Delia Rainey is a writer, musician and artist living in St. Louis, MO. Her band is called Dubb Nubb. Find more of her poems and prose on deliarainey.tumblr.com.
She is spending the weekend snowed-in at a house that her boyfriend is housesitting. The owner of the house, a family friend, is an older gentleman in the Transcendental Meditation movement who works in insurance. He travels for work, so her boyfriend lives at his house temporarily, feeding his cats.
They are in a long distance relationship, but for these couple of days, they get to live in a house together. She feels like they are actors, practicing for a play, but they are sucking, and the play is about depression.
The walls of his house are decorated with kitschy art of fairies, mermaids, angels, and cows in a field. There are groups of birdhouses hung up. A glass fish-tank is filled with plastic and metal fish instead of water. Her boyfriend plays an acoustic guitar violently among all of this.
He says, “Do you want to write a song together?” He has never asked her this before. Which is weird because that’s how they met – playing music at a house show in some kid’s garage. Her band played and then she watched his band - he danced around in cheetah spandex shorts and sang. He asked for her number so she could book him a show in her old town. This was years ago.
It’s Valentine’s Day and she tells him she’s hungry for dinner. He suggests a frozen pizza. On her laptop, she pulls up some photos that her best friend just tagged her in on Facebook. They’re images from an iPhone, taken during summers in her old town when she used to live there.
One picture shows her standing on the college campus, wearing high-waisted khaki shorts, her hair pulled up in a bun that reminds her of an angel. The flash of the camera has distorted her eyes into animal eyes, glowing like two flashlights.
She was standing next to a trashcan that was knocked over, all the trash spilled out onto the concrete. It must have been one of those very drunk weekends where boys in shorts and flip flops ran around the town, fucking with anything.
On the picture, her friend comments: “There's another version of this with Chase popping his head in and laughing and you are turned around staring at the trash.” She saves the picture as delia_trash.jpg on her computer.
The picture as a symbol of her old self: a night creature, comfortable in the trash space; a raccoon. On her notebook, she taped a drawing of a raccoon on the cover, also a set of pink fronds she drew, and a halved lemon.
She’s always trying to place symbols on parts of her life that never asked to be defined. She cannot handle her life without symbols. It’s painful. The lemon, the raccoon, and the unnatural-looking plant become a soothing order. That’s what poems are, anyway.
Some weeks ago, her boyfriend and her went to a Chinese restaurant after lying in bed crying for two hours, but not breaking up. The restaurant used to be an old movie theater and the screen is used for karaoke now. Since it was a Sunday, it was swarmed with Chinese families eating dim sum.
She Google-searched dim sum on her iPhone while her boyfriend was in the bathroom, and one description said, “Not to be eaten by romantic couples.” She was horrified.
They ate the meal and discussed the legitimacy of polyamorous and open relationships. The food wasn’t very good, but she ate greedily. An old lady rolling a metal cart filled with little tin and wooden boxes of steaming buns asked if they’d like any dim sum. She said, “No thank you, we already ordered.”
They had ordered garlic eggplant, and after the tray arrived filled with about fifty tiny eggplant halves, shiny with grease, they realized they hated eggplant. It has the slimiest texture: the smooth skin, the seed-bitten flesh.
They went up to the front of the old theater to pay. By the counter was a fake decorative tree, spotted with plastic oranges. As soon as she saw it, she loved it. She made it into a whole ordeal, pointing at it and staring. She had a thing for plastic fruit, symbolically.
He took a picture on his iPhone of the tree and sent it to her. He explained to her that this picture was a love-note sent from him.
For Valentine’s Day the week after, he bought her garlands and garlands of plastic oranges from Amazon. She was thrilled. She placed them around his neck, a hero. The oranges were unnaturally small, like cherries.
She posted a picture of the fruit on Instagram to show everyone how much her boyfriend cared about her and understood her. Many people post pictures of gifts they receive on Valentine’s Day. You can scroll through all the duplications of chocolates, flowers, and homemade dinners.
Her gift to him was a new notebook. She taped drawings on the cover, too: a spiky rose, a dog, a flexing bicep. Her boyfriend is interested in gender performance. He loves to go to the gym and then come home and read Judith Butler.
In the older gentleman’s house, he sits on the ground recording the acoustic guitar part he just wrote. He gets up to preheat the oven and suggests that they put walnuts and bell pepper on the frozen pizza. She looks over at him in disgust, but immediately takes it back and says, “If I don’t like it, I’ll just pick it off.”
She rubs her belly in anxiety. Her shirt is velvety, a cheetah print crop top from Goodwill. She smooths it out with her palm. The shirt looks like a Halloween costume, she thinks, but it was probably just a child’s shirt from the early 2000s.
