By Lexi Freiman
Kimmy loved young boys. Their eyes fixed on her, shiny and dilating. Young boys believed in you and gave you room. Kimmy got soft and bloated around young boys; she got more surface area, more of herself. Or at the very least, she lost nothing. Which, for an actress, was basically recuperative.
Kimmy knew it was regressive to be someone else’s fantasy. That it thrilled her to occupy a man’s imagination, she figured, was a function of her age. Kimmy was a remedial feminist. Some of this was the acting. Auditions often made her think of that French painting with the naked women and two lounging men in top hats. And the theater encouraged a culture of groping, mostly camp but still nonconsensual.
The main obstacle to Kimmy’s feminism, however, was her beauty. Women seemed to experience it as a sharp, metallic glare. But around men, and especially young boys, Kimmy’s beauty was power. She felt herself breach through rooms like a mythical porpoise, trailing a fine feminine mist. You’d have to be very political to give that up. Kimmy understood that this was her privilege, and that, in this lifetime, she would not be joining any revolutions.
It was after a good, emotional audition that she found herself downtown, way down where the city got grimy again, despite the invisible trillions zipping around overhead. Newspapers thrashed in the hot wind and steam plumed from subway grates and Kimmy imagined herself in a moody noir, clacking along on black patent pumps[JD1] . She saw the Wall Street sign and her thighs tingled. It’s not that she thought greed was good; Kimmy just liked the movie.
There was a protest happening nearby. She had seen it on the news and felt old. The angry anarchists and their rope-tied pitbulls—like the kids that threatened her that time on the train. The girl with the turd emoji tattoo had warned Kimmy if she pet her dog again, she’d cut her face open. But there were also young, idealistic university students. The kind, Kimmy imagined, that you found in Russian plays, soliloquizing about work and human suffering. At drama school, Kimmy had skimmed modern Russian history and gobbled up the more eclectic Elizabethan tidbits. Just enough to get her through Chekhov and Shakespeare without too many malapropisms. Feminism 101 had been a rushed staging of Ibsen’s A Doll’s House. Kimmy knew there were holes in her education but she felt that, in a way, the actor’s ability to listen made up for them. Hearing the same lines over and over, you learned to listen differently. With your chest cavity, with the hairs on your arms. Your whole being ionized like a person in love. Kimmy could remember most of Trigorin’s big monologue from The Seagull. She wandered down to Zucotti Park.
Kimmy was ushered along by the crowd. The particles were close and erratic, like a spider under glass. She had never been to a protest. It looked a bit like a farmers’ market. People shoved flyers in her face and yelled from behind low, collapsible tables. Kimmy learned the exact meaning of the word “foreclosure” and that it was part of a larger, systemic injustice.
She strode around, pleasurably hot in the face. And then she saw the tents. They were strung up at violent angles with gaping mouths of soiled tarpaulin. It wasn’t just haphazard, it was hostile. She understood that anarchists hated property, but their tents and even how they slunk around, blobby and usurping as Saturday morning teenagers, made the encampment feel like a rejection of all that was hospitable and safe. She had the very old-fashioned idea that this must be the handiwork of men. And of women like the turd emoji girl—women who didn’t know that under all their interesting rage was a very regular need to be seen. Kimmy moved toward the mob in front of the stage.
Weaving through the bodies, she now noticed her clothes. Kimmy wore a tight white tank top whose spaghetti straps had pink rubber flowers epauletting the shoulders. The top was tucked into an A-line denim mini-skirt. To downplay some of the look’s girly eagerness, she had thrown on a pair of scuffed Converse. Still, the sneakers were not doing enough to make her comfortable in this context. There appeared to be a kind of dress code. Lots of dark hues and loose fitting non-descript clothing, as if snug or detailed garments might betray a love of the material. Kimmy wasn’t getting the usual attention. Not even from men. She folded her arms and bounced on her heels. For the audition she had worn thick powder, and when she crossed her eyes, her nose was the bright nub of a baby carrot.
