Vassar Student Review

Vassar Student Review

Spring

By Charlotte Robertson

Maria was sitting on Roy’s bed, watching Roy strip apart a USB wire. He cut off part of the top and then separated the black and red lines from the white and green. Maria told him not to get electrocuted.

“It’s not plugged in,” Roy said.

“Oh.”

Roy and Maria used to go to school together. They had not seen each other since graduation eight months ago, until Roy ran into Maria at the Finest Deli on Bleecker Street buying a pack of gum and asked her if she was on spring break.

“This week and next,” Maria told him.

“Me too. We should get together sometime.”

“Okay, sure. Maybe.”

Maria did not know what Roy meant by “get together,” but it entailed cutting open USB wires in his bedroom and eating plantain chips out of a greasy yellow bag. She had only been to Roy’s house once before, at a party in tenth grade when she still had braces. She had thrown up in the bathroom. She hoped Roy didn’t remember that.

“Have I ever had you over before?” Roy asked.

Maria shook her head in relief. “No. We didn’t hang out much in high school.”

“Why didn’t we?”

“I don’t know.” Maria had always liked Roy. They had been lab partners in biology, Roy always turned everything in on time. And, when Geraldine Wesley told the entire class that Maria had girl-on-girl pornography on her computer, Roy told Geraldine to fuck off, which was nice.

Roy’s phone rang. He picked it up. “I’ve got to go answer the door,” he said to Maria.

“Who’s here?” Maria asked.

“Couple of my buddies from college. You’ll like them, they’re cool.”

“Are they going to like me?”

Roy laughed and left the room. Maria looked out the window, which faced a brick building with a silver awning in front of it. Maria wondered how many times Roy had looked out this window and wished he could tear the building out of the ground so he could see the sky.

Roy returned with three or four boys. They were all wearing sweatpants and talking very loudly.

One of the boys pointed to Maria. “Who’s this?”

“That’s Maria.” Roy said. Maria waved and then immediately regretted it. The boy sauntered over to the bed and sat down next to her.

“It’s really nice to meet you.”

“Brian, she’s a fucking lesbian,” Roy said. The other boys giggled.

“You’re a lesbian?” The first boy, apparently Brian, asked. Maria nodded. “You got a girlfriend or something?”

“Her name is Mica.”

“Mica and Maria. That’s nice,” Brian said. “Has a nice ring to it.”

“Thanks,” Maria said.

“I think it’s the double Ms.”

“Right.”

“Is she in the city? You could invite her over,” Roy said.

“No, she lives in Connecticut,” Maria paused. “I think she’s cheating on me.” Maria had never said it out loud before, but she had been suspecting for a while. Mica was very secretive about her text messages. Maria would never go through her phone, she was not that type of person. But she wanted to.

“She’s cheating on you?” Roy asked.

“Yeah. I mean, probably.”

“You should break up with her,” he said.

Maria shrugged. “We’ll split before summer anyway.”

“You shouldn’t stay with someone who’s cheating on you,” Roy said.

 

Maria was not going to break up with Mica, even though she knew that was what she was supposed to do. Maria never understood all the weird rules about fidelity; like when her mom divorced her dad after she found out he was sleeping with his assistant. Maria knew that her dad still loved her mom, even if he also loved Dorothy O’Reilly. Mica still wanted to be with Maria, even though she was kissing other girls. If she didn’t, Mica would dump her. That was enough.

One of the boys who was not Brian said, “let’s smoke.” Maria wondered if she was going to learn the names of the other boys, or if she was going to have to tell them apart by their t-shirt colors.

“We have to wire it,” Roy said.

“You’re kidding,” green shirt said. “You got one?”

Roy nodded to the USB wire on the floor.

“Let’s do it,” blue shirt said. Roy took a cartridge out of his pocket and stuck the black wire through the hole in the bottom. He pressed the red wire to the outside. The cartridge began heating up between his fingers.

“You smoke?” Roy asked Maria. Maria did not.

“Yes,” she said. Roy waved her over. She squat down next to him and he raised the mouthpiece to her lips. She breathed in and immediately started coughing.

“Didn’t you used to play the flute?” Roy asked, readjusting the wires.

“I don’t really do that anymore,” Maria said. Roy asked why not. “I tried out for the orchestra earlier this year, but I didn’t make the cut.”

“So that’s just it, then?”

“Pretty much.”

“That sucks. I thought you were good.”

