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Daydreams of angels, p.12
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       Daydreams of Angels, p.12

           Heather O'Neill
 
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  The boy’s name was Murray and Little O hated this name. She was chilly in only her nightgown. She felt as if the other children were nothing more than a mad, terrible little mob. They were like the exact sort of people that would turn up to see her execution if this were another time.

  Little O wondered whether if in all her past lives she had been humiliated in public this way. It seemed entirely possible. Because the feeling seemed so familiar to her. It was as if she had been born to be humiliated. She wondered if other girls felt the same way.

  The minister was a boy named Bertrand. He was wearing a tuxedo jacket from his clown costume from last Halloween. He had long bangs that he wore down over his face. He spent most of the time in public fiddling with his bangs. They were a great burden to him.

  He gave a good speech though. Nobody knew the difference between really bad and really good, so they chose instead to think of it as magnificent.

  “Here we are. We are together to mention the coming together forever of this man and this woman. Murray Estaban and Little O. They will always be together even when they are sick and they are old. They will have sex. They will be stuck being married by the power invested in God. You, Murray and Little O, may kiss and may the whole city of cities fall on your heads if you try not to be married.”

  * * *

  There was a man who had a heart attack in Little O’s building. Since he had no relatives, the landlord put his possessions into boxes and put them out on the street corner. Little O looked through all his things.

  There were a lot of pots and pans and a box full of books. There was a big book called The Joy of Sex. She held it against her chest and brought it up to her apartment immediately. The couple in the drawings were her new secret best friends. She could look at them making love in ridiculous ways for hours.

  She also found a sailor’s hat that day that made the mothers think she was maturing too quickly for her age. They wished some sort of authority would take the girl away.

  * * *

  The mercury in the thermometer went down like the ink in the teacher’s red pen as she wrote criticisms all over everyone’s homework.

  * * *

  She was walking home in her underwear and a blue parka with a sheepskin-lined collar. She had lost her skirt in a game of strip poker. Why hadn’t she thought to gamble away another article of clothing, like her gloves or her earmuffs?

  * * *

  She asked Luke if she could watch him pee. But he couldn’t go while she was watching.

  * * *

  When she was twelve, in Grade Seven, she was the only girl who wasn’t dressed up for picture day. She had a white button-up shirt with a tie that you pinned on. She had on a pair of jeans with big holes in the knees. Perhaps she was dressed up.

  There had to be one child who was a sacrificial lamb, one who all the mothers looked down on in order to raise their own child up on a pedestal. And that was Little O. Mothers loved it whenever their children came home with news about the terrible situations that Little O had gotten into.

  They pointed out to their husbands her terrible outfit in the school photo and said they would never let their kid have their picture taken like that.

  * * *

  Little O went with the grocery cart to return all of Joe’s empty Pepsi bottles. Because it put him in a cheery mood, Joe’s favourite thing was to drink Pepsi. The store owner handed Little O the change and let her choose a chocolate from the fishbowl on the counter. She always chose the mint one. When she bit in, it was like there was a piece of winter hiding in the middle. The owner felt guilty that that was all he could give her. He had never seen a child who went about her errands so effortlessly. He told his wife that Little O would be a saint in two hundred years. His wife rolled her eyes.

  * * *

  A group of girls sat on the swings in their skirts. They looked like bells ringing back and forth.

  Little O never hung out with other girls. She didn’t know what had happened first. Had they started rejecting her or had she decided that they weren’t worth her time? There were times when the boys wanted nothing to do with her. There were times when they needed her to leave them alone.

  * * *

  She went into the secondhand store. She tried on a pile of underwear and some bras in one of the changing cabins. She felt happy. She was all alone with her reflection and she felt as if no one else in the world existed. She knew what the reflection was going to say. It was sweet and kind and said, “I love you.”

  * * *

  She didn’t want to go home because Joe was in a foul mood. She wandered around and decided to stop into the pet store. The boy who worked there was the son of the owner. That’s why he was able to be there by himself. He sometimes let her sit next to him behind the cash register. It made her feel as if she was his wife.

  She imagined him standing in front of the stove, heating up a can of pasta for the two of them to eat. They would laugh about who had the idea of making pasta into the shape of trucks. Their lips would get a pretty orange colour from the toxic tomato sauce.

  You could hear the doves cooing in their cages. Little O thought they were making the sounds of babies crying. They made her think of her own future little baby that she would treat so well. She would be so good to her little girl: she would dress her in fancy baby clothes with frills and buy her those hard cookies that are impossible for anyone other than a baby to bite into.

  * * *

  She gave the boy across the street a haircut. All the tufts of hair fell down around him, like some birds had been shot out of the sky and now were falling and falling. It looked terrible. And later in life, when women were yelling at him that he was a loser, that he wasn’t any good, that he didn’t do anything for anyone on earth and that he had never come close to making anyone happy, he would close his eyes and remember this haircut.

