You will know me, p.1
You Will Know Me, p.1Megan Abbott
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For Alison Quinn
Go Devon! Knox Rox! Next Stop: Elite Qualifiers!
BelStars 4-Ever! Regional Champs!
The vinyl banners rippled from the air vent, the restaurant roiling with parents, the bobbing of gymnast heads, music gushing from the weighty speakers keeled on the window ledges.
Slung around Devon’s neck were three medals, two silver and one gold, her first regional-champion title on the vault.
“I’m so proud of you, sweetie,” Katie whispered in her daughter’s ear. “You can do anything.”
Later, Katie would come to think of that night as the key to everything that came after, the secret code.
But at the time, it was just another party, a celebration like dozens of others, all to honor their exceptional fifteen-year-old daughter.
In six months, Devon would compete in Elite Qualifiers and, after years of bruising toil and hamstring tears and twenty-five thousand dollars in credit-card debt and one fateful misstep at her last qualifier, would at last assume the mantle of Senior Elite. From there, anything felt possible.
Everything was glowing: the disco ball spinning above, and the Sterno lights flickering under the kebabs and lomi-lomi atop long tables skirted with raffia, candles in coconut shells and pineapples that Katie had helped hollow out with ice cream scoopers.
Everyone was wearing a lei in honor of the booster club’s Polynesian theme, and Katie spotted Devon smelling hers, the only one made with real orchids, purple and green, the exalted Coach T. having draped it over her head as she walked under the thatched arch to great applause. Hail our Devon, he’d intoned, that big voice of his, for the future of BelStars rests on these powerful shoulders!
It was the giddiest Katie had ever seen her daughter. Maybe it was the night, or the plastic cup of rum-spiked punch Eric let her have, offering some small release from the tight pincers that held her constantly.
In a corner, her son, Drew, sat with two other quiet fourth-grade boys, eating frozen bananas dipped in chocolate, their heads craned over handheld games. He was quieter than usual, scolded earlier for spilling, or pouring, chocolate milk all over Devon’s perfectly softened good-luck grips.
“But Devon never gets in trouble,” he’d said. “Not for sassing, or doing the treadmill when she’s supposed to rest her knee. Not even for sneaking out at night.”
“I never snuck out,” Devon had insisted.
“You were dreaming,” Katie had reminded him. He was always dreaming about his sister, saying he’d heard her, seen her doing things impossible and forbidden. Mom, Devon was on the roof, flying. Her bed was on fire, Dad. When he was little, he used to dream she had claws for feet.
“Buddy,” Eric had said. “Let your sister have her night.”
But Katie had whispered a promise to him: all the coconut cake and pineapple kebabs he wanted as long as he behaved.
By her second cocktail, fabric petals tickling her cheek, Katie had forgotten about Drew’s misdeed, forgotten even about the uncomfortable moment, hours before at the stadium, a dozen rows ahead of them in the stands, that beet-faced dad in the GymDreamz cap, upset over his daughter’s ranking, who’d shouted that disgusting thing (Devon Knox! Devon sucks c—), only stopping, midsentence, at his wife’s glare.
But Eric had heard it. She could tell by the way his back stiffened, his jaw tightened.
She’d grabbed for his hand. Held it firmly.
But the moment passed, and now Eric stood at one of the banquet tables, carving the glistening ham, pink as a newborn.
Coach Teddy, a parasol’d mai tai impossibly dainty in his bear-paw hand, pulled Katie aside and said he was counting every second until July’s qualifiers, when Devon would gain Senior Elite status and everyone would finally see.
“Because look at her,” he said. “Just look at our once-and-future champ.”
And Katie did, peering through the candy-colored crowd at the poppy and cobalt of Devon’s jacket, its sparkling BelStars logo.
Less than five feet tall, a hard, smooth shell of a body. Hipless, breastless still, but the way she’d transformed her body in the last two years, thighs like trunks, shoulders and biceps straining her tank-top straps, staggered Katie.
“The world is hers now. Is yours. Is ours,” Teddy said, then diving in for a loud rummy smack of a kiss flush on Katie’s lips. “Just like I promised, Katie-did!”
Had that really happened?
It had, and it all made sense that night, the holy consummation of everything.
“I wish I could do what you do,” Kirsten Siefert kept saying to Katie. “I want it for Jordan. I want to know everything you did. If it’s not too late. Have you seen Jordan’s breasts? But Tansy’s only seven…”
The music boomed louder, and soon enough the adults started dancing, taking over the playlist from the endless thump and squeal of teen pop and club music, playing every song they’d loved fifteen years before, every opening chord releasing a chorus of Yeahs and Oh God, remember?
And there was that remarkable conversation with the booster vice president, Molly Chu.
In front of the ladies’ room, capri-panted, soft-shouldered Molly—who rarely talked about anything but gymnastics and carpooling—leaned close and told Katie how, when she was a little girl, all she wanted was to be a majorette, like Erica Neubauer, the prettiest girl at Shelby West High.
