His eyes were heavy-lidded, as though they were swollen, healing from a slight. I avoided them carefully and how they followed the lines of my body beneath my over-sized sweater.
I bought it because my mother thought it was hideous, on one of those forced shopping trips that always seems to end in angry silence on the drive home and slammed doors. She said, “Ugh. Who in their right mind would buy that? Maybe her—” pointing with one fake manicured talon at an overweight redhead working the cash register. She reminded me of a vulture sometimes, my mother. I knew the girl. People called her Haggy-Maggie under their breath or just loud enough for her to look over at the familiar duo of syllables. It struck me then, how funny it would be to buy the lumpy thing. So, I did. Pulled it off the hanger and marched over to the till. My mother didn’t say a word. She just left the store. Waited by the car. It was easier sometimes, to hate her.
The next day Maggie smiled at me when I walked into History. Then she went back to covertly reading a novel behind her textbook. I only hesitated for a second.
“What are you reading?”
She tilted her textbook down so I could read the cover: The Bell Jar.
I don’t know how it happened but in a matter of weeks we were walking home together, turns out she only lived like three blocks down. We just ran in different crowds I guess, by which I mean, maybe not at all.
That’s how I found myself in her basement on Thursday night. Her father’s plaid shirts piled up on the washing machine and no idea how I’d got there. Basements, they really freak me the fuck out.
“So, are you going to do this or what?” He held the canister out to me.
It reeked. Wrapping my lips around the opening I inhaled as hard as I could and then sat back against the cold concrete wall as my throat began to tingle. I could hear him doing it again beside me, Maggie’s brother. Maggie’s brother. I couldn’t remember his name and when I opened my mouth to laugh I could feel the words rupture on my tongue and watched as they danced into the air before me. Purple, red, pink.
My face was on the floor before I realized he’d hit me. I let my cheek hold the ground, whispering secrets like Charlie Brown’s teacher. Giggling when I felt my insides tear and turn inside out. You have to shed your skin, that’s what my mother always said, at night, when she’d take a hot washcloth and exfoliate my face. “Cast it off!” She’d laugh, holding my jaw in her hand, until I was all angry and red.
“Don’t you want to be pretty?”
My eyes, rolling marbles kicked across the floor. Pooling and then bouncing up up up—there—to her face at the top of the stairs. Like it was waiting for me. All white holes, halo burning. The moon and the sun—and the sky, swollen, like right before it rains.