my crush on alexandra kleeman
When she spoke, I was surprised.
She had a small voice, very small, thickened by a sort of accent, or speech impediment. She lisped delicately into the microphone. Tucking back her long long black black hair: small thin fingers, small pale hands. She wore black. Of course. Her hair was long and cut down the middle. Straight.
I saw her face in a square black and white photo on the back of a book. She was spread in angles so that her shoulders arched and she stared out at you from a mess of limbs. Her chin tilts up, her eyes narrow and simultaneously wide. Direct. Hair parted in sleeves, past sharp cheeks: across, down her chest. Something fitted, she is wearing in the photo; in the photo, she is slim and also broad, the tight shirt (black?) cutting just above her wrists, snug. Faintly patterned. Heart shaped face, possibly exotic-- eye liner. A tall Asian model, I thought.
Alexandra had said: "You too could have a body like mine." Among other things, she wrote, "On that day the world still felt crowded. The sky was above was pure undiluted blue, thick enough to mask how much emptiness lay behind it."
I felt her eyes acutely on me, afterward. Perhaps studying my back, my elbow along the bar, knuckle against my cheek. I drew the pen from my pocket slowly, conscious of how my hair looked as I glanced down. Jotted new author’s names on my palm as they read. When I smiled I felt it spread across my face in slow motion. Could she discern -- ? My careful pleasantness. Was she looking? Afterward, I felt her eyes.
The book covers are in deep, bright colors. No glossy photos stretching across, no simple pastel color scheme. Instead, almost goofy, they come in fire engine red with yellow lettering, or a lapis lazuli blue paired with orange. The kind of font you find in comic books.
Before she went (at the bar, a wide open room and a dusky mirror, crowdedcrowdedcrowded, some candles on low tables: sparse, dim), she had sidled out of an elevated booth. The one with the short ledge, barring it from the crowd. The one I had been leaning on.
“Sorry,” she half whispered, half hissed, apologetic, gently descending. She slid past the couple in front of me. In a still frame of a movie, I saw her through the couple’s shoulder blades. Flanked by their jackets. In a still frame of a movie, a woman looks down, smiling. Bashful, in a long black shirt, touching her hair. Coming forward, between the panels of two nondescript olive jackets. Bashful, an instant adjective, and: dark eye liner. Two sheets of long black hair. She passes.
The smile without teeth, possibly, made me love her first. Silent lips, pushing in and up, her figure sliding forward.
Her face was round. I hadn’t imagined her with a round face. Her nose was a little hooked. I asked myself: was this ---- ? As the woman passed me on her way to the bathroom I nodded to her. I may have smiled. I didn’t know until she approached the microphone. I didn't notice when the woman slipped back into the elevated booth.
At the mic she is imperfect. She looked plainly uncomfortable and somehow, unaware of how much her body betrayed her.
Later I would realize I felt a kinship with her. Inexplicably, wholly. I rooted for her.
It wasn't symmetrical, her face, in the yellow light. Small hooked nose, sloping cheek, the hair matted down.
I could feel her movements, echo her circles, the flighty fingers through her hair. Shifted eyes, a quiet voice. A fluttering pulse, maybe: her fingers at her neck.
She had a spotlight: a tawny yellow, lopsided circle. The lamp on the ledge, like something out of a grandmother’s living room, or nightstand.
We are in a bar. We are in a movie, I want to tell Alexandra Kleeman. It was time for her voice over narration.
To speak, is to shudder, is to speak, into the empty echo of the room. Wholly, we could be the same, down to our hip bones. Later I would realize I felt a kinship with her.
We are in a bar. There is a table next to you, with books, and then the mic, in front of you, like a pillar. You are in between those two things. Shelf. Those are your books. Facing a mirror: in this bar, there is a great expansive mirror along the back wall. Dusky.
Gleaming against the old fashioned beer taps this reflection, and from here to there the room is filled with people. Floating heads in chairs, bunched together in front of you. Glasses and scarves and kinds of color. Jittery, and looking at you. You are jittery, looking at them. We are at a bar. I love you. And: in the yellow light, your skin is tinted strangely. And: I realize your eyeliner is in fact heavily applied. You write about it, in your books, eyeliner. I realize eyeliner circles Alexandra Kleeman’s face thickly, that her face must take on new shapes in a shower, when she slept.
(And if I ran my hand along her hip? The curved bone, jutting out like a hook, a semi hoop, a tusk crown? Was she beautiful, under those clothes?
I imagined skin. Nakedness, smoothness. Frailty? Like every one of your fictions. A question: are you like every one of your fictions? Are we in a movie.
A: Probably. She’s probably beautiful.)
At some point I realized I wasn't going to ask the woman to sign the lapis lazuli book.
When Alexandra spoke she hesitated. After the first word we all shut up, strained our ears. She rasped over the air. It was late when we realized she had amassed power, that her voice took on a hypnotic quality, the kind that rolls and steals as it moves. As she speaks I am dimly aware of a glow, a glowing in my chest. Was this ---- ? She apologized once, barely whispering. “Sorry. She lost the page and fumbled. Otherwise she did not pause once.
Suddenly, collective applause.
Or ascends. I lose her. Or, her voice. I remember the books. The books.
I buy the red book. In an effort to preserve her voice I buy the red book. Fire engine red, the kind of love you find in comic books. Now I had two, two volumes. The one I came with, the one I left with. Like lovers. Without signature. I stand at the table by the mic, in a halo of light. Somehow, I fit two books in my jacket pockets. It is winter, somewhere, Alexandra Kleeman is speaking with a lover.