Reprinted with permission from the new book by Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore (Arsenal Pulp Press 2018)
Polly and I are in the spaceship on the highway, I never realized the buildings up ahead blink so much like stars and when I close my eyes we’re flying through a tunnel of light in the sky until Polly’s saying Alexa, look, isn’t that the exit?
Oh, maybe I shouldn’t close my eyes while I’m driving. But we make it just in time, and then we’re gliding through the streets and there’s our Star.
Inside it’s yes, oh yes, the light flickering my eyes into my head and Polly—do we need anything? Polly gets a Blow Pop, it’s already in her mouth so no need to pay, and I get tabouli and hummus and pita bread for later.
We throw our food in the car and step into the Prudential Center to levitate up the escalators, yes we’ve got the disposable camera and Polly jumps on a cart that says WATCH OUT. But Polly, what are you watching out for?
Polly’s modeling her first club outfit, pink T-shirt with a purple heart drawn over one nipple and a red star on the other, smiley-face boxers pulled above the waist of her baggy striped jeans and just the right shade of lipstick to look totally wrong—she pushes her sunglasses down to show off the rest of her makeup, yellow highlighter pressed into her eyelids and then permanent black marker as eyeliner, stunning.
Wait, there’s a sign that says MASS HYSTERIA, just behind Polly’s head—get a picture of me with MASS HYSTERIA.
Your hair. How did you do it?
I left the dye in.
You’re like a present—purple wrapping paper and a big magenta bow. Did the flash go off?
Oh, what about over there by the candy—so many colors. Should we take one together?
Your dress, it’s so soft. What’s it made out of?
Candy, let’s get candy.
So then we’re back at Star Market and I could stare at the colors all night long. Polly, what should we get, lemon drops and Sour Patch Kids and Life Savers and what else? Oh—orange juice, let’s get orange juice—vitamin C. For later. To bring back the colors. Let’s get the big one. With the pulp. Do you like the pulp? What time is it?
Almost four thirty. I don’t like the pulp.
We better get to the Loft. I’ll get the one without the pulp.
Are you sure?
We go outside to the car and—wait, look at the John Hancock Tower from this angle, all that shimmering glass pushing into the sky and I wish we could go to the top—Polly, the lights, look at all the lights. Should we give her a name?
Of course. Jeannine Hancockatiel, revealing her true nature, yes nature or nurture, I mean nature and nurture. Are you sure you want to go to the Loft instead of hanging out with Jeannine?
Polly holds my hand and this time I’m looking at her eyes through the sunglasses, blue lenses, your eyes are so blue.
Your hands are so cold.
We glide in the spaceship down a deserted Boylston but it’s so late the door guy at the Loft doesn’t want to let us in—everyone’s expecting us, I say.
Tonight’s our night: he actually listens. And oh, that feeling of walking up the stairs in anticipation, just the bass until you open the door at the top and oh, wow, I forgot it would be this crowded, but there’s Billy’s head peeking up in the corner. She’s working her new platforms that don’t taper out at the bottom so she’s having a hard time balancing, sucking on a lollipop while attempting to throw some kicks—she holds out her arms: Fierce, she says, your hair looks fierce. Fierce!
Joey’s actually on the dance floor so I know she’s really coked out and these beats yes these beats and that boy over there his eyes into my eyes I twirl around into jump rope, feet bouncing up and up and down, down, our feet together and turn, flip the floor, his eyes, give me more. And there’s Billy through the lasers yelling fierce and Joey bouncing, I turn again pull breath up to arms swaying now I’m so close to this boy, his breath or mine, back around and when he moves his hips I rotate the bounce to move my moves into the space between his breath and the beat and maybe he can join us afterwards, maybe we can drive over the Mass. Ave. Bridge for the sunrise, holding hands in the back seat oh the light yes these lights. There’s purple in this red, turn, there’s red in this purple, turn, and Billy’s really kicking now Joey’s on the sidelines and Polly stumbles over, where did she go, and I do my almost-falling move towards the queen next to me, who throws up her arms like help so I dive down to the ground and flip around, but then Polly’s waving me over. So I twirl off the dance floor still dancing, even though Polly’s standing still, eyes almost closed, leaning against the wall for support, she must have found K in the bathroom and she’s saying something to me, what did you say?
I love you. Alexa, I love you.
And I know it’s her first time on ecstasy so I close my eyes to feel it, but also I know it’s love so I open my eyes to look more closely, Polly’s curly hair fluorescent in this light, her skin purple like a pretty alien and she holds out her hand so I kiss it while I keep dancing a little with hips into feet and Joey looks over with big eyes and says Traci Lords was here.
Traci Lords? The porn star?
Traci Lords is fierce.
And how did Billy get over here, now she’s taller than all of us, yelling something, what is it?
Joey put Traci Lords in a K hole. It was fierce. Fierce!
And then the air-raid sirens like a drum roll getting louder and louder until the whole room is shaking and listen, “10,000 screaming, 10,000 screaming”—Joey says that’s Traci Lords, but is she really saying 10,000 screaming faggots? Whatever it is we’re all on the dance floor now—Billy’s working her patent leather tank top with Lycra bike shorts and the lasers are blasting past our heads and Juniper and Sage are hugging the speakers in shiny silver outfits with silver body paint and glow-in-the-dark lipstick and their newest Day-Glo wedding cake platform sneakers and then all of us, all of us together, the whole room shaking but wait, oh no, the music’s slowing down.
The Boston book launch for Sketchtasy will be at Harvard Book Store on Wednesday, October 17 at 7 pm
Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore is the award-winning author of a memoir and three novels, and the editor of five nonfiction anthologies. Her memoir, The End of San Francisco, won a Lambda Literary Award, and her previous title, Why Are Faggots So Afraid of Faggots?: Flaming Challenges to Masculinity, Objectification, and the Desire to Conform, was an American Library Association Stonewall Honor Book. You can see more of her work at mattildabernsteinsycamore.com.