“The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.” - Simone Weil “The beauty of the world is the mouth of a labyrinth. The unwary individual who on entering takes a few steps is soon unable to find the opening. Worn out, with nothing to eat or drink, in the dark, separated from his dear ones, and from everything he loves and is accustomed to, he walks on without knowing anything or hoping anything, incapable even of discovering whether he is really going forward or merely turning round on the same spot. But this affliction is as nothing compared with the danger threatening him. For if he does not lose courage, if he goes on walking, it is absolutely certain that he will finally arrive at the center of the labyrinth. And there God is waiting to eat him. Later he will go out again, but he will be changed, he will have become different, after being eaten and digested by God. Afterward he will stay near the entrance so that he can gently push all those who come near into the opening.” - Simone Weil

BAD FOR YOU

By Riley Quinn Scott

I was cruel tonight. I meant to be your sunshine girl, and make up for the last time I saw you, my cold detachment and shove out the kitchen door. Your latte made with reluctance. I poured in too much agave, knowing you like things sweet. Anything you give a man more than once becomes an expectation.

Today I arrived ready to leave. You asked me to pay you back the $15 we spent at Whole Foods. I split most tabs with you, though you’re older than me. Returning home we had sex even after my “I don’t really want to but maybe we should?” Give him a crumb and he’ll follow you home. Your wanting of me against all odds disgusts me, sometimes. It makes me feel better than, I also feel inanimate. My mother’s warnings about men have not stopped me from repeating her mistakes. I just know better as I do them. My self knowledge increases with my self hate increases with my self love. I could be your favorite film. I could be a pair of socks. Your midnight snack.

How many times will he say that with me, he is “on vacation?”

You still wear skinny jeans.

It is my least favorite thing.

I tongue whip you at the dinner table. One mini martini on an empty stomach, and I am detailing how unlike Marlon Brando you are. I backtrack by admiring your resemblance to a different, more “nuanced” indie actor. I dole out kindness so consciously it’s a crime. You are hurt by the Brando comment though. Apparently all boys grew up with him on their altar.

A memory of the Beatles. Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup. “That’s my girl” my father says, turning into the school parking lot.

Over a Niçoise salad, I tell you you’re failing in your career. The ahi tuna slices against my teeth, dances across my tongue. Oyster after oyster glide down my throat. I would be furious if you told me I wasn’t like Audrey Hepburn, so I call myself a hypocrite as I order a cappuccino. I laugh at your inability to pronounce “pomme frites.” That night we watch a foreign film, and as the lights come up I offer my review: loved the soundtrack. I feel watched by you as I add a song to my September playlist. It is September 20th, not much longer now. As we pull up to your place, you assume and warn me to be quiet because your female roommate is sleeping. She resents me. I think she may have loved you during the pandemic. I’m not coming up. I walk from your car with a skip in my step, knowing you’ll watch me leave.

I have lost count of the number of times my father has called me selfish. It could be once, it could be twenty. The word hits like a stone. It is my worst fear now, for someone to call me that. Selfish. Selfishness is the worst of sins and the substance of my core. I am a selfish woman who was a selfish girl. The first time my father called me selfish it was without hope of me ever proving different. We sat on sandy steps in Solana Beach. It was night, and I couldn’t sleep after fighting with my brother. I stared at the moon and missed my mother. My father sat behind me. With my back to him I asked if he thought I was a bad person. He took time answering, as he always has, because he is a lawyer and knows the power in making people wait for a reply. Such power in silence, I do not utilize it. I give people my thoughts and feelings on a silver platter, I fill the air to the brim with sound. My father sat still before answering. “You are still undeveloped. As a person. Unfortunately, you do have a tendency to be selfish. When you ask about my day, I can tell you don’t really care.” I begged to know if he thought I would always be that way. Again, he took his time, giving the moon his eyes. I wondered if he was wishing, if he did that too. “That’s up to you.”

Selfishness since then has been my chronic condition. A disease I barely hold at bay. I am waiting I suppose for my father to inform me I am free of it. To tell me I am finally cured. But I haven’t asked. And he calls me “princess” when he buys me nice things, so if I were to guess, I would say I am still a sick girl.

My best friend picks me up in her vintage Jaguar with 3 pumpkins in the back. They glisten and sway as we drive windy streets, and she says we can smoke in the car. We play each other new songs but don’t talk much. Men stare at her at every stop light, and I hate them for this, but catch myself admiring her too. A lot of people find a muse in my best friend. She has strawberry hair and watchful eyes, a penchant for laughing and oat vanilla lattes. People crush me with their beauty all the time. When people stare at her, I glare at them. I am not sure why, but I fear what would happen if she were alone. But she is so self-sufficient it hurts, and there is no need for my eyes to defend her. Maybe I hate that others see her too, visual proof she is not mine. I can’t imagine life without her. I am bad at sharing, always have been, but she shares everything without hesitation. She offers me her clothes, her home, her thoughts. She makes time precious.

