Where we went against the universe was at the McDonald’s on the corner of Wolfedale and Mercer. On a sunny afternoon. Mel and I hate sunny afternoons. Especially here in Misery Saga, which is what you’re allowed to call Mississauga if you live there. In Misery Saga, there is nothing to do with sunny afternoons but all the things we have already done a thousand times. We’ve lain on our backs in the grass, listening to the same Discman, one earbud each, watching the same clouds pass. We’ve walked in the woodlot, pretending to pretend that it’s Wonderland, even though when you stand in the heart of it you can still hear cars pass.
We’ve eaten dry jammy cakes at that dessert place down the road where all the other kids go. We don’t like other kids but we went anyway, just for the bustle. We’ve sat behind the bleachers sharing Blizzards from Dairy Queen, the wind flapping our Catholic school kilts against our stubbly knees. Our favourite was the one with the pulverized brownies and nuts and chocolate sauce, which they don’t make anymore for some reason. So we’re at the McDonald’s on the corner eating McFlurrys, which everyone knows aren’t as good as Blizzards, even when you tell them to mix more things in.
We’re bored out of our minds as usual, having exhausted every topic of conversation. There is only so much Mel and I can talk about the girls we hate or the bands and books we love on a scale of one to ten. There is only so much we can play of the Human Race Game, which is when we eliminate the whole human race and only put back in the people we can stand and only if we both agree. There is only so much we can talk about how we’d give it up and what we’d be wearing and with which boy and what he’d be wearing and what album might be playing in the background. We’ve established, for the second time today, that for Mel it would be a red velvet dress, the keyboardist from London after Midnight, Renaissance wear, and Violator. For me: a purple velvet dress, Rob Merino, a vintage suit, and Let Love In, but it changes.
So we decide to do the Fate Papers. The Fate Papers is Mel’s name for when you tear up two pieces of paper and write no on one piece and yes on the other. You juggle the two pieces in your hands while you close your eyes and ask the universe your question. You can ask aloud or in your mind. Mel and I both prefer in your mind, though sometimes if it’s an urgent matter, like now, we’ll ask aloud. The first paper that drops is the answer. Right now, we’re asking if Mel should call Eric to see if he likes the CD she made him of her favourite Lee Hazlewood songs. The Fate Papers have said no, but we’re doing two out of three because that can’t be right, even though the Fate Papers are never wrong. Next, we’re going to ask if I should try talking to Rob Merino again after yesterday’s fiasco attempt.
The Fate Papers say no to Mel, then no to me.
The universe is against us, which makes sense.
So we get another McFlurry and talk about how fat we are for a while. But it doesn’t matter how long we talk about it or how many times Mel assures me she’s a fucking whale beneath her clothes, I know I’m fatter. Not by a little either. Mel’s got a big ass, I’ll give her that, but that’s all I’ll give her.
If I win the fat argument, then Mel will say, so what, I’m way prettier than she is. I am prettier. I guess. I haven’t really grown into my nose yet or discovered the degree of self-hate and awareness that makes a girl perfect the art of starving and tweezing early on. So I’ll be honest with you, in this story I don’t look that good, except for maybe my skin, which Mel claims she would kill for. Also my tits. Mel says they’re huge, which she assures me is a good thing. Maybe even too much of a good thing, she says. It’s Mel who got me using the word “tits”; I have trouble calling them anything, even in my thoughts. They embarrass me and all the words for them embarrass me, but I’m trying, for Mel’s sake, to name my assets. Even with my skin and tits, though, it’s still Mel who looks better. She’s got psoriasis and a moustache she has to bleach, and still. It is definitely Mel who has any hope in hell with any of the boys we like. Which is why she claims the men at the next table were looking at her first.
I hadn’t even noticed them. I was busy eating my Oreo McFlurry, hunting for the larger pieces of Oreo that get trapped at the bottom, which I hate. It’s Mel who points the men out by saying three o’clock to me without moving her lips or making much noise. I turn and see three businessmen sitting in the booth next to us, eating Big Macs. I assume they are businessmen because they are wearing business suits, but they might just as easily be suit salesmen or bank tellers. At any rate, they are men, their hands full of veins and hairs, each pair of hands gripping a bit-into Big Mac.
Mel said these men were totally checking her out. I looked again at them, and none of them seemed to be looking at us. They didn’t even seem to be looking at each other. They were looking at their burgers or at the walls in front of them.
No. No. They were looking at her tits, Mel said. Mel is exceedingly proud of her tits, even though I think they’re kind of small and forgettable compared to mine. What she loves most is the mole on the top of her left breast. She wears Wonderbras and low-cut tops to show it off. I want a boob guy, she would always tell me. I wouldn’t want a butt guy, because I hate my butt.
Yeah, I would say in sympathy.
I hate it, she would clarify. But boys love it. They always give me compliments. Still, I wouldn’t want a butt guy. He’d always want to do it from behind.
