Excerpts for Brutal Language of Love : Stories
The Brutal Language of Love
By Alicia Erian
Copyright © 2001
All right reserved.
Standing Up to the Superpowers
Beatrice told Shipley she would sleep with him, and then she passed out. When she awoke the next morning, he said he'd gone ahead without her. He got dressed and asked her to drive him to the police station so he could turn himself in for rape, but she said not to worry about it. She wasn't happy, she said, but it was her own fault for drinking with a freshman. Shipley walked to the police station and turned himself in anyway. A Lieutenant Verbena called to see if Beatrice wanted to press charges and she said no. "Put him on," Beatrice said, and when Shipley said hello she hung up.
He called her the next day to say his mother, a pediatrician, had suggested she take a morning-after pill. "You told your mother?" Beatrice asked.
"She's a doctor," Shipley said.
"I got that."
"I'm going into counseling for my drinking," he added.
"How old are you?"
"I'm twenty-two," she said. "Now leave me alone."
Beatrice was a junior. She had taken a year off from college to work in a cheap clothing store for older women, then returned to school when she realized she made more money living off student loans. Her father, a divorce lawyer who had successfully represented himself against Beatrice's mother, had promised to help with tuition as long as Beatrice did well in high school. When she turned out to be not quite as smart as early test scores had indicated, however, he reneged. His advice to her was to stay away from the humanities, where there were no jobs.
She signed up for a Russian literature course with a professor named Fetko, who gave her good marks for implying that she'd be willing to sleep with him. Sometimes in his office he'd let her sip from his vending machine coffee, or take bites from the sandwiches his wife had prepared for him. Other times he gave her quarters for her own snacks. Mostly they just sat around shooting the shit, talking about Chekhov and his famous hemorrhoids.
Shipley, the freshman, was also in Russian literature. Fetko hated him and so did Beatrice. He was always asking stupid questions and interrupting Fetko's flow, something that was very important to Fetko. "Get him drunk and fuck with his head," Fetko had instructed Beatrice. "That would be worth a letter grade to me." Now, as she sat before her professor after Monday's class, Beatrice was unsure of what to say. "I fucked with him," she began, but when she described exactly how, Fetko turned white. "Jesus, Beatrice," he said, letting his pipe hang limp from his mouth.
She shrugged. She had been asleep when it happened.
Shipley called that afternoon to ask about the morning-after pill. Beatrice was sitting in her attic bedroom in a house filled with students. She had slept with two film majors on the second floor, one of whom had gone to great lengths to explain his uncircumcised penis to her. This had made her laugh — something she rarely did ——and lose all interest in him, though she let him screw her anyway. "You're so hot," he'd whispered in her ear. "All the guys in the house want you."
"Thanks," she'd said, waiting for him to finish. Compliments had stopped doing it for her a long time ago.
Today she was trying to read a book about China for a history class. The professor was old and deaf, and whenever she tried to make a pass at him, he'd bellow, "What?" It was a grade she would actually have to work for, and it was killing her. Sometimes she went to his office to tell him this and he just nodded, pretending he could hear. She was no dummy. Her brain had just stopped accepting academic text along with the compliments.
What kind of name was Shipley anyway? Beatrice had half a mind to ask him now that he was on the phone, but didn't like to encourage friendship. Anyway, she was irritated, sick of his mother and this morning-after crap. "Don't worry about it," she told him. "I'm on birth control."
"What kind?" he asked, panting a little.
"What do you mean what kind?"
"I don't know."
"Generic is cheaper."
He laughed. "You have a nice personality. I liked you even before we got drunk."
"You wanna keep talking?"
"Let me think. No."
"I tried to talk to you after class today but you left so fast I couldn't find you."
"Try to breathe slower," Beatrice instructed him.
"Can I talk to you after class on Wednesday?"
She hung up on him. He was in love with her, that much was clear. It happened all the time; men loved her personality, thought it was nice. Not nice-nice obviously, but nice-honest. Back home, people said she was like her mother, who was often described as acidic, and who had become a lesbian after Beatrice left for college. "Sex is sex," she had once advised her daughter. "No need to be picky." What bothered Beatrice was her mother's refusal to come out in the liberal, northwestern city where she lived, instead preferring to divulge the intimate details of her love life solely to Beatrice, over the telephone.
"I don't want to hear it, Mom," Beatrice would say, at which point her mother would accuse her of being homo- phobic. Beatrice protested, saying she had never felt comfortable with her mother's bedroom stories about her father either. "So I guess I'll kill myself," was her mother's response, "if my own daughter won't even talk to me." It was Beatrice's freshman year and she didn't need the responsibility, so she listened. She allowed herself to be lost track of as a sophomore, however, moving off-campus and delisting her number. There was some comfort in knowing that neither of her parents had ever been of a mind to chase after her.
Increasingly, Beatrice loved no one. She had a fair amount of sex but in general preferred her own company, and on occasion that of Fetko. He had information about dead writers that fascinated her, health problems and such. She told him that after he died, people would say he had liked for his girl students to talk dirty to him, but he said no one would care since he wasn't a real writer. She pointed out his books of criticism and he told her she was sweet to be so naïve, to have such big tits. In the end, though, she was glad he never tried to touch them, that it never went beyond talk. This would have weakened their rapport, which was something she felt they definitely enjoyed. Everybody traded on what they had, after all, and if what you had wasn't pretty, well, there was still a friend for you.
In class on Wednesday, Fetko seemed distracted. When Shipley raised his hand and asked him to expand upon the socioeconomic conditions of the lady with the pet dog, he did so without protest. Later, when Beatrice went to meet him in his office, he wasn't there. A note on his door said he was ill and that office hours had been canceled. Beatrice hoped Fetko's guilt over what had happened between her and Shipley would not jeopardize their arrangement. She had enough on her plate worrying about China without the added anxiety of having to complete his assignments as well.
At a vending machine she purchased lunch — a choco-late bar and pretzels, neither of which would taste like anything, she already knew. She found a bench on a wide walkway in front of the tall Humanities Building, and looked down into the valley at the poor town she had sold ugly clothes to the previous year. It's better up here, she thought, though she knew she would tumble down the hill soon enough.
Moments later she was joined by Shipley, a fat, sweaty guy with a dumb haircut. People's appearances were of little concern to Beatrice. She bedded the handsome and the homely alike. Along with her taste buds had gone her sense of smell, and she didn't miss it. Sex, she believed, should be more of a democratic process, distributed only when a situation — and not a person — merited it.
He presented her with a card depicting Monet's Water Lilies and containing a message that read, Sorry I raped you -Shipley.
Excerpted from The Brutal Language of Love
by Alicia Erian
Copyright © 2001 by Alicia Erian.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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