urelie could spin and spin and spin around without ever getting
dizzy. She tried it again on the steps outside her friend Brian's
apartment, waiting for him to come down. The world blurred into
watercolors around her, faster and faster, and then slid right back
into place. There was no catch-up spinning or funny-walking, the
way she knew it hit other people. She chalked it up to not having
any real sense of orientation in the first place.
"Hey, Lee." Brian came stumbling down the steps, still
patting his pockets to make sure he had everything. He rubbed his
eyes, as he did a lot, and peered at her. "How are you, Lee-Lee?"
"All right." She shoved her hands in her pockets and
her hair swung into her face, the way it always did.
"Are you sure?" he said, seriously. Because there were
times when she wasn't. She nodded.
"How was work?" she asked, and they started walking,
both with their hands in their pockets, his scarf hanging down over
his coat. Brian always had a scarf.
"Eh, it was okay. They want me to write about that festival
last week. I just want to write about Ferriswheel, really."
They reached the corner and he put his hand out to stop her from
crossing, even though she hadn't started to.
"The electronic band?" Aurelie asked.
"Yeah, I like them a lot." The light changed and they
crossed the street. "What you been listening to, Aurelie?"
She smiled. It was a game they played, this he was very
opinionated about music, very cerebral, while she was all emotion.
All vibe. "I like the one you gave me, Water From a Book."
He nodded, approvingly. "I think I'm starting to really like
programming. I like the scratching, crawling, whirring sounds going
on behind the singing." He started to laugh. "It's like
alien music. Or insects. With someone just singing right over it,
like they're in a different space. It's great."
"Insects." He shook his head, grinning. "I'm gonna
quote you in another review soon."
"Oh, good." There was a critique somewhere online, during
the freelance writing period before Brian got the magazine job,
that described a certain recording project as "a deep, reverberating
ache," and that was all Aurelie.
They reached Brightlane then and went inside, the door jingling
in that familiar way as they opened it, and there was an empty booth
this time, so they sank into the old vinyl seats, contentedly. Brian's
hair was sticking up on one side.
"Your hair has natural product in it," Aurelie told him
and he nodded.
"I should've been a punk rocker. It's too bad I prefer singers
that can carry a tune." He was reading the menu, even though
they were regulars. Aurelie looked out the window and longed for
a cigarette. She had never smoked, but she loved the idea of it,
just sitting there, cultivating something. The evidence curling
up around you in a lovely kind of way.
"Mick Jones could carry a tune," Aurelie sighed and looked
back at the table. "It's ironic that I have too much common
sense to start smoking."
"Everything about you is ironic, Lee-Lee," Brian said,
putting down the menu. "Other people put it on, you know. Especially
lately. But you're the real thing." She regarded him thoughtfully.
"How was this week?" he asked, just as the waitress approached
"OK. I made a big pile of clippings and ribbon and photos
yesterday, like a nest, and then I sat in it, and drank some sake,
and thought about stuff."
The waitress stared and Brian burst out laughing. It was the same
waitress who always caught scraps of their conversations and looked
slightly unnerved. Her name tag said Lydia.
Hi guys," she said, uncomfortably. There were
actual freaks and weirdos that frequented Brightlane. You would've
thought she'd be used to it by now.
"I make collages," Aurelie offered, as explanation.
"And I'd like coffee," Brian threw in. "Black."
"Oh, OK," Lydia said quickly.
"Put some milk in it," Aurelie said.
"No, I hate it with milk," Brian told her.
"Milk is good for the soul," she said flatly. Lydia hesitated.
Brian broke into a huge grin and rubbed his eyes. He was handsome
when he smiled that way, to the point where it took people by surprise.
It was something that stayed buried without a trace, otherwise.
"I have plenty of soul, Aurelie."
"I know, that's why I like you!"
"She'll have cream with hers," Brian told Lydia, and
she nodded and darted away.
"Thanks," Aurelie said with a sigh. "She's a bit
Brian laughed and she glowed at the sound, warming a little. She
liked to describe people as fragile, or delicate. Even sensitive.
Because she was such a total mess herself. "Did you make anything
with all the stuff you were sitting in?" he asked.
"Um, no. I got some ideas though. You know what's cool, I
bought a canvas the other day, like a painter. I'm gonna see what
I can do with it," she told him. He was fiddling with the saltshaker.
"Are you going to paint something?"
"No, I'm just gonna stick some stuff to it, like I do on paper.
I just think it'll add some texture, you know? I don't know, I could
be wrong. I'm going to try to make something to send in to Gloria
in a couple weeks, for that exhibit, you know, but I don't know
if it's the kind of thing she's looking for."
"That's good, though," he said seriously. "You have
an assignment, in a way."
"Yeah," she said, nodding. "I have structure!"
They sat there for a moment, because that was a heavy thought.
Then Brian asked, even more serious, "Are you still going to
sing for me? You are, right?"
