Just Listen

Author: P Hana

Page 29

   

"Not much." She reached up, twisting a strand of hair around her finger, looking at me. "How was your summer?"

If it had been anyone else, I would have offered up my stan-dard answer—"Fine"—without even thinking. But since it was Hillary, I was on my guard. "Good," I said, keeping my voice curt. "How was yours?"

"Totally boring," she replied, sighing. She chewed her gum for a moment: I could see it, pink and shiny, on her tongue. "So what's up with you and Emily?"

"Nothing," I said. "Why?"

She shrugged. "It's just, you guys always used to hang out. Now you're not even talking to each other. Just seems kind of weird."

I glanced over at Emily, who was examining her fingernails. "I don't know," I said. "Things change, I guess."

I could feel her looking at me, and I knew, despite her questions, that she knew exactly what had happened, or most of it. Still, I'd be damned if I filled in the rest of the details. "I better go," I told her. "I'm up next."

"Right," she said, narrowing her eyes at me as I stepped around her. "See you later."

I took my place against the wall, then settled to wait again, yawning. It was two in the afternoon, but I was exhausted. And it was all Owen Armstrong's fault.

That morning I'd happened to wake up briefly and glance at the clock right at 6:57 a.m. Just as I was about to roll back over, I remembered Owen's show. He'd been on my mind a lot that weekend, if only because I was suddenly aware of every little white lie I told, from the "Fine" I replied when my dad asked me how school was on Friday to how I'd nodded when my mom asked me the night before if I was excited about getting back to the Models. Cumulatively, it seemed like a lot of dishonesty, enough so that I found myself wanting to keep my word whenever possible. I'd told Owen I would listen to his show. So I did.

When I first turned it on at seven sharp, I could hear only static. I leaned closer to the radio, pressing my ear to it, just as there was an explosion of noise: a sudden burst of guitar, a clanging of cymbals, followed by someone screaming. I jerked, startled, whacking the radio with my elbow and knocking it off the bed. It hit the floor with a bang but kept playing, now at full blast.

Whitney started banging on the other side of the wall as I grabbed it, turning it down as quickly as I could. When I finally pulled it back to my ear—carefully this time—the song was still going, the words the singer was saying (or screeching, really) indecipherable. I had never heard music like this, if it was even music at all.

Finally, with a burst of cymbals, it was over. The next song, though, was no better. Instead of thrashing guitars, it was some sort of electronic piece, consisting of various beeps and blips with a man talking over them, reciting what sounded, to me anyway, like a shopping list. Plus, it went on for five and a half minutes, which I knew because I was watching the clock the entire time, praying for it to finish. When it finally did, Owen came on.

"That was Misanthrope with 'Descartes Dream,'" he said. "Before that, we had Lipo with 'Jennifer.' You're listening to Anger Management, here on WRUS, your community radio station. Here's Nuptial."

Which was another long techno piece, followed by something that sounded like old men reciting poems about whaling ships, their voices gruff and uneven, after which came a solid two minutes of very drippy-sounding harp music. It was such a mishmash, I couldn't even begin to adjust to it. Instead, for a full hour, I sat there, listening to song after song, waiting for one I could actually either a) understand or b) enjoy. It didn't happen. Clearly, I was not going to be enlightened. Just exhausted.

"Annabel," Mrs. McMurty called out, jerking me back to the present. "We're ready for you."

I nodded, then stepped over to stand in front of the backdrop, which was now decorated with several plants: a spider plant, some ferns, and a big palm tree in a pot with wheels. Clearly, this year I'd drawn Laurel's Florals. At least it was better than tires.

The photographer was one I hadn't met before, and he didn't say hello as I stepped in front of him, too busy messing with his camera as a prop guy pushed the rolling pot closer to me. A frond brushed my cheek.

The photographer glanced up at me. "We need more plants," he said to Mrs. McMurty, who was standing off to the side. "Or else I'm just going to have to shoot really close."

"Do we have more plants?" Mrs. McMurty asked the prop guy.

He glanced into the adjoining room. "A couple of cacti," he said. "And one ficus. But it's looking kind of sick."

There was a pop as the light meter went off. I reached up, trying to push the frond out of my face. "Good," the photographer said, coming closer and moving it back. "I like that. Kind of a reveal thing. Do it again."

I did, holding back a sneeze as a branch tickled my face. Behind the photographer, I could see the other girls watching me—the new models, the seniors, Emily. But while I'd had so much trouble lately with being stared at, in this setting it was familiar, what was supposed to happen. If only for a few minutes, I could stop thinking of everything inside to focus only on the surface: one glimpse, one glance, one look. This one.

"Good," the photographer said. A cactus was moving closer in my side vision, but I kept my eyes on him as he moved around me, the flash popping as he directed me to come out, emerge, again and again.

That night, after my mom had gone to bed, and Whitney was locked away in her room, I went downstairs for a glass of water. My dad was sitting in the den just beyond the kitchen, the TV on in front of him, his feet up on the ottoman. When I flicked on the light, he turned around.

"You," he said, "are just in time for a great documentary on Christopher Columbus."

"Really," I said, pulling a glass out of the cabinet.

"It's fascinating," he said. "You want to watch with me? You might just learn something."

My dad loved the History Channel. "It's the story of the world!" he always said, when the rest of us complained about having to watch yet another show about the Third Reich, the fall of the Berlin Wall, or the Great Pyramids. Usually he capit-ulated, allowing himself to be outvoted, and was subsequently subjected to the Style Network, HGTV, or an endless series of reality shows. When he was alone later at night, though, the TV was all his. Still, he always seemed eager for company, as though history was even better when you had someone to share it with.

Usually, that someone was me. While my mom went to bed early, Whitney claimed boredom, and Kirsten always talked too much no matter what you were watching, my dad and I were a good match in the evenings, sitting together as history unfolded before us. Even if it was a show I knew he'd seen before, he still acted interested, nodding and saying, "Hmm," and "You don't say," as if the narrator could not only hear him, but required this feedback to continue.

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