Yeah, I would say, in sympathy again. We both agree we’d never want a leg guy.
The reason these men were looking, according to Mel, was because she’d been emanating sex vibes all day. I don’t know what she means by this. My best guess is, something between an animal scent and a cosmic force. Mel always said it has to do with the universe. What happens is, the universe feels her sex vibes and transmits them to like-minded men and women. Mel said these men could feel her sex vibes. That’s why they looked. She was giving off enough of them for both of us. Which is why they had looked at me, too. They were totally checking us both out, she said. They checked her out first, of course. But now they were checking us both out.
I said, Really?
And she said, Totally. Doesn’t that make you horny?
I hate the word “horny.” It makes me think of sweat and snorting and wiry hairs.
I guess, I said. Though it really, really didn’t. These men weren’t really attractive. I mean, they were fine, I guess. But they had these little blinky businessmen eyes, and one of them even had grey hair. No, none of it was making me especially horny. But I said it sort of was, because I knew if I didn’t play along Mel would be angry and a pain to hang out with.
Wouldn’t it be fun, she said, if we went up to them and propositioned them?
To do what? I said.
To like, I don’t know, she sighed. Suck them off. For money. I’d say we’re each worth at least fifty bucks. Maybe even a hundred.
Mel’s a bit of a slut. We talk about it—if she’s in the mood—when there’s nothing else to talk about: that she’s a bit of a slut. But don’t ever call her that or tell her I said that. She hates the word “slut,” she says. She gets pissed if anybody around her uses it. She got super-pissed at our friend Katherine, this girl at our school who wants to be a nun, because Katherine says “slut” about people she doesn’t like, and she says it, according to Mel, with a mouth full of hate. I told Mel what does she expect from a girl who only wants to be touched by the hand of God? Mel says it doesn’t matter and really hates Katherine, even though we’re all friends.
Mel even had to change schools because they kept calling her a slut. Mostly behind her back, but sometimes even to her face, like in an ’80s movie. Something about a boy she really liked who already had a girlfriend, but the boy found out Mel liked him and began to like her back without breaking up with his girlfriend. So when Mel found out the boy liked her back, she gave him a blow job in the woodlot, but then the girlfriend found out about it and got everyone in the school to start calling Mel a slut whenever she walked by. I guess the boy must have felt guilty about the blow job and decided to tell his girlfriend. Or he was proud of it and just couldn’t stop himself. Whatever it was, Mel couldn’t take it and had to change schools. That’s how I met her and we started getting bored together.
People call Mel a slut at our school, too. Because of what she wears on civvies days—days when we don’t wear our uniforms—but also because of what she wears on regular days, which is nylon thigh-highs instead of the itchy wool tights we have to wear. And she rolls her kilt all the way up to where you can see the thigh-highs end. My mother thinks this is why people call Mel a slut. But I don’t think so. Not to sound like an old woman, but you should see girls these days. Some girls roll their kilts all the way up to their crotch. I wear mine down to my knees, but sometimes I’ll roll it up just a little on the way to school. Then it always rolls back down by itself. But it’s fine. Later on, I’m going to be really fucking beautiful. I’m going to grow into that nose and develop an eating disorder. I’ll be hungry and angry all of my life, but I’ll also have a hell of a time.
For minutes now, Mel has been seriously calculating how much we might be worth to these businessmen. She has now decided that our youth and the fact that we’re both virgins—in her case, only technically—makes us way more expensive than she initially thought.
At least $300, she finally says. What do you think?
I say, At the very, very least.
I’m playing along. I try to use a voice that tells her I am merely playing along.
I look at them more closely. Two are fine. But one of them is kind of flabby and pale, with little worm husk lips and a look of hunger in his eyes that his Big Mac is not filling. His whole face reminds me of the word “horny.” I know if it comes down to it, this is the one I will get stuck with.
But where are we going to go with these guys? I ask.
I’ll bet one of them’s got a big black car, Mel says. Big enough for all of us. Mel looks out the Windex-streaked window into the parking lot. I look with her.
There are no cars like that in the parking lot.
There’s more parking in back, Mel says.
She says, You go ask them.
I say, You go. It’s your idea.
She looks at me and takes a deep breath and says, Okay, and gets up and I say, Wait.
Let’s go to the washroom first.
When we get up to go to the washroom, Mel saunters up to the three men and says, Hey, in what she thinks is her sexiest voice. To me, though, the only difference between it and her normal voice is that it just sounds louder. In this voice, she asks them if they might happen to know the time.
All three of these men are wearing wristwatches, but only one of them, the fat, pale, horny one, checks. The other two exchange glances and keep eating.
It’s about 5:30, he says, looking up at us. And I notice that when he does, his little businessman eyes do a little dip from our faces to our chests. It’s the littlest dip you can imagine. But it’s all Mel can talk about when we get to the bathroom, her voice full of italics and syllabic emphasis.
