Nothing New
by Kyra Cullinan

what I am to you is not real, and what I am to you you do not need
and what I am to you is not what you mean to me
what I give to you is just what I'm going through
this is nothing new, no, just another phase of finding
(damien rice, volcanoes)

Show me, Karen says, as if it could mean anything but what it actually does, and Grace knows how this works, so. She does.

Ridiculous, the excuse, as if something about boys is tangible and transferrable, and it's so unoriginal that Grace half expects to find herself back in ninth grade. But instead of Tab and tootsie rolls, Karen tastes like neat liquor, the metallic tang of pills, the smell of nail polish. Unsurprising tastes and she'd have expected them even if they hadn't done this before. Karen is easily definable, if you know what to expect, and somehow Grace has gotten to the point where she isn't fazed a bit even as Karen stands there and taunts her into this.

She does it to make Karen shut up, because its rare enough to see her speechless, and yeah, okay, she likes to prove her point. So here she is in her office on a Tuesday morning, fresh off the most promising date of her life, day before getting maybe pregnant, kissing her secretary (and the word's in air quotes even in her head).


Karen is like New York: hard, glossy, expensive, often inexplicable. She's exactly the kind of person they talk about in Schenectady, when they warn nice Jewish girls about people from The City.


The last time this happened, Grace had been wearing the same clothes for two days, eyes swollen from crying, pores tangibly greasy. The last time this happened they were both pretending Karen was someone else, like that made any kind of difference. It was the end of something and this is the maybe beginning and Karen's sort of just the always around. She still melts into Grace's mouth with that utter fluidity only girls can manage, except she's not really a girl at all, with her breasts and her confidence and how easily she doesn't care.

(Grace's problem is that she cares too much, but in the most inappropriate ways, and she thinks, I could be that person, and kisses Karen a little harder.)


Later, when she is so furiousfuckingmad at Will she can hardly see straight, Grace finds the phone clutched in her hand, big push button numbers swimming in front of her. It's a call-Will feeling, this kind of pissed off awfulness, but there's the problem, the brick wall redness of it all. And she can't call Leo, even though it's nearly all about him anyway, because everything is still too new, too fresh, and she's had enough of watching things collapse in front of her eyes because she pushes too hard.

Karen, she thinks, but what would Karen do besides offer a pocketful of insults, maybe a swig from a carefully filled flask? Karen has nothing to do with Grace's life, except in the way that she's always there, harsh and impossible to ignore, even when Grace doesn't know why she keeps showing up. There's just the fact of her: black Manolo Blahnik slides, studied indifference, the occasional harsher than usual jibe. Karen is the kind of person Grace could never be, even if she wanted (and she doesn't, no, of course not), but there's something fascinating about how far her version of reality is from the real world. Something to watch as Karen sits at her desk, thumbs through shiny magazine pages, takes another pill, grows sharper with every passing second.


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