Jenna held the necklace in her teeth as she whispered, “You call me the necklace eater, but I’m not really eating my necklace, only tasting it. Deeply. Repeatedly. Intensely. Chewing and sucking on the glass pendulum, slurping its silver chain into my mouth so I feel cold glass and metal churning inside my cheeks, warming beneath my tongue.”
She smiles, stops short, never swallowing. You guess the necklace gives comfort and pleasure, so she makes sure she doesn’t disappear it by taking it on a risky journey inside her where she doesn’t want it to go.
“I love the way you eat your necklace,” you whisper, staring. “I could watch you all day.”
She tells you it’s all she ever does, even on the toilet, chewing, sucking, slurping the necklace, worrying it around her cheek, probing it with her tongue, working it in and out and out and in, always careful not to drool or drip the chain from her lips—and yet she can’t allow you to watch much longer because what happens is between her and the necklace, and she doesn’t want a third party involved.
Jenna, lonely, waiting, uncertain, strokes an insect bite on her delicious arm. “Sorry, sorry,” she says, “I lost my necklace and was waiting and thought you might be here. This okay?”
She asks in a way that tells you, just by her pleasing intonation, it’s not okay to say it’s not okay, so please, please, don’t do that to Jenna, who needs a drink, even though she’s not drinking anymore, who needs to love you, even though you can’t love her back. All this, because she lost her necklace. That damned necklace.
But will you only let her love you like she loved the necklace, her eyes ask. Will you only let her love you, for a little while? She will not expect anything in return and you won’t have to do anything but let her, not really, because now that she has lost her necklace, letting her is the same as loving her because she can only give love—giving and giving and giving—but never receiving. It feels so good to her to give, but not so good to receive. You’re afraid to ask her why the necklace was so important or why she can’t just buy another one because this will only lead to other questions—like why you keep stumbling upon this Jenna in a world of Jennas and why you find it easier to receive without giving.
Because Jenna’s following you, again, you let her, but never to your home. If you go anywhere, it’s her place, where she orders pizza, paying for dinner with her credit card as you look at her house, noting all the things that need fixing as you eat the pizza slowly before walking upstairs to her bedroom.
You wonder why Jenna has a big house with so many rooms and lives alone with her cat. She’s beautiful, but doesn’t know it, and why would you tell her when her not knowing makes things better? And the cat! The cat is named Bracelet, the black cat with golden eyes. Bracelet hides in shadows, staring with caged hatred as something tells you the cat loves her more than anyone and knows her better. You try not to think of the loyalty, love, and devotion of animals to human caretakers when Jenna takes off her clothes as you sit on her bed, knowing Jenna is thinking you are loving her because this feels like love. And if it feels like love, it might be love because you both need it, and why not? There are needs and desires and there are Jennas in a world full of Jennas. But if Jenna is a necklace eater, then what are you?
Aimee Parkison is the author of Refrigerated Music for a Gleaming Woman (FC2/University of Alabama Press 2017), winner of the FC2 Catherine Doctorow Innovative Fiction Prize, The Petals of Your Eyes (Starcherone/Dzanc 2014), Woman with Dark Horses (Starcherone 2004) and The Innocent Party, (BOA Editions, Ltd., American Reader Series 2012). Parkison’s fiction has won numerous awards and fellowships, including a Christopher Isherwood Fellowship, the Kurt Vonnegut Prize from North American Review, the Starcherone Prize for Innovative Fiction, the Jack Dyer Prize from Crab Orchard Review, a North Carolina Arts Council Fellowship, a Writers at Work Fellowship, a Puffin Foundation Fellowship, and an American Antiquarian Society William Randolph Hearst Creative Artists Fellowship. Parkison is the director of the Creative Writing Program at Oklahoma State University, where she teaches fiction writing. More information about Aimee Parkison and her writing can be found at www.aimeeparkison.com