Iggy and Aurore
Aurore and I became friends after my mother invited her up to our apartment one summer afternoon.
"Remember Aurore from Florence Avenue School?" my mother asks, always excited for new company. "She just moved down the block."
I remembered my former classmate as a tubby little girl, a third-grader with curly brown hair and a lilting, giggly voice. She had lived with her grandmother above the old lady's candy store. Her father was a drunk and her mother had disappeared when she was a baby.
Eight years later she's standing in my living room, in skin-tight fake designer jeans and a halter top, puffing away on a Merit Light.
"Aurore, I can't believe it. You look so different," I say.
And she does. She has slimmed down, but her heavy make-up, hair spray and cigarette stained teeth make her one tough looking 16-year-old.
"So do you," she says. It's true, now I'm the fat one. "Your mother says you don't go out enough. We should hang out."
My mother is shameless in her quest to get me out of our cramped apartment, where I'm content to read beauty magazines, sip Pepsi and munch on chips. But she thinks I should date more. Or date once.
I thought I'd lose my mind when my mother tried to set me up with one of the building supers. I walked into the kitchen to see Alberto, a married 35-year-old Brazilian having coffee with my mother.
"Diane, you know Alberto," she says, smiling, doing her best to appear reasonable. Alberto smiles too, flashes a gold tooth. "Well, what would you think of going out with him sometime."
"What, are you nuts?" I yelp, not caring if I'm insulting Alberto, whose smile is fading.
Word gets out fast that I'm hanging out with Aurore. Soon my phone is ringing. It's my friend Linda. Her family bailed out of Newark and moved down the shore the year before.
"Diane, is it true you're hanging out with that girl Aurore?" Her nasal voice rises to a near-shriek. "You know they call her 'Aurore the whore?' "
I wonder how she knows about Aurore. Is she psychic or something? No, her ex-boyfriend, Richie the pot dealer, couldn't wait to call her with the gossip. Debbie, who lives in the next town, calls soon after. She snaps her bubble gum. "Hey, my brother says he saw you on Irvington Avenue with 'Aurore the whore.' He couldn't believe it."
I've become the lone member of a C-list celebrity entourage.
Being friends with Aurore means getting to know lots of boys. The pizza parlor boy who she has a crush on, the bagger at Shop Rite, and all the neighborhood Bobbies, Joeys and Jimmys. Then there are the boys who are mad for her or just mad.
Iggy is 18, and ugly as sin. When he was 10 he was playing with Fourth of July fireworks and an M-80 blew up in his face. Even after repeated surgeries his face is still a mess. He's a little screwed up, a misfit made mean and angry from years of teasing. He dropped out of school and drives around in his dad's beat up stationwagon checking out the girls. He doesn't have a chance in hell of getting a girlfriend but Aurore has a soft spot for him. "Hey Iggy," she waves his car down. He stops at the corner and rolls down the window.
"Take us for a ride, sweetheart," she trills in her best little girl voice. She may be just 16, but Aurore can manipulate men with the combined prowess of a Southern Belle and a seasoned hooker. I don't want to get in his car. He looks scary and reeks of booze.
"I'm going down to Seaside, wanna come?" He's looking at Aurore, smiling off kilter, his scarred face making it look more like a grimace. He pointedly ignores me, and doesn't even look my way. He wants to be with Aurore. Alone.
"Maaaybeee," she purrs. "Get us some pizza first and we'll decide."
"What, she's not coming. Just you." Inside I bristle. I don't want to be a third wheel and he is a freak, but I could go for some pizza.
"Well, if she doesn't go, I'm not going," she says. Plus, no way does she want to be alone with him.
"OK, get in." He's being surly. "Your bodyguard can get in the back."
"Asshole," I mutter, but I don't think he hears me.
