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Amber Paulen

Brittany #1111

As a prelude to this rather long piece—I am writing a book after all—please check out the previously posted Brittany #1. This Brittany was written today for The Body’s Long Madness, as usual:

“But where am I? What a strange time for formalities,” Valerie thinks to herself rather soddenly as she disembarks from her train.

Inside the smallish building that passes for a train station—in this state-of-mind and at this hour, the whole place feels like they have all been forgotten and tossed into some no-mans-land—are a mess of people. People who have fallen into a place willy-nilly, people sitting, people sleeping, old and young, babies crying loudly, mothers trying to calm them, old people feeding themselves sunflower seeds just to stay awake, people talking as if drugged, people snoring, a group of backpackers, like Valerie, sit passing a container of orange juice between each other and smoking cigarettes.

Into the first available space Valerie releases her backpack and then ensconces herself against it. She rolls a cigarette and takes wide sweeps around, still trying to find a clue: what is going on? There has been no announcement made, neither in French nor in Spanish, nothing. Even ruddy metal must need a pit-stop?

As Valerie swiftly sweeps above the heads of all the people she finds herself confronted by two rows of perfectly aligned teeth, framed by the perfect pink of glossed lips, dotted by the squinty eyes of someone who smiles too much. Valerie falters, hoping desperately the smile is not directed at her. Out of the hole in that head topped by the perfectly set and dyed blond hair and the perfectly sweet round face comes, “Like we’re at the border. Like, I thought you might want to know. Like I was so confused and so I asked someone and he said, ‘Like, we’re at the border,’… You are American, aren’t you?”

Was it Valerie’s blank stares, Valerie’s desperation to backtrack out of the arising situation, that made the perfectly-pruned girl question her instinct of opening that over-friendly hole in amicable assistance in the absence of information? But this hesitance does not last for long. When Valerie nods a shameful, yes, I am American, the girl ‘like, freaks out.’ “Oh, my god!” she shrieks, shaking her two palms in the air. “Like, my god! You’re an American too! That is like the best thing! I can’t believe it! Wait until I tell my friends that I met an American in this place! I don’t know if I’m in France or if I’m in Spain! What’s your name? I’m Brittany!”

Lacking social graces for the Anglo-Saxon atrocity, Valerie visibly cringes. Then, her mind starts in a full-throttle scrambling for some kind of explanation: Why the fuck is this girl talking to me? Why does she think its OK for her to talk to me? Don’t those squinty eyes see me and my overly apparent unwillingness to entertain myself with her conversation? But the wheel has already been set in motion; Brittany talking is inevitable. Valerie may as well return blank stare for blank stare; she may as well sit back and enjoy the show.

What a show it is! Like a puncture to a helium balloon, Brittany’s witless babble takes off: “Like Valerie! Oh my god, like that is such a nice name! Like I have a sorority sister back in St. Louis with that same exact name and like, she is like, the sweetest thing. She makes chocolate chip cookies the second she knows someone is feeling sad. Like, isn’t that so sweet? But like, aren’t you just in love with Europe? I like love Europe! It’s like so old and so nice. I feel like I’m in the movies just being here, you know, those romantic ones where they kiss under the Eiffel Tower. Like, that’s where I’m going next, to Paris. Like, my older brother is studying abroad there. Like I’m so excited to go to Paris. My brother said I should go to Barcelona and so I did, but like, I just didn’t know what to do, but like I met some awesome people from Illinois at the hostel. They were like so much fun. But like I miss my sorority house and my sorority sisters so much. Like those girls are the best! But I think I miss most of all my double vanilla latte and I only left America four days ago!”

Brittany, Brittany, Brittany, poor poor Brittany. If it were only that voice, that United States girl voice, that high-pitched nasal grate, but it’s not. As Brittany talks and that horrendous voice chafes against Valerie’s relative calm, Brittany sums up the whole of ignorance as Valerie sees ignorance to be. Brittany makes feasts of her ignorance; it’s been in her baby’s bottle straight from the start and now she flaunts it with her high-pitched nasal grate. Valerie is aware that Brittany is completely unaware of the shameful human she makes. Many sleepy eyes around the snoring room have been roused and wakened and have laid their eyes on the pair. Valerie exhales large puffs of smoke between them in the hopes of obscuring her unwilling relation with this ridiculous excuse for a person.

“One more fine American product,” Valerie is saying to herself, “rolled off the assembly line of formal education. Devoid of any trace of original personality, any individuality, just another functioning cog for the consumerist machine. School to school to work work work so you can buy buy buy. Brittany will be lucky if she ever makes it out of her induced slumber enough to question, “What the fuck am I doing?“ Brittany will be lucky if someone commits the favor of smashing in her skull if that question never arises, and with a sibilant rush of outgoing air, the world will be much the lighter.”