In fact, she wore a shirt just like this in 2000 for her cousin’s bat mitzvah party in Seattle.
It was one of the only times she had ever gotten her hair and makeup done by a professional in her whole life and she was eight years old. The hair lady had wound little bunches of her hair into squiggly buns on the top of her head, held together with sparkly butterfly clips.
The bat mitzvah party was on a boat, bobbing on the water as teenagers were dancing to popular songs at the time. All the teenagers were in a big chain, grinding, making the adults upset.
She remembers wanting so badly to be a part of this chain of humping kids, having no knowledge of sexual desire. There was a game the DJ facilitated where the songs would switch every 30 seconds and you had to switch dance partners. She ended up dancing with a teenaged boy for 30 seconds, a popular boy with spikey hair.
She put her hands on the teenaged boy’s waist, totally unaware that he felt silly dancing with an eight year-old. She felt washed over and tingly, like she was the boat.
For the rest of the night, she danced at the front of the room. She won an award for best dancer.
It’s true that she was always attracted to men. Whenever she played pretend or Barbies, she always wanted to play the boy character.
Later in life, she would deny this as part of her sexual interest, but more about wanting the freedoms and non-judgment of being male in a patriarchal world.
The night before Valentine’s Day, her boyfriend was running sound at the bar in his town. It was snowing all night, a white dust world. It was a Valentine’s Rave. Only one girl arrived at the bar in rave gear – a tiny tutu, a rainbow fur tail, ears, and legwarmers – but everyone else was dressed normally.
She was feeling extra ugly that night. Her hair was in a ponytail that couldn’t decide which side of her head to flop over. She was wearing an oversized jean shirt with cottages embroidered on it, and an unflattering striped turtleneck – all thrift-store finds that an older woman might have donated.
A friend of her boyfriend, a very bright and beautiful girl who was still in high school, came over and introduced herself. It was strange pretending they didn’t know each other, because the girl had friended her on Facebook the day before.
She was wearing a black kink collar and a red sweatshirt with a smiley face on it. Instantly, she felt threatened by her.
Her boyfriend didn’t seem bothered by her though, except when another friend bought all the high school girls shots of tequila. The older friends taught the young girls how to pour salt on their hands, lick it, swallow the shot, and then bite into a lime wedge.
The girl in the kink collar asked, “What pronouns do you use?” as she shook her hand, IRL.
“She and her,” she answered, but she was embarrassed. She wasn’t they/them, something the younger girl didn’t want to assume.
After the shots, the group of high school kids plus her and her boyfriend hit the dance floor of the rave – a small group of people shuffling, as snow filtered by the window. Her boyfriend is a very good dancer, always has been. Fast, sexual, like a boy-band. She tried to dance seductively, but she was tired of everything. She found herself staring down at her boobs, thinking to herself, she and her.
Later in the night, as the three of them smoked a cigarette in a stairwell, the high school girl announced that she had gotten into CalArts for experimental music. “That’s SO great. College is the best years of your life,” she responded, genuinely, but it came off sarcastic.
She had gone to a state school in Missouri, where frat boys pushed over trashcans at night with their flip-flop feet. Everything about the situation fed her jealousy and girl-hate, although she was a feminist and scorned these feelings. All the tequila had fucked with her.
The girl in the kink collar had short curly yellow hair, like an angel. In her mind, she pictured her boyfriend fucking the girl, clipping a leash onto the kink collar, and pulling her neck, moaning. It was a horrible image. She pictured the girl without any pubic hair, like a child. Just admitting this daydream makes her want to throw up.
Holding the blade of the pizza cutter in his hand, her boyfriend becomes distracted on his iPhone from an app that teaches him how to speak French. She stares at a set of the orange garlands, still in its plastic bag, with a barcode.
After she got his number, she did book him a show in her town. The first time, it was at a DIY space that never got a proper name, so folks just called it by its address. It was an old warehouse where illegal immigrants used to stay. He had set up these foil panels covered in light bulbs that he made. In the dirty space, he lit up, he was an angel.
When he performed, he sang things like, “I don’t wanna know what it’s like without you.” At one point, he was dancing so intensely, that he climbed the PA speaker and jumped up into the loft storage space of the warehouse. His body dangled at the ceiling, and then he jumped. Her fear for him was wild.
What is the symbolic meaning of the plastic fruit? The falseness of bodies? The body that can be duplicated, for visual pleasure, but is not functional.
She wants to leave the older gentleman’s house, but the barrier of snow outside feels limiting. Her body arranges around the guitar noise, the digital trash, and her boyfriend saying the word “orange” in French.