Digital artwork by Adam Ferriss
What if he thinks I'm stupid? Britney thought as she put on her eyelashes.
She knew she would say "cool" too much. Back before, she had thought she sounded cool when she said cool, and now she realized cool was a stupid word all along.
This one time, back then, when Britney was crying really, really hard, her assistant had told her, "Honey, older people say they wish they were young, but if we had the chance none of us would go back to being 19 again. It's all insecurity and stupid men." But Britney was older now. And being older sucked, too. Really, nothing ever changes.
Britney lifted up her blue sequined shirt and stared at her stomach in the mirror. That stomach, over there, not hers. It couldn't be hers. She couldn't see her abs anymore. But the new part, the puff in the tummy where the babies once were, each little cutie-pie-poo-poo-poopsie baby, it still seemed kinda beautiful to her. Like a perfectly toasted marshmallow above her pelvis. Like the belly of a pin-up model in the 1950s or Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor, who Britney adored and had since she was a little girl. God, the women were so beautiful back then. No one would put Marilyn in a magazine today. Well, maybe a plus-size catalogue or something, but not real magazines. Poor fucking Marilyn. Touched and fucked and made fun of. Marilyn could be kind of a bitch, though, and that made it less sad. Britney had read most of her biography on the bus but never finished it.
Britney lifted her shirt higher still and took in the hollow dents of where her ribs met below her breasts. Once they were half-tunnels in between the bones of her body, and now the rib-dents were barely perceptible. There was skin like a badly planted tent between them.
Britney always knew she would never be as sexy as someone like Marilyn Monroe, and sometimes she got depressed when she saw Marilyn's pictures. How can someone be that beautiful? It hurt to even look at her. That's what Britney wanted. She wanted to have a face that hurt. Being pretty didn't count if you weren't the most pretty.
Britney unbuttoned her jeans and pulled town the top of her thong to gaze at her C-section scar and bikini line. Sometimes Britney checked to see if her scar was still there, and she moved her fingers up and down it. When the boys weren't with her, the scar was, and she needed to finger it, to tickle it like it was her babies' feet. A smile, a frown, a curse, lit up underneath that scar. It was getting whiter, pink no longer, and it looked stark against the creamy caramel of the rest of her. She pulled her jeans down farther. Her pelvis was too prickly. She'd shaved two days ago, and if she shaved it again today, the new stubble would bleed. She should have brought the waxer lady over, but she couldn't seem to remember to do anything these days. Anything, anything, anything.
"I can't do anything," Britney whispered to the reflection of her groin.
Moving her eyes up from the body, Britney looked into her own face.
There it was.
She felt the tears come, then saw them, rising into the bottoms of her eyes like a calm ocean's wave on the shore, and then going back to where they came from.
She was ugly, she saw. And beautiful. She saw that, too.
Britney did her habitual mirror-face. She looked down demurely, then up sexily, down, then up, down, then up, until she got dizzy. She saw in her reflection how he would see her eyes later. Later, that night, she imagined, when she was half-undressed, moving from kisses between his legs back to his chest, gazing up at him the whole time while she did it, as he looked at her, feeling like a god for getting to see her climb out of the fantasy of the TV and onto his lucky body, while she felt nothing except a tired libido that had given up and an ego that needed to see that awed look on a guy's face as he came, came wildly, moaning with the moan only she could give him... that's when she would make that mirror-face. Guys loved her, even in person. They went crazy for the way she looked at them, they said. And it was true sometimes when she watched old videos and saw her up-down looky thing, she even wanted to fuck herself. One time John Mayer had said to her that her dad was really unlucky, because he was the only guy in the world who couldn't whack off to Britney Spears. "What about my brother?" she'd asked, concerned, not exactly getting the joke, and John had just laughed at her. She'd done her up-down looky-thing with him, and he hadn't even noticed. He'd kept his eyes closed.
Fuck sex, Britney thought, Fucking fuck fuck it, as she dabbed perfume on her breasts. Fucking had fucked up everything.