“And like, what about you Valerie?” the inexhaustible hole is saying. “Like, what are you doing?”

And as that scraping voice retracts back into the hole from whence it asundered, Brittany looks at Valerie and for the first time, Brittany sees her. Brittany looks at Valerie’s backpack—not too big and not too small—she looks at Valerie’s tattered shoulder bag, the rolled cigarette pinched between her fingers, at the dusty shoes and the well-wore pants and the hair that has been quickly and messily tied back into a ball. And as Brittany looks at Valerie, Valerie pulls her lips back into a smile, matching fakeness for fakeness; for Valerie knows they are approaching a moment of truth.

“I’m travelling,” Valerie responds with her even calmness.

“Like, I know that! But like, for how long? When do you go back to America?”


And just like that Brittany finally shuts up.

Brittany does not understand. Her face, afore a permanent mask of excited vacuity, begins to take life, real life, as Valerie knows it to be: thought. The rusted over gears of Brittany’s mind machine begin their forgotten grind, churning slowly, ever so slowly, Brittany’s mind must first warm-up, being so unaccustomed as it is to real mental effort. Through the din of the rattling gears Brittany opens that pink hole of hers to speak. And in that second between action and words, Valerie finds herself half-expecting some stored-up thetic discourse to come pouring out, but instead, Brittany says this:

“Like, what are you trying to do? Find the meaning of life or something?”

Back Brittany’s gears go, winding back down in instant exhaustion from that brave output of independent thought; winding back down to the position where they will most likely remain, rusted over in time to come. Through this rattle of returning gears the very timely announcement of the train departing for Paris comes over the loudspeaker. Brittany stands, wavering slightly, a little dizzy from her industrious efforts. She clutches tight the handle of her gargantuan piece of luggage and wheels it, rather haughtily away. Neither Valerie nor Brittany take leave of the other compatriot, both probably thinking to themselves, “Good riddance!”

Valerie is left with the tinge of insult hurled for insult. That Valerie dares to strike out in ‘her own’ movement, in ‘her own’ way, obviously shook the stupid girl, causing her to think and to question. Brittany’s insult being that oft-repeated catch-phrase, which sticks in Valerie’s mind as a needle caught on a record’s thread, over and over Brittany’s whole blank physiognomy and that stupid question repeats over and over. What the fuck were you trying to say Brittany!? THE meaning of life? THE meaning of LIFE? THE MEANING OF LIFE? Haven’t you masses picked anything up yet? That there is more than one meaning to life? that life depends on you to bring it meaning, which can be more varied than Nature herself? that life is more important than the meaning and maybe the less meaning the better for then there is more living? Why THE meaning Brittany? But all I get is another one of Brittany’s vacuous stares. And where did you pick up that terrible catch-phrase anyway? On some reality TV show when some character decided to go off and go it alone? Is ‘the meaning of life’ the fuel of revolutionaries? Is it the serene look in old men’s eyes? Is ‘the meaning of life’ the belief behind those who follow their own rules in their own ways, Brittany? Yes, Brittany, yes yes yes, you’ve got it all right! That’s what all us thinking people do! We sit ourselves down with our books and pick axes and begin the hard labor of our search; looking for ‘the meaning of life’ like war mongers look for war and gold diggers dig for gold. What the fuck do you mean Brittany? THE MEANING OF LIFE?

Yes yes yes, that’s exactly what I’m doing Brittany! I’m looking for THE meaning to life. And do you know what I’m going to do with it once I find it Brittany? I’m going to use my giant’s forearm to hurl it across the Atlantic, setting the target to dear St. Louis and dear pretty Brittany, yourself. The meaning is going to fall like the sky would fall and it’s going to fall on your sorority house and all your sweet sorority sisters and smash up that useless brain of yours into two neat pieces. To the right will fall the pointless identity you’ve been insisting is your own and to left will fall your meaning, Brittany. The wrinkled pebble that fell off to the left will be picked up by an east blowing breeze and it’s going to come dancing across the Atlantic to wherever I have found myself to be. Do you know what I’m going to do with your meaning Brittany? I’m going to plant it and I’m going to water it and I’m going to watch it grow. And in this way I will prove to you that there is no such thing as a meaning, for life is wide and far between and what will sprout from that wrinkled rock will bear more fruit and more seeds. The meaning of life does not exist Brittany; there is only LIFE.

Bracciano Italia
June 2008


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