Maria thought she was good, too. She had been playing the flute since she was eleven years old. She had a private tutor. She performed at local events and even got paid sometimes.

“Why do you ask about the flute?” Maria asked.

Roy said, “I was just thinking about school. You seem different now.”

“What do you mean?”

“Maybe different is the wrong word. You seem more comfortable with yourself. It’s a good thing.” Maria did not think she had changed at all since the beginning of college, except that she now owned a tube of lipstick and stopped wearing velcro shoes.

Maria could feel herself getting, presumably, high. She sat down on the ground and closed her eyes. The group of boys started discussing who would win in a fight, one modern-day tank or the entire Roman army.

“Definitely the tank,” one of them said.

“The entire Roman army. Do you know how many people that is?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s a tank. It can just shoot them down.”

“How many people are in the tank?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t matter.”

“It matters.”

“Why?”

“Because if there’s only one, the Roman army could totally take him down. I mean, there’d be casualties, but they’d eventually win.”

“I don’t believe you.”

Maria was thinking about the last time she and Mica had seen each other. It was the final day of midterms. The two of them were watching a nature documentary in Mica’s room. Squid babies were hatching from a cluster of eggs, and Maria said they looked like those oozy yogurt tubes at the organic supermarket.

“It would be so much easier if we just laid eggs,” Mica said. “Do you want kids?”

“I don’t know,” Maria said. “I don’t really think about that kind of stuff.” Mica asked her what she meant. “The future. It’s hard to keep track of everything in my brain. I have to do it in small doses. I can only think about, like, next week.”

“You’ve never thought about yourself with a family?”

“I guess not.” Maria thought for a moment. “If I get married, and my wife wants kids, then I’d want them, too.”

“Only if your wife wants kids,” Mica repeated.

“I think so, yeah.”

Maria wasn’t sure how the conversation got sidetracked. Mica told Maria that she shouldn’t make major life decisions based on pleasing other people. “You’ve got to stop overanalyzing everything,” Maria said.

“It’s in my blood,” Mica insisted. Mica’s father was a psychoanalyst and her mother was a psychiatrist. Mica went on a lot of psychology tangents, particularly about Maria. She would suggest that Maria’s participation in class discussions was in overcompensation of patriarchal societal standards; that Maria’s awkwardness around public displays of affection was because her parents got divorced before she hit puberty; that Maria’s preference for pencils over pens meant she was afraid of making mistakes. Maria found these theories stupid.

“Do you want kids?” Maria asked.

“Yes. At least four,” Mica said. She pressed the spacebar on her laptop to pause the documentary. “I guess you and I could never get married. I mean, I’d never want to pressure you into having kids.”

Maria thought it was obvious that the two of them would never be married.

“You’ve never pictured us married?” Mica asked.

“You’re the first girlfriend I’ve ever had. It’s not very realistic to think we’d be together forever.”

“It could happen,” Mica said. “What are we even doing here if we’re not going to stay together?”

“Having experiences,” Maria said. “We’re young. That’s what we’re supposed to do.” Maria unpaused the documentary. A couple of minutes passed in silence. “I love you,” Maria said, kissing Mica on the cheek. Mica did not say it back.

 

Roy was shaking Maria awake. Maria opened her eyes. The room was empty. “Where’d your friends go?”

Roy said they left a little while ago. “You fell asleep.”

“Sorry.”

“Nothing to apologize for,” Roy said. “Do you want a popsicle?”

Roy and Maria went into the kitchen. Roy’s mother was putting dishes into the dishwasher.

“Mom, this is Maria,” Roy said. He opened the freezer. “We have strawberry, lime, and grape.”

“Lime, please,” Maria said. “Do you want any help with that?” She asked Roy’s mother.

“I’m almost done,” Roy’s mother said. She popped a detergent pod into the latched container and slammed the door shut. The dishwasher started with a growl.

“Mom, Maria’s the one who played the flute at graduation,” Roy said.

“Oh my god, you did a wonderful job,” Roy’s mother smiled. “I cried.”

“Really?” Maria asked.

“And mom never cries at stuff. That’s how you know it was good,” Roy said. Maria didn’t know what to say. She bit into her popsicle.

Roy’s mother left to watch television in the living room. Roy leaned against the refrigerator and studied Maria for a moment. He asked if she was still high.

“What? No. I mean, I don’t think so.”

“You’re staring into space.”

Maria laughed. “I do that sometimes.”

