Jesse always wants someone to take her picture. It’s a combination of loving her freckled face and ensuring that the world knows what she’s up to, all the time. In Milan she’ll caption this one, a subtextual hair flip, a status flash. It doesn’t matter that I’m with her; no one will ever know.
“There!” she says, and points to where she wants it, between two pale green pinball machines. When her arm is in front of me, I grab her wrist and bring it to my mouth, bite down like it’s a drumstick. She laughs and jerks away, looks at the spot to see if I’ve left a mark. Then she settles between the games.
“I have to look serious,” she says, resting an elbow on the glass. She flattens her mouth, putting all the weight in her eyes. “Do I look like Steve Zissou?”
If I ask her, “who?” she’ll throw her head back in pretty laughter, say how could I possibly not know who Steve Zissou is? Charmed, she’ll pet my head like I’m a dumb dog (but a good dog), and put an arm around my shoulder. I’ll smile, look down. Keep quiet until we’re equals again. It might not be until tonight, back in the hotel room when we’re both on our backs with our bellies up and breasts exposed. Though then, she’ll cup mine and damn her “white girl body,” all flat and boring and Midwest. Then I’ll have to reassure her that it’s good her way, too. Then I’ll be on top.
“Stop staring at me,” she says, “Take a picture, it’ll last longer.”
She holds out her phone for me to photograph.
“Take a bunch.”
I do. In some she smiles, tilts her head left, right. In others, she keeps her mouth straight, and without her knowing, I zoom all the way into her eye to get the pebble sized birthmark by her pupil, the thing she hates most about herself. When she looks through the pictures later, she’ll feel bad about herself for a bit. I won’t let her know I’m watching for it.
“Make sure you can read the Zissou in it. Can you?” Before I can answer, she asks, “Wait, have you even seen The Life Aquatic?”
Bar Luce is the Wes Anderson café, so I could likely get away with the lie. If I say no, she’ll say, “Everyone- black, white, whatever- everyone should see The Life Aquatic.”
And when we’re finally over, I’ll have all these pictures. I’ll show them to the next girl while she twists my hair into dreadlocks. Make Milan sound like a nightmare. Emphasize the awful. How in the fantasy version, I grabbed the meat of Jesse’s silk blonde ponytail and slammed her head on the glass. I don’t know if the next girl will laugh or frown or run. If she’ll detect any lies in the subtext. Hear that in the awful, I enjoyed myself.
“No,” I tell Jesse. “I haven’t seen it.”
I snap another few pictures to keep from watching her head explode.
“What’s it about?”
“No spoilers!” she says. “I’m gonna make you watch it.”
She smiles big.
“I’m gonna make you love it.”
Tia Clark reads
Photograph courtesy of Matthew Spiegelman
Tia Clark’s fiction has appeared in American Short Fiction, The Offing, Fourteen Hills, and elsewhere. She has received fellowships from the OMI International Arts Center, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and The Wisconsin Institute for Creative Writing. She lives in Madison, WI.