Trying so hard for so many years not to fuck up and say fuck in public, she loved the word now. It was as forbidden as a Jewish guy in the Spears family, and she loved Jewish guys.
Britney saw a teeny wrinkle in the middle of her forehead. Oh GOD FUCK DAMN SHIT she was ugly. She was so, so ugly. There was something weird about her eyes, her skin was sagging a bit where the hair met the forehead, one half of her top lip was smaller than the other, and she knew it, she knew it, no matter how many times people told her she was crazy. She wasn't crazy. She used to be beautiful, maybe. Now she was a fat, ugly, worthless piece of shit. God damn it.
Still, she practiced smiling in the mirror. She tilted her head, and there it was—the prettiness. Sometimes she still marveled at the symmetry of her features and the alarming perfection when the corners of her mouth turned up just right. Her cheeks sat in a glossy, happy place, like a flawless staged photograph that comes with a frame.
But tonight there would be an expectation of prettiness she couldn't live up to. She just didn't have it. She wasn't actually beautiful, she knew. She could be made to be, but she hadn't come out that way. She wasn't like the celebrities she'd watched growing up. One time when she was a kid, her friend had said, "You are like as famous as Julia Roberts now!" but her friend hadn't said "as beautiful." Britney had a pretend-beauty. When she'd seen Michelle Pfeiffer in person, she'd almost cried. How could somebody look like that for real? And at such an old age? Sometimes Britney wished she was stranger looking. If Britney looked strange, she could be striking, not pretty. Unconventional or something, like Anjelica Houston or something, or not her, because she's too ugly, but maybe like the girl from Six Feet Under with the awkward eyes, or like a naturally olive-skinned brunette with a nose a little too big but with full lips. Britney's lips, besides being her only non-symmetrical feature, were too small. They were... slight.
Her body wasn't slight, though, she thought with a tremble. Her abs (she looked again) had disappeared. Her thighs were no longer as muscular as a boy's. There was too much of her everywhere. If she weren't famous, normal people would think she was skinny, but that didn't count. She was never allowed to be normal again.
Britney put her hands on her stomach and felt the new fat and then the ache of missing her little baby boys who were with their dad this week, probably laughing and joyful without her, because in every fucking picture they brought back to show her they looked hysterical, almost manic in their fun without her. The ache of her son's lost bodies pulsed under her fingers, and within that single moment, she knew with a resigned certainty she wanted to die.
This was something she knew about once a day.
"I can't do this," Britney said to her eyes in the mirror, and the whites of them turned pink, but she refused to cry, saying "I won't, I won't, la la la," to herself as she moved away from the mirror and turned the Aretha up.
Aint no way, Aretha sang, For me to love you, if you won't let me...
This song is straight-up sad, and so am I, Britney thought, and laughed a near-to-tears laugh. She felt a tingle up her spine—the excitement she felt when she knew she was planning the end but no one else knew, and no one would know, until she was gone.
"Lordy, I'm so crazy," she said aloud.
She made a little eek-face and then turned back around and did it in front of the mirror and giggled at her eek-face and stuck her tongue out and made an eek-face again. Maybe she would do that eek-face at dinner with the guy, she thought. He might like it and think it made her seem down-to-earth or goofy, which she was actually, but no one really got that about her.
The clock said 6:09. She sang along to Aretha's chorus and whispered "Fuck you, world" to the walls as she spun in waiting circles, jeans still undone.
The last thing Britney had said to her ex-husband when they shared a house was, "You're a pussy, and you don't know women, you fuck. I'm taking this vibrator into the other room because it can actually make me come." He could never, just never, find her clit. It was like the precious, the truest, most precious part of her was un-interesting to him. The next day, when he left, he really did leave. The last thing she said after that was, "You knew what would happen if you left me. If I decide to die, it's on you."
Her pretty pink clit, and he never found it.
