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Clara decides to spend the afternoon with Rachel. She just doesn’t bother inviting her.
“Just drop me off by the school.”
David turned his battered 280z into the parking area a few lots up from Clara’s house. The car was a hand-me-down from his mother and ugly as sin, and David was inordinately proud of it. Clara called it the Flying Booger, but never in front of him. He leaned over to kiss her and their lips tangled awkwardly for a few beats before she pulled away and fumbled for the handle. As soon as the door shut behind her, he drove off. She watched the dark green car exit onto the main road and rapidly disappear from sight.
She had no idea where to go.
[private]Every time before this, Clara had had an empty house to return to afterward. A safe haven in which to sort out the emotions an afternoon with David would inevitably stir up in her psyche. This time, her parents were home, and she just couldn’t face them. Not right now. Not when the memory of David wiping his semen off her breasts with the shirt from his McDonald’s uniform was so fresh in her mind.
As the sun beat down, she began to make her way across the blistering asphalt. The lot was vacant, free of cars for the summer. At the edge lay a dip of land separating the houses on her street from the road that led down the mountain. Three hundred metres of open space yawned in front of Clara, the only dangerous part of her impromptu and unplanned flight. Hopefully neither of her parents would choose to glance out the window until she was safely out of sight down the road.
She hustled along the gravel shoulder, head down, avoiding looking in any direction but directly in front of her. Cars passed intermittently and she prayed that none contained an overly observant family friend. When she reached the shelter of the trees on the other side of the field, she felt her tension ease. From here it should be safe.
Ten minutes later, she stood at the top of a driveway leading to a small white and yellow rancher. The late model Taurus belonging to Rachel’s mother was in the carport, but Clara knew she would be leaving soon. Rachel had to be picked up from work.
Clara started down toward the house.
From behind the clematis-choked lattice that blocked her from view, Clara could hear Shelly’s voice drifting out through the open door. She was on the phone with someone. Not paying attention to the words, Clara listened to the timbre of the woman’s voice for a minute. Let it centre her. Ground her. Glancing at her watch, she weighed her options. The half-formed idea she’d had of requesting that Shelly take her along into town seemed suddenly unfulfilling. Clara didn’t want someone to talk to. She wanted solitude. Solitude, and perhaps something else. Something that was as yet indefinable.
Decision made, she ducked down and stole past the windows to hide beside the short fence that locked off the backyard. She pressed her back up against the hot white clapboard siding and waited. The sun pressed down on her as she crouched, the minutes slowly ticking away.
It wasn’t long before the voice emitting from the nearest window was saying goodbye to the person on the other end. She heard the rattle of keys, followed in quick succession by the slamming of first the house door and then the car door. The Taurus’s engine groaned to life, and Shelly was gone. Running late, like usual.
Clara waited a minute, then a minute more. The car didn’t return. Straightening herself up, she moved back through the gate and stepped up onto the sheltered front porch.
As always, the door was unlocked. Bless you, Shelly.
She pushed the door closed behind her, instinctively giving it the requisite shove to latch it. Habit.
For a moment Clara stood there in the foyer, enjoying the relative cool. Her eyes adjusted to the dim interior, and she took in the room in front of her. Familiar blue carpeting. Teal sofas. Questionable faux-Egyptian art on the walls. She cocked her ear and listened to the noises of the house. No one was home. The dogs must be outside, or she would know by now.
She crossed through the living room and into the kitchen. Shelly had clearly been going through her cooking magazines looking for something. Stepping over the dozens of back issues of Gourmet littering the floor, Clara moved down the stairs to the basement. If the front entryway had been refreshingly cool, the air down here was heaven. She almost shivered.
Walking past Rachel’s room, she continued along the hallway and opened the door at the end. Back into the heat.
Clara stepped across the expanse of peeling wood that made up the back porch. She sank down to sit on the edge, the boards warm against the back of her thighs. Rolls of paint sloughed off and crumbled underneath her weight.
