chapter nine: thang
from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick


The whip woman: a line of bangs hitting white skin, the dark lips in a false, showy-shy smile. Sometimes snaking her shoulders, opening her mouth ahhhh after she snapped the thing with a sharp downward cut of her arm, starting at her elbow: she was trying to look like she enjoyed it. Running her free hand from her hip to her breast. But she wasn’t. She was window dressing, she was a doo-wop girl. Shit was enjoying it—not the whipping, really, not like in any sensual way—thrilled with every moment of the show, loving each place on the stage he had to run to next, loving each indecipherable lyric. The whip woman looked bored, but kept smiling, snaking, rubbing her thighs together by circling her hips.

I watched the whip’s black length curl out and switch, I watched its splayed tip crack between momentum and inertia. An empty space, then a line, a snap, a hook, a retreat. Wherever he went, she whipped him.

But I couldn’t look at her anymore. She was too fake, too embarrassing, too Vanna White. I cringed, and my eyes drifted to the stuff on the TVs. It seemed fake too, but not as immediately fake because it was removed, distant, not live—I didn’t have to feel embarrassed for the person here in the room. And it was serious, it was scary. Not for Vanna. You could see the women screaming, faking, did they want to be having sex with these men? No, but who could tell the difference. The blonde’s soft face, a close-up, turned around over her shoulder, on her knees, her mouth wide, saying yes but it is a lie. To a handheld camera, lower quality, men in khakis tying another man in khakis to a chair. To a birdlike woman, black hair feathered against her temples, her frail eyes looking up, amazed, open, then down, demure, scared, then up, so grateful at what he, an incarnation of the devil, can give her, as he drives his dick into the back of her throat. I moved away from Ally then, acting like I had to really search for my cigarettes, acting like I had to tie my boot, and I didn’t let him lean in to me any more after that.

I sat in the ladies room for as long as I could without annoying anyone. I tried to think of something soothing, but the only thing was Button’s garden, and it made me want to weep. Home, I thought, think of home, but avoiding the garden, avoiding Ruth, all I happened on was our living room here in Sacramento—it still seemed new though we’d been there years by now—, the couch, closing my eyes on that couch. If I opened them, in my head, all I saw was my mother’s Jesus on the wall, not the big, gentle charcoal drawing of him but the smaller oil portrait, on the cross, saw the colors of the nails and the blood and the way you die from asphyxiation if they crucify you, the way you die from lack of air, actually, instead of all the flesh wounds.


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