photo on the beach with two full smiles. Then another one that we post side by side with the one of us – something funny like a gull stealing your food. The sand in my swimsuit is something to laugh about instead of an additional weight on a day full of arguments.

I want us to order pay-per-view from the hotel bed and not think about the way the TV is another solitary light in the darkness. We soak in the aloe vera we rubbed on each other’s shoulders. Indulge in room service or maybe get Chinese takeout from somewhere down the road. We’re rooming at Ocean Drive or near it. I am relearning Miami all over again – still beautiful but less sad.

The Countryside

I was eleven or twelve. My mother’s boyfriend put on Ace Ventura cassettes for me to watch at his house while he did house work. This was after he had picked me up from school while my mom worked or went to community college (full-time student, full-time job). He was an attorney and owned four Corvettes and the same amount of dogs. Maybe more (of both). His house was out in the country, or as much as the outskirts of Homestead could be considered country – wheat and corn fields, large yards between each house. The three of us took a walk outside once. It was all dirt roads and power lines and tall green stalks.

Rewrite: No rewrite. We don’t have to go to the countryside. Being sparse and quiet is in its nature. Better for seeing stars.

Rewrite: We do go and it is because my stomach is curved like a comma. Houses are cheaper out here, two-storied with four bedrooms and plenty of yard space for young limbs to run around. You’re squeezing my hand as we discuss which room might be the nursery.

Rewrite: Your family lives out here. They invite me over for Christmas. They’ve strung up lights between the trees in the backyard. Laughter from inside spills into the outside as dishes are brought out. The mosquitos pinch. I’ve twisted and torn a napkin to pieces in my lap like Anastasia in the cartoon when she is about to reunite with her grandmother. Your aunt made punch and pours it from a glass pitcher into my cup. She asks me what I like to write about. You lean in mid-dinner, ask me if I’m doing okay.

New York City

Another trip, more photos. This time, New York City. A trip that made me think I disliked New York City. An assumption later corrected by a solitary trip there, free of being forced to take anyone’s photo or to pose for one. I either asked them to be taken of me or I took them of myself. On the first trip, I remember my mother and I fought about the double-decker buses. I said it was a tourist-y gimmick, that we should take the subway instead. She asked: did I want to go back to the hotel, then? Was that it? Maybe it was a waste of her money to have gone on this trip in the first place. Feeling guilty, I begrudgingly got on the bus.

Rewrite: We’re out in Brooklyn. We take the subway. Central Park is as tourist-y as we get. Christmas is magical the way it was for Kevin McCallister. He gave the dove lady a Christmas ornament of a dove so that she wouldn’t feel alone because he had one to match. We judge the people that feed the doves bread. We are a pair of doves. I think of that line from The Notebook, “If you’re a bird, I’m a bird.”

Rewrite: You’re not real. You’re the person from the other planet that I’ve brought down to Earth to be with me, which is to say I am not at all down-to-Earth. I go to New York City alone again. I take a walk one afternoon. I breathe in fresh, crisp air, wear the pink wool coat my mother got me for my birthday in Europe. I get seeds for the doves. I watch them for hours. The winter is a wide expanse of white. I am a small black dot in its center, getting smaller. I walk the snowy path, consumed by light. Yin turns to yang.

KATRINA PAPOUSKAYA is a Belarusian-American writer currently residing in Brooklyn. She is working on her MFA in poetry at The New School. Her poetry has been featured in Glassworks magazine.