“Brigitte.” I tried to regain her attention, a desperate schoolboy. “I wanted to be named after you. But now…I see you’re much too striking. And I wouldn’t live up to it. Ever.” This made her smile, harsh teeth, aching cheeks. Her face made the sound of Aaah
, like a very old man.
She splashed some of the river into the air. “To live up to me is simple.” I looked into her eyes. Her pupils were as black as a scream, like a high pitched choir, singing toward me. “All you have to do is give away your entire youth and all of your beauty.” The cruel curl of her lips continued. As she spoke, her mouth hardly seemed to move, it was in place like a ballerina’s bun, even as it spun. I tried to picture it wide and screaming, unraveled strands falling out of ribbons in angry waves. The mouth began to whisper. “The outlines you see in dark light. Give them away.
” Her vowels were hoarse.
Brigitte began to dance her fingertips along the skin above her breasts. They skimmed the familiar landscape of her dark collarbone and breast plate. The bones beneath her skin jutted out like abacus rows, beaded and hard. “Give your youth to someone now. And then when you grow old, you can take from somewhere else. Just like the saint,” Brigitte said. There were drops of sweat on her plump lower lip. The upper one had a sharp indentation in its middle, a cut that dropped in, penetrating the pink on either side. Peach and pale rose intermingled around her mouth. She shrugged. “And that is how I am me.”
“I want you to teach me how to be you,” I heard myself say. “That is why I came.”
“Well here you are. With me. With my beauty,” she said. “You found us.” And she jumped in to the water. A gold spray erupted, and the tips of Brigitte’s golden hair made a miniature whirlpool where she’d landed. I went in after her.
The water tasted like candy. My eyes stung from its sweetness.
“It’s Orangina, yes,” said Brigitte.
“Oh my!” I exclaimed. I lapped the river in with my tongue, as demurely as I could. I giggled. She giggled. Our naked bodies sputtered. We gurgled Orangina and blew bubbles. The bubbles popped in our eyes. My whole body was delicious! The hairs on my arms were fizzing.
“I know!” Brigitte wailed, a baby girl, her hair matted with orange soda to the sides of her face in ringlets, curling in dark orange masses behind her back like spiraled corn snakes. “The river does what I want it to! I was thirsty for a treat! Ha!” Brigitte laughed with a roar. Her lips disappeared into her teeth and she screamed. “This is what happens when you are me! You get to decide everything!”
“Hee hee hee,” we tweeted, “hee hee hee.”
I shrieked again. I kept laughing, like someone had a feather on my belly, and I sucked in the juice of the river like a fat child. “What else happens? When you‘re you?”
Brigitte quieted, she became very sad. Her tin can eyes turned sharp around the edges. She dipped her head under the orange river, and came back up again blank faced, a sullen teen. “You are blue,” she said. I stopped laughing. “Sometimes royal, like a peacock’s neck.” She watched the ends of her hair sway around in the water. “Sometimes bruised, like a dwarf after a rough game of ping-pong. Sometimes an abstract blue, like the balls of an Egyptian at a country square dance. Blue sometimes in a light way, like a Jamaican wave, like a beaded turquoise necklace hanging on a slim breastplate, lit by dim outdoor lamps.” Brigitte turned blue, so did the river. Then red, then gold, then grey. The grey seemed old, so I looked away from her.
“Tell me about women’s dreams,” Brigitte said next, her eyebrows twitching. “Do they always involve Shakespeare and carousels? I don’t have dreams here.”
“Oh. No, not always,” I said as the river turned back to water and sediment flowing melancholic over rocks.
“I see,” Brigitte said. She began to swim in circles. She flitted and flipped. Her hips moved through the water like a seal’s, her rump the color of French toast, bobbing in and out of the waves. The trees across the river wore dark lush leaves like expensive fur coats. I stared at them with wonder as she dipped about. Brigitte pulled a lit cigarette out of the river and began to puff. She sucked on her cigarette; it was helium and she was a balloon. The smoke billowed out of her.