Beauty & Routine
By Taylor Shoda
PSYCHIC. L.A. NAIL & SPA. ALTERATIONS. CBD PRODUCTS. VACUUM STORE. PERSIAN MARKET. 81 degrees, palatable, desirable, temperate California. Silver Lake, four in the afternoon, summer, end of June. Hillsides, cement houses, shrunken driveways, dogs, leashes, sunglasses. Streetlights, telephone lines, chipped asphalt, warped concrete, weeds sprouting through, two doors, one in front, one in back, a backyard, three lawn chairs. Brown hair, orangey in the sun, knots, freckles, tan, yellow skin, one forehead line, two dimples, smooth, plump lips, short torso, long legs. Five foot eight.
Sun-dried and dead grass: stomped out, flattened with the lawn chair moved over and
over again, and the other lawn chairs too.
Three looks: from him to her, her to the sky, a him inside the house to the her and him on
the lawn chairs outside, the empty chair toppled over from wind. The him’s, Sol and Bo, seem to
keep missing each other. Missing each other like each knows the weight of a look, a smile,
strategizes this, and chooses their moment to look away or look for each other accordingly. Bo
will try and look back at Sol, but Sol looks away right before they can share a glance. Then Bo
turns and Sol looks away. They play this child’s game, their hearts racing like the moment of
almost being caught by mom and dad. But the stakes are higher, more adult, and the punishment
is shameful, like, what are you looking at me for? They watch each other’s heads flip around like
suffocating fish freshly caught. It’s awkward; and is it on purpose?
Earlier that day Rue had been on her bed in her room, staring into a compact mirror. She
felt portable in the little thing, her face carried by any swooping motion of her hand. She
collapsed into herself, like she was looking at her body in a photo, shrunken to a travel-size copy.
She could crumble the photo up, or, just as well, shut the compact mirror and stuff it back under
her bed. Bo had knocked on her door, said, “It’s nice out.”
They’d sat down in the lawn chairs, stretched out their legs, unfolded their arms, basked
in the sun. Rue’d taken a big inhale (someone was barbecuing, asphalt, dirt), checked her phone,
looked around, and died.
Even earlier that day, in the morning, Rue woke up and watered the plants with a slow,
distracted hand, splattering more water on the floor than the pot, because Sol and Bo drank the
last of the coffee. There was no hot water for the shower since they forgot to pay the bill and her
flat iron broke mid-straighten. So when she stared into the compact mirror later on, she felt like
she might be unhappy. But really, she felt like the most important person in the world, taking up
all that space in the reflection. And when Bo used his legs and energy and body and mind to
come and knock on her door, this importance was validated. She’d done all these things, gotten
ready for the day, brushed her face with light powders and colors, still allowing her freckles to
show through. She’d gone without a shower and coffee, embalmed instead by the significance
Bo instilled in her with a knock and an invitation. Right before going outside, she’d taken one
last look in the mirror hanging on her door and thought about what it might be like to look at her,
like someone else to look at her, what they might think at first when she lets them make eye
contact. She thought they might think she was beautiful, maybe the most beautiful person they’d
ever seen. And that she had nice dimples and freckles.
The three looks: Bo to Rue, Rue to the sky, Sol, now, only to Bo.
That morning, Bo had woken up before the others and drank two cups of coffee. He
journaled, wrote about his dreams that night, and about how he wanted to be present today, give
his subconscious a break and turn off autopilot. He made a vow to himself, a little religion,
cusped between the palms of his hands, then placed it on his heart and stomach. He’d moved
around in a way that made him feel energy, like blood, flowing through his body in a way that
refreshed him and made him open and good and pure and full of love. Love concentrated under
his skin, like bruises, lasting and painful if beat down too many times. His thoughts had landed
on Rue. He thought if he thought about her heart and her stomach, she’d feel that too and they
would be connected. Connected in a way that Sol and Rue never could be, because Bo had the
spirit in him.
He, too, had looked in the mirror, tossed his brown hair about to land at careless, picked
at a pimple (yesterday he had decided acne was a part of him and he needed to accept that), studied his face, and pictured himself glowing with the spirit of the universe. He’d said to
himself, watching his lips: “We are all one. I am god. She is god.” He thought about the pictures
of Rue and him on her phone, if someone ever saw them when she was swiping through the
camera roll to find a certain shot. He’d taken a sip of coffee.
Rue’s body temperature fights against the sun. She’s freezing, just a bit quicker than the
rate that she is thawing. Her skin is slowly losing color, save the blush she powdered on earlier.
Her eyes, sprawled open at the sky, are drying.
Death, slowly, makes clay of her complexion, string of her hair, stones of her eyes, sticks
of her fingers, a slim cave of her slightly ajar lips.
Bo is trying to transfer his energy to her, screaming in his head, pleading that she feel his
energy coming through. He’s thinking, how can someone be so beautiful? His spirituality allows
it, this vanity, because the spirit too, loves beautiful things. This matters, he thinks. I feel her and
she feels me, he thinks.
