Portrait of a Girl

Cigarettes and Opera

It was a glorious early spring day. One of those days where it didn’t seem possible that it had snowed only a few days before. The sun was golden as it hung in the mid day sky. There wasn’t a cloud to besmirch the perfect blue sky. As I walked toward the parking lot I saw her. She was leaning on the on her elbows, neck tilted back and her sun glassed face tilted up to the heavens. The sun making her pail skin almost glow. I accidentally kicked a rock, and this alerted her to my presence. “I knew you would come,” She said with a smile as she slid off the hood of her golden Dodge Stratus, she opened the drivers door, “Get in.”

I walked to the passenger side, still unsure of what I would be getting myself into. He car was clearly older, a late 90’s model I assumed, but it was clear it had been well taken care of. Not a piece of trash graced the floor. The tan seats were lined with leopard print seat covers. In the middle of the dash swayed Hello Kitty in a grass skirt and she held a ukulele . Her pale slender fingers rested on a pink leather steering wheel cover which was trimmed with small white rhinestones. This was not what I thought the inside of her car would look like. Funny how my friends who drive brand new BMWs thought that it was okay to trash their interior while, she had taken such care of hers.
I shut the door, “Seatbelt,” She ordered.

No one besides my parents had told me to put my seat belt on when I got into a car, least of all my friends, or peers which is what she was. I looked at her and asked,
“But first I gotta know why.”

“Why what?”

“Why you picked me.”

“The Truth? I don’t think I like you very much, I never have. But I realized that I don’t know you well enough to dislike you, so I decided I would find out. If you said no I would have a reason to keep on disliking you but if you said yes you might have a chance of making me change my mind. Preppy Kid, might just be a little more open minded than I thought he was.”

“No,” I said shaking my head, “there has to be more to it. I mean there are ton of other people that are popular and less likeable than I am and better looking than I am, so why me did you draw my name out of a hat or something?”

She let out a harsh bark of laughter, “Its not about your looks Preppy Kid.”

“Then what?”

She sighed heavily, and began, “Do you remember freshmen year in Accelerated English and you sat beside me?”

I thought for a moment, yes that had been the case, “ Yeah, sure.”

“Well I saw you tear up at the end of Romeo and Juliet, you know the Leo Decaprio Clair Danes version. And then, I don’t remember we were talking about poetry or something, you raised your hand and said something to the affect of, ‘True love can transcend death.’ And I thought maybe just maybe you had a little more depth than the rest of our asinine materialistic peers… Seatbelt… Well were going to see if you can be deep wearing Abercrombie and Fitch.”

“You’re probably just jealous that you can’t afford it.”

Another sharp bark of laughter filled the car, “ Maybe it has something to do with I couldn’t fit my left tit, that’s my small one, in one of their shirts. And lets don’t forget they don’t want my business I’m not a ‘cool kid’ or a ‘hot kid’. “

“I’m sorry,” I said seeing for the first time the silliness of the Abercrombie and Fitch marketing strategy.

“No you’re not, your just in my car and you know I could kill you,” She said before locking the doors and smiling at me creepily with wide glazed over eyes, “For god’s sake put your seatbelt on!” She said before starting the car.

As we drove out of the school parking lot I noticed a pink ribbon and a pink haired troll hanging from her rearview mirror, and what looked like a parking hang tag for the local technical school/community college, the next county over, where I had taken post secondary classes the past two years, “What’s with the troll?” I asked.

“It was my grandmother and I’s thing.”

“Oh cool.” Her tone of voice had been dismissive, as if she hadn't wanted to talk about it further so I decided not to press.

The car remained quiet until we pulled in the Marathon gas station that sat on main street in our town. I glanced over and noticed that the needle of the gas gage sat clearly above full. I knew this adventure didn’t require filling the gas tank when she pulled into one of the parking spots in front of the glass doors.

“You are 18 right?” She asked looking at me before she grabbed her purse and started rooting through it.

“Ummm, yeah, aren’t you?”

“Uhhh…noo… Not until May.”

“Okay, why do I need to be 18?”

“So you can go by me a pack of cigarettes.”

“No! That’s against the law! And I’m not going to contribute to you getting lung cancer!”

Another bark of her harsh laughter rang out, “Don’t you of all people lecture me about cancer. I want a pack of Marlboro Smooth 100’s,”She said shoving money into my hand.

“What if I know the person working and they tell my parents or my friends?”

“So who gives a fuck, tell your rents the truth, you bought them for me.”

“Fine,” I said violently unfastening my seat belt and flinging the door open and slamming it shut.
I had never gone in to a gas station to buy cigarettes. I felt like I was doing something wrong I felt skeevish and dirty. I walked to the counter, the guy behind it looked at me expectantly, he wasn’t much older than I was, he probably even went to the same school as me, “Ummm, can I get umm,” What had she fucking said, “ 100 Smooths?”

He looked at me as if I had sprouted a second head, “You mean Marlboro Smooth 100’s?”

“Uh yea.”

“You got an ID?” he asked skeptically.

“Here’s your fucking cancer sticks!” I said throwing them at her as I slid in the car.

“Thanks, babe,” She said with a wink then she began thumping the pack on her hand. I heard the sound of the cellophane wrapping being removed. I watched as her slender fingers pull the first cigarette from the pack and place it between her pink lips. I watched her reach down into the console and pick up her zippo lighter and I heard the metallic sound as she flicked and the end of the cigarette end began to glow orange. I watched as she plucked it from her lips between her index finger and middle finger. And I watched the blue gray smoke seepe out the corners of her mouth and her small round nose. “Problem?” She asked as the automatic window slid down into the door.

“Uh no.”

“Music?” She asked as plugged her Iphone in to the cigarette lighter outlet. And set her radio to a station so the music could play through the speakers. The music started sweet and soft, it took me a moment to realize that it was an orchestra playing. Classical music? Then the rich beautiful voice of a tenor filled the car.

“Opera?” I asked a little taken a back.

“ It’s Turandot, by Puccini.”

I shook my head, “You’re speaking Greek to me.”

“It’s Italian actually.”

“Oh… So is this what you and your friends do? Smoke cigarettes and listen to opera?”

“No. Opera’s my thing. So are typically the cigarettes.”

“Oh, so you are the only addict in your circle.”

“Condescending much? I’m not addicted.”

I gave her a skeptical look, “ This pack will last me a while, two weeks most likely and that’s with me bumming them to people. I mean if we drink tonight and tomorrow night then they might only last me till Wednesday but…”

“So you drink?”

“Yeah, some weekends. Sometimes more often sometimes less often. I mean we don’t like party like some of your friends do, but we just sit and chill.”

“Do you smoke pot?”

“Really? Is this what you like think of me and my friends? Do you think we’re partiers and stoners?”

“No, that’s not what I meant.”

“Sure sounded like it to me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Gabe, we losers. We like Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings, and Star Was and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And we read and write fan fiction. And day dream about getting out of this shitty town. And we talk about what guys are hot and who we hate and who’s dumber than a box of rocks and who’s fucking who… And sometimes that includes pot…”

“Where are we going?” I asked pulling my aviator sunglasses out of my backpack.

“Oh my god! Can you get any more duchy cliché?”

“Fine,” I said taking them off and stuffing them into my bag. I reached up and pulled the mirror down to block the setting sun.

“Listen if the Opera’s not doing it for you, you can flip through my music if you want I’m sure you’ll find something you can stomach. My taste in music is very eclectic.”

“Where are we going?” I asked again.

“Right here.”
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