Then she felt a different look. A look she knew, the soft sun of a steady gaze on her skin. She let it slide over her neck, sluicing across her collarbone and tickling down between her breasts. But it was hard to be a glittering mermaid rising from the dun sea when you were stumbling over the words of the human microphone. There were small, furious men leading chants from the stage, but once the chorus reached Kimmy, key phrases had become nonsensical mumblings. She turned her head in the sun’s direction. And there it was. Young, male, and adorably dimpled.
“If you get closer to the front,” he said, “it’s easier to understand.”
She smiled, coyly, taking in the strangeness of his outfit: a grey, toggled jumpsuit with snug loafers like ballet slippers. Perhaps, she thought, he works with machines.
“I can take you,” he said. “I know the organizers.”
It was easy to follow him. He was tall and had one of those floppy haircuts with the undersides shaved. Paired with the jumpsuit and his fresh, dimpled face, the boy looked like a very enthusiastic Nazi plane mechanic. He glanced back at her frequently. He really wanted to show her how things were done. She wondered if this was because he could tell she was very naïve or just much older or both.
“It’s called ‘horizontal democracy,’” he yelled back over his shoulder.
“What does that mean?” she said brightly. The way they were hurrying through the crowd, pulled by a strange heightened purpose and heavy exposition, made her feel, irresistibly, like she was in a movie. “That everyone talks at the same time?”
“That no one is actually in control,” he said. He glanced around, it seemed, for wider approval.
When they reached the stage, he swung his hand out and high-fived the small, bearded man yelling into the crowd. Now that Kimmy could actually hear the words, she found it hard to repeat them.[JD3] She was trained to say other people’s lines, but normally she was embodying a character, a set of circumstances and a specific emotional life; she knew her motivations. The words she parroted now with the boy and the rest of the human microphone felt thick and potatoey in her mouth. It didn’t feel like no one was in control. Or rather, Kimmy had the uncomfortable sense of coercion.
“You seem kind of bored,” said the boy. He was joking but also very slightly hurt.
“Not at all!” said Kimmy. “I just wish I understood exactly what they were talking about.” She felt embarrassed, and then she felt his eyes again. “I haven’t really been watching the news,” she confessed.
“Oh, well, I can explain it to you!” He pointed toward the tents. “It’s quieter over there.”
“Or maybe we could go to a bar?”
This seemed to startle him and he nodded uneasily. Kimmy wondered if she had misread their interaction. The skin around his eyes was taut as a white cherry. “How old are you?”
He puffed up. “Twenty-three.”
Her brother’s age. Poor little Dish Pig. He’d never been to college, as she’d always loudly predicted. But the world was still open at his age. He could choose almost anything. All he had to do was reach out and take it.
The boy had recovered and was grinning at her impishly. “There’s an Irish pub two blocks away...”
Kimmy pictured them pressed together against a warm, mahogany bar, the boy talking low into her ear, his words dissolving into heat. She nodded and followed him back through the crowd.
He explained as they walked. Marxism, anarcho-socialism, horizontal democracy, the one percent, the ninety-nine percent, Bloomberg, the bailouts, corporate oligarchy. Kimmy already knew some of this stuff—or at least had heard the words—but she let herself enjoy the cadence of his complicated language. How dense and specific it all sounded, like a smart police procedural or high concept cable drama. She wondered if she’d ever be on a show like that, where she had to learn a whole lexicon of ideas and then make them live so convincingly in her face.
The Irish pub was mossy and dank but the young crowd gave it a rougher, animal heat. [JD4] They went straight to the bar and Kimmy leaned greedily into the warm wood, like it was another man or the flank of a sassy girlfriend.
“You’ve heard of Noam Chomsky?” the boy said, his eyebrows jumping.
Noam Chomsky. He sounded like a Jewish comedian or a TV producer. Or maybe she was stereotyping. Was it bad to assume that all Jewish men were funny or TV producers? She couldn’t risk it. Not with someone so young and well-informed. She shook her head.