She canceled his credit cards, and that was that, until, out of the haze of night that disappeared and mornings that hit her like a man's angry fist, she remembered the boys weren't hers that week. He had the boys. He fucked fucking strippers, who probably did their skanky dances to her songs, and he had her boys.
She got a nose bleed that day and screamed.
But this time, this guy, it didn't have to be like that, things didn't have to be sad. Every time something new happened, like a new month, or a new project, or a new charity without psycho bad-versions-of-Christians fucking it up, or a new person with a real, new smile, something could be good. This guy she was seeing tonight... when she met him at the charity auction, he had looked at her the way Tom Hanks looks at Meg Ryan in a movie. He thought she was adorable when she was happy and sweet when she was sad. She could tell he felt that way from his face of adoration, which looked like the way men look when they think a woman is cute and women in general are cute, for all their craziness and shit, and all that and whatever. And he joked around about the stories about her. He knew right after meeting her for real that the stories were stupid bullshit. He sympathized with how hard her life was, and he also seemed like someone who could be a really good dad. She'd only met him those two times, but she could tell. His favorite movie was Sandlot, he said, and he loved Third Eye Blind, which Britney did, too. He was really handsome with gray hairs on the sides of his head, which kind of made Britney like him even more, even though it made him look oldish.
And he was coming for her.
He'd pick her up soon and say, "Hey, Brit," and maybe they'd go see that movie.
Her wig looked amazing. She sashayed a bit so the lower brown ends of it shook around a little.
Weed was something Britney needed.
If no one was around, no babies or anything, this was her favorite: the seat by the window, a big ass bowl, and a hundred hours of smoky silence.
So fuck it, he was a little late, and she smoked up.
People said she was stupid. Ha! She had an EMPIRE. Stupid my ass, you dumb, fat fucks.
A bird flew real close to her window. A night bird. That'd be sad if it hit the glass and died.
Ain't no way, Britney sang along, her breath pushing huskinesss through nasal passages, for me to love you, if you won't let me.
The song was on repeat. The loopity-loop sign was in the corner of her iPod and had been for a couple of days. This song just wouldn't let her go. That was the thing about her, her old therapist had said. Things fixated her. Like the mirror. She put the bowl down, got up from the window, and looked into it. She wondered when the first mirror was invented. Like, inspired by water?
The only thing left was the glitter. Oh ball-sack fuck-drool! Damn it. She forgot. The glitter for her skin. With glitter on, like always, she would make them stay in dim lighting, and the candlelight quality would make that glitter create a soft focus effect on her. Her mom had said that to her once when she was a teenager.
"Sweetie, you're so cute in soft focus! My pretty, pretty girl!"
Britney thought again of Marilyn.
"I don't mind this being a man's world," Marilyn once said, "As long as I can be a woman in it."
The thing was, Britney thought, glittering up, her arms looking fat in the window's reflection but her face looking more and more awesome, if you were famous, you knew that kind of quote was such bullshit. A fame-quote only. A thing Marilyn said in a clever moment, when she was feeling her best and a bunch of admiring people were on her with cameras. A thing she said she didn't mean in any way at all. But now people quoted it on Facebook like it was some Marilyn Monroe life philosophy. Because really, when you got to it deep down, Marilyn probably spent a lot of time alone with her thoughts, lying in bed and feeling like her woman-body was a big sack of fat shit. That quote was a thing said after a few sips of champagne, something she thought she was supposed to say. Every famous quote is just someone pretending to be the kind of person who gives famous quotes.
Some of Britney's quotes made her want to vomit. They made her sick. "Cool," she always said. "Cool, cool, cool." Shit, the dumb shit she'd said made her want to take a big hooked knife and dig it into the top of her pelvis, pulling up through the scar, all the way up to between the tits, and let the shit spill out. To just tear into that soft woman belly and be the one who destroyed it. Like the Asians and their hairy-kerry.
Britney turned around in a little pirouette to face the mirror again. She put her hands against the mirror like it was a man's chest and puffed a bit of air onto it to make mirror-steam.