“What are you thinking about?” Roy asked. Maria suddenly started crying. “Jesus,” he said, pulling her into an embrace. “Shit. Are you okay?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s happening to me.”

“Stop saying sorry,” Roy said, patting Maria’s head. Maria shook him away and wiped her face with the back of her hand.

“I’m fine. That was weird. I’m sorry,” she said. Tears were still leaking out of the corners of her eyes.

“Do you want to talk about it?”

“I’m okay.” Maria took the last bite of her popsicle, wincing as the cold sank into her gums. She wasn’t sure what she was doing in Roy’s apartment. Roy had texted her earlier this morning to ask if she was free. She didn’t think Roy would follow through with the whole “let’s hang out sometime” shtick. She assumed he was only being polite. “We really weren’t friends in high school,” Maria said.

“No, we weren’t.” Roy agreed.

“I almost didn’t come today,” she admitted. On the subway ride uptown, Maria felt anxious, like she was going to the doctor’s office for a shot. Once she passed seventieth street, she wanted to turn back.

“Why did you?”

Maria looked up at Roy. “I don’t know. Why’d you invite me?”

“I don’t know,” Roy said. They looked at each other in silence for a moment. “I feel like we’re similar people. And I don’t feel similar to most people.”

“You don’t?”

“I don’t. I have a hard time getting close to people.”

Maria frowned. “You have so many friends, though. I mean, what about all those guys that were just here? Brian and the others?”

“I love those guys, they’re great. But I don’t think we have very much in common. We experience the world super differently. It doesn’t make them wrong or right, or me wrong or right—but it’s isolating.”

“I also have a hard time getting close to people,” Maria said. She patted Roy’s arm. “I think that’s why I’m not going to break up with Mica. I was so surprised that someone could love me. I don’t want to let it go, in case it never happens again.”

“Someone will love you again,” Roy said. “Do you want some water?”

“Sure,” Maria nodded. “I didn’t mean to sound all pathetic just then.” Roy took two cups out of the pantry and stuck them under the faucet. Maria liked the sound the faucet made, like she was being shushed. “I meant that I don’t feel real a lot of the time. I see kids my age living their lives, and it’s like everything they do is unreachable for me.”

Roy handed Maria her cup of water. “What do you mean?”

“Like going out, having friends, relationships. I never thought that stuff would happen to me—not that I didn’t want it—but because I felt like kind of a background character.” She sipped her water.

“I think I know what you mean,” Roy said. “I definitely know what you mean.”

“Do you think you’re depressed?” Maria asked.

“Yeah.”

“Me too.”

They sat quietly for a minute. Then Roy asked, “how did you meet Mica?”

“Mutual friend,” Maria said. The day they met, they were eating dinner in the dining hall with a big group of freshmen crowded at one table. Maria had never met anyone as smart as Mica before. She was so confident in everything she said. She talked in elaborate sentences and dropped fancy words like slang, as if she had a built-in thesaurus in her brain. Mica was always debating, always quoting some renowned, underground journalist or ancient theory or Sigmund Freud, and Maria liked that about her at first. It was funny to Maria, how admiration can become disgust—she thought of Mica now as a know-it- all, someone who cannot ever let things simply be, but must search for the deeper meaning. Sometimes there is no deeper meaning, Maria thought.

“She didn’t tell me she loved me the last time we saw each other,” Maria said. “I said that I loved her, and she was just quiet.”

“Yikes,” Roy mumbled.

“I don’t even know if I love her,” Maria confessed. “Isn’t that weird?” It was something Maria had been turning over in her mind for the entirety of spring break. Her relationship with Mica had been very by-the-book. Like they were crossing things off of a checklist. They kissed goodnight on their first date, exchanged flowers on Valentine’s day, added a one-month anniversary reminder to their respective google calendars. They bought wine with fake IDs and kicked out their roommates to have sex. When it came time to say I love you, Maria thought nothing of it. Of course, she must feel it. It was a no-brainer.

“You need to break up with her,” Roy said.

“I know,” Maria said. “I don’t want to talk about Mica anymore.”

“Okay.”

And so the two of them stood there in the kitchen, not saying anything. They could hear the noise of the television seeping through the bottom of the door of the living room. Maria knew that she and Roy wouldn’t speak once they both went back to school. So did Roy. But maybe when the summer comes, they both thought to themselves, they could see each other again. Maria threw her popsicle stick in the garbage can and wished everything was as simple as it was right in this moment.

 

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