Martin and Mortimer hustled up to her, two snowballs shimmering in the July heat. Their stubby tails beat frantically as they rammed their noses against her ankles. When she reached down to pet them, the noses moved to her palm, bringing their tongues along for the ride. Little dogs. Such a ridiculous indulgence.
She stretched her legs out a bit, resting the heels of her dirty blue flip-flops in the dry grass. It was possible to keep lawns alive in this weather, but no one in this household seemed to care. She braced her right shoulder up against the wobbly railing and rested her head.
And then, she just sat.
The dogs settled down on the grass by her feet after a few more minutes of sniffing and snuffling at her dust-covered toes. Content with their new companion, they squinted in the sunlight and let their tongues loll out. It was too hot for them to expend any additional energy.
Slow and steady the sun crept across the grass in front of the trio. Clara observed dispassionately, temple against wood. The air was filled with the sounds of summer: children shouting, cars driving past, dogs barking, grasshoppers beating the stagnant air with their wings. The sounds penetrated the hedge that surrounded her little private hideaway but emerged muted and distant. When a bee looped past her head, the clarity of the noise almost caused Clara to jump. She watched it, tracking its meandering route with her gaze. Given that Shelly’s flowerbed was doing about as well as the lawn, she hoped the bee had other options.
Eventually she stood and went into the house. The dogs followed. Clara checked their water dish when she was back upstairs. Empty – no big surprise. She walked over to the sink and filled the bowl, hoping no one would notice. The dogs shoved her aside to get at it.
The clock above the range said 4:08. How long had it been since David dropped her off at the school? Clara wasn’t sure. She wasn’t ready to go home. Instead she went into Shelly and Paul’s bathroom and opened the drawer that she knew contained Shelly’s marijuana stash. She licked her finger and separated a paper from the stack before pinching an appropriate amount of the dried leaves to line up along one edge. A few deft movements and Clara was sealing the edge of the paper with her tongue. She shut the drawer and returned the kitchen, fishing a lighter out of the drawer beside the stove before heading back outside.
This time, Clara stretched out on the sun-scorched lawn. Lighting up, she closed her eyes and felt herself sinking further into the ground with each inhalation. When she felt pleasantly enveloped, she opened her eyes again. The sky was so blue it almost hurt to look at. She cocked her head, closed one eye. Tried the other. Nothing changed.
She pulled herself into a sitting position, shaking the dead grass out of her russet hair. The lit joint still rested between her fingers. She gently stubbed it in the dirt before using her saliva-moistened fingers to ensure it was extinguished. She would grab a sandwich bag from the kitchen to put it in on her way out. With a final glance at the sky, she went inside.
When Rachel’s family had first moved into the thirty-year-old house, Clara had painted Rachel’s room a warm sand colour that Rachel had then bedaubed with a stencil and craft paint. Clara sat down on the familiar red duvet and followed the chain of suns, moons and stars around the walls of the converted den. Celestial themes weren’t really her bag. What made this one particularly offensive was the fact that Rachel hadn’t bothered attempting to apply the stencil in a straight line, or in anything even resembling a pattern. Annoyed anew by the sight, Clara rolled into the middle of the bed and shifted her eyes to the ceiling. She had been in this room more times than she could count. It felt different today. Silent. Peaceful.
Fishing Rachel’s diary out of the bottom drawer of the nightstand, Clara rolled onto her side and began to read. Rachel had gone to bible camp the summer before and spent the majority of her journaling time hemming and hawing over her personal beliefs. This was nothing new, nor was it particularly interesting. Clara skimmed through the pages until her own name popped up. The entries that came shortly after Rachel’s time at camp contained a lot of disparaging commentary about Clara’s lack of Christian goodness, but that petered out as time passed and they returned to school. Clara wasn’t particularly concerned. She did find it a bit offensive when Rachel compared her to other people – Christian people – but oh well. She wasn’t interested in emulating any of them, regardless of if it would improve her standing in Rachel’s esteem. From the pieces Clara bothered to read, Rachel considered herself quite deep. Deeper than Clara, at least. An attitude that, if Clara really thought about it, was pretty apparent in her daily behaviour. Rachel was fun to be around, but she could be a real bitch.