"Uh ..." Aurelie hesitated. She gripped the edge of the
table, already seeing the crowd of staring faces, distorting themselves
and blurring. Spinning into watercolors and not sliding back.
"Come on, Aurelie. Come on, I need you for this," he
said, watching her. "I will come and get you, and carry you
on my back."
"All that would do is get me there. It wouldn't make me sing
He got quieter for a second and regarded the saltshaker again.
"You know I can't do it without you. Your voice makes that
song." The idea of being needed was always attractive to Aurelie,
although it was dangerous, slippery and usually complicated. It
was something she wasn't good at.
"... OK." She pulled her legs up, sat Indian-style in
the booth and sighed. "I can't just make the backdrop?"
"No, Lorna found some footage that works with the set. Some
kind of bad art film." Brian played the vibraphone in a severely
minimal electronic band. There wasn't enough guitar, or programming,
actually, for Aurelie, but she was proud of him. And there was a
song that he needed backup vocals for. Aurelie had the kind of arresting
voice that could not have been more miss-assigned, like a nun with
a talent for break-dancing.
"OK, I said I'll do it." Their coffee came and Aurelie's
was a beautiful chocolate color, while Brian's was a dark, oily
black. It made her a bit sad. The warmth of the color was the whole
"I met this girl at Lorna's thing the other day," Brian
said, blowing across the top of his mug. He didn't say anything
else and Aurelie glanced up at him.
"I thought you liked Lorna."
"Well, I do, but ..." Brian dropped his head and started
rubbing it with his hand, making his hair stick up on all sides.
He looked like a starfish. "It's not really working out with
her, you know ... I don't know, it's weird." Lorna was hardcore.
She was hip and funny, smart and sexy, clever, ironic, all of that.
And her hair was bobbed. She was as pretentious as you could possibly
imagine and she pulled it off well. Aurelie usually just absolutely
stopped talking when she was around. What else were you supposed
to do with that?
"She's just, you know ... She really drives me crazy."
He picked up his spoon and stirred his coffee that had nothing in
it. Aurelie felt the longing come off in waves.
"Lorna's not really a real person," she told him.
"What's that supposed to mean?" He sounded weary.
"Real people fuck up," Aurelie said. "And say stupid
things and get bad haircuts, and get lost when they're driving,
and drop things and break them."
"I'm not sure about all that." They sat in silence for
a while and drank their coffees. Brightlane was a place for these
kinds of silences. Aurelie didn't have a job. She had quit the last
one, just another one in a long string of offices and shops and
kitchens and places where people who fuck up were definitely not
welcome. And people who made collages even less so. She was working
on focusing, just trying to focus.
Portfolios and exhibits and don't-start-smoking and don't-forget-to-feed-yourself
Maybe I can live with him and work next to him while he writes
his reviews and his music, and puts on records and points out when
you can hear the theremin, and messes up his hair. And asks me to
sing for him.
"How come it always ends up being about me?" Brian asked,
looking up suddenly. "When we come here to talk?"
"Is it?" she said, blinking. "Is it always about
"Hmm. I guess that's just a dumb guy thing to say." He
drank the last of his coffee and grinned crookedly. "Did I
tell you Lorna said you were a fairy?"
"A fairy?" Aurelie was startled.
"Yeah. I asked her one time, 'What do you think of Aurelie?'
Because, you know, I like to begin conversations that way,"
"Don't do that."
"And she said, 'I like her. She's really quiet and not really
all there. She's like a fairy.'" He fell silent again and fiddled
with his empty mug. He had a habit of seeming really far away, but
not quite being able to sit still. Aurelie sat still and imagined
diaphanous, lettuce-edged wings unfolding themselves behind her,
curling upwards like cigarette smoke. It was nice.
"So neither of us thinks the other is real," she said,
smiling. Brian looked up and scratched his chin.
"I wonder why that is."
It was windy when they walked back and Aurelie ducked her head
against his shoulder, her hair falling into her face. "I got
this guy at work to make fliers for the show ..." His voice
was monotone and rambling a bit, kind of soothing, like the coffee
and Brightlane and the idea of being a fairy.
"They're really good ... I'll make you a copy of his stuff
... He sings like ... You don't have to say anything when you're
up there ... You know that artist who draws the little girls with
big heads? ... Lorna said I should wear my blue shirt ..."
" she said.
"I can tell you're not listening."
"I know." She stopped at the corner and bent down to
pick up bits that were fluttering, stuck to the ground among leaves
and trash and blown-around flowers. Brian watched for a second.
Then he reached over and held her hair back.
"Aurelie, was there something you wanted to talk about?"
"No, I just wanted to see you." She looked up at him
and he let go, staring down at her a moment. She held open her hands
and in them were pieces of moth wings, gray and fragile. They were
fuzzy, almost blurry-looking there. They needed to be stuck to something.
"Wings," Brian said, surprised.
Aurelie cradled them and smiled. "I need to go work on my