Creative Spotlight: “Can I” by Alison Lorenz

The Miscellany’s first creative spotlight of the year is a short story by senior English major Alison Lorenz (’18). Thanks to Alison for sharing her work with us – check it out below!

Can I

For Margot, womanhood was a sweet and aching fulcrum: she never questioned how she could both fear men and want them to look at her.  She walked the same path to work every day, the one with the Chinese restaurant and its striped-green awning; the one where every morning, unfailingly during Margot’s commute, an old lady with a plum-colored peacoat let her small, fluffy dog pee right on the sidewalk so that it steamed, hot and yellow, into the gutter.  Also on this route every morning, a man told Margot which part of her body he liked the best.

Last Tuesday, it had been her legs.  Brushing past her with a briefcase, a man in a gray suit had told her they were nice.  The following day it was her eyes.  In a way so sweet it made her skin prick, an elderly man with a newsboy cap told Margot her eyes were like jewels.  She didn’t stop to wonder how he’d seen her eyes long enough to compare them to jewels.  Most recently, a man shouted out a car window something that made her laugh: sugar tits.  Sugar tits!  What were sugar tits?  Margot had imagined her breasts as two white molds of fondant with little red candies on top, and giggled to herself in the elevator.

The men were part of her routine, you could say.  Not that they didn’t make her uncomfortable: sometimes she felt like crawling inside her own ribcage and staying there, dark and warm and silent forever.  Sometimes she felt like throwing up, or flipping them off.  But she was always too slow, and never wanted to cause trouble.  She’d never even asked the lady to stop letting her dog pee on the sidewalk.

On this particular morning, Margot was feeling good.  Her hair had straightened perfectly and she had decided to ask for a raise.  She was wearing vanilla-scented lip gloss and comfortable shoes.  People noticed her; she met the eyes around her confidently, even raising her chin, at times, to smile.  She passed the striped-green awning, smelled the salty, oily Chinese food.  There was the plum-coat lady and her tiny dog.  Ahead of her on the sidewalk, a balding man with dark scruff had his hands shoved in his pockets.  He was looking down.  Margot strode forward, head held high.

The man passed her.  He smelled of sharp cologne and stale cigarettes.  Under his breath, so quick Margot barely caught it, he said, “Sit on my face, slut.”

Margot stopped in her tracks.

The sidewalk stretched gray and straight in front of her, and people walked up and down it like coat-swaddled robots.

How could he say that?  First of all, slut—he didn’t even—what was she thinking?—know her?  And secondly…!

She swallowed something thick in her throat.

How could he say that to her, a stranger?

She whipped around.  His coat was there, dark in a sea of other dark coats.  She thought for a sick, horrible second that she was going to let him walk away.  Her heart beat fast.  Faster.  Was this her last straw?  Was it?

“Can I?” she shouted after him.  Then, louder: “Can I?!”

A few people stopped, including the man.  He turned and looked at her like she was crazy.

“Hey!”  she shouted again, as he began to turn away.  “Don’t walk away!”

He stared at her.  “Yeah, you!”  Some other people stopped to look.  She saw the plum-coat woman freeze next to her; the dog pulled impatiently at its leash.

“Let me sit on your face! ” Margot said to the man.

Someone coughed.  A mother hurried past with her child.

“Hey,” said the guy, eyes darting left and right.  “I don’t know what you’re talking about.  Leave me be, miss.”

“Miss?”  Margot felt her chest tighten, her heart beat against it like a drum.  “Come on, baby, can’t I sit on your face?”  Her voice sounded hoarse, taut, and her eyes burned.  “Isn’t that what you want?”  He looked at her.  She had never felt so small, so squashed to nothing.

“I don’t have time for this.”  He turned away from her more finally.  “Mind your own business.”  And then: “Bitch.”

Her head was spinning.  Margot felt she could spit flame.  She felt all the fire in the world rise up in her and she screamed, “You’re the BITCH!”

But the man was gone.  She looked around wildly, searching anywhere for a comforting hand, a friendly pair of eyes.  Margot met the plum-coat woman’s eyes, pleaded with them.

The plum-coat woman looked down and walked away.

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