White Girls

by Andrew Stark

Written by Andrew Stark
Northpoint: one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, the East Side’s east side. Victor arrived after sundown, his cousin’s ’72 Pinto wheezing up and down North Terrace. He eyeballed each brick and stone façade, imagined spangled worlds beyond. But, really, he imagined the girls, longing to catch one of their silhouettes brush by in the golden glow of an upstairs window. White girls—the words themselves forced the tongue to furl in the mouth like a breaking wave.

He parked under a streetlamp outside a Tudor house on a corner lot. Then he slipped his blade into his pocket. There was a Porsche in the wraparound driveway, a fountain in the courtyard.

Something in Victor’s face suggested violence even to himself. But it wasn’t disenchantment because he’d never been enchanted. Like many Mexican immigrants, he occupied a void in which the fight to survive seemed to be the only discernible manifestation of culture. He spoke little Spanish. His very conception had happened twenty years ago, in a rusted-out Chevy S-10 on a border town side street. He wasn’t his father’s son. Victor didn’t know his father. He lived in a ramshackle tenement with his grandparents in Metcalfe Park, east of 38th Street. Always the tar pit smell of creosote somewhere, always the sound of squabbling dogs. Somebody had spray-painted “Welcome to Hell” across the road near his building, but there were no welcomes there.

The front door of the Tudor house slammed shut. Victor sidestepped into the shadows. A man appeared, angrily muttering to himself, and climbed into the Porsche. Soon the engine revved gently and the car purred out of the driveway. Victor crossed the yard and peered into an arched window.

A woman sat on a tufted pew at a pedestal table all cherrywood and steel scrollwork. Her makeup had run but she was no longer crying. She looked depleted. Her lips were pale. Victor swallowed hard and fingered the blade in his pocket. The room was like nothing he’d ever seen, and his eyes looped over an antique grandfather clock in the corner, taking foolish inventory.

The woman left the room and returned with a tall glass of red wine and an orange prescription bottle. She unscrewed the cap with urgency and washed down a handful of pills, tilting the stem of the glass toward the rococo ceiling. Then she removed her sweatshirt. Victor felt weightless as his own shadow. He thought if the woman undressed any further his heart might rupture. But she did undress further, shrugging out of her tank top and stepping out of her jeans. And then she undressed completely.

The woman danced out of the room, moving among the dappled houseplants like a shimmering fish. She returned with more wine, swallowing pills from a different bottle. Victor felt as if he were being carried over the earth like vapor or sound. The woman was moving less like a fish now and more like water itself, less dancing than swimming. Then she stopped and looked at the window.

Victor stood motionless. The blood filing plaintively through his veins seemed to chug to a halt. The woman wore an expression he couldn’t name, something beyond fear and despair and sadness. She palmed a breast corrugated with stretch marks, pinched the skin of her belly that hung like unleavened bread. She thumbed the hollows of her cheeks and dabbed at the fleshy crescents under her eyes, exploring all those new dimensions the years had forged there, age’s trick topography. Her eyes were bowed with tears and had she blinked they would’ve spilled over.

He followed her to the living room on the north-facing side of the house. Swollen leather furniture was parked throughout like cars in a showroom, the enormous windows framed with drapes that broke along the hickory floors like mist. She toppled a lamp before crawling onto a red chesterfield. Her body went limp. She became very pale, even for a white girl. Victor watched for a long time. He knocked on the window, and then he knocked again. But she was gone.

Victor felt that he’d gotten to know the woman in some transcendent way, intimately. But he couldn’t understand hopelessness in somebody whose American Dream had been fulfilled. This was a person who had never been marginalized or stigmatized, who never had to wear her immigration status like shackles or the stocks and pillory of medieval humiliation. This was a person who had everything.

Victor lit a cigarette and approached the front door, wondering how that grandfather clock would ever fit in the Pinto.