• Vince Pruis

Dear Danni

A few years back, I wrote the following epistolary short story (written in the form of letters). The narrator is abrasive and unreliable, but also funny---and mostly hurt. A few (spoiler) content warnings [CW] before you start: strong language, sex as self harm, suicide, and a narrator who's very obviously taking freshman creative writing classes.


So, without further ado, here it is---the only piece of fiction I've ever finished---: Dear Danni.



Danielle Shaw

3675 E Fillmore Street

Phoenix, AZ 85006

August 27, 2015

Dear Danni,


Sex is like golf. Not my sport, exactly, but I suppose it’s enjoyable depending on your partner, whomever you’re sharing the green (sheets) with. Sitting back behind a screen in my head, there’s a commentator who speaks, hushed, about the current state of the players—and the balls. She’s got a voice like yours, one that dives into the river with red prom dress still on, zipper caught mid-spine. More excited and female than a golf commentator ever should be.


I’m quite fond of her and think I’ll give her some more to talk about.


Yours always,


Rue


Arusha Freidman

University of Alaska Anchorage

3211 Providence Dr, Mailstop #614

Anchorage, AK 99508



September 15, 2015

Dear Danni,


School spirit is impossible. Our mascot is just that—a spirit. What’s a Seawolf supposed to be anyway? And our colors, green and gold, the two are fading fast. Vegetation and sunshine. Ha. We’re better off wintering without them. I came here for the grey anyway, to escape the spirits, not be one.


Still, I showed up to the basketball scrimmage last night in your old green sweatshirt, that one from summer camp outside Flagstaff. If I look sufficiently excited, guys will look with excitement at me.


I met Thomas last week. He lives off campus with a husky, so of course I went home with him.

After the game the wind purpled my lips, and I let snowflakes melt and loll off the waxy floors of my shoulders. Once the snow wasn’t melting anymore, Tom emerged from the lower floor of the gym and offered to walk me home.


I offered to walk him home instead.


This is the part where old school novelists would skip to the instant coffee he offered me this morning, but you always did prefer the steamy scenes in romance novels. What a shame you’re a virgin eternal.


I’m not even the one of us who cared, but there I was last night. His tongue running down my back like a bead of sweat. His hands reaching for my hair hesitantly, then moving cold along my sides, slow, like desire. How strange it is to be an object of desire when you aren’t feeling any yourself. His leg pushing between mine and my fingertips playing along his rib cage, obligated to trace the shoulder blades.


I keep hoping for it to be contagious, their drive, the way laughs used to be. That if they feel enough it will spill out and over and into me.


His husky watched from the end of the bed, pale eyes holding us at a distance.


Tom didn’t notice. His energy buzzed—man made swarm of bees—stung along my jawline, under the bend of a never-set collarbone, then... guess I’m an old school novelist after all---I heard the water boiling this morning.


He thought I was still asleep. So I waited until the floor creaked on my side of the bed, then rose with the full glory of a classic film vampire—straight from the waist, head swiveled, eyes flashed open. His fear was worth the stained sheets, the scaly burn on my right boob. I’d rather a scalding spill than a cup of that crap coffee any day. In other news, I don’t think I’ll be invited back.


Hope they’ll have cheap postage in Hell,


Rue



October 4, 2015

Dear Danni,


They never ask to see my room. I guess that’s for the best, what with the mess Lizzy—my roommate—and her millions of friends make. And what with my hyacinth rotting on the desk and all.

I read somewhere that the word “slut” started off meaning “slob,” so really I’m just trying to live into the full etymology of my title. You and me, we never did do anything halfway.


Signed with love (and a black thumb),


Rue



October 30, 2015

Dear Danni,


I saw a moose on campus today. It’s only October, but the snow drifts were already up to his hairy knees—they looked like ours from that summer when we resolved to know what having the wind blow through our leg fuzz felt like. Mine brown and curly, yours whispy and free.


But junior summer’s further away now than the dimpled face of that bitch, the sun. She who glittered on, unconcerned when you stopped rising.


One side of my dorm faces North, the other South. I heard before applying that all the suicides at University of Alaska Anchorage happen on the dark side. Mom called me after I moved in, assured me that she’d made the housing people “aware of the situation,” and that I was on the safer side. Explains why they switched me out of the room I requested.


Even on the light side, though, it’s still so fucking cold.


At least decomposition keeps you warm,


Rue



November 8, 2015

Dear Danni,


I swore I’d never smoke again after we tried sophomore year, but you swore you’d never use something as quiet as sleeping pills, so you really shouldn’t be surprised. This is The Year of Broken Promises, after all. So, when Joshua offered me a cigarette, I took it. Still tastes like someone else’s dead lungs, but I like their glow at 3AM, two embers bobbing in the sea of night. Our exhalations tangling together like bodies. Sharing air, though, is more intimate than sharing a center-sagged couch.


