HOUSE PARTY • by Emma Johnson Tarp

Your medicine cabinet is spotless, curated. Candy-colored dropper vials, squat pearlescent tubs, and crystalline perfumes all lined up like a miniature, glittering skyline. You’ve turned them inward — shyly, discreetly — so I can’t read the labels. You’re daring me to turn them. I bet you’ll come here once this party is over, red cups and abandoned layers flung limply about, and you’ll open this medicine cabinet and take inventory. You’ll smile knowingly. Of course someone cares enough to nose through your things, see what makes you you.

I pull them onto the slick marble one by one. Sans-serif stickers tout sensuous names — names that make my mouth water, then pucker — like Moon Fruit and Milk Jelly, Sea Grape Caviar and Matcha Dew. I turn a tall pink bottle over in my hand and the sloshing insides glint in the wan light of your bathroom, perky and eager. I want to break it and watch its iridescent insides dribble through the shattered glass, leaving snail-like streaks down your white, white wall.

I don’t know what I’m looking for but it would be nice to see something other than the pristine packaging, your exorbitant cool-girl apothecary. Surely somewhere there’s a comb loaded with gnarled bits of hair, pills for a personality disorder, a prescription for a rash. But when I try to imagine you tearing at wet knots or slathering chalky cream in some shameful area that is burningburningburning, I can’t.

No, the more I think of it, I’m not convinced you’ve got a body at all. Or, you have a body the way a doll does, or a character on television. Because what are you, if not your body? You are a body that reclines in passenger seats, drapes against lockers, fills the negative space of cupped palms. You are the body he was all over somehow, even when he wasn’t. Even when he was with me.

I unwind the geometric cap of a perfume bottle. Its papery label is dappled from its own oil and I smile at the subtle imperfection, the proof of wear. Notes of sandalwood, orange, and fig. I dab some on the soft pink hollow of my inner wrist and I’m enveloped in the smell of you. In your mirror, my eyes are bloodshot. I trace my finger to my finger and I realize that when you’re here, it summons up your reflection. I breathe you in and wonder if in some alternate reality our images are trapped there together, never creeping out into the glass at just the same time.

I leave the lights on and the jars scattered in disarray. In the hallway, the bass beat shudders through my skeleton and rattles the frames against the wall. You and your blonde sister, your blonde mom and your blonde dog are encircled in oak and crisp ivory mattes. Your eyes follow me as I stagger down the hallway.

Then, I see you. Not your flat portrait, not your portentous scent. Your real hipbone presses up against your real kitchen island. You are laughing, open-mouthed as an advertisement. And there he is. He says something he thinks is clever; I can tell by the way he kneads the words out the side of his mouth. He stoops low and pours something dark in your cup. It jumps out, splashes over your fingers, down your palm. You lift your hand to your lips, lap up the wet as it trails down your wrist. I watch you watch him. A disarming grin, unselfconscious as a kid’s, illuminates your face. Is it the serums in your cabinet or that dark drink or some deep and true love that makes you radiate, turns you golden from the inside out?

I don’t wait to find out.

The night is dark and the landscaping swirls menacingly, alien-like in the shadows. I let the sob, the one that’s been building in my throat all night, break like a membrane. Something spins and glitters faintly in the sky, fragmented and far-removed, like lamplight on wet asphalt or glare on a television screen. Then there you are, body hinged in the doorway. I slow to a stop on the slick marble sidewalk, my skin prickling in the cool air. You see me, I think. You must — your mouth parts like you’re about to call to me. You lean into the door and with gravity I lean to meet you, my heart clotting in my throat. Your brow furrows, carving jack-o-lantern shadows into your delicate face. I want something from you but, stunned in the beam of your eye-line, it vanishes from me. But you, you have not forgotten. And you will not yield. I witness the moment you harden yourself to me and, with eyes empty and bright, you shut the door and my world goes dark.

Emma Johnson Tarp is a writer from Virginia. Her work appears in Rejection Letters, Elsewhere: A Journal of Place, and Right Hand Pointing. She lives in Minneapolis with her husband and two precocious cats.

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