After pizza and Cokes at Joe's Pizzeria we head down the Parkway to the Jersey Shore. It's hot and humid, already dark. The radio's blaring Meatloaf and Tom Petty; the windows are open and it's noisy. Iggy's swigging back on a bottle of whisky, getting slightly drunker with every mile. Every now and then he passes the bottle to Aurore and she takes a swig and passes it back to me. I'm not drinking -- not this ride and not until I'm 18. It has nothing to do with the legal drinking age; I need to keep a clear head or I'm doomed. I'm not feeling good about this ride. I half want to tell him to stop the car and let me out, but I don't. I have no money and no way to get home. Plus, I'm with Aurore and she knows how to handle Iggy, I hope.
We get to Seaside Heights and the boardwalk is teeming with party-going Shore types. Women with big hair and dark tans, short shorts and tube tops. The guys are in muscle T-shirts and jeans with craggy, loud voices. Tough guys. There are lots of bars on the boardwalk; lots of concession stands with hot dogs, Turkish Taffy, frozen custard, and cotton candy. Loud rock music -- Springsteen, Kansas, the Cars -- is coming from the bars and the rides. The only thing natural is the slightly rotten sea smell -- algae and dead shellfish. Iggy makes a stop into one of the bars. He's 18 and can get in. Aurore and I wait on the boardwalk and get cotton candy. A half-hour later and still no Iggy. I start to feel uneasy. What if he doesn't come out and we're stuck here? Aurore laughs that he's probably inside doing a drug deal and we should just stroll around for a while. She's wearing short cut-offs and a tank top. Add a pair of 3-inch-heeled Candies and she gets a lot of male stares on the boardwalk. She winks at the cute single ones and tries to ignore the ones with their girlfriends in tow. But sometimes she can't help herself. "Ooh, look at him, he's foxy," she coos, as she passes a longhaired guy with big tattooed arms. He smiles at her. His girlfriend glares at us. We keep walking. My baggy jeans and big T-shirt guarantee that I won't get a second look from this crowd, but I'm secretly relieved to be invisible. Right now, I want to get away from Aurore and the middle-aged guy who has stopped to light her cigarette and tell her how cute she looks. Aurore's glowing. "Thanks, sweetie."
We see Iggy waiting in front of the bar. He's glowering, and smoking a cigarette. He's seen the guy chatting with us.
"Where've you been, I've been waiting out here for 10 minutes," he snaps. Aurore ignores that and asks if he did what he had to do at the bar.
"It didn't work out," he mutters. "Let's get out of here." Finally.
On the way to the car, he tries to slip his arm around her waist and she wriggles away. He opens the glovebox and pulls out a pint of cheap vodka, unscrews it and takes a long draw. This time he doesn't offer us any. Silence. He drives fast up the highway. It's nearly 2 and there are few cars. Aurore quietly asks him to slow down.
"Fuck you," he replies. More silence. More drinking. I'm in the back seat, tensed up, my stomach hurting. Iggy clenches the wheel and stares straight ahead. He begins to quietly sob and floors the gas. We're going 80, then 90. He turns to her. "You're a fucking bitch, Aurore. Why do you treat me like shit?!?" We start yelling at him to slow down, he's gonna get us killed.
"I don't care, I don't give a shit. What do I have to live for anyway? He's crying hard, barely watching the road and weaving in and out of the lanes. I'm breathing so hard I start to pant. Where are the cops? Why aren't we being stopped? Aurore's trying to calm him. "Please, Iggy, just slow down before the cops get us. Please. We're your friends. Please."
"I should kill both you bitches." He's muttering, talking to himself, deciding if he wants to crash the car into oncoming traffic and kill us all.
He turns to Aurore, his face tear-streaked, puffy with rage and defeat. "You always make me jealous and I just want you."
Minutes after Iggy slows to 60, a police car cruises past us in the opposite direction.
We ride in silence and when he finally pulls up in front of my building, I bolt out of the car, running all 12 flights upstairs. My mother bombards me with questions.
"Where were you? I was worried. It's nearly 3 a.m. I was about to call the police."
"Guess what?" I yell. "I took your advice and hung out and had a good time. Now are you happy?" My door slams and I secretly vow to never leave my room again.