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Grey Sparrow Journal

Issue 30, July 31, 2017
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Goldilocks and the Three Boys


by Christopher DeWan




Goldilocks plopped her feet on the cool floor and leaned toward the window ledge. "You mind if I smoke?"


Bradley sat up squinting, his hairless chest reflecting the moonlight. "I think it's cool that you smoke."


"It's an addictive carcinogen that smells like burning tires. It stains my teeth and leathers my skin. It costs me ten bucks a day."


"But nobody smokes anymore. You're a rebel."


Goldilocks slid the window open and pulled a pack of cigarettes from her bag. Winter was just coming to the city: the radiators were groaning and hissing and burning off the year's accumulated dust. She angled her naked body into the tiny meteorological front where the icy breeze from the window collided with the overheated air in the apartment. When she inhaled, the nicotine burned through her bloodstream, down to her fingertips, and it felt better to her than the sex she'd just had.


"Is your brother home?"


She'd dated Bradley's oldest brother Ben for a few months before breaking his heart a couple weeks ago. Sleeping with Bradley was an unplanned and unfortunate turn of events. She'd come over just to drop off the last of Ben's things-a few borrowed shirts and his high school copy of Catcher in the Rye, which she'd pilfered from his shelf mainly to see what sorts of notes he'd taken. He'd underlined eagerly up through chapter three and then fallen off. It was possibly the last book he'd tried to read.


"He's closing shift at the bar tonight. You could sleep over, if you wanted."


She'd already pulled on her clothes and was holding her shoes at the tiptoe-ready. "Thanks for a sweet night," a whisper aimed somewhere in the vicinity of his dopey eyes, and then tugged the bedroom door closed to dash through the darkened living room.


She walked almost straight into Theodore, the middle brother, standing in the dark and practicing scales on an unamplified bass. "Jesus, Teddy. What are you doing here?"


"I live here, remember? You and Brad have a nice visit?"


In the dark, it was hard for her to measure his scorn.


"I was just returning some things."


"Good for Brad. That kid hasn't gotten laid in forever. Maybe literally."


Teddy started a scale in a new key, the strings of the bass grumbling like bubbles blowing in an aquarium. "You know, Ben still sobs himself to sleep most nights. He's a big guy: when he gets going, it shakes the whole apartment. It knocks the paintings off the walls."


"You guys don't have paintings. You have Sports Illustrated posters and ironic garage sale record jackets."


"It's terrible to behold, is my point."


"It's good seeing you, Teddy," she said, and meant it, before finally making her escape.


* * *


Her roommate Rose was the worst kind: always home. Rose was pretty for a plump girl but she slept day and night, as if the single best use of the trust fund check that arrived each month in her name was to collect a penny and a half on the dollar in a low-yield savings account. Goldilocks didn't even have a savings account. Money languishes when it isn't spent. That's just basic economics.


Goldilocks joked sometimes that her roommate was infected with Brooklyn Sleeping Sickness. She also realized there was a bona fide chance Rose had picked up malaria, or worse, from the noxious black mosquitoes that infested the nearby Gowanus Canal. Likeliest of all, she suffered from a year-round variant of Seasonal Affective Disorder that must only have been exacerbated by the dingy light of their low-ceilinged basement apartment. Why people think this is a good neighborhood is a complete mystery: it's just thousands of malformed adults piled up like dirty laundry.


The sun was already coming up. Christ. It felt to her like time was a credit card and hers was starting to max out. She debated between bed and a fresh pot of coffee — what difference did it make if she was tired all day?, it's just work — but she decided on neither, and took a shower instead. There wasn't enough hot water to wash the numbness off her. She was revitalized, somewhat, though, by the slap of cold air on her still-wet hair, as she hit the street and made her way back to the city.


* * *


On average, Goldilocks changed jobs every eighteen days.


She'd graduated from a school that people seemed to find impressive, and she realized the main thing she'd bought with her tuition money was a bank of optimism. Every day for four years, they'd explained to her in exacting and fashionable language why and in which ways she was uniquely gifted and a blessing to the world. She'd always suspected the whole thing stunk of a long con, but the school's brainwashing was persistent, and eventually she fell into a kind of Stockholm Syndrome: she grew a deep sympathy for her captor—herself—and graduated with a fantastically buoyant self-image, precisely at the moment that they stopped pumping hot air into the balloon.