“I used to watch her in all the parades, marching in those red-tassel booties, hurling her batons up to heaven,” she said, giggling like a girl. “I remember watching her and thinking: That is all I want.”
And she told Katie how she’d stolen a piece of pipe from her father’s tool bench, sprayed it silver, and jabbed a cork on one end.
“I’d twirl in the front yard for hours,” she said. “It looked like a pinwheel in the sun.”
She glanced at Katie, her eyes filling.
“Remember that kind of wanting? That kind that’s just for yourself? And you don’t even have to feel guilty about it? You wouldn’t know you should.”
Katie nodded and nodded and nodded, because it felt true even if she couldn’t name the thing she’d wanted. But something. Looking around, she wondered, Was it this?
In front of them, a group of the littlest girls, still in their leotards—they never liked to take them off—started dancing in a circle together, chins lifted high and faces pink like ice cream.
“It’s free then,” Molly said, watching the girls, tilting her head and blinking fast. “It’s never free again.”
“What?” Katie said, because she’d lost the thread, if she’d ever had it. “What?”
But the music swallowed them, and then someone brought out a tray of shots, flaming.
Later, she found herself dancing with Eric (which hadn’t happened in years, since that night they’d snuck to the hotel bar after a TOPs meet, Devon and Drew asleep upstairs, that lounge singer inexplicably crooning “Smells Like Teen Spirit”).
Eric had always been a terrific dancer, and the championship and the lanterned loveliness of the old catering hall—they all enlivened him, his smile and his fingers moving so delicately, h
A thought came to her rum-soaked head: He’s never loved me more than this. Because of Devon. Because of Devon. Something else I owe Devon.
But they were changing partners, and Molly, who would later pass out in the wrong car, wiggled over, lassoed Eric, while Katie, who was tired anyway, ambled toward the ladies’ room looking for Devon or Drew.
When she returned, there was Coach T. spinning his wife, Tina, around, a splotch of maraschino on her immaculate white shirt.
And the starry new arrivals: Coach’s niece Hailey, yanking at the hand of that boyfriend of hers, Ryan Beck, both of them so tanned and love-blissed.
This would be the piece that mattered most later, months later when Ryan was gone. She would think of their arrival and wonder why she hadn’t seen it all coming. But who could have seen anything at all that night but their bright-spangled beauty?
Hailey, the favored junior tumbling coach, blond and magnificent, a towering five feet seven, was beloved by her eight- and nine-year-olds (Kiss those knees, sweetheart! she’d tell them as they did their back hip circles), all of whom stared at her now from the corner, gaping at her lanky prettiness as if it were an achievement to strive for—after nailing the front tuck, before the back layout.
And Ryan, whose appearance sent all the girls into satellites of whispered frenzy.
“The only one here more handsome than your husband,” said Becca Plonski, laughing.
And suddenly there was Molly Chu again.
Improbably, she was tossing a tiki pole into the air like it was a baton, like she was still the star twirler of Shelby West High.
My, Katie thought, it is like a pinwheel.
The music kept getting louder, the Forbidden Tiki playlist spinning, and Greg Siefert corralled Katie, pitcher of blue Hawaiians in one hand, reaching for hers with the other, and he was telling a story about Eric shouting at some man in the parking lot.
“It was great, it was great. That one who’d been talking trash about our Devon. And Eric just let him have it. Hell, I was glad to see it.”
…But Katie was drunk, and it didn’t register, the music loud in a way that reminded her of when loud music was an urgent necessity, a full-body sensation, and the next thing she knew she was back at the punch bowl and Greg was limboing with Hailey, freckled and game.
Then came the part that seemed like nothing at the time. Months later, after Ryan was gone, its meaning would change, as if by magic, every time Katie thought about it:
Ryan, dark-haired and grinning, took Katie’s hand, spun her once, twice, three times, to a power ballad she remembered from age fourteen, an art-class infatuation, a fumbled encounter behind the shop room, then another girl and her heart breaking.
Before she knew it, though, Hailey was grabbing him back, a wink and a gleam in her eye like, Don’t you dare, he’s mine!
At some point, she lost Devon, but there was Eric talking to Gwen Weaver on the chilly loading dock, sharing a purloined cigarette and laughing like they’d been shouting for hours.
Everyone was smoking, it turned out. She’d even caught Ryan sneaking a puff in the hallway, the back door propped open, the cold air giving her goose bumps.
Ryan, who smelled like soap and had the nicked, brambled hands of a cook.
And she’d ended up in some long conversation with someone about something, and she never could remember anything about it after except the feeling of sticky, pineapple-streaked wall against her back.
