At the table, Julia has her sweatshirt’s hood up over her head, hiding her natty, frazzled white-girl dreadlocks.
“Do you want me to turn up the heat?”
Julia pushes her bottom lip up against the one on top, shaking her head.
Marianne says, “Who’s winning?”
And Julia, “Not me.”
“Did you know I could have an agent?”
Julia moves the black jack on to the red queen. “Do you need one?”
Marianne knows that Julia is done, completely stressed and frustrated. At night she normally draws until at least eleven o’clock at night, adding new cells to her comic series, one about two male hustlers and their journeys across the States. It is published in five different pornography magazines in the States, Japan, the UK, Australia, and France. On the very back pages, past the full-color advertisements for phone sex, sex toys, and real-life hustlers. But she hasn’t been working at night, not for the past week and a half. She is “blocked.”
Marianne says, “No. I don’t think so.”
“Who were you talking to?” The red three on the black four; ace of clubs moved above all other cards.
“Kerstin…Kerstin something. From Germany. I have it written on a receipt.”
Julia looks up, the eyebrow over her right eye curved like an upside-down V. “Yeah?” She has missed two deadlines. The men from the magazines aren’t too upset, having decided they will just sell her space as ad space.
They are silent as Marianne takes the chair next to Julia’s and sits. Marianne waits for more from Julia, like always. Under the table, she puts a leg up on Julia’s knee and keeps it there although it’s somewhat painful, the way her leg is bent and pressed against the underside of the table’s pressed wood.
Julia finally says, “Who’s that?” She’s moving all the cards on the table together into a messy pile.
“She works for a women’s soccer team. They want me to try out.”
Julia looks at Marianne, says, “That’s great,” and then smiles.
“I was recommended. By my German teammate from last year, Viola.”
“You’ll need to get a passport.” Julia is ten years older than Marianne. Julia’s friends call Marianne “jailbait,” although she isn’t. Marianne’s aunt, Kate, calls her “deluded.”
“Okay. How do I get that?”
Julia leans back against her chair, puts her hands behind her head and pulls down her hood. “I can help you, sweetheart.”
Marianne smiles, wants to get up and sit in Julia’s lap. Instead, she says, “Thanks. Can I play, too?”
Julia drops the neatened pile of playing cards down in front of Marianne, with only the first three landing skewed on top of the pile. She says, “Sure,” and then gets up.
This is not what Marianne wanted. She wanted to play with Julia War or Go Fish. Gin Rummy. She says as Julia makes her way down the hall, “Are you going to draw?”
Julia says without turning around, her words coming lifeless, sarcastic, “I guess.”
Marianne watches her until she makes a right into the apartment’s spare bedroom: Julia’s “studio.”
Marianne can’t remember if, in Solitaire, you start with a row of six or seven cards. She leaves them on the table and goes to the phone to look again at the name and number on the back of the receipt. She sees her handwriting and knows that what has happened is real, that the phone call, Kerstin Eckmann, and Turbine Potsdam—all real—because there is a complicated, foreign phone number to prove it. She flips the receipt over and notices that Julia purchased a twenty-four-ounce soda, a bag of Doritos, and a seventy-count bottle of generic pain reliever with exact change. Marianne looks down the hallway toward Julia’s studio, wants to join her and watch her draw, or not, wants to watch her do whatever it is she’s doing in there by herself. She is alone in the living room, the tick from the wall clock, hum of the refrigerator, and noise from the neighbor’s television, noise of the day’s news, are the only sounds. She has work to do: two books read by Monday, a paper due on Wednesday. But she can’t concentrate when she’s alone like this, reminds her too much of growing up, of being a kid.