Elaine Barnard's plays and stories have won awards and been published in numerous literary journals such as Sunlight, Lowestoft Chronicle, Nude Bruce, Zimbell House, Crux and many others. She has been a finalist for Glimmer Train and Best of the Net. Recently she was nominated for the Pushcart Prize and Best Small Fiction. The collection of short stories from her travels in Asia, EMPEROR OF NUTS, is forthcoming from New Meridian Arts. She received her BA from the University of Washington, Seattle and her MFA from the University of California, Irvine.
They are too broad, my shoulders, much too broad. Not like Wonder Woman’s at all. And that’s who I want to be, thought I could be, with the proper surgeries, the extensive and expensive surgeries. My parents paid for them out of their retirement savings. But my football shoulders never changed, heavy and muscular, a guy’s shoulders. Maybe that’s why I can’t get a date. No guy looks at me in that special way. Like in the next minute or so he’ll be over, casual, remarking on Jill Lepore, and her famous history of Wonder Woman.
Jill Lepore is very bright and funny. I wish I could be that sharp, that clever, that smart. She did a helluva lot of research to write this tome. I have it in my backpack. I almost wish I didn’t. It weighs the damn thing down. Makes lugging my stuff around campus slave labor.
I don’t like this campus. It’s sterile, high tech, all this concrete and glass, an occasional tree, like the university ran out of funds for foliage. Maybe they didn’t care about foliage, about green, about smelling something fresh, something earthy, something besides coffee and pizza drifting from the Student Center. Don’t get me wrong, I love coffee, adore pizza. But is that all there is to campus life? Shouldn’t a campus remind us of our past, of where we came from? Like those old campuses in the East, full of ancient buildings, gardens and fountains. None of that here, not a single green escape where you can dream you were somewhere else. This whole place is push and pull without reprieve, perhaps a harbinger of the world we’ll enter once we graduate.
My Wonder Woman shirt hugs my chest. The hormone shots were pretty successful that way. If only I could saw down these shoulders. If there was a girl’s football team here I’m sure I could be its star. Maybe I could start one?
In the meantime I’m sitting in a seat that’s too small for my ever expanding ass. It’s like these seats were designed for children, not six foot humans. I’m sweating rivers. It’s a hot spring day outside and I forgot to apply my deodorant. If it wasn’t air-conditioned in here I’d really stink up the place. It’s a small room for so many students. Everyone crammed in to hear Jill Lepore of New Yorker fame, expound on her history of Wonder Woman. She’s the Wonder Woman. She’s not only super smart, she also has a husband and kids. She has a life outside the literary world. Jill has what I want, a husband, kids, and a life that is meaningful.
Sweat blots my shirt. I don’t dare lift my arms. I’ll have to sit here like a statue until Jill’s talk is over, and everyone’s left for the reception. I’ve gone to those receptions. Nothing changes. The same cheese and crackers, veggies and dip, Costco cookies and coffee, water on the side, and if we’re lucky, a sip of wine. The receptions are like the buildings, almost identical, like they’ve stored the food in the freezer all year.
I slip my lipstick from my pack. It’s labeled, “red frenzy,” just my feelings right now. I try to apply some discreetly, hiding behind my Wonder Woman text. My lips are the one part of me I’m happy with. I was born with full, feminine lips. They didn’t have to perform any surgeries on my mouth, thank God. I’d endured enough pain in the rest of my body. I was never satisfied. I wanted to be a perfect female and maybe would have if my parents hadn’t gone broke. Surgeries ended. I was stuck with what I have.
I notice this guy near the door. I’m sure he’s been eyeing me. I blot my lipstick, run my tongue over my teeth, lick off a bit of red frenzy stuck to an incisor. One of my gorgeous false eyelashes is loose. Midnight black does wonders for my pale green eyes. No way can I glue it back on without a mirror. I smooth my blonde ponytail, yank off the rubber band and let my hair fall to my shoulders like my favorite picture of Wonder Woman.
Suddenly a hand caresses my shoulder, a whisper in my ear, the one where I’ve dabbed some Apple Blossom cologne. “Hey,” he mumbles, “could I borrow your Wonder Woman? We’re having a quiz on Lepore’s lecture tomorrow. I was too cheap to buy one. “
I turn. He’s short and squat with acne, covered by a straggly growth of beard. But he has gentle eyes, large and brown. Those eyes would never lie to me.
“Sure,” I hesitate. “Meet me at…at Starbucks later.”
“Sweet,” he smiles and heads toward the door.
I don’t follow him immediately. I want him to wait. It feels good to have him wait even if it isn’t for me, but for Wonder Woman.