Sol had woken up that morning dejected. He’d had that dream, well, memory, again
where Bo and Rue scootered by his house as he watched by the window. They hadn’t called for
him or stopped in front of his house to wait for him to finish getting ready. They were thirteen.
Watching them pass down the street drilled a cavity in Sol’s body. He was gut-punched and
floored, weighed down by Rue’s smile and Bo’s receiving of it. His world he so carefully put
together, where Rue fit into the larger part of his heart, was replaced by Bo’s knowing look, a
look he gave to Sol sometimes when Rue chose the seat next to him instead of Sol. The thing
with Rue though, is that she’d make sure to sit next to Sol next time, but by then it wouldn’t
matter, because Bo had already won and they both knew that.
He’d shaken the memory out, wrung it out with the sweat drenched on his pillow case
and got out of bed. He’d put his ear against the wall that divided his and Bo’s rooms to hear if Bo
had woken up yet, had started those chants and mantras about god and oneness and love and
whatever. Sol got dressed in the shirt he stole from Bo a year ago. It disappeared from his closet
as if it was never there at all. He wears it in front of Bo and feels a swarming tsunami in his
stomach if Rue smiles at him that day. He’s often found himself where he is now, staring at the
two of them, imagining what it’s like to be Bo, while stuck in his spot from a distance,
Rue’s body drapes on the lawn chair as if thrown. She deflates like a puppet without its
master. The lifelessness of her arms and legs make them look heavy but impossibly slim at the
Bo is on his phone, looking back at Sol every now and then who busies himself with
things in the house (dishes, sorting mail) in positions where he can still peep out of the window
at any time he likes. Bo quips a few things here and there, the type of rhetorical comments that
he tends to say just to say, like, “I can’t believe this shit. Jesus. People are insane. So entitled”
(when reading news posts online). Then, “I obviously don’t think ‘good energy’ and positivity
solves everything but I bet you these people don’t meditate. They don’t have an open heart like
you and me. You know, put good in, get good out. And it’s not like we’re some ‘holier than thou’
but we take steps to be better for those around us, you know?” He shakes his head, his loose hair
a beat behind his head’s disapproval. He looks at Rue’s body’s face and he thinks she hums or
maybe nods or shrugs or slightly smiles, on one side like she does sometimes. Her dimples
always make that smile look smart and special and specific, like only for me, Bo thinks. “What
the hell is Sol doing in there?” He mutters under his breath. “I’m gonna text him.”
“Just finished dishes,” Sol says after coming out. He picks up the wind-blown lawn chair
and sits across from Bo and Rue’s body. He wants to move the chair, be a little closer to one of
them or the other so it doesn’t look so much like Bo and Rue, and over there, yeah, that’s Sol.
But Bo’ll make a thing of it.
Even as it nears five o’clock the summer sun beats down on the pair and cripples Rue’s
body. Sol stares at the weeds surrounding Bo’s chair, looks under his own. Bo said he’d take care
of the lawn but never did.
A fly lands on the body’s nose.
Sol ponders the ramifications of spending so long in the house while the two of them
were out here. When he looks at Rue’s body, she seems the same. But he’s always looking for
something in her face that changes when she spends alone time with Bo. Sometimes in the
mornings, when he’s gone to bed early the night before, Bo has a look on. Sol tries to find the
same look in Rue and sometimes it’s there and Sol has to remind himself that he’s a human and
so are they and they are the same.
He contemplates a confrontation. He imagines beating the shit out of Bo until his face is
so misshapen he can’t make all of those looks anymore without looking as if he’s in searing pain
or very uncomfortable.
The body decays at each thought violently forced her way, a suction cup for vitality,
swapped between both men and sprung back upon them with her body’s refusal to absorb their
The body is still and cold. Stunted. Frozen in place in a most appealing expression for
people to admire a pretty face. The fingers could snap like carrots.
Bo relishes in feeling connected to Rue. He thanks the universe for seating Sol five feet
away. He thanks the wind for blowing over his lawn chair. He stares down Rue’s marble eyes
and embraces the energy surge created between them. Falls in love with the current of the spirit.
Feels lucky he is enlightened and so is she. Soaks in the feeling of life, the gift that it is. Asks the
universe to maybe extend its grace to Sol.
Sol imagines a dream tonight. In this dream, Sol too is wearing Bo’s shirt, and Bo’s
noticing it for the first time. Sol comes outside the door, leaves his post at the window and
scooters next to Rue in such a way, where if he really focuses on her eyes and face and body and
beauty, Bo sort of fades out of frame.
The two of them go on like this in silence, far away in their own fantasy and so close to
the object of their desire, thinking about the things that really matter. And when Bo and Sol look
at Rue for reassurance, they see her gentle smile and gesture. And they don’t need to ask her to
vocalize her validation or look closer to notice what was really just a god-given, delicately lain,
Taylor Shoda is currently studying English and Creative Writing at UCLA. Her other work, “When No One is Looking,” is featured in WALL Literary Magazine.