Just a Little Green
"I'm Little Green," she explained, in the ripe tone of Manhattan sophisticates. "Today I turned nine and a half and I'm your new neighbor."
"I'm Curtis," I admitted. "Happy half-birthday."
I wriggled from the straps of my gig bag to shake an earnest, outstretched hand-and for just a fraction of a second longer than might've been necessary, I held the wee of her palm, still soft to this world.
Little Green gave me an appraising squint. "Um, why are there calluses on your fingertips?" she wanted to know, like she'd caught me in a lie.
I strummed an air guitar.
"Oh," she went, slightly delighted, while we stood in the 'Nilla Wafer scent of her cardboard boxes. There were about a dozen of them blocking the dust-bunnied hall. I stepped over the largest and unlocked my Lilliputian studio, but as I was about to go inside, I felt Little Green looking into me.
"Were you named after that Joni Mitchell song?" I asked her over my shoulder.
"Yes," she said gravely. "It's about a girl who was given up for adoption, only I'm not adopted. It's my mom's favorite song."
I left my door ajar and fully faced my new acquaintance.
"So how much do you charge for guitar lessons?" she continued, sizing me up.
"For you?" I rubbed my chin (which badly needed shaving). "I'll do one for ten thousand dollars."
She rolled a set of voracious green eyes, looking far too large in her little blonde head. (I could see that the latter would catch up to the former as she began to break hearts.) "Come on, really," she insisted, all business.
"For the beautiful and talented Little Green? Make me blueberry pancakes someday and we'll call it a deal."
"All my mom can make is toast." She examined, then bit off, a cuticle. "Oh, and Cornish hens," she remembered, looking back up at me.
"Oh, they're tasty."
Little Green had on Diesel jeans, a tank top, and powder blue mules. She was gawky, nearly gorgeous-standing in that gangly limbo between girl and woman where they're still overwhelmed by their new, rude beauty.
And so wearing what someone (with whom I'll be overwhelming you and myself in just a minute) referred to as my uniform of black oil jeans and T-shirt, I asked my friend if she weren't married.
" she said, with totality, her nostrils flaring to tame what I hoped was a smile.
"Divorced then?" I said-and I immediately wished I hadn't.
She gazed down at a mule, which she then began revolving in front of her, ballerina style. "No, but my parents have been considering one since I was six." She crossed her extended foot over the vertical leg. "My dad says that's why I'm an only child."
"I am too," I said, over-eagerly. But then, in my coolest Cary Grant: "I guess we have them to thank for your lovely eyes."
She yawned, covering a dainty mouth only as it was closing. "Have you been to London, England? U.K.?"
I told her I'd studied there.
"We just got back. They call parakeets budgies
"I hope you brought along a warm jumper
," I said.
She gave me a shallow curtsy of a nod. "I get it." Then she looked at me carefully. "I write short stories, you know."
I told her that I'd actually just been thinking she was probably pretty gifted.
"I am. My dad says I'm extremely perceptive for my age. I have my own ascetic sense of abilities."
I asked her how she felt her writing was coming along.
"Comme ci, comme ça.
I told her I'd had a hunch it might've been.
"I've been in a bit of a writer's block, actually," she confided, inspecting her gnawed nails again. "Maybe you'd like to read a fairly recent rough draft of mine. I'd be kind of curious to get your take on it."
I told her I couldn't think of much else I'd rather do.
There was a pause. I thought I could see her eyes focusing on some far-off train of thought . . . and then, as it approached, ignoring it. "You have really thin lips, don't you?" she observed.
I cleared my throat and told her that I, personally, didn't really mind her saying so, but that someone with fewer tendencies to self-effacing might take offense to this kind of candor.
"I'm sorry," she mumbled, biting the corner of her own lower lip (which wasn't, for what it's worth, the least bit thin).
We stood there.
I looked at my wrist, where a watch would have been had I been a different kind of person.
"I'm sorry, Curtis," she said at last. "Really
"Well, don't be," I suggested.
"Okay." She extended her little hand to me again.
"Okay, then," I said, shaking it, and we exchanged one of those stares that only The Movies would have us believe aren't useless.
"Can I call you Clyde?" she asked me, suddenly bouncing on her toes.
"Only if I can call you Stanley," I bargained.
" her nostrils dilated. "That's our dentist's
"Then in that case I guess it'll just have to be Walter."
" she whined, but there was joy in her voice. "I bet you'll forget to," she reckoned.
"Why would you think that . . . Walter
At this, Little Green permitted me the first of what would be a long, bashful pageant of her beauty queen smiles. When it ended, she tilted her head . . .
"Are you lonely?"
I pretended to cough.
She shifted what slender weight she had from her left to right leg. Those emerald eyes were really sparkling at me. I sensed I wasn't going to get off so easy, what with having told her how unoffended I tended to get.
"Rather," I said, with a smile that felt more qualified than I'd wanted. "So, do you need help with those boxes?"
"Yes, actually. Thank you for offering." Reminded back to her task, my friend blew at her bangs. "And you should probably close your door," she suggested, tossing the bangs at it.
"Thanks," I said, closing it.
She swiped the glow from her brow with the back of an exquisite wrist, then hefted a box that dwarfed her, leaning back as she levered it into her empty apartment.
"Wow, you're really strong," I remarked, watching her waddle.
"I know," she sighed, dropping her box in the foyer before walking back to me. "Che Guevara Horowitz cried when I punched his arm in art. But he still wants to marry me."
"Who could blame him?"
