Monday, February 16, 2009

cold coquette

I pull one of my legs up under my body, curling myself into the couch irrationally determined to fill the smallest space possible. My manicured fingers grip the Camel Wide cigarette, chunks of ash dropping onto dirty hardwood floor. I shift my eyes around the porch resting them momentarily on various faces, their features alternately contorting and relaxing in the ease of conversation. I take a long drag from my cigarette and allow the smoke to uncurl lazily from my lips. Then a swig of wine from my glass. "God, it is fucking cold out here," I think to myself, shrinking deeper into the couch.

It is Alecia's birthday party and the house is filled with the usual faces. Conversations take place around me and I listen in, not quite eavesdropping but not quite a part of them either. I breathe in my own stillness, engulfed and drowning in the rise and fall of cacophonous voices. The sweet smell of hookah and pipe tobacco wafts over from the other corner of the porch. I know the crisp night air should feel pleasant on my skin, but the biting January wind crawls up my leg, searching for a way into the crevices of warmth under my skin.

Swimming up from my thoughts and taking a desperate gasp of air at the surface, I turn back to Jahred and Jamie and rejoin the conversation. Jamie is reading The Art of Seduction by Robert Green, and she and I have been tirelessly trying to categorize our friends by the various types of sexual seductors.

“I’m the cold coquette” I declare, to no one in particular. Jahred’s inquisitive eyes turn to me, begging for further explanation. Jamie leans forward in her chair.

“What is a coquette?” he asks, one eyebrow raised and skepticism lining his words.

“Coquettes bait their targets with the hope of physical pleasure and happiness, but they never really follow through. They are self-sufficient, reserved and often manipulative.” I explain methodically, while Jamie nods in agreement. Nobody challenges my self-assessment. Why would they? I am those things; cold and reserved. I don’t need anyone, not really.

I take another drag from my cigarette, and stub it out in the ashtray. Uncurling my legs, I stand upright, straightening my black cotton skirt and brushing stray ashes onto the floor. The porch spins, the very first indication that the alcohol is doing its job. I’ve always been partial to the image of liquor as lubrication— a layer of protection from all the sharp thoughts in your head. This party was filled with sharp thoughts and shitty memories and far too many familiar faces, and I needed my armor tonight.

I steady myself and pick my way through the crowd, slowing every few paces to greet people, give the requisite hugs, compliments, and empty promises of coffee the next week. I glance in the mirror on the wall as I pass, and force a smile. I look pretty good tonight, I made sure of that. I saunter into the kitchen and pour myself another glass, filling it to the brim. Armor. Protection. Right. Sonny hands me a glass of scotch, and I drink it in one gulp. I half-smile at him. But it's false, and he knows it. I take a long swig of my wine, shrug my shoulders at his probing stare, and turned to face the crowd again for my journey back.

My head reels and my legs feel a little weak. With an uncoordinated stumble, I sidestep my way back to the front porch, tiny waves of liquid sloshing out the top of my glass and onto my hands and ankle boots. I settle back into my empty spot on the couch, the cracked dirty leather once again cold from the freezing night air.

I shiver.

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