Last Time I Wore Stripes

Was to a holiday party. They ran across my torso, in sets of two. I liked to think of them in sets of two, when I did my mirror dance. I did my mirror dance as practice. Practice for Bethany Ethel Miggs. I knew Bethany Ethel would be at the party. I knew her face would see my face and her eyes would see these stripes, so I wanted to be sure they looked right when I danced. The sweater folded over at the bottom ‘cause I’m "skin and bones," is what my mom says. So the stripes were loose and the fold was thick, which gave me a little more body than usual.

I showed up. I drank from the punch bowl in a red cup. We all had the red cups. And I clocked my neck around the room counting them. Everyone’s hand wrapped around one. Every hand must have also wrapped around the glass ladle from the punch bowl to pour the punch. Every hand had two things in common.

She wasn’t there. Bethany Ethel was nowhere to be found. I thought a lot about my diet then, because my stomach sank and I wasn’t sure if it was due to the string cheese I ate before I got here, or the hard cheese I ate once I was here, or the punch I’ve had at least two too many of, or whether it was Bethany Ethel herself. Her absence. I wanted to cry when I thought of it, all the mirror dancing prep, this stupid striped sweater. I should have worn blue shirt or white shirt or white and blue shirt. Really any old favorite would have saved me from the sink I was in. The sinking feeling. Like the gymnasium floorboards with their high sheen squeak was giving in under me, like I’d soon be under it.

I had to go outside. I gripped my red cup tight as I darted to the doors. The bright light blinded me and I was without my jacket in the cold. It was still snowing as I refocused on the outside. Fresh snow over everything. The parking lot wasn’t melting it away either. There were tire tracks moving in circles overlapping other tracks like the cars were on spyrographs, like big hands led them around from high above, like our world was built and we were marionettes. I heard a tussling noise then from around the tan bricks of the tall gym.

A couple of guys were swarming around her. Swarming around Bethany Ethel Miggs. She was repeating the words "stop" and "don’t."

“Hey!” I yelled. 

Some of the boys looked around and said, “Screw off, Jerk.”

“No way,” I said and I walked towards them, ditching my red cup. Like a finger snap they started to scatter off. I felt immensely powerful until a huffing sound startled me (almost to death) and a big guy came running from behind me after the boys. It was Barry Miggs, Bethany’s kid brother, the size of two of any of the clowns messing with Bethany.

So then Bethany Ethel was left alone. I told her she looked cold. I said, “here, get in,” and I lifted my big sweater over her head and slid her head against my chest, but the neck hole was not big enough for her head to get through the sweater with me still in it. She was struggling, and I realized this was sort of a strange move. So I slid out, using a dip maneuver I practiced in the mirror when I was dancing. I knocked my head into hers before passing her body on my way out, exchanging my place in the sweater for hers.

I only wore a tank top underneath the sweater. I said, “I’d better run in and get my coat.” Bethany looked me up and down. 

“Hey," she said, "what’s your name again?”

"Oh, I’m Vincent. We take -”

“Algebra,” she interrupted.  

“Yeah,” I said, “that.”

“Well, thanks Vince,” she said, “I’ll bring it back. Doesn't fit me either."

Last time I wore stripes so did Bethany Ethel Miggs. She called me Vince in a snowstorm when I was punch drunk and I’ve never worn them since because I framed the sweater in a plastic hanging sleeve to show her someday when we’re together forever.