I’ve spent months chasing flames, but there wasn’t warmth until that moment before his window. Moonlight glared off the less-dirty bits of snow, and I pulled his large forest flannel tighter across my shoulders, feeling more exposed in his clothes than in none. He talked about Bellingham. Told me Anchorage has more coffee shops per square mile than Seattle even. He misses Washington.


The only thing I miss is you, but I didn’t tell him that. I just let my greying dragon breath swirl up toward the skies, slowly separate from his.


We’re meeting at Kaladi Brothers Coffee on Thursday.


I’ll drink an awful fruity white mocha in your honor,


Rue


November 20, 2015

Dear Danni,


Apparently Josh wants to be exclusive. And we are now; it just took a few minutes for me to extract myself after I received the text. Who sends “let’s be exclusive” texts at 1AM? That’s supposed to be the time for extra-committal decisions, not Extra Committal ones.


My phone screen lit up Anand’s face in the dark of his single dorm. Made it seem as if his skin were glowing, internally illuminated, candle submerged in a bottle of Kingfisher, still lit. Just when I was starting to like him, too. He always smells of tea tree, and makes everyone except me call him Andy cause it’s easier for people to remember. But you’d like Josh more. Especially the way he breathes when we’re having sex—each breath rising thick, like a bubble in murky pond water. And I like what that makes me—the muck for Josh to push through, escape from with the snap of water rushing in.


So I scooted sideways, sheet wrinkling beneath my thigh, and swept my arm over Anand’s side, feeling for my bralette. I gave up pretty quick and left without it. Made me feel less guilty about never actually helping him edit that JOURN101 paper, and about stealing one of his shirts.


The rest of my body will be exclusive, but my nose gets just this, this one swath of purple-patterned fabric.


In your memory,


Rue



November 27, 2015

Dear Danni,


I wanted so badly to make a joke about the tit-elation of having a guy play with your tits, but what I really find titillating are the metaphors that come to me while it’s happening, while any play is happening. Maybe that’s why George Sand blew through so many men—her commentator, like mine, writes out the best scripts when her body is distracted, busied with her golf buddies.


I look back on those nights with the glacier-cold eyes of Tom’s dog, still distant despite my place on the bed.


You liked romances for the romance, but I liked them for the ridiculous titles, the obvious inexperience of whoever would call a penis a “tumescent member.” A dick’s a dick. It doesn’t need a fancy euphemism. If the reader were looking for a cleaned up novel, they wouldn’t be reading a romance.


Maybe “dick” isn’t romantic enough. But neither is “tumescent member” (much as I love the term’s cameo in 10 Things I Hate About You). We’ll I’ll have to find another compromising term for being compromised.


Hate to hate on your favorite genre; love to love on you,


Rue



December 19, 2015

Dear Danni,


I guess Josh and I both picked parts of our bodies that wouldn’t be exclusive. Mine was my nose. His was his dick.


No need to worry anymore about the romantic quality of “dick” cause the thing itself ruins romance.


You have terrible taste in men,


Rue



January 20, 2016

Dear Danni,


There’s a woman named Jedidiah on staff at The Northern Light. She’s not thirty or anything, as the word “woman” implies; I just learned during my last semester as a Features writer that it’s improper to refer to females in college as “girls.” Guess it’s not our periods or our first time or learning to fold fitted sheets that make us women—it’s the word in a college newspaper.


You’ll only ever be a woman if I write you that way.


Jed’s the lead Features Editor, which would suck because nothing ever happens here, but she’s something of a feature herself, so it works out well in the end. She has scars all across her upper arms, puckered pink on dark skin, and she marches through the four-below air in short sleeves, unafraid to show them, so everyone is afraid to ask.


My lips can never form words around her, but I imagine them tracing her form, which must be icier than either pole. Ice Queen of Narnia, and of my dreams.


Last week she drew me aside after a staff meeting before I could step out for a smoke, told me I write like I’m pressing a bruise, and, unrelated to my work, that she likes the curve of my cheekbones.


I’m not sure what it means to write like I’m pressing a bruise, but that is the way I have sex. Just trying to get at the darkness pooled within, unable to let it heal cause the pain feels right—there should always be a mark after trauma, right? But the blue’s fading green now, algae growing over the muck-body of my pond.


Did I mention she likes my cheekbones? They’re nothing compared to the whale’s fluke of yours, but at least the skin on mine is living.


Wishing you the best in Arizona earth,


Rue



February 1, 2016

Dear Danni,


Josh wants me back. But my new potted aloe vera is still alive, so I’m not a slut anymore. The stars are too far away to determine my destiny, I explained to him, so I’ve entrusted my plant with that power.


