Spirited #4 [Plastic City]
by Allison Vanouse
When you open her bottle, its lid snaps out of position with an insistence that suggests no movement. It was designed by serious industrial designers to be used in time as well as space, molded into itself which is to say: an object with specific tension sufficient to make reality function like two frames of the same film or flip-book that have lost their explanatory interim. It feels, at least, this way. This is the type of object you will finger for a mild, sterile aesthetic pleasure that you barely recognize. Snap, snap, snap, snap, open, close, and open and the click and slight resistance of that comforting last close. Unnoticed pleasure, like the quiet resolution of a chord in distant music. O moments touching such objects, which are simian and meditative. O strangeness of social existence (the subject of the meditation) where so much has already been decided: not only the bottle, the mouthwash inside the bottle, not only shape but this, these very moments of our isolation in discrete and nighttime bathrooms where this object becomes strange its moment simian and meditative. She is comfortable with matter she resembles: curved in the right places, sharp in others. Nearly medical in its insistence on itself. But enough. She has left the bottle already. She has gone back to the bed. His flesh is cold and fleshy. The sheet is damp. She rolls onto her back to spoon with solitude, and studies, now, the state of her incubated dissatisfaction. It is moist, electric, sterile, and the color of a pearl. She is opening her body toward the ceiling. She is showing sexless beauty to the luscious, cool, and unresponsive night.
Le truc en plastique, c’est comme la pilule. It was a phrase she had practiced. It used a French that was informational but tinged with enough studied colloquialism to indicate that she possessed an intoxicating, dry worldliness. There are few oral examinations on the description of various birth control systems. Her vocabulary was untested. That made this a test. And this Swiss with this downy fluff of body hair – as he reached beyond the elastic at her hips she considered the phrase. And as his fingers struggled for an advantageous angle, as they combed across the groomed pubic triangle, she reconsidered the phrase. She practiced its mouthshapes beneath a breathy indication of generically legible ecstasy. Hold the mouth forward. Focus the U. And then at last. She feels him fumble for a slimy opening. Feels him finger, instead, the small and contraceptive device. And, wonderful, he is taken aback. She licks her lips. She has already caught his wrist. She whispers. “Le truc en plastique” her blood is pounding “c’est comme la pilule”. And her pronunciation she judges perfect, and his comprehension she judges complete. The oral passed, the perfect score, the ecstasy of self-creation. She pulls out the thing & clatters it on the parquet. Her plastic truc is shining, not two feet across the floor. The streetlights seem to zig-zag on its surface in a rhythm like a jackhammer. She watches this. She is undeterred by the distraction. Even if he goes all night, she will stay in the clean interior place that he can validate but not control. The luscious, unresponsive night. How lovely to be dry and worldly. She was so understood. In the morning, she will finger the plastic bulb, reinsert it, say, A la prochaine she thinks. The mattress squeals it. He is fucking steadily. Ou quoi -The sound- Ou quoi? Ou-quoi-ou-quoi-ou-quoi-ou-quoi. “A la prochaine,” she forms the words beneath her breath, “ou quoi?”
There are schools of colored tubes beached along the lakeshore, made of pearlized pastel plastic. To her, they appear robotic. She has only recently learned what they’re for. She has only recently learned not to pick them up with bare hands. They are things that look like they ought to screw into a matching interior threading. The plastic is the same grade as a low-grade Barbie. The vagina might as well have an interior threading. She has never used a tampon. Toxic shock syndrome is a spectral monster at sixteen. So is her vagina. Unseen place that grows hair around itself. Unseen place, with unseen interior threading that accepts objects, whole, that leaves the applicator behind the way space travel leaves the launching equipment. The launching equipment swims in pearlized pastel schools. The National Honor Society forms an outing to pick them up. But between the rocks, the pastel plastic still looks up at her, from so many gaps, between so many rocks. Nobody else will pick them up. Boredom is disgusting. When she has her period, she will use the most-recently advertised thing and she will never get her hands slimy. She will wear the prettiest panties and order salads and will never weigh more than 110 pounds. Her mom once had to use a piece of soggy cotton diaper like old Hungarian women used to because she forgot to bring a tampon to the dairy farm where her grandmother lived. The women in her family are mostly big and fleshy, but she is sixteen and is thin. All of her things will come wrapped in pearlized plastic, and her clothes will look on her the way they do on the models in the back sections of Teen Vogue. She is happier now, and distracted. She leaves the plastic things, like everybody else. She wanders, wonders, in a self-permissive way, if there was a secret instruction not to pick them up. She will help to lift a larger object, a big piece of rusty pipe that takes six people. She will have her picture taken doing it. Her period will come that summer. She will feel glamorous about herself for the next five years.
Now the Polly Pockets are almost too much of a little-kid toy and so are most of the other things in this part of the house. Next year they are both going to middle school but when they have sleepovers they still like to bring the box of Polly Pockets down, or maybe just a couple of the Polly Pockets, because it’s almost a tradition to have them. One night when Shawna was the only one over, she slept on the pull-out bed and they played with the two very sexy Polly Pockets, which have night scenes on the stickers where the windows would be, and a big bathtub that you can fill with a tablespoon of water and a heart-shaped bed all plastic with negative space to fit the people, who are a quarter of an inch tall and hinged at the waist so they can sit in the bathtub together. When they play with these Polly Pockets they put the little man in the bathtub with the woman, or lie him on top of her in the bed. There’s a sensation that if the tiny dolls are left there, lying on top of each other, while you do something else, or pretend to be doing something else, or, what’s best, if you snap the container closed, they will take care of it on their own. While they sit in a lukewarm bath or lie on top of each other, you don’t need to know what they are doing, or look at it, or even have Shawna notice you looking at it. When you snap the toy open again, it is over. The boy and the girl are on opposite sides of the room, or upside down, or lying next to each other. And Shawna is singing while she carries the box downstairs. Your sleeping bags are next to each other. You can stay up all night and eat powedered-sugar donuts in the morning. You are the coolest girl you know. And you can still play Polly Pockets for at least another year.