“Wow, really?” The boy was disappointed. He appeared to be subtly recoiling.
“I’m an actress,” she said hotly, “and I’m very smart; I just haven’t read that much because I’m dyslexic.”
“Sorry.” His eyes got wide and dopey. An actress. What was he picturing? Kimmy riding side-saddle in a petticoat? Aiming a gun across the oily horizon? Face down in the grungy purple dark? But she’d made that show in her early-twenties, when he was probably still watching Nickelodeon. She gazed wistfully across the bar, gaining circumference, letting him imagine it. Acting was about losing oneself, about deference to the deeper, more mysterious way of things. Kimmy had heard somewhere that compliance was the art not of pleasing but of placing oneself. Had she read it in the Tao Te Ching? Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance?
“Should I find us a table?” she said kindly. The boy nodded and Kimmy set off for a quiet table in the corner, beneath the portrait of a portly Irishman with slick, ruddy cheeks. From here, she watched the boy order their beers and leave two quarters as tip for the barman. Then he shuffled toward her, sloshing drink down the front of his playsuit.
The boy explained Zizek’s concept of the phantasmagoric something, punctuating his points by pressing the sides of his hands into the table, as though confirming the size of a small fish or large penis. The Occupy movement was about bodies, he explained, about placing themselves in corporate space. It wasn’t violent, it was just about being there, like a tree or a rock. Kimmy liked the sound of this. As if nature was reasserting herself, repossessing the concrete landscape. The word “phantasmagoric” made Kimmy think of ghosts—witchy spirits spooking the boardrooms at Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley.
“We shared a bran muffin,” the boy said, grinning.
“Me and Slavoj Zizek.”
She made her face a big round ‘o’ of amazement. Kimmy had no idea who Slavoj Zizek was. He sounded like a war criminal.
“Wow,” she said. “The whole thing is so exciting.”
She leaned in over her beer and smiled. The boy took this as encouragement to launch into a discourse on crowds and Canetti. Something about Kimmy’s large, light eyes and high Elizabethan forehead made men want to pump her with data. But she liked learning. Especially from men. She was receptive and enjoyed getting full. It wasn’t disempowering; Kimmy loved watching the world tilt through a new character’s eyes, her mind stretching, stuffed like a belly. She nodded at the boy, merging a little with the warm, white twinkle of the Christmas lights strung over the bar. He told her about the previous evening, when a rumor had spread around the encampment that Radiohead were[JD5] going to play. He described how he and his friends had raced across the city for sound equipment, written speeches and mocked up merch for the surprise performance. How they had tweeted and retweeted[JD6] and been so patient and hopeful and good. And then the slow dawning, the painful realization that they had been lied to, that the adults in the room still didn’t care. Radiohead weren’t[JD7] coming.
“Fucking assholes,” he said. “Celebrity shits.”
“They’re kind of like the five percent,” she consoled.
He liked this and looked up, seeming to notice her again, and that her glass was empty.
“Do you want another beer?”
She wanted a vodka martini, but the fifty-cent tip [JD8] made her worry that he was only equipped for beer. It would be more feminist to proffer her wallet but also, possibly, emasculating. Honestly though, Kimmy wasn’t sure what emasculating meant anymore. Was it forcing a man to divest himself of ancient, misogynistic values? Was it a way to redefine maleness? She supposed then that she should emasculate him. But what if masculinity, even just the bumbling kind embodied by younger boys, was the thing that turned you on? What if those awkward moments of ambiguity, of desiring something you didn’t actually want, was what made sex sexy? The few times she’d been asked for consent, Kimmy had sensed a certain weakness in the question, and the word loser had lobbed around in her brain. Plus, she could never get wet that way.
What a fucking Samantha. Kimmy’s short-haired Canadian friend was always likening her to the sex-crazed realtor from their beloved, badly dated TV show. Whenever Kimmy said something inane and sexually unprogressive, the Canadian reminded her that Samantha was a cretin and that fixing gender inequality was more important than good sex.