"I'm going to be a poet," she announced in the yearbook, "who pays the bills by working as an actor."


She'd all but burned through the bank of optimism. The actors she knew were so painfully dumb, and everyone she met in publishing was so painfully clever. No one had any money. Goldilocks worked a while pouring out promotional vodka samples at bars that were so loud no one ever noticed she couldn't actually pronounce the name on the bottle, a Faeroese word that was top-heavy with umlauts. She'd come home each night feeling clobbered into a slightly different shape, like an old brass bowl that's repeatedly dropped down stairs. Then, one morning, she tore the phone number off the bottom of a telemarketing ad, because who doesn't want to make $500 a day from home?, but most of all to get away from the crush of people. She invested in a wireless headset before she realized the sad truth: telemarketing is lonely. She took a job in a preschool but couldn’t stand getting up so early, and she took a job at a bar but had trouble staying up so late. Fed up with it all, she opened a handmade jewelry shop on Etsy.com, selling beads made out of recycled paper, and entertained the notion that she was only one celebrity sale away from hitting the big time, or at least getting listed on the site as a Featured Seller. Fact was, no one seemed terribly interested in jewelry made from recycled paper, and least of all Goldilocks herself.


"What do you want to be?" her mother asked her on the phone. "Fuck you" she answered. After she hung up, she considered that maybe the question had not been intended to mock her, but might rather have been simply sincere.


These days, she worked in an architecture office, answering phones. "It's soulless work," she told her friends, "and I think I need a good soulless phase." She found it comforting to have to be in the same place every day at the same time: 8:30, key in, turn on the lights, turn off the alarm. 8:40, brew the coffee, array the non-dairy creamers. 9am, "Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn." "Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn." 12pm, lunch. 2pm, all-team meeting. Then all afternoon: "Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn." "Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn." Each day was familiar as a well-worn shoe.


When she wasn't answering calls, she split her time between OK Cupid, her as-yet-unwritten memoir, and the office collection of Weekly World News tabloids, with the vast balance of time going toward Weekly World News tabloids.


The phone line tangled invariably in the wheel of her Aeron chair, and yanked out of the wall so many times that she'd had to learn to solder its loose ends.


She shared the office with three men: Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn. Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn were each named Mark, so even in person, they went by Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn. Their offices were arranged in alphabetical order, though their names on the sign were not, and during her interview, she'd asked Chapel why Graver was listed first. He frowned with half his mouth but never answered, and in that moment, Goldilocks was grateful that hiring decisions were up to Graver.


She was sure "Mark, Mark, and Mark" was a vastly more interesting name for the company.


"Graver, Chapel, and Seaborn."


"Hey," the voice on the other end crackled. "You busy tonight?"


"Who's this?"


"It's Ben's brother. Bradley's brother. It's Teddy."


* * *


The club had a two-drink minimum, but reaching the minimum never seemed to be her problem. By the time Teddy's band played, she was in danger of being too drunk to express her sincere appreciation. The music was like Fugazi meets Coldplay but with ukuleles.


"Thanks for coming," Teddy said after the set.


"It's really great."


"I hoped you'd like it."


"I did."


Is it fear of failure that keeps us from choosing the thing we might actually want? Or is it the belief that wanting makes us weak?


Her lips were shrinking. Not just her lips — lips everywhere, worldwide, getting smaller by the day, the fleshy plumpness sucked out of them, slowly absorbed into the rest of the body. She read this somewhere. We get old and our body eats itself.


So kiss me while you can, she thought.


But didn't speak.


The danger of being clever is that your heart will choke on your tongue.


On the train ride home, alone, Goldilocks thinks most of all about her pillow, wrapped in a pink flannel case that reminds her, intentionally, of her long-lost baby blanket. She thinks about putting her head into it, the cool cradling of her face: she turns to the left, turns to the right, using her cheekbones to carve out a perfect cozy cup. She sinks into it. It's not too firm; it's not too soft. She can rest easy. She can get a good night's sleep.