Haley was lovely and talented and it was hard to be her best friend. We were both students in our first year at a small acting conservatory. Her hair shone like a searchlight, had an impossible silkiness. She'd whip it around and make a soft tent for herself when she was feeling low. I used to pet it like an animal.
Every physical feature was doll-perfect—except for her large, round bottom, which gave her character. It seemed to smile, as though proud of being her only flaw. She covered it with long sweaters.
Her boyfriend, Ray, went bowling weekend nights with his friends—and she took it personally. She had her hair highlighted, bought books with titles like, "Foreplay Facts". He didn't believe in self-help books. She'd tell me how much sex hurt with Ray—like it did the night he took her virginity away. She said he was tired of her complaining, was tired of her, and she didn't know what to do about it. Wasn't sex supposed to be pleasant? Was there something physically wrong with her?
I remember saying, "Don't worry. When Ray calms down and can really love you, it will feel different. It will."
"He might be gay," she said. "Gay or bi. Nearly all the men here are."
From personal experience, it was hard to agree—but I did. Persimmons were in season, so we bought one, cut open, and tasted the Fall.
She won every good role, and all the students were jealous. I defended her, saying Haley was the only one of us that had could really pull it off. Wendy in Peter Pan, Liesel in Sound Of Music. Her father knew the artistic director, Byron. She let everyone know where she and Byron dined, how he would nibble cocktail shrimp from her salad. Byron never addressed me, probably didn't even know my name.
She showed me a picture of her father in his movie producer suit, dark glasses, cardboard forehead. Her step-mother, his second wife, a dancer, all golden and tan. Long. It's all plastic, she said, one afternoon, pacing. She said she hated the Jewish act her step-mother put on during the holidays, the phony way she'd say "oy, so svelte!" She begged me to come home with her.
Twenty years later, I watch Haley's show in it's fourth season on the Disney Channel. The way she says "gawd" gives her away, though she is a stick now. Without her round bottom, she has no character. I imagine it rising and deflating, snug in a box in her attic, along with our letters. Her forehead is cardboard. She plays the part of the teenage star's sarcastic, hip mom.
She smiles at her daughter, says, "Honey, sex is wonderful, but only when it's time." Her daughter, played by a famous teen actress with blown-up lips, nods. "Or, not," Haley says. The canned laughter cuts like a cake knife. My dog beats his tail near the front door, needing to pee.
Haley kisses the teenage actress on her lustrous head. "When you love someone, everything changes. I promise, it will." She is using my inflection, my voice.
Meg Pokrass lives in San Francisco. Her stories and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming here: 3AM, Keyhole, Pindeldyboz, Wigleaf, Elimae, FRiGG, Word Riot, DOGZPLOT, 971 Menu, Thieves Jargon, Eclectica, Insolent Rudder, Chanterelle's Notebook, Toasted Cheese, 34th Parallel, Bent Pin Quarterly, The Orange Room, among others. Meg has recently joined the editorial staff of SmokeLong Quarterly.