“I’d love one,” Kimmy said to the boy. He sprang up and jogged back to the bar.
A group of older, suited men sat in the opposite corner, observing the strange occupation of their drinking establishment. Kimmy felt embarrassed to be with the boy. It was as if the men could see into her – the nostalgia for sexist nineties rom coms, sympathy for silly old avuncular Clinton, Samantha. What was she doing with this young boy who seemed to be wearing an ironic gas station uniform? One of the men eyed her with a smile that scooched back into the soft, leather luggage of his face. He seemed to be daring her to defect to their side. She looked away from him to the bar, to the asymmetrical back of the boy’s haircut.
When the boy returned, Kimmy leaned toward him and spoke in a low voice. “I think they’re the one percent.” She nodded at the men.
But they weren’t. They probably lived in Brooklyn and took the train to work. Their suits looked cheap.
The boy shook his head. “Anyone with a Chase account has blood on their hands.”
Kimmy had a Chase account. In fact, she had three. Two credit cards and a debit. One was called “The Freedom Card.” She’d used the points to book a flight to Mexico that March. These details slid together in her mind, arranging themselves into a forensic crime scene.
“So where should people put their money?”
“There are other, better banks. And people shouldn’t have so much fucking money. We know stuff doesn’t make you happy.”
Kimmy basically, vaguely, agreed. But she still believed that people were motivated by financial incentive.
“Look at those gentrifying fuckfaces,” he said, eyeing the men.
Kimmy looked. She didn’t hate them. As an actor, she had learned to see all viewpoints as equal. Looking through a character’s eyes, their vision of things wasn’t right or wrong, it was just what they saw. People were just different perspectives on the one, broad plane of existence.
“Maybe they don’t know about gentrification,” she said. “We’re all in our Facebook bubbles.”
“They know, they just don’t care.” He was practically spitting. “They probably think redliningis like not getting into a nightclub.”
Kimmy didn’t know what redlining was either. Her Facebook feed was mostly weddings.
“Where do you live?” he asked her.
“Do you own or rent?”
He took a heroic breath and leaned back in his chair. “Well, it’s not like you’re a banker,” he said.
But now Kimmy was nothing. He’d flattened her into a caricature. She could never be the oceanic essence of femininity. Now she was just a property owner. She knew they would not sleep together, and with this new understanding, Kimmy’s body finally relaxed.
“Do you live there by yourself?”
“Yes,” she said dryly. “Well, with my plants.”
“Baudrillard says house plants reveal an obsessive fear of death.”
Kimmy felt her face get squinty and mean. “Who’s Bo-dri-yard?”
“A French philosopher.”
She sighed. “I should get home to my plants. They’re probably thirsty.”
The boy laughed and fixed her with a fresh look that made Kimmy feel mad and dashing as a parrot. “What does Bo-dri-yard say about people who kill their house plants?”
“I’m not sure,” said the boy. “But it probably makes you a nihilist.”
Kimmy shrugged. Nihilist was a nice smoke coil of a word.
“Can I meet them?”
He wanted to meet her plants, the ones gentrifying Clinton Hill with their bourgeois fear of death. She smirked at him. “Why?”
The boy shrugged then took a big sip of beer. She watched the cloudy bottom of his glass, and the air behind her ears fizzed. His eyes swung back to hers on the thin vine of a question. This time when he asked her, she liked that it felt more like a demand.
Her brownstone had white flower boxes outside the windows. He said they reminded him of being back in Connecticut. She let that one slide. Then he predicted that her kitchen would be renovated and as she opened the door he gave a triumphant little whoop. He observed that there was an abundance of objects. It was true that she had a lot of stuff: furniture, but also ornaments, lamps, vases, vintage scarves flung across every bit of empty space. He stood over the sofa, flicking a tasseled pillow. She moved quickly from coffee table to sideboard to window sill, switching on all the lamps. Each corner peeling back into its sensual orange mood. The boy did not seem enchanted. In fact, he looked annoyed. Kimmy’s lighting scheme had lost its seductive power, the upholstery appeared shamefully de-robed. She left the scented candles unlit.
