Claudette by Rebecca Muench

Claudette lives in the upper seventies on the east side in an apartment probably the size of your closet, with a shower that either pelts with ice or dumps buckets of scalding water, no in between.

She is thin without being gaunt; she could never model, but a man would want to hold her. She is tall without being giant; she can see over a crowd, but still buy regular inseam pants. She grew up dancing and you can still tell, when she lifts her arm a particular way, or isn’t too exhausted to maintain an exacting posture. She is pretty to other women, but men don’t notice her, except her ass. She has a really good ass. She has long hair. It’s golden from days spent in the California sun before her migration east. She stopped wearing her long hair down when she moved to the city. She thought in New York it seemed silly to have long, wavy, golden hair. So now she wears it in a bun at the base of her neck. When she goes out, she wears it half down.

Claudette is moderately well-read, generally intelligent, and has a good job as a hired writer; writing screenplays of other people’s ideas. Ideas of her own she has in spades, but no one asks for them. If Claudette could pass on one thing, she thinks, it would be this: never be too good at doing another’s work; you’ll inevitably get stuck there. But she makes a good living and sets her own hours, so really she can’t complain.

Claudette is everything you’d want your daughter to be, except happy. Not that she’s depressed necessarily, she just turned out differently than she thought she might. And that’s the saddest thing of all.

Claudette has had lovers, but no one ever loved her. She has parents and siblings who are close and care for her, but since they’ve all had families of their own, she feels further and further from them. That is, after all, why she writes stories; because in a story she can control the ending. In her own life she is just drifting through.

When she was younger she thought it’d be tragic and romantic to never be loved, to never be in love with someone who loves you back. But as the years pass and her beauty fades, she realizes there is a particular hollowness to her existence, and she realizes now why her mom looked at her with those sad eyes when she stopped asking about her dating life.

Claudette goes on the occasional date, but she’s never dated. She doesn’t have boyfriends and she doesn’t know why. It seems as simple as this: no one has ever stuck. No one has ever been interested for longer than a night or two, or if they have been, she hasn’t noticed. And really, what’s the difference.

Claudette has now convinced herself she doesn’t need this mutual love. She still listens to love songs, but they’re melodies of mysterious melancholy to her, an experience like her characters on the page, not a reality.

She thinks about getting a dog sometimes. Just in case.

Claudette thought she was incapable of love until she turned twenty-seven. When she was twenty-seven she fell in love. She fell in love during a graduate program, with a wildly intelligent classmate. Everyone thought he was in love with her too, but he had a fiancee and never chose Claudette over her. Though he could’ve, and she thought he might, he never did. They were best friends for a time, because love can make you foolish, but when the program ended they stopped talking. And she wonders how he is sometimes; he hasn’t thought about her in ten years.

So Claudette isn’t heartbroken, or broken at all really. She just carries a deep sadness in her, the sadness of unbelonging. Of growing up and older without ever once the confirmation of your existence by the validating care of another.

Claudette used to get hired to write mostly love stories, but 3 years ago she asked her agent to start sending those of a more procedural nature. She couldn’t keep writing a love she’d never had. Her ineptitude was beginning to show, she felt. Best to avoid the stories altogether. And maybe get a dog.

Claudette’s friends used to set her up on blind dates, but when she turned thirty-five three years ago, she noticed the dates slowed and eventually came to a halt. She wasn’t sure if the men had all found women better suited, or if her friends had given up; weary of their failed experiments.

Claudette doesn’t necessarily mind being alone, but there are some particularly irritating aspects. Like clasping a bracelet on herself, by herself. By now she has either stopped wearing certain pieces altogether, or, once they’re on, she doesn’t take them off. She figures jewelry can be just as much enjoyed hanging in her room as it is off herself.

Sometimes, on an especially lonely night, Claudette sits in front of her vanity mirror and paints herself in a meticulously finished, full face of makeup. She admires herself for a few minutes, before playing a sad song, wiping the paint off dramatically, and going to sleep. She finds she usually indulges in this innocuous self pity when word is received that another friend has become engaged or pregnant. Not because Claudette wants to be engaged or pregnant, but only because these things remind her of her solitude and heighten her feeling of otherness. She will never have these things; she isn’t meant to.

It is on nights like these Claudette drinks herself to sleep.

Because the hole inside her keeps her up.

And though in the morning it hurts worse, at least for the night it was filled.

Filled and forgotten.


Rebecca is currently pursuing an MFA in Film, Writing and Producing, at The American Film Institute Conservatory. Her work has been published on sites such as Refinery29. She lives in Los Angeles without a car.

 

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