"I don't mind this being a man's world," Britney said into the mirror in her best Marilyn-voice as Aretha continued to wail in the background, "as long as I can be a woman in it." She tilted her head to each side a million times, and the mirror sparkled back at her with the glitter that had gotten on it.
One time Britney got jerked off on when she was on the road. It was like the only time she was allowed on a date. She was 17 and was the biggest fucking thing in the whole world, and everybody shielded her from how much everybody actually hated her fucking guts—all the cool kids and real musicians. How what all the world was doing was making fun of her and whacking off to her. Like John had said. But nope, all she heard was how critical people didn't even know what they were talking about, that they were just a bunch of liberals who couldn't get jobs in real newspapers. No, they just surrounded her with fans. Sometimes, with radio ticket deals and stuff, little girls were allowed to come backstage after shows and tell her how much she inspired them. They would always say, "Oh my God, you're so pretty," and she would always tilt her head and giggle, a real giggle because she loved little girls—she'd always been a mom at heart—and say, "Aw, well you're so pretty, too! Come here, y'all!" and they'd all hug and take pictures, and Britney felt loved. Well, that's not the whole story. Sometimes she'd sob right when they left and wish she'd told them to leave her the hell alone, that she was too tired, just too damn tired, and admiring her was just about the worst thing they could do, but those aren't the times worth remembering, her assistant always said.
"Only remember what's worth rememberin'," she'd say.
So the boy jerked off on her. Her mom always said no boy really wanted her for any good, real reason. That of course they liked her because she was gorgeous, and also sweet and funny, and a good, traditional girl, but at the same time they would never like her for her because they'd never really see her. They'd only see the show, the TV. But when Britney really liked one of the dancer's brothers, her mom said okay to a real date. They couldn't go out to a real place, so they watched a movie in the at-home movie theater of a producer's house who always offered Britney stuff. And then he drove her to a real, live "make-out" spot. It was super exciting. Really, really cool. They kissed and kissed, and it was like putting your face in really warm sand, kind of uncomfortable but also really nice in a weird way. He had blonde, teenage boy stubble and a really super sharp jaw. Then he put his hand on her chest, one hand on one boob, kind of pushing it, and he started touching his dick. He touched it and touched it until there was nothing left to touch anymore, and he drove Britney home. He must have read in the magazines she was saving her virginity because he was real respectful.
It was time for her Tom Hanks to be there. Where was he? The bowl needed to be lit again, she saw, as she walked toward the window looking for his car. When something needs you, it needs you, she thought, laughing, as she took another hit.
He wouldn't be long.
"LA LA LA," Britney sang at the top of her lungs to herself, dancing.
When someone looks at you like Tom Hanks does to Meg Ryan, why wouldn't he come? Didn't Tom Hanks, like, love Meg Ryan?
Britney used to not believe in love. She didn't. She felt like she had it a couple times, but then it turned out to be lies, and then when she felt it for real, she knew it was there, but then she found out it was impossible to hold on to, and then it was just like... Jesus. How do other people make it look so real? So easy? Didn't that first moment when someone sees you and looks at you that way hold forever inside of it? She always fantasized too soon. She didn't know if it was a girl thing or a Britney thing, but either way it killed her. She still had her subscription to weddinggirl.com.
There's no way she would have known before she loved someone that love was hard, because she didn't get to have a God damn life for like a hundred years.
She picked up the hand mirror she'd put beside her at the window and checked her eye makeup. It had rubbed off a little below her stupid, small eyes. It looked like she was tired.
She always looked tired! She wanted to die!
She saw her mom had called her cell phone. She had deleted her number, which had been under "Mommy Dearest," but she still knew it by heart, and so of course when it showed up she recognized it, and tonight seeing it made her bite into the skin on the upper part of her fat arm. She tasted like peach-y chemicals.
Her assistant had called about seven times in one minute.
Her brother had called. Her brother? What was wrong?
Someone must've died.
