Joyland

New York |

Excerpt: Binary Star

by Sarah Gerard

edited by Brian Joseph Davis

Binary Star is now available from Two-Dollar Radio.

We’re kicked out of the party and John follows a few steps behind me toward the subway. I keep my eyes on the ground as it disappears behind my Converse.

That guy went down so fast. He screamed like a baby.

What did he do to you?

He was just talking shit, like the people at the Free School. Nobody knows what the fuck they’re talking about. Nobody’s willing to be militant. They’re all a bunch of pussies who don’t know what they believe.

You’re wearing a leather belt.

I had this before I went vegan. It would be disrespectful to the cow if I threw it away.

Fair enough. But why is it okay to hit someone and not okay to hurt an animal?

Because that guy should know better. A monkey in a vivisection laboratory doesn’t know better. He gets locked in a cage and abused, and he internalizes it, and then when someone comes to hurt him one day, he acts out and bites the hand that hurts him. That’s understandable. That ape at the fucking party? That guy deserves to get punched.

Maybe that guy has internalized his oppression, too.

That guy is not oppressed.

People don’t like it when their beliefs are challenged, John. They’re fragile enough already.

We walk past a dollar store and a discount clothing store and two bodegas. I stop to look closely at the ads.

I just didn’t want to leave.

Are you serious? That party sucked. Those people are idiots.

He drinks the rest of his beer and tosses his cup in a trashcan, then asks me for a cigarette. I wonder if he’s right about my friends being idiots.

What do you want to do now? he asks.

Go home.

Really? It’s early.

I just don’t feel like being out.

You’re such a baby. You’re just sad about having to leave the party.

I don’t answer.

I don’t know why you like those people.

*

I stand at the back of the classroom drinking mate because it’s an appetite suppressant and has as much caffeine as coffee. At six in the morning, I drank eight ounces of rice milk with freeze-dried açai berry powder and followed it with a 24 ounce Starbucks Iced Americano. At ten o’clock, I ate a half-cup of grapes. Every two hours, I allow myself one half-stick of celery from the bag in my purse. At two o’clock, I can have one whole banana and my first Sugar Free Red Bull, to burn it off. At five o’clock, I can have half a McDonald’s side salad with no dressing, cheese, or croutons, and a cup of ice water. If the hunger becomes overwhelming, I chew a stick of Orbit. If, by eight o’clock, I’m feeling weaker than usual, I allow myself an apple after doing two sets of twenty sit-ups. Throughout the day, I take Zantrex-3 as needed. This afternoon, I will lead a lesson on common envelopes. A common envelope is a short-lived phase in the evolution of a binary star. It begins when a binary orbit decays or when one star expands rapidly. Write this down.

- The donor star will overflow its Roche lobe, initiating mass transfer onto its companion.

- The Roche lobe is a teardrop shaped region around both stars in which material is gravitationally bound to the stars.

- The apex of the teardrop points toward a binary star’s companion. Let me demonstrate.

I tell my students to stand and we push their desks to the room’s perimeter. They pair off and face their partners and join hands. Right hands hold right hands and left hands hold left hands, so hands are crossed between them. They start to spin.

Make a list of every way in which you’re imperfect, I say.

Tell yourself that each item is correct.

Make a list of fears.

Tell yourself they’re present.

Remember a childhood trauma.

Tell yourself it will happen again.

Think of your sexual inadequacies.

Tell yourself your partner notices them, too.

Think of your other inadequacies.

Tell yourself they’re worse than you think.

Tell yourself you’re ugly.

Tell yourself you’re selfish.

Tell yourself you will never be good enough to have whatever you want most.

Tell yourself you don’t deserve it.

Tell yourself you’re not strong enough to act rightly.

Tell yourself you’re fat and unlovable.

Tell yourself that the only way you will improve is through extreme discipline.

And self-punishment.

Tell yourself you’re lucky to have your partner, as flawed as he is.

Tell yourself that these flaws are the very things that bind you.

They are the only things that keep you from falling down.

Because they are the only things keeping you together.

Tell yourself your partner is too good for you.

Squeeze your partner’s hands until it hurts.

Get closer.

Spin faster.

Closer.

Faster.

Closer.

Faster.

Now spit on your partner.

I tell them to stop and look their partners in the eyes. I tell them to remember what it felt like just now when their partner spit on them, and to imagine that their partner is the only person who could ever do them that favor. They hug and turn in rapid circles until they’re dizzy, then they fall to the floor.

When everyone is eating lunch, I eat my banana and then throw it up in the handicapped bathroom, then look at myself in the mirror.

I take a handful of water and rub it over my mouth and spit and wipe my face with a paper towel, turning my skin red.

I drink a Red Bull to mask the taste of the vomit and burn off whatever banana remains inside me. Then I chew a stick of Orbit.

Returning to the classroom, my mentor comments that I look ill, and tells me to leave for the day and rest.

