The Vein / 8 October 1998
My prom night was almost entirely devoid of intrigue, molestation, or adventure except for something that happened right at the very tail end. Most people had fled for the antiseptic and private atmosphere of a pricey hotel room, but I was still slouched at a table, sucking the alcohol off of ice cubes. I was considering the fetal position. I’ll give you one guess which Alphaville song was playing. I was allegedly waiting for my date, the supertall and bulky Ula Heakins, to return from the bathroom, but I’d kind of given up on her by then. A good half hour had passed since she flitted away, the sound and light waves that filled the room colliding and refracting around her, making her appear far more graceful and delicate than her DNA would ever allow. We’d danced three times. My cummerbund was branding a long, painful red mark across my abdomen and I stank of evaporating Old Spice. I glanced around the room and saw a half-dozen couples lurching against each other in some lackluster, lustlacking semblance of a slow dance. In the far corner was the hastily constructed backdrop for the photographs: several bales of hay and a poster of Wales that looked to be stolen from a travel agency or, more likely, Mr. Emerson’s classroom wall.
Then I noticed the stockinged foot peeking out from under a nearby table. The carpet between our feet was covered in a pattern that resembled those 3-D blur-your-eye things that were all the rage at that time. I saw a dolphin and a rocketship. The foot under the other table was twitching in an unnatural manner, irregularly. I tried to guess whose foot that was. There were only 60 people in my class and we’d all been together for almost six years now, so I thought the odds were pretty good. Let’s see. […] It had to be Beth. Beth wore Birkenstocks all the time and let everyone take long, horrible ganders at her toes all through Calculus or European History or whatever. She was one of those where the second toe was way longer than the big toe.
I got up and patted my hair which had lost its composure somewhere during the evening, then eased on over to the other table. I crouched down and picked up the edge of the tablecloth and it was only then, too late, that it occurred to me that perhaps there was more than one person under that table, that maybe there was some hot love action going on, maybe even a little coitus that I was interruptingus. To my relief (?) I saw that there was only one person and that person, was, indeed, Beth. I was halfway through a mental back-pat on my foot ID when I saw the little pool of blood that she had cupped in her left hand.
Birkenstock Beth looked back at me with a somewhat puzzled look on her face. I said something like “sorry hi” and after a small hesitation she moved herself further back under the table, making room for me. I crawled under and let the tablecloth tumble behind me. In her other hand was a Gillette razor, just like the kind that I used, the kind with two blades and a little white strip of something, some invented enhancement used to trick suckers like me into upgrading. Now I saw that blood was seeping out of her wrist, flowing down into her hand. She was really quite still and the expression on her face was like: “Can you pass me the cream.” I’m sure I probably swore or shrieked or hit my head on the gummy table bottom but when I think about it I remember us both being really quiet and not saying a word.
She placed the razor on the floor then leaned in close. She ran her fingers up her bloody wrist and then spread the gash wide apart. The tendons and veins weren’t as prettily colored as they were inside the frog. Beth was digging her index finger way inside, like way further than you’d ever think about going, and that got her foot twitching again. I think I was biting deep into my fist at this point. She was feeling around for something, her face dead, or maybe mildly curious, and then she found it. She raised an eyebrow and then pinched something between two professionally manicured nails.
What she pulled out of her arm was a tiny key, like the kind you’d use to open a padlock. I could sort of make out the brass color beneath the gore. Beth examined it, turned it around and around, tried to catch the dim light that seeped in under the tablecloth.
“I was wondering what that was,” she said, opening my hand and placing the key in my palm. Leaving the razor behind, Beth scooted out from under the table. I looked up her skirt as she left. A moment later she smoothly, swiftly pulled the starchy tablecloth out from under the bargain-bin flower arrangement and half-empty glasses of spiked soda and began wrapping it around her wrist. The cloth trailed behind her as she marched out of the ballroom and I don’t think I saw her at graduation.