Could you beeelieeeeve that guy? I mean, he was slobbering all ohhhver us.
And I say, Totally, I know. He totally was.
And she says, Oh my God, Heather, we have to do this.
And I agree. We have to.
It was a civvies day, which meant that though we had come from school we weren’t wearing our uniforms. This civvies day had a theme, and normally Mel and I steer clear of the themes because of how lame they usually are. But this one was the ’60s, which we guessed was cool enough. Everybody else dressed up like a hippie, including me, but Mel did a cooler thing. She found this ’60s minidress with a whacked-out red and white pattern at Value Village for, like, seven bucks. So she’s wearing that, and her lips are covered with a silvery frost, which she is now reapplying in the mirror. Her eyelids are lined thickly on top with black liquid liner. All day, she got compliments from everyone, even though we know no one, we really know no one. Girls we both hate kept coming up to Mel and saying things like, Love your dress. And then Mel said thanks, and when the girl was out of earshot Mel finished with “bitch.” And we both laughed.
I finish putting on my lipstick, and I watch Mel apply a fresh coat of liner to one closed eye, and I say, But we can’t have sex with them.
Mel waves the coat of eyeliner dry with a hand. Oh my God, she says, of course not. Are you crazy?
I heave a sigh of relief. Okay, good, I say.
We’re just going to suck them off in their car, she says. It’ll, like, make their whole lives.
All right, I say, and run my tongue over my teeth.
I was praying the businessmen wouldn’t be there when we got back, but they were. And one of them, our friend, the time teller, even smiled a not-unwelcoming smile. Mel took a step toward their table; they all looked up. Then just as she took a breath and opened her mouth wide, I grabbed her hand and pulled her back.
What? she hissed.
Let’s do the Fate Papers real quick, I hissed back.
Mel sighed and sat down with me back at our booth. I watched as she lamely shuffled the crumpled bits of napkin. I closed my eyes tight and asked the universe as hard as I could in my mind. When the paper dropped, I picked it up off the table and unfolded it.
Yes, written with purple ink in Mel’s loopy hand.
I made her do two out of three.
Now what? she said, as we both stared the crumpled yes of the universe in the face.
By then, the businessmen were getting up, clearing their trays. The horny one took his time about it, smiling at me on the way out in a manner that I can only describe as trying for fatherly but coming off more like a lascivious uncle. Mel and I looked at each other and made a face and feigned a shudder and laughed.
Later on, Mel would climb into cars and taxis with men she barely knew while I watched from the sidewalk. She would agree to blow a businessman in the stall of a men’s washroom near Union Station for $50. She would get tied to chairs and whipped by balding, long-haired fat men who looked like dungeon keepers. She would wear her Catholic school uniform long after she had dropped out of high school for a man from Sudbury who looked exactly like Sloth from The Goonies. That she did for free.
Later on, in the back of a parked van, my wrists would get tied together with a pair of dirty gym socks, and I would get terrible head from a political science student who would tell me my inability to come was psychological. I would go to a park with a man ten years older than me, an Indian physicist. After explaining resonance to me with violent hand gestures, he would dry-hump me between the rocks bordering the man-made creek. In a hotel room in the next suburb, I would go down on a man old enough to be my father—a friend of a friend of my mother’s—every day after school for a week or so until this man felt so guilty he told my mother and I never saw him again. All that week, this man would pay for my taxi ride from school to the hotel. And I would ride it, lipstick matching my nail polish, bra matching my underwear, feeling like a girl in a movie until I got there, and then when I got there, saw him waving at me by the entrance, ready to pay the driver, I would not feel like that anymore. He would say, You look nice, in the elevator on the way up, if we were alone. Nice, not beautiful. Never would this man or any man call me beautiful, not for a long, long time.
They would have totally gone for it. You know they would have, Mel says, handing me an earbud as we both rise from the booth. Especially that one guy.
Yeah, I say, putting the bud in my right ear.
And the Fate Papers said yes, she adds. She puts the bud’s twin in her left ear and pushes a button on the Discman. “Some Velvet Morning” swells in our respective ears.
You know what that means? she says. That means the universe wanted us to blow those guys.
So what happens when you go against the universe? I ask her, as we leave behind the golden arches and enter the suddenly ominous maw of a Misery Saga night.
I don’t know, she says, thoughtful. I’ve never done it before. I guess we’ll see.
As we walk to her house under black-bellied clouds, we consider the question, being careful to walk the same measured steps side by side so the cord won’t pull too far in either direction.
This appeared in the July/August 2013 issue.
Mona Awad (@monaawadauthor) released her debut novel-in-stories, 13 Ways of Looking at a Fat Girl, earlier this year.
Adam Biehler collaborated on March to the Top, a co-production of CBC and the Documentary Channel.
Will Vincent has worked with such clients as Air Canada, Lacoste L!ve, and Pop Montreal.