Trusting my emotions will lead you down a dangerous road. My craft is my talent is my downfall. I never can tell if what I am feeling is my period coming or the truth. Or maybe both.

I got my period at 2AM for the second time this month. I go to the restroom and feel holy. I deliver an afterbirth with each trip, so much blood is leaving me and I worry about my nonexistent child.

Oh god do I even have to detail how I misbehaved last night. I told him horrible truths, I made him cry. I am smoking a cigarette at my new favorite café, not the one I work, a better one with dirt on the bathroom floor and an Italian man behind the counter worrying how to make rent. He and I chat each time I come in, we talk of my studies and what exactly do I mean when I say I want a Piccalo, and do I know that the Italians only drink Macchiatos before noon, and he will be giving me something closer to a latte this time since I am standing before him at 4pm and that is too late to respectably drink a macchiato. I moved from the window seat to a seat that was more fitting to my needs, since I am smoking and that would be rude to smoke next to an open window in America. I am thinking now of how I told a man last night that I am going away to Paris for 5 months and I don’t care what he thinks, the decision does not, could not involve him since I am 20 and young and full of hope and he is not. I told him I would not marry him and he looked at me hurt, asking what that means. Then I told him later, after I hugged him, that he has never made me come and he replied that he was not worried about that but should he be? And then he was when I told him other men have. By other men I mean the one man in my life I have loved and still love and will always love. I looked at him with pity when he asked me why I never told him I was unsatisfied before, and I carefully explained to him that my announcing at a dinner table full of my friends that you don’t make me come was a cry for help if there ever was one.

I keep running into women who are cruel, so cruel I want to be them. All my idols keep their hearts locked up at home. In between asking customers what size coffee they want and yelling their names into the windy street, I leaf through a book about an old woman who eats only dark chocolate and bread, proclaiming old age becomes her. When I wake up, I read about a girl who achieves her dream of becoming a successful author only to hate herself, hiding away in a house on a hill and falling in love with an emotionally abusive boy. I watch a film about a girl who looks like my mother getting admitted to an asylum where she befriends an unhinged blonde. Stories of my total dismissal of the feelings of men make my friends laugh the hardest. I wonder if it is lucky to have friends who encourage all sides of yourself. Before I commit acts of social abuse, a voice in my head whispers how good of a story it will be later. The laughter of my friends echoes in my head as I tell a boy I don’t think about you, ever.

Yesterday I walked far listening to Adele’s collected works, a good hour away to the Century City mall, which was filled with families and couples. I wore my grandmother’s coat and bulky headphones, so no one talked to me. I wandered from store to store, craving the absorption of looking at beautiful things. I love clothing and the art of deciding who you get to be. It’s so easy to spend time brushing hands against cashmere and silk. I sample a jasmine-scented JO Malone perfume and purchase a mock neck striped sweater. I barely glance at the price tag, deciding to invest in my future. I listen to the same song seven times in a row and sit by a fire, craving a cigarette. I worry about my broken toe.

I go through periods of growth where I do not recognize myself in the mirror. I don’t like who I am right now, I have been called mean a lot these days and it hurts because it is true. I bounce from man to man, not examining why I end relationships so rapidly, so harshly. I let myself get away with a lot. I lie to myself and fear a bad reputation. I need to end things with the man I am seeing, but only after my mind isn’t so storm-like, until I can breath and be kind. Because I am mean to these men with my words. Someone called me out on it last night, someone not involved. He said I was mean and that it comes from someplace, that my jokes all come from someplace, and that I can’t manipulate him. I stood there shocked and impressed, and everyone saw. He gave me what I needed, but it’s a hard pill to swallow, and I must have choked on it, because within 15 minutes I texted another boy to hang out, praying I would play nice. But really I should be quiet for a week, lie low, see where my mind takes me. I need intention and impulse control. I need sleep.

Afterthought

Driving down the 405, the opposite side a total standstill. 10:45 at night and no other car driving south, just me and my headlights. Man with the Axe plays and sends me back to our time together. I don’t remember the annoyance or reluctance; I don’t remember the dissatisfaction. Instead, your embarrassed laugh comes through, the one you can’t hold back. The way we slept together, no need to cuddle, just sleeping like siblings. Apologizing after a night out because you’re too tired to fool around. Kissing my nose as I sleep beside you. Insisting we go out, taking me to dinner. Laughter erupting across the table, ordering another. Thinking before you speak, putting such weight behind your answer. Big brown eyes. Lean frame. Hugging you and feeling the tendons in your back stretch as you mold yourself around me. I remember waiting for you on the curb outside, Man with the Axe playing through my headphones. You sneak up from behind, kissing my head and sitting down next to me. A full moon that night, we sit for a while before you lead me into your treehouse home. Turning onto Wilshire, I thank you for taking care of me, speaking to an empty passenger seat.