“It must be distracting to read in here,” he said, making a derisive squint in the direction of her bookshelves. And then, once again, he told her how important it was for people to stay alert, awake. How their power, their sole property as civilians, was their own attention. Their generation was starting to understand this and how it might give them the advantage.
Kimmy wondered how old he thought she was. And then she felt like confessing. She saw her Collected Works of Tennessee Williams peeking from the stack, its dusty pink cover seeming to affirm her belief in the flesh, in soft parts and the quiet strength of soft, slightly naive people. Now she was up and gliding toward the book. Kimmy flipped to A Streetcar Named Desire and Blanche’s monologue about the dead boy. She flashed the title page. “Do you know this play?”
“We read it in high school,” he said snidely.
Kimmy ignored this; she could already feel the familiar whimsy, a warm inner breeze drawing her out to the edge of herself. She could talk from here. “It always makes me cry—reading the monologue about Blanche’s first love.”
Her feelings were finally filling the room. Washing over the cold suck of him, as he sat there, helpless on the couch.
“I don’t know why,” she said, “but it feels like this story happened to me. It didn’t. But in a much milder way, I suppose, I’ve hurt men.”
The boy’s head tilted. Kimmy had his attention.
“And reading this,” she continued, with sweet, aching sincerity, “I’m always shocked that it’s even possible to hurt one.”
She wasn’t quite acting. The boy’s expression was lopsided, which felt deliberate and even theatrical. But Kimmy knew she was being opaque and she felt tender toward him. “You don’t like Tennessee Williams?”
The boy shrugged. “It’s not exactly relevant.”
Kimmy nodded and moved to the sofa. She sat down, slumping against the seat rest and letting her face go slack. She was done trying. Now she would just shut down. She did this around her brother, or anyone else who refused her intimacy and forced the limits of her compassion. She closed her eyes and saw their last fight. Dish Pig standing in their parents’ kitchen, his neck pitched at a mulish incline, as if the ceiling was too low or someone had just slapped the back of his head.
When she opened her eyes again the boy was watching something intently on the other side of the room. A huge winged cockroach was hobbling across the carpet. It moved toward them like a blind tank. Kimmy squealed and leaped up onto the sofa.
“I’ve never seen one so big!” she lied.
But he didn’t step into the role. He looked scared and then angry about it. His jowls got thick and his eyes pinny. “Do you have a jar?” he said sharply.
Kimmy nodded and pointed to the kitchen cabinets. He stood quickly, scooting around the coffee table, bumping a sideboard and knocking a tiny glass flamingo onto the carpet.
“Where?” he yelled, opening and closing the kitchen cupboards.
Kimmy just stared at the cockroach. Her fear dissolved as she watched it move like a determined little stain across her peachy rug. The insect was a message and Kimmy sat back, feeling faintly cosmic and sated by the universe. It was time for the boy to leave.
He came back with a jar and teetered over the cockroach.
“Now!” Kimmy said.
“Just let me do it,” he snapped.
She sunk deep into the seat cushion, making herself a human-sized sneer.
The jar came down hard on the carpet, and the roach scuttled away under the sofa.
The boy was sweating. She watched him anxiously eyeing the black slit between carpet and couch. He seemed thinner and lankier now, like one of those balloon men at a car dealership. She really didn’t enjoy this part.
“Well, it’s late,” she said, standing. “And I have an audition in the morning.”
“But we just got here.” He pouted and sat back down on the couch, forgetting the cockroach.
A little spurt of laughter escaped Kimmy’s lips. “That’s very pushy,” she said. “You must really want to stay here.” Was there flirtation in her voice? Only the fatigued kind, she decided; the kind that got men out, mostly uninsulted.
He spread his arms across the seat rest and tipped his head back luxuriously. “It’s warmer than a tent.”