He didn’t understand my reasoning. He didn’t understand my delight, either, at the phrase “post-coital munchies.” The only thing he understands is biochemistry. Not Purple Prose—that description of lit with prose excessively ornate or profane. “Post-coital munchies” manages to hit both extremes. Profanity and profundity. Really, they’re the same thing. Jed said that once. She has a tattoo of a uterus on her upper right thigh, stretch marks traced in lavender ink to look like a curtain concealing the rest of the tattoo. She laughed when I first said it, said she often experienced them herself, would never forget my description, why didn’t I take more writing classes, I’m good.


Josh just said that he was sorry.


I reached for his jaw and ran the calloused side of my thumb over his stubble, realized I’d never thought he was good. I let his tongue pass through my lips like a shared cigarette one last time. Then I called Jed and asked if she needs company to that concert she’s reviewing for next week’s issue.


She does.


Best friend in life and death,


Rue



February 12, 2016

Dear Danni,


As always, I’ve been living a life of perfect propriety, and—FUCK YOU BARB AND TONY. Maybe if you’d paid as much attention to Danni’s life as you obviously do to her letters I wouldn’t have to write them. These letters go into her box. That’s the deal. Reading other people’s mail is a fucking federal offense.


If you talk to me or my mom again, that Shaw tombstone on Alder won’t be so lonely. But please do feel free to talk with the shrink my mom hired for me. Tell him that I’ve threatened you with violence; maybe he’ll take my rejection a bit more seriously. Besides, I’m sure you have grief of your own to deal with. He’ll help—he’s a grief counselor specializing in promiscuity. Danni did tell me you two have some issues with that. Well, at least you do, Barb. See, we all know each other’s secrets. Decent people just usually keep them.


Glad you, Danni, fell far from the crabapple tree,


Rue



March 23, 2016

Dear Danni,


I hope you’re resting in peace.


I certainly am not, not due to some outdated social mores like shame, but because Jed talks in her sleep. Lizzy kept throwing parties in the dorm, so Jed let me move into her apartment downtown instead. Her dreams are nothing like yours were. They’re all pink fish darting through a Mediterranean sea, purple fields stretched out forever.


Her longing is for life.


I used to watch after you fell asleep. I was jealous of your hip bones, two ridges visible even beneath the blanket. And that low valley between them. You’d stop breathing sometimes, just for a second. But long enough to frighten me. When you woke up scared, you’d hold my hand, like you could see that whatever stopped your dream had scared me too. Did you see? They were dark, those dreams.


Jedidiah says it’s like I moved to Alaska simply to move into the landscape of your vacant heart. She asked what the terrain of mine looks like.


Jed’s the only one here who knows about you, about my hands on your shoulders, throat raw from screaming at you to get up. To just get up. Please. Fine red sand drifting in through your window. Two days left before your parents were supposed to get home. And I called them.

She’s the only one who’s noticed the way my hands shake when I open a bottle of pills, the way I slam it away after just one falls into my palm, scared that more will tumble down after, that I won’t be able to stop them, that I’ll swallow them all.


When I get a headache she makes me tea instead. Earl Grey was our favorite, Danni, but she’s made me especially fond of lemon ginger, too. And she’s fond of my name. Arusha, she says. It sounds like heat and a purple, storm-swirled sky over cracked Tanzanian plains. Not meek like my nickname. Get rid of that.


I lie awake all night and try to see her as well as she sees me.


Only mildly jealous of your sleep, indefinite,


Arusha



May 17, 2016

Dear Danni;


Your box should be full by now, unless the Shaw Censorship Board ruled to burn the witch they saw in my letters. Either way, this is the last one I’m sending.


Dr. Bourne, my creative non-fiction prof, told me that our story would be best written third-person, like a biography, so I don’t need to write you anymore. The epistolary is not my form, he said. He said to write our story as many times as I could, each differently, until I found the right version. That writing could heal the truth.


Dr. Lee from the counseling center said something like that, too, as she pushed an eddy of curls off her forehead and tucked them into a beanie. She has those moisturized tissues in her office, the extra soft ones, and all her walls are painted orange.


I can be friends with dead you, but I’m not sure if alive you would like me anymore. I’m all weepy and into girls women now, maybe. And I certainly don’t like alive you. Her last act screwed me over.


All those times I wished you’d screw me, I never meant that way.


Jed and I are transferring to a college in California next year. She’s only got a year left, but we found a place that will take all her credits, mostly. We’ll live with her sister. It’s close enough to the ocean that we can smell fish floating by on a breeze. So, my point is, if alive you makes a miraculous comeback, she won’t be able to reach me here. Though I’m sure your snitchy parents would give her a forwarding address.


Your memory’s seared—forever—in my throat, but I’m supposed to say goodbye.


Your friend,


Arusha


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© 2021 by S.M. Vincent Pruis