Clara tucked the diary back into its hiding place and sauntered over to Rachel’s walk-in closet. As was tradition, she swung her leg a few times to limber up before kicking the frame of the door above her. Clara wasn’t sure how that had started, but they’d been doing it for months. Dancer posturing. She wondered if Rachel did it every time she went in her closet when she was alone.
Clara felt around in the air above until her fingers found the metal chain dangling below the bare bulb in the ceiling. Giving it a sharp tug, she reached out and skimmed her hands over the walls of fabric that the bright light revealed. She shifted hanger after hanger, unsure of what exactly she was looking for. Rachel’s black capri pants, maybe. The ones Rachel said Clara was too wide for. Her eyes landed on them, a dishevelled heap on the floor near the back wall. She snatched them up and snapped them in the air, straightening out the wrinkles. Unbuckling her leather belt, she let her denim shorts drop around her ankles and went to step into the capris. She stopped mid-action and walked over to the dresser instead, fishing out a pair of lacy black knickers and sliding them on after shucking her own. She returned to the pants, pulling them up over her hips. They fit, even if they were snug.
Clara looked up at the racks in front of her. Rachel’s favourite lilac tank top. She dragged her sweat-dampened t-shirt over her head and tossed it to the side before yanking the thin strap of the camisole, sending the hanger flying off the metal bar. Shit. A quick onceover revealed that the shirt was fine. She pulled it on and adjusted her breasts in the neckline.
Rachel’s jewellery box sat like a prize atop her dresser, an ornate wooden coffer that didn’t close quite right. It was one of those artsy gifts she occasionally received from her absentee father to make her forget that he never paid child support and treated her like crap. They always seemed to have the intended effect, much to Clara’s dismay.
She rifled through the box until she found some silver hoops. Threading them through her ears, she looked at her reflection and decided to add the tiny silver crucifix that was hanging on the bevelled frame of the mirror. What else? Lipstick. She perused Rachel’s collection, selecting a frosty pink. Not Clara’s colour by any means, but a great one on Rachel. She carefully applied it, blotting gently with a tissue.
Clara moved to the centre of the room. Taking a deep breath, she slid into battement tendu, lifted into arabesque. Lowered her leg. Demi-plié. Coupé jeté en tournant. Into fourth. Fouetté rond de jambe en tournant. Run. Elevé. Turn. She moved again and again. She moved faster and faster until there was nothing left. Nothing left of her afternoon in David’s bed. Nothing left of him asking keenly after Rachel even as his fingers danced inside of Clara. Nothing left of her reputation with her friends from school. Nothing left of her crap relationship with her parents. Nothing left of Clara, full stop.
Lifting her face, she stepped out of fifth and walked back to the closet.
The lilac shirt went back on its hanger and the pants were discarded amongst the detritus in what Clara estimated was roughly their starting location. With a nimble motion she doffed the knickers and tossed them to the floor as well. Glancing at the clock on the bedside table, she quickly threw on her own clothing. It was getting late. Her parents would be worried about her.
Rachel’s phone was lying half-buried under the pillows on her bed. Clara unearthed it and dialled her parents’ number.
She tried again and got the same result.
With a sigh, Clara pushed off the bed. Tucking the black knickers in her pocket, she turned off the closet light and left the room. Martin and Mortimer were waiting in the hallway. She herded them along with her foot and exiled them to the backyard. Picking up the half-smoked joint from beside the door, she went upstairs and located a plastic bag to put it in before slipping it into her lace-filled pocket.
With one last glance around, Clara walked out the door.[/private]