Finally, she and Eric shared one last dance before everything broke, and pressing against his shirt she smelled candle wax and a dozen perfumes; he was teasing her about the coconut husk furred onto her chest from the dance with Greg Siefert, or Bobby, or Ryan, who’d since been charged with making something called a momtini, carrying a tray for all the ladies.
“He is a momtini,” whispered Kirsten Siefert, nearly rubbing her hands.
Crushed cocktail parasols gathered on the sills and crumpled leis collected in the corners like parade remnants catching on her feet, heels too high, too narrow, and she found Devon in the restroom, washing her face, washing all the performance makeup away.
Turning to her mother, she looked oddly blank.
For a second, Katie wondered about that look, but the second passed, and then there was more dancing, and more visits to the punch bowl, and the next morning she would puzzle over when she’d even been outside, finding grass blades between her toes, dried mud on the pad of her foot.
The ride home, Devon covered her head and wouldn’t speak, and they thought she’d probably had more than one glass of punch but left her to it.
And then Drew, gorged on coconut cake, threw up into Katie’s hands.
But none of it mattered, everything felt wonderful and she and Eric laughed and laughed.
Back in the bedroom, Eric standing over her, his face hidden in the dark.
“Wait, wait,” she asked, remembering what Greg had told her, “did you get into an argument with that dad after the meet? The creep who called Devon that name? In the parking lot, did you—”
“Who told you that?” he said, laughing, his hands hooked around her legs, throwing her back on the bed. It reminded her of when they first met, that laugh. She’d sold him cotton candy at the Kiwanis fair.
That was more than sixteen years ago, and now, sometimes, they didn’t see each other for days other than in the blue hours of late night and predawn. They knew each other most deeply through body-warmed sheets and the tangle of half dreams.
You might think it would doom the marriage, unless you pondered it for one more beat. Consider the prospect that your spouse could forever remain slightly other from you, his body never too familiar, his hands on you almost wholly to seduce you. You were mysterious to him and he was mysterious to you.
Other moms, in the confidences of long huddles in the stands, waiting in line for the restroom during a meet, would confess sexless stretches lasting for months, barren and mutual. Katie could only nod kindly and say nothing because Eric still felt like her secret lover, furtive and surprising, a bristly mouth on her neck, half-asleep murmurs and, in the morning, the soft welt on her shoulder, the lingering shiver of her legs.
They had been together so long, and a part of it was this. They had shared it long past when all the other couples they knew had stopped sharing anything other than credit-card debt and casual, or focused, resentment.
Strangely, in part it was because of Devon. They shared so much in sharing her, her endeavor. She held them together, tightly.
The morning after the party, Katie turned over and saw a violet smear on her pillowcase.
It took her a while to remember. After midnight, trundling Drew across the ice-ribbed parking lot and into the car, Eric still inside, trying to find Devon, saying final good-byes.
A tap on the shoulder and it was Ryan Beck again. Smiling that chipped-front-tooth smile.
“Devon’s?” he asked. Dangling from his open palm was a familiar lei, purple and green orchids, petals shredded. “I found it over by the dumpsters.”
“What a shame,” Katie said, feeling it more sharply than she should, blaming it on the rum. “Thanks.”
He draped it over her head, its dampness tickling her, his sneakers nearly slipping on the rimy concrete. A squeak, a skid. Later, she would wonder if he’d slipped like that on Ash Road seconds before he died, his sneakers on the sandy gravel as the headlights came.
“Careful,” Katie said, a catch in her voice. “It’s not safe.”
“Nothing ever is,” he said, winking, his white tee glowing under the lights, backing away, into the dark of the emptying lot. “Good night, Mrs. Knox. Good night.”
“The eyes of a young girl can tell everything. And I always look in their eyes. There I can see if I will have a champion.”
—Neshka Robeva, gymnast and coach
If she ever
And Katie would tell it in three parts.
You could only begin to understand what happened, and why, if you understood these three things.
And Devon’s talent. Because that had been there from the beginning, maybe even before the beginning.
In proud-parent moments, of which there were too many to count, she and Eric would talk about feeling Devon in the womb, her body arching and minnowing and promising itself to them both.
Soon, it turned to kicking. Kicking with such vigor that, one night, Katie woke to a popping sound and, breathless, keeled over in pain. Eric stared helplessly as her stomach seemed to spasm with alien horrors.
What was inside her? they wondered, her rib poking over her sternum, dislocated while she slept.
It was no alien, but it was something extraordinary.
It was Devon, a marvel, a girl wonder, a prodigy, a star.
Devon, kicking her way out. Out, out, out.
And they had made her.
And, in some ways, she had made them.
For years, Katie would touch the spot the rib had poked, as if she could still feel the tender lump. It was reassuring somehow. It reminded her that it had always been there, that force in Devon, that fire.
Like that line in that poem, the one she’d read in school, a lifetime ago. Back when life felt so cramped and small, when she never thought anything so grand could ever happen.
You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott / History & Fiction have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes