You have one chance; don’t fuck it up… darling.
It’s the only warning Alicia has before she finds herself tossed into a dorm room in the not so elegant, highly boring, not nearly fucked-up enough Toronto U. All this supposedly to give her another chance. What a load of bullshit, Dorothy. At least she has her own room.
The redhead on the opposite side of the room doesn’t talk much. She tried at first, but quickly learned that it wasn’t a good idea. She’s probably a very nice girl. Alicia doesn’t care.
“This place is a shit hole,” she offers to the silence.
“Then why don’t you leave?” Red replies, not even a glance away from her textbook.
She goes to class. There really isn’t much choice. Dorothy was very clear on the phone when she heard that Alicia wasn’t attending. So now she goes. And much to her dismay, she’s actually learning.
Except for literature. She can’t understand these stupid stories, with their morals and metaphors and hidden meanings and layers. Alicia doesn’t have layers. She’s all peeled back. No skin and all bone, teeth grit and bitter truth.
Red understands literature. Alicia can tell that she’s got all of these hurts inside, one layered on top of the other like sediment at the bottom of a river. She wants to swim through it, to mix it all up and bring it to the surface.
“It’s a symbol,” Red tells her, pointing to the word. “The peach is fruit. It’s sweet and juicy, soft on the outside and hard at the center.” She cocks an eyebrow. “I’m sure you can understand what that means.”
Alicia smirks. “I’m sure I can.”
It’s almost to the point where Alicia can forget that she hates this place, that she doesn’t want to be here or to learn, and that studying for a lit exam is not her idea of a fun time.
But Red pulls a box of malted milk balls out from under her bed, and there aren’t any parties going on tonight anyway.
Alicia thinks she’s starting to understand these symbols a little better. For instance, Red’s black fingernails are a symbol for the dirt on her hands. Her books are a symbol for whatever answers she’s trying to obtain. Her writings are a symbol for the things she’s trying to explain. And that cocky little eyebrow she raises all the time…well that just makes Alicia feel like she knows something she shouldn’t.
“But what about these?” Alicia asks, running two fingers up the cross-hatched forearm. She’s gentle, gentler than she can remember being with anything. It’s the most delicate thing she’s ever been allowed to touch. “Are these symbols?”
Red goes stiff and maybe stops breathing, but Alicia doesn’t care. She touches the scars like they belong to her. “No,” Red whispers finally. “They’re just the aftermath.”
Alicia knows it’s true. It’s like a little patchwork quilt made especially for her to see; the only true story she can understand. Red’s layers all surfaced. Her sediment unsettled.
There are more scars on Red’s skin before the year is through. Little stories written by the light of ethereal bodies under a blanket of night. Alicia writes them; Red’s moans are her inspiration.
Alicia licks the ink off of her fingers when she’s finished. She thinks it tastes sweeter than the nectar from Red’s peach. She reads her stories in the morning while Red’s asleep, crashed out like a junkie coming off a high. Alicia smirks; she would know.
She passes her lit exam with flying colors.
There’s no tearful goodbye when the term ends. A see you soon, and then Alicia leaves.
When she returns to Dorothy’s house for the summer, she’s almost delighted to find that there are scars on her body. Her thighs, her back, her shoulders, her breasts. Little letters from Red to keep her company while she’s gone. She reads them by day, using the memories they stir to spur her on as she dips her fingers into the heat of her own peach.
“You didn’t fuck up,” Dorothy remarks at dinner one night.
Alicia smirks. “Nope, I just fucked.” She licks her lips dangerously at Dorothy’s stare. “I’ve been reading a lot.”