Judging from her yuck mouth and trademark eye roll, Little Green could.
I slid my fingers under the bottom of a box-the largest-but stayed in my squat.
"And Che Guev always tries to kiss
me," she continued, watching me.
"Who wouldn't?" I quickly wrinkled my brows into what I hoped was my most un-child-molesterish expression.
"Sammy Manna Sonnenberg. That's who. He's the only really sensible boy in my class. He's very much my type. But I explained to him that he'll just have to wait until I'm a bit more mature. Both physically and emotionally."
I told her that as far as things in this world being worth the wait went, I thought the above was probably right up there at the top of the list. Then I, an assiduous procrastinator, at last lifted my box with an affected grunt I'd sometimes heard my father make . . .
. . . and followed my companion inside.
"Anywhere is fine," she said, leading me into the living room. She flicked a pointer finger at nothing in particular. I dropped the box at my feet, where there was a dim, sound-effecty crunch of glass.
"Don't worry," she said, sounding more unconcerned than I suspected she was. "It was probably already broken."
"Will you let me know and I'll pay for it?"
"Okay," she lied.
I nodded and glanced around. The apartment had that demon sense of people fleeing old lives; a hopeful vacuum. There would be secrets discovered here, I thought. Sins dismissed.
"My mom told me not to let anyone but the super in here, but you don't look mean." She looked at me as though she needed my suit size. "You're like a big kid, Curtis."
I smiled, feeling my cheeks stretch back in a way that they hadn't in weeks. It was as unqualified as they come.
your parents?" I asked her.
Little Green twisted her neck, which audibly popped. "My mom's with the movers. And my dad just bought this phat loft on Crosby. That's why we had to move. They're having a trial separation. It's just temporary." As she studied my face, her tongue darted once quick in and out of her mouth. She seemed to be auditioning something inside her. "Guess who lives in my father's new building, Curtis?"
. Just one guess."
"Wrong. Rupert Everett."
Fearing I'd now be thought irrevocably unhip, I admitted that I didn't have the foggiest.
"He's friends with Madonna."
"Oh," I said, shrewdly. "Oh. Okay." (Whatever that
"He just came out."
"You know, out.
" Two annoyed blinks.
"Of the closet
," she rolled the famous eyes again.
"And it was about time," I conceded, not exactly sure of the tone I was supposed to be taking in these graceless days. But from the unfinished look Little Green gave me, I took it that I hadn't offered quite the desired response. "That's too bad," I opted.
"No, no. It's really cool. He moved in with his boyfriend, Rialto. That's my friend Keanu's dad. Keanu's nice but a dork sometimes. He doesn't even know his times tables yet."
"Jesus," I scoffed, and "what about long division?"
"We're doing that next semester. But Harmony Downy's dad already taught her how," she grumbled. "Come on." She jerked her head in the direction of the kitchen, then led me there in a hopscotch formation that I suddenly remembered doing in another lifetime.
Little Green removed a takeout tin of hummus and pita from her otherwise empty fridge. She took what seemed to me an enormous bite for such a tiny mouth, then held the plate out to me, chewing, raising her eyebrows.
I refused out of reflex, I guess, and we didn't speak for a while. I listened to her chomping her food, which made me realize I was actually very, very hungry. And that I hadn't had anything but coffee and Mentos since I could remember. I looked at my friend intensely then. She looked so apart
. I wondered what the world would do about her. All at once I wanted to crush her to my chest.
Then the moment felt too posed, and I needed to deflect all the warmth advancing at me. I remember seeing myself as a foolish grin, suddenly discovering it has rotten teeth, if that makes any sense . . . there was just too much ugly in me now.
"Where are my manners? Would you like to sit down?" Little Green glanced around. "The only furniture that's unpacked is that, though." She walked back into the living room and collapsed into a corner chair of faded caramel leather. It fit her like a hug. "My dad made it for me when I was two." She looked up at me, nestled, her skinny arms flat on the rests. "All by himself. Do you like it, Curtis?"
I told her that it just might've been the most beautiful chair I'd ever seen. And I meant it.
"Would you like to sit in it?" she asked me, but this didn't exactly have the sound of a question. So I sat in it-or actually, wedged myself into it.
"Isn't it comfy?" she said.
I told her, in a constricted voice, that it certainly was.
"Should I bring you my most recent short story so you can read it in my chair?"
I nodded, trying, unsuccessfully, to cross my legs.
"Okay, cool," she said, then ran out of sight. I heard her rifling through boxes. "Don't move, okay, Curtis?" she yelled.
But I wasn't going anywhere. Not only because I was enjoying my new companion's company so much, but because I'd been up for over sixty hours, for a dim constellation of reasons I'll be rekindling in a minute. So I fell fast asleep . . . I'll never know for exactly how long. But when I awoke, I was watching Little Green walk, very cautiously, back into the room, holding only one piece of paper in her hand. Which, looking askance, she handed to me. "It's actually not a whole story yet. I've mainly been revising."
A single sentence, in bubbly script, had been scribbled, then crossed out, then shortened and expanded, for almost half the page.
Every body in my class. Everybody in my Every body in my class wishes they had
While I was still reading, Little Green snatched the piece of paper from me.
. . . a delirious silence fell between us.
She gave me the full green brunt of her eyes.
in my class," she said, "wishes they
had a gay dad, too."From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from A Thing (or Two) About Curtis and Camilla by Nick Fowler. Copyright © 2002 by Nick Fowler. Excerpted by permission of Vintage, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.