*

I want to be envied.

I want to give out advice.

I want to have so many things to say, suddenly there is a book of them.

I want to look at the sky and understand.

I want to feel small.

But important.

Massive.

But beautiful.

I want men to think I’m beautiful. I want at least one to want to touch me as soon as he wakes. I want him to kiss my eyelids.

I want to have an affair that keeps me up at night.

I want it to leave secret marks on my arms and legs.

I want us only to see each other.

I want not to feel alone when I’m alone. I want other bodies in my apartment. They should be young and beautiful like me, so I can belong among them.

When someone is having a party, I want to be invited. I want to come late and bring beer, expensive beer like Space Barley, and I want every person at the party to be grateful.

I want that party to be held in my honor.

I want to want to see other people.

I want to enjoy a birthday.

My twenty-ninth birthday.

When I die, I want to have been on the covers of magazines like Vogue and Esquire. I want to have my own sex tape. I want there to be a star named after me.

I want to be Paris Hilton six years ago.

I want to have taken pictures with telescopes. I want someone to think I’m smart.

I want to want that all the time. I want not to forget I want that.

I want not to want what I think I want. I want not to want what I want.

I don’t want to smoke.

I’m tired.

I want to sleep.

I’m afraid.

I want to be able to sleep in my car in a parking lot before class.

When I lie down, I want to feel something other than fear.

I want to intimidate people.

I want to go out to restaurants and order too much and drink Dom Pérignon and not feel sick with myself.

I want to say I’ve enjoyed something and really mean it, and I want that thing to be unconventional.

I want to be unique. I want to have thigh gap.

I want to see myself on television. I want other people to say they’ve seen me on television.

When I’m on television, I want my body to look damn good.

I want never to see a scale again.

I need to be protected.

I want to go whole days without looking in the mirror.

I want not to own a mirror.

I want to try on clothes at Macy’s, and see myself in three mirrors at once, and look good from every angle.

I want to wear something and feel it against my skin and then forget that it’s there.

I want to feel sexy.

I want to go to the beach.

I want to look good naked. I want to be in Playboy. I want a man to touch me without me asking him to.

I want to swim in a hotel pool, lie out by a hotel pool.

I want to climb into a Jacuzzi with other people and not stare at all of them.

I want them to stare at me.

I want to go back to North Dakota and lie in the middle of the road on top of a mountain.

I want to see all the stars at once.

I want someone to see me doing it. I also want to be alone.

I’m never alone.

I want someone I don’t know to tell me I’m pretty.

And I want to believe them.

I want to get fan mail.

I want to tell people what brand of clothes I’m wearing.

When I do something well, I want to know it before someone tells me. When they tell me, I want to feel proud.

I want to feel anything deeply.

I want to know what I’m feeling.

Then I want to be coy and not tell people about it.

I want them to ask. I want them to insist.

I want to feel like I’ve done something useful today.

Like I should go home and rest and wake up in the morning.

Feeling refreshed.

I want to wake at a reasonable hour and feel okay with that.

I want to see the sunrise after walking around a city all night.

I want to take a shower without seeing myself from the doorway.

Without having to look down.

I want to look forward.

Into the camera.

I want my selfies to get a thousand likes each.

I want to be in an Herbal Essences commercial.

I want to take a shower with a man, and I want us to clean each other, and I want it to be sweet, and I want to lie in bed afterwards still wet, and for us to fall asleep together.

I want my vagina to get wet.

I want to have my period.

I want to talk about my period with other women.

I want to complain to other women about men not leaving me alone.

I want to be fed.

I want to taste something. I want to enjoy the taste.

Of anything.

I want to make foods my mother fed me.

I want to make her proud.

I want to be there when she dies.

I’m so afraid that she might die.

I want to hold her hand because there’s something strong and comforting in it.

Help me, Mom.

When I die, I want my children to be there.

I want to grow old and watch them grow older, and feel proud. I want them to be like me, but better.

I want to look at their father and have an understanding about our family.

I want to take them traveling with me when I leave the country on business.

I want to leave the country.

One night, I want to fall asleep in a foreign country, with my family, and never wake up.

*

The crystal structure at the core of a white dwarf is a body-centered cubic lattice.

*

The space between us grows smaller.

In a dark apartment, I walk the hallway dividing the kitchen from the bathroom. I talk to you.

A stack of Star Magazines sags on the table; a stack of InTouch Weekly molds by the toilet. Between them, a balance.

I’m hardening in the center.

You’re what?

Becoming more myself.

That’s good.

What about you?

I lie on the floor and compress my torso. I take handfuls of flesh and twist. I pull them away. I show my body what it is to dispose of itself. To get to the core. To release.

I wish you could see me right now, without a body.

You have done with your day. You have burned yourself away.

I wish.

What will you do when the river rises?

I’ll do nothing, you say. I’ll hammer it back together.