  Because it was when he was having this haircut that he had been able to know for absolute certain what it was like to feel free of doubt.

  * * *

  Little O refused to be ashamed of the fact that she put her hand under the covers and touched herself. She imagined the security guard at the department store making her go into the backroom and have sex with him for stealing a pair of neon shoelaces.

  She would not be one of the cowardly girls who said that it was only men who were dogs, that boys were perverts, that men couldn’t be faithful. Because these were wonderful attributes. They belonged to people who would not be judged by their imperfection, who knew that this was merely one small part of their identities.

  The ones who weren’t afraid of others knowing that they were perverts were the ones who were going to rule the world. Little O would not be chaste.

  * * *

  Mrs. Thibault came home one afternoon and found Little O tied to the tree in her yard with a skipping rope.

  “Will you please untie me?”

  She untied Little O and she walked away without looking back. Mrs. Thibault wanted to ask her so many questions. She would have to spend the rest of her life wanting to ask Little O those questions. There were questions that she would never know the answers to.

  * * *

  Little O brought Joe’s awful black cat to the vet. It was always messy-looking and out of sorts, like a kid that had just had a turtleneck pulled off its head. Her arms were covered in scratches and the scrawny cat hissed at everyone. The vet asked Little O why she didn’t go ahead and have the crazed animal put down. Little O said that it made Joe happy, and the vet saw that that was the most important thing for her. He gave her the flea medication for free and called her Mademoiselle Teresa.

  * * *

  Little O told Zachary that if he put money into the photo booth, she would take off all her clothes and let the camera take pictures of her in the nude. You could hear the machine gulp as it swallowed each quarter. He could see half her naked body beneath the curtain as the flash went on and off. He thought that he was going to faint.

  * * *
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  Little O and Jack were doing their homework for art in the library together. He was obsessed with grey pencil crayons. He thought that real artists didn’t use bright colours. He showed her how he was colouring in a tree all grey.

  Little O agreed with him that it looked much better that way. She would go along with every wrong little idea that a boy would have. She did this because she was encouraging them to follow their dreams, however idiotic those might be. She liked stroking their tiny egos. This is what women were supposed to do. They were supposed to believe in the dreams of their men as if they were God.

  Jack suddenly loved Little O madly. It was the first time he was falling for this stupid pleasure.

  * * *

  Sometimes she wanted to live on a little planet where she was the only girl. On this planet, she would have seven husbands. They would be so demanding that she would have no time whatsoever for herself.

  She would have seven beds to sleep in. Very much like Snow White and the seven dwarfs. She would have so many dishes to wash. She loved washing dishes in the evening.

  * * *

  She liked to read Tintin comic books. She imagined Tintin telling her that he loved her passionately. She pictured taking off her clothes on one side of the bed and Tintin taking his off on the other. She and Tintin would be dressed in underclothes and stand at the sink, brushing their teeth together. She imagined them both looking in the mirror—giggling at finding each other in the reflection together.

  * * *

  She let Tobias draw all over her arms and legs with a ballpoint pen. He drew everything that he knew how to draw until she was completely covered. He illustrated her with panthers and ninjas. She liked the way it felt. As if he was a doctor with a scalpel slicing through her anaesthetized body.

  “There!” he said, when he was done. “Now no one will have you except for me. Now no man will look at you.”

  * * *

  He went into the pantry and gave her a can of No Name diet lime soda even though he knew that he wasn’t supposed to give these to his friends. She slurped from it while trying not to get the carbonated bubbles up her nose, making an awful lot of noise with that can.

  She told him that he must be a millionaire because he had a chandelier in his living room. His family lived in a four-and-a-half in a big building and the chandelier came with the apartment. It was small and made out of brass and some of the lightbulbs didn’t glow.

  He wondered if it was true. Maybe he was rich and he didn’t even know it. Everybody was envious of him, but he just hadn’t noticed before. Little O told him that she didn’t love him for his money though; she loved him absolutely for himself.

  The mother thought about how Little O was unsupervised all the time. She knew where her child was at any given time during the day. And there was Little O, sitting in their living room with nobody in the entire world having any idea whatsoever where she was. The world simply couldn’t work that way. It would all run amok. It was like a social experiment that was going to lead to bloodshed or total chaos. The mother looked at Little O as though she were Robespierre, with her skinny legs crossed on the couch.

  * * *

  When asked if she needed anything, Little O would always ask the social worker for something for Joe. He needed a walker to help him get from the couch back to bed. She knew that Little O couldn’t help but be anything but selfless. The social worker put together a bag of things for Little O all the same one day. She gave her a pair of used ice skates and an empty notebook with a photograph of a horse on it. Little O smiled and said, “You shouldn’t have.” The social worker almost began to weep.

  * * *

  They were selling aluminum balloons that had roses on them. Little O had terrible taste. She always went for that sort of thing.

  * * *

  Little O was sitting and peeling a hard-boiled egg on the steps of her building. The boy in Apartment 12 came and sat down next to her. She told him that her grandfather was from a little village outside of Poland and that if a little boy and a little girl sat across the table from one another and ate hard-boiled eggs, then they would be married.

  * * *

  The little children were all coming from a festival in the park. They had butterflies and cat faces painted on. They lived in a completely different world than she did.

  * * *

  His mother had a huge pitcher of water filled with slices of lemon in the fridge. It weighed about as much as a bathtub at the bottom of the ocean.

  They went and looked at the strange and beautiful and mysterious things that his mother kept at the bottom of her underwear drawer. There was a pack of playing cards with naked men wearing construction helmets and firemen hats. There was a lozenge container full of pot. There was a package of specialty condoms.

  It was strange that adults all had sex. It was strange how appalled they were about the idea of young people having sex. Why that of all things?

  * * *

  Joe would never actually be able to go in for a parent–teacher interview and they had no telephone. So Little O photocopied the report card and gave herself all As. The whole night he talked about how she had inherited her smarts from him and that he had raised her right. He had tears in his eyes. Joe put his arms around her. Her face was damp with his tears.

  * * *

  Little O and Guy were sucking on jawbreakers. Their tongues were changing colours inside their heads.

  * * *

  She went to the zoo to feed the elephant peanuts. When its trunk gently touched her hand, it always turned her on.

  Many of the animals were fed from baby bottles. She thought there was something wrong about that. They couldn’t have liked being treated like babies. She didn’t think that there was anything worse on earth than being treated like a baby and having food shoved down your throat all the time. It was rubbing the fact that they weren’t free in their faces.

  One of the zookeepers knew her. He told her that when she was eighteen, she would come to the zoo and he would make love to her. Would she like that? he asked. Yes, she said.

  * * *

  She went and sat on a stool at the Chinese restaurant that was on the first floor of her building. The stools were covered with red vinyl and little tiny gold stars. The placemats had drawings of fancy goldfish on them. The place was filled with the late-night crowd. She sat there in her pyjamas and watched the television that was above the cash register. The owner always gave her free soup and fortune cookies.

  A man came in after a hockey game and lit up a sparkler. He waved it over his head in the restaurant. Everyone laughed. Little O put her hands over her head as if it had just started to rain.

  * * *

  She wanted to know if she could come over and they would read Slaughterhouse-Five together.

  * * *

  She put a balloon under her T-shirt. Taking his hand and placing it on her belly, she asked him whether or not he could feel the baby kicking.

  His mother watched them out the window. Of course she was going to end up being pregnant young, the mother thought. There was no way around it. She did not want her son involved in that. Little O would ruin the future prospects of whichever boy got her pregnant.

  The mother couldn’t believe that she was having those kinds of thoughts. She blamed Little O also for putting such terrible thoughts into her head. She really hadn’t known that she was that type of person until Little O came along into her front yard.

  * * *

  There was supposedly a little boy who lived in that apartment building who could sing Elton John songs really well.

  * * *

  He was wearing a pair of penny loafers. There was a penny in one of them. The other one seemed to have disappeared.

  * * *

  She took all her clothes off and weighed herself on a scale in her bathroom. She liked that she was skinny. She didn’t know why she was proud of the fact that she was thin, except that it was the type of thing that girls were supposed to feel ac
complished about. The other girls would point out in an admiring way how skinny she was.

  * * *

  Little O had to put Joe’s socks on for him and then take them off. Sometimes Joe was afraid to tell Little O how much he needed her. Because he thought that if he did, she would pack her suitcase with clothes and climb out the window and run away. So he yelled at her out of desperation. The logic of love is often incredibly faulty. Love has a lot of trouble making sense out of anything.

  Joe screamed at Little O that she had gotten the groceries all wrong. He told Little O that she never did anything for him. He said that she was a useless little girl and that other girls helped their parents out around the house.

  Little O knew that Joe didn’t really mean it, but it made her cry all the same. She went down to the stoop to cry all by herself. The tears streamed down both of her cheeks as though her eyes were broken faucets. A neighbour stopped to look at her on his way up the stairs. He had never seen eyes so blue. It was as though he were witnessing a miracle.

  * * *

  She climbed into the bathtub. The water rose up around her. She pretended that she was the moon making the tide rise.

  * * *

  She climbed up his fire escape. The cats in the windows raised their eyebrows in surprise as they saw her go.

  * * *

  They decided to have phone sex. She went down to the lobby and dialed up. He could hear the echo of the lobby as she talked. She stopped for a moment because someone came in. It was Mrs. Foucault from Apartment 7. By the time she was done asking Little O what she was doing there, he had lost his erection.

  * * *

  He had his plastic wristband from the amusement park on his wrist from eight months before. Holding up the scissors from the kitchen, she said that it was time to let her cut it off. The scissors made the sound of a guillotine’s blade descending. He felt completely naked after she snipped.

  * * *

  The winter wind blew the last orange leaf off the tree just like it was blowing out the flame of a candle.

 
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