“Come on,” she said, walking to the door. She opened it and turned back around. He hadn’t moved. “Seriously?” Kimmy looked into his eyes and implored. She could feel the verb floating mystical as a peacock feather, burning its deep, luminous blue through the center of her forehead. She implored and implored and then she felt furious and smiled.
“You’re refusing to leave?”
“You’re refusing to let me stay?”
Shock, or something, made the whole room buckle. The walls rushed forward and the couch squashed into the coffee table. The boy was suddenly very close. The scenery looked new and artificial. Kimmy felt herself turning to face him, like they were characters in a play.
“I’m asking you to leave,” she said, hearing the clangy fear in her voice.
“That’s not very nice,” he said. “The C train doesn’t run this late so I can’t get back to the city.”
Kimmy felt a faint sear of humiliation. She couldn’t sense his desire, only this limping need to continue. “Can’t you get a car to a friend’s place?”
“But I’m here. Why would I go to a different apartment?”
“Because this is my apartment.”
“Yours? After everything we’ve talked about, what does that even mean?”
Kimmy was exhausted and rubbed her eyes. The skin was slow to bounce back and even now, this made her feel ashamed. “It means I paid for it.”
“Paid with what? Your acting? Your looks, which are just more luck? More arbitrary inheritance?”
Her body was suddenly cold. She looked back into the white dazzle of the kitchen. A framed photo of her Canadian friend smiled out from the fridge. The girl was on a camping trip with her boyfriend. Being spooned in a sleeping bag, not in a state of siege. Kimmy hugged herself and then she felt a soft blow to the head. Her face clenched, gorging with silvery heat. It was the tasseled throw pillow. The cool clip of the beading stung at her temple. The boy laughed.
“That wasn’t funny,” Kimmy said softly. She didn’t know what to do with her hands.
“You’re acting now,” said the boy. “Do you really have an audition in the morning?”
She didn’t know what to say so she made herself look at him. Kimmy listened with the staticky hairs on her arms. She could see that he was angry and also felt that he was scared. Not of her, exactly, but of what she might do with his failure. She moved back toward the couch and kneeled before him. There, there, she thought. My poor little loser. In a way, she was the utopian one. Kimmy loved boys. Their fragility moved her and she wanted to protect them from pain and humiliation. What could be more radical than offering someone your total, loving attention? It was Kimmy who wanted a better, more compassionate world. She leaned forward and rested her chin on his knee. Her teeth stopped rattling and for a moment she felt safe there. Protected from some larger menace.
He remained motionless as her fingers moved across his thigh. He seemed to be taking it, not like the gift that it was, but like a brave man might take an iron branding.
“Do you want to sleep with me?” she said, a little accusingly.
He looked at the floor. His voice was small. “Now you’re being pushy.”
Kimmy wanted to laugh. Was she not getting it right for her rapist? Was she not making him feel safe enough? But thinking this, she knew it was wrong. He wasn’t her rapist. He was something else. Something beyond her experience or skill set. The phantasmagoric something.
White heat roared through her head. She was on her feet, clutching her gold plastic Lucky Cat. “Get out of my house you worthless piece of shit!” Her voice was demonic.
He leapt up and hurried to the door. He fumbled with the handle, sputtering something. She heard the words bitch and old.
Kimmy stood there shivering for a good ten minutes after he left. The room looked ruffled and pale. Her body felt alien. As if she had been possessed.
She saw the boy one more time, a few months later. He was on television, the morning they cleaned the streets and purged Zucotti Park. He was standing in the angry crowd, yelling at the barricade of cops. Fear and rage wrestled in his face. It was the same look he’d had that night. Like he was being robbed.
Lexi Freiman is an Australian author and editor who graduated from Columbia's MFA program in 2012. She has been a recipient of the NYC Emerging Writer's Fellowship, an Aspen Words scholarship, and has published fiction in The Literary Review. Before moving to New York in 2010, Lexi worked as an actress for several years with Australia's national Shakespeare company, performing in As You Like It, Romeo and Juliet, and Pericles, all at the Sydney Opera House. She lives in Manhattan.