The Rift, Part 1

So this, the week after Julia’s phone call, her words sending chills of the not the best variety from the very top of Marianne’s head down to her neck. Simples ones: I can’t do this, but they stopped Marianne’s day for a good five seconds or so, felt completely alone in life even though her roommates lay on their beds a sock’s throw away. It was a vicious pain, she thought, and that’s how she described it to Angelina.

“But her words don’t even mean anything. Do you know what they even mean?” Angelina’s response on their way to the dining hall.

Marianne, still feeling numb inside, the harm Julia inflicted—tiny, painful cuts along her cheeks and chest—invisible to everyone but her, said, “No, they mean everything.”

Rachel, their third roommate, always walked a good fifteen feet in front of Marianne and Angelina so as not to be seen with them, they both thought, were convinced of this. Rachel, from the north shore of Massachusetts, a congressman’s daughter, brought her boxes and suitcases in a black Mercedes SUV that even shined that day in the rain while Marianne and Angelina, who had arrived one day earlier, watched from the window. Angelina was brought into Boston from East Providence by her boyfriend PJ and her cousin Eduardo in a red Pontiac Fiero, which fit only two big bags, stuffed so full that she could not zipper them, her pillow, and her pink stuffed bear.

Marianne took the train from a big, gray city once known for its thriving textile mills and axe-murder Lizzy Borden, but is now mainly forgotten by both the media and politicians alike, except for when the city is subjected to a string of barbaric, ritual murders, or when a house full of Portuguese immigrants and devout Catholics goes up in flames courtesy of too many prayer candles and flammable plastic roses wrapped around the Lord’s feet in a gaudy, teal-colored offering. But Marianne’s trip was two weeks before Angelina and Rachel arrived, two weeks before she had dragged two duffle bags across campus to her new room on the 13th floor of the Mary Baker dormitory, having arrived early to train with the women’s soccer team. She had been staying in the senior dormitory closest to the practice field with 66 other students, most of them brunettes, most of them named Britney or Taylor, and so they all had nicknames to avoid confusion by the end of the first full session: Spag, Whitey, Snoop, Fazz—and it went on like this. Marianne, the only Marianne on the team, was simply called Owen.

But at a loss on how to interpret Julia’s words, although her phone calls had stopped, much like the emails and her occasional, unannounced visits, Marianne and Angelina walked in silence toward the cafeteria, down Commonwealth Avenue at rush hour, silver cars and dirty utility trucks impatient now, having waited through two green lights with still no movement. The traffic was no longer in two lanes. The cars had stretched the street out into three, and there would have been four if the city hadn’t placed a wrought-iron fence along the trolley tracks. Marianne watched the drivers sitting, motionless. Some would take their eyes off the road and, with long, tired faces, watch the students walking, some running or on bicycles. Marianne made eye contact with a man with a full black moustache and hands clenched, arms out straight on the steering wheel, his skin so white it gleamed even in the shade of his car. His expression did not change when she noticed him staring, and she could feel the tension in his body, the weight and pressure on the wheel, she thought, so strong that he could easily rip it off.

Because of Julia, Marianne has spent the day in bed, awake, counting first the cement blocks she could see beneath the plaster of their room’s walls. But she gave up, rolled on to her stomach, and closed her eyes. She brought the blankets up over her eyes, tucked some beneath her chin, and thought of Julia’s hips beneath her own, of lying directly on top of Julia as if they were both dead and someone just left their corpses like that—in a disrespectful yet intimate position. Marianne’s neck cut. Julia’s skull half missing.

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