Why hadn't her date called? Not even to tell her he'd be late? How could he miss a chance to be with her? Had she smelled when they met? Sometimes she took three showers a day before she knew she'd have sex so she didn't smell down there. She wouldn't smell, she wanted to tell him.
So she called, and he didn't pick up again.
Her brother called again. He had texted her, too.
Call me before you go online at all, his text message said.
I love you, honey, said another.
Britney went to her computer.
Sometimes she wondered, was she empty inside? Empty? Like a coconut with the juice sucked out? Like a book with the pages cut out to make a hiding place for a key or a secret letter? Like a pot a plant outgrew? Like a house that can't be sold because the husband killed the family in its kitchen? Like what's really inside a TV?
Britney clicked refresh a few times. Like maybe it would go away. Like she was seeing hallucinations the way she had one time when she'd tried to kill herself and had seen an angel dressed in light blue silk looking just like her but had brown hair like Britney would've had if it had ever grown out natural.
The celebrity news page seemed to take an hour to refresh each time, but it was just a second, probably. There was her face. It was surrounded by a bunch of huge letters, and, like always when she saw her face there, she felt illiterate and couldn't figure out the meaning of the big blocks of the alphabet for a minute or two. It was the dyslexia or the shock, her mom said, when one time she had seen another old lover had called her a slut, and she couldn't read the world slut and she said "What? He thinks I'm a skunk? What's that even mean?"
In front of her was a picture from when she first took off her hair, and her face was all messed up looking, even though she remembered feeling incredibly sexy that night—so lesbianic and free, and like a crazy woman on an island.
And then the shapes next to the picture made sense. They formed sounds and then words.
And then she wiped the glitter off of her face with an angry, pushy hand, leaving empty streaks between the glitter like she had the cheek of a striped glitter zebra.
BRITNEY ABUSED HER KIDS, SOURCES SAY, it read, like Satan's words in a Satanist bible, Britney thought.
And Britney felt how she felt when she was dancing, like she didn't exist, like her legs were somewhere different than her neck or her ribs.
Without even taking her face away from the page, she hit the speed dial on her phone for her lawyer and pushed the button for the security guys outside to let them know the camera packs would be here any minute.
"Yes, Miss Britney?" the guy said.
"They're comin'," she answered and hung up.
Outside there was a la-la-la sounding like a siren, which meant they'd block her gate off. With the remote next to her computer, she turned off the music without looking. All she needed to dance to was the siren outside. She moved her hips side to side as she read the whole damn evil thing.
The article made sense to her after she read it a couple of times.
Britney vomited. The robin's egg carpet turned orange and purple.
She did not hit those boys. She'd never hit those boys. She did not touch her boys. She did not touch her boys. Ew. Ew. Ew. Ew.
She got sick again. The vomit turned clear and phlegmy as she moved down to all fours on her carpet, like she was a cat spitting out a hairball. The vomiting brought back teenage memories.
She stood up.
She picked up her phone.
She called the guy and called him again. No answer. Not even a voice to the machine.
He knew how to read, right? He'd read it. He'd read what they said. But maybe not. Maybe he was lost. Maybe he was lost in the windy roads around the gate. Gated out by the guys out front. Gated out of her life and late.
Maybe he was never real to begin with.
At least he didn't stand her up because he was married. Because he was a gold-digger. Because he was gay. Gay, gay, gay like so many of them had been back in Louisiana.
He had said he didn't care about the stories, she thought, but he did. He really did.
Sad thing is, Britney thought, as she threw the phone into her clothing hamper and went to the window to smoke the rest of her bowl, it takes a really good guy to stand up a famous rich girl he'd heard was always high and slutty because he thinks she's abusing her kids. Damn, he would make such a great dad, the guy who wasn't coming.
Then she quieted, and took a breath. With the music off, her breath was all she could hear.
No one's coming, she knew.
No one is coming.
Pretty, pretty Britney, Britney thought. All alone again.
And before she took an Ambien to make her forget the world, Britney called her staff to come and clean up her room's mess.