Part of a short story collection I'm starting called Hypoplasia.


Ugly

Seventeen-year-old Arlo, lanky with limbs like a crane fly and sharp bones that jut out unevenly against sun-kissed skin, sits on a rusty swing in a park long abandoned by children and waits for a girl who's long abandoned her childhood. He drops his satchel beside him and it makes a thud, followed by a sloshing of cheap vodka.

Blair is his antithesis – short and round with skin pale and blotchy like spoiled milk, and with eyes as dark and hollow as the half-dead rat she once crushed under the heel of a t bar shoe. She arrives and slips gently into the swing bedside him, a can of whisky already in hand.

Today is their anniversary.

'Hey,' he says, leaning back and letting himself swing, slow and lazy.

'Hey,' she repeats, remaining still. Her voice is rough and scapes his eardrums like gravel scrapes bare feet.

He holds out his hand, palm up, and she taps it once with her fingertips. It's barely a touch, but it's all he's going to get and he knows it. She likes touching him about as much as he likes looking at her, and in a way, that makes them perfect for each other.

Her fat cheeks, tiny eyes and black, straw-like hair repulse him, but he isn't with her for her looks. The very idea is laughable. In fact, everything about her is laughable. At first, he thought her vacant eyes and confused stutter would be more at home on a dyslexic zombie than anyone worthy of being called his girlfriend. When she asked him on a date, he thought it was a joke, but she never jokes. They spent the evening in silence. He liked it so much, at the end of the night he asked her to be his girlfriend.

They used to enjoy each other's silence, but at times like these, he hates it. Even after a full year, she's still a mystery. She's revealed small details about herself, but nothing close to a coherent picture. Nothing close to a meal, but enough to keep their relationship from starving. Nearly everything he knows about her has been manufactured by his mind – a Frankenstein product of rumours, inferences and his own imagination.

Despite this, she makes him feel special. No one else would tolerate her the way he does.

The light from nearby street lamps towers like pillars above the isolated couple and tries to smother the echoed screams and ugly bruises from the previous days. Arlo won't be fooled, and he watches, with practiced patience, for any ghost of the memory to pass across her face. He sees it.

'So, what happened at the Warwick's?' Arlo asks.

Blair rolls her eyes. 'You know what happened.'

'SIDS?' he says, phrasing it like a question but knowing there isn't one. Even in the dark, she's still hideous.

She nods, taking is sip of her whisky before carefully placing it beside her feet.

He wonders how she killed it. Asphyxiation is the most obvious choice, but it isn't likely. Too quick. Strangulation is another possibility. While it usually leaves bruising, if done light and slow enough there won't be any marks. It takes careful hands, and Blair is a gentle, dainty girl. She could easily strangle a baby without leaving a mark.

'Poor family,' he says, swinging high enough for the chain to squeal. The cool air tints his cheeks red and he hopes she doesn't think it's because of her.

'Poor family,' she repeats robotically, toe tapping a hollow in the dirt. 'What happened with your father?'

He jolts, not used to follow up questions, nor such personal ones. 'What do you mean?'

Dark eyes glance at him, face neutral. 'I got your text.' She pulls up the metal tab on the top her can, then pushes it with one finger until it's rotating in circles. 'It was distressing.'

He shrugs. 'And yet you didn't respond.'

'Well?'

'Family drama.'

'Poor family.' She rips off the tab, a righteous smile ghosting her face.

He sees it and wants to hit her, but he supresses the impulse and returns the nod. Maybe she's his penance for past wrongdoing, because he will forgive her before the night ends. He always does.

He leans over and pulls the glass vodka bottle out of his bag, twisting off the cap. It burns going down, so he sculls it quickly, squeezing his eyes shut. Liquid tolerance.

'Ugly cow,' he mutters.

Blairs chuckles and crushes her can, tossing it into his open satchel. 'Yeah, you too.'

Neither of them know much about love, but they're sure they've found it with each other.