Sure you will. What can you do?

You have fantasies about a manifesto. You read me pages and words move about on the page. You’re asleep.

We, Students for Liberation, call for a revolution.

You return to them over and over. My opinion?

Burn them, John. They mean nothing.

You have ideas for the revolution: All governments and organizations that aid or support the illegitimate terrorist state.

We’ll live in the forest, you say.

Bullshit. You can’t live without Pandora.

Forage? Eat animals when you hunt them. Make a circle.

I am an animal. You’re an animal.

We, your Sons and Daughters, are calling for an end.

You’re behaving like an animal. You’re behaving like my animal.

You’re mine. You’re my anti-terrorist terrorist animal.

What will you do when you have to? Burn it.

What are my plans post-graduation? Stand at the precipice looking down.

I leave scars on my stomach. I beat them. I bite them and spit. I burn them. I feel nothing.

I chew, I spit, I chew, I spit, I chew, I spit, I chew until my gums bleed black. I chew my tongue front to back. I’m raw.

We want the world to know the real terrorists.

The Main-sequence chart is coming off the wall. It obstructs the light in a triangle. Chew it off.

I rub ash into the cover. Chew something, anything.

Are you awake? Read it over. I didn’t catch the last part, John. Read it over and over again. Read it over and over and over. The red giant star is a red futon cover is a cover is a roof.

Dedication to use all our means.

How big will the tree house be? Will it really be a tree? Will we have running water?

Don’t be selfish.

Say you love me.

We are fighting to bring liberation to our comrades.

Say you miss me. Please just say it.

I do.

I do.

I know you do.

*

It’s hot but we’ve been inside all day and the sun is beginning to set on Long Island. We walk to the ABC Liquors and John argues with the man behind the counter because we both forgot our IDs and I look barely fifteen. The man knows us and is only giving John a hard time because John is wearing a VEGAN shirt and seems to invite conflict with it everywhere he goes, which is the point. They argue about the sanctity or not of veganism for several minutes before the issue of the ID comes up and John calls the man an animal killer, and throws a twenty-dollar bill at him. Then we leave.

The roofs of squat, grey strip malls form a jagged line following the turnpike stoplight after stoplight into the impending dark. I sense that John has forgotten the liquor store clerk already.

You know we can’t go back there, I say.

Why not?

Because you offended him.

Do you care?

It’s the only place within walking distance.

If you really care, then drive to another place.

Seems to me that would burn gas unnecessarily.

I think about saying more but I don’t. John finds me tiresome. He is also bored here.

I stop at the Walgreens and say that I’ll just be a minute, and John smokes a cigarette outside by the automatic doors. When I come out with a bag of magazines, he takes them from me and throws them into a trashcan.

What the fuck?

What do you like about those things?

I don’t know. I like the stories.

They’re for dimwits.

No, they’re not.

He looks at me for a long time.

I don’t want you reading them anymore. They’re brainwashing you. Do you like being brainwashed?

I walk around him and pull the bag out of the trashcan with the magazines still inside. I start across the lot and John follows behind me. At the edge of the sidewalk, he catches up with me.

You’re mad.

It’s not funny.

I’m not trying to be funny.

He pushes me down on the grass.

Why did you do that?

You toppled over.

Why would you do that?

I didn’t. You did.

Cut it out.

I stand up and walk away. He does it again.

What are you doing?

You keep falling over.

He does it again.

Seriously, stop.

Stop falling.

He does it again and I stay on the grass this time. I look around at the manicured lawns and the single-family homes looking back at me. Across the street, a couple leaves an electronics store carrying a Sony HD-TV and plastic bags full of smaller items. Cars inch around Dairy Queen. I pull up my knees and get comfortable.

Are you just going to stay there?

If I stand up, you’ll do it again.

That’s right.

So, why would I stand up?

Because otherwise, you just have to sit there on the grass like a little bitch. He’s smiling.

We stare at each other for several seconds. Finally, I take out a magazine and start to read. Demi Moore on Her 20-Pound Weight Loss. Skinny Jeans! How Stars Get Skinny in Time for Summer. Cameron’s Red Carpet Confession: “I Didn’t Eat All Day!”

You know I have the keys to the apartment, I say.

Best and Worst Beach Bodies. Stars With Cellulite. Best Butts.

If you want to drink that beer, I have to let you in.

You really don’t get it, he says.

You can’t drink that Corona on the sidewalk. I get that.

You’re really sick.

I look at him.

I won’t do it again, he says.

He holds out his hand and I take it.

Fuck you, I say.

Fuck you, too, he says.

You know, you’re sick, too.

That night, we watch a documentary about the Earth Liberation Front. We see the charred remains of the offices of Superior Lumber, keyboards melted together and aluminum chairs twisted around themselves like wrought skeletons.

I thought the ELF was nonviolent, I say.

They are.

But this is arson.

Who was injured?