*Fiction — April 2, 2017
Martha didn’t do herself any favors. Maybe that’s mean to say. True things are frequently mean to say. Martha frequently came into eighth grade French class, which was the only class Amber and Fiona truly loved, late. Amber and Fiona truly loved French class because of Madame Palomer, who everyone knew was a mail-order bride. Amber and Fiona had decided that this was extremely sexy and exotic. Madame Palomer would often look at the students, pull down the skin under her eye, and say mon oeil, to let them know that she knew that they were lying. They were often lying, of course. The pulling of the skin made Madame Palomer, pretty as she was, look something like a gargoyle—a gargoyle who knew that they knew that she knew that they were lying. Amber and Fiona very much enjoyed this dissonance. There was nothing more upsetting to Amber and Fiona than a pretty woman made suddenly ugly, and nothing more calming than her prettiness reassembled. It was a safe sort of thrill. They knew that things would turn out all right. Pretty people were better than normal people, Amber and Fiona knew.
But Martha, who was not pretty, at least according to Amber and Fiona (in truth she had her own kind of charm), would come into class late and then she’d sit there, eating a large brick of Swiss cheese out of a plastic baggie in the most unappealing manner, inserting her entire fist into her mouth with every bite. The fist always came out pink and slobbered and fetusy and Martha would regard it with interest instead of regarding Madame Palomer. Martha often wore a white knit sweater with a black phone made out of felt sewn onto it, and where the rotary might have been on the black felt phone there was a large wooden button. A button the size of a fist, but more dry, right there, on the shirt. Amber and Fiona were always pretending to call the phone, and then hanging up. Along with the phone sweater, Martha often wore corduroy shorts and white stockings and little black flats with bows on the toes, and over the course of the day the stockings would sink, so that the whiteness drained from her calves and gathered around her ankles, making her look as though she’d waded through a pool of milk.
Amber and Fiona cheated at French. For the weekly vocabulary quizzes, Amber would memorize the first half of the words and Fiona would memorize the second half of the words, and then they would share, their arms hooked around their papers so no one else could cheat along with them. Once, Madame Palomer caught them, but Fiona said, “Mais Madame, pensez-vous que nous,” and then trailed off because she still couldn’t form the subjunctive and didn’t know the verb for “to cheat,” because that one was on Amber’s half of the list, but it didn’t matter because Madame just sighed and pulled her eye-skin, mon oeil, and then sat back down at her desk. It was a charmed life Amber and Fiona lived. Charmed!
“I just wish that the world was a chocolate chip cookie,” Martha said once, during French class, but in English. She was wearing the phone sweater at the time, and the tights, and the back brace that she sometimes had to wear because of her slightly abnormal spinal curvature. (The back brace is really too much, I know, but it was there in French class, and so it is there now.) “Where everyone could have their own little place to live and to lick and be happy,” she finished.
“Jesus H. Christ,” said Fiona.
“That is unsanitary as hell,” said Amber.
Anyway, this is just to say that Amber and Fiona did not like Martha.
- This was too bad for them, because on Saturday, Fiona’s mother came into the garage, to the bottom of the stairs that led to the garage’s attic, and called up to Amber and Fiona that she had a surprise for them.
“Popsicles?” yelled Fiona. Her favorite flavor was red. Amber’s was purple. This worked out for them. Everyone knows you can’t be best friends with someone whose favorite popsicle flavor is the same as yours, unless you have the kind of popsicles that separate into two halves, and actually, even then, forget it. Who wants only half a popsicle?
Fiona’s mother climbed the stairs and popped her head up into the garage attic. “I’m going on a lunch date with a nice woman named Susan, and her daughter is in your class. She doesn’t have anyone to stay with her. So I told her to bring her along to play with you girls.”
“No,” said Fiona.
“Yes,” said her mother. “There’s an opening at Susan’s firm and she thinks she might be able to help me get the job, so be nice to her daughter.”
“No,” said Fiona.
“Yes,” said her mother. “And I don’t know why you girls play up here. It’s disgusting.”
“No,” said Fiona.
“She’ll be here in twenty minutes,” said her mother.
The attic of the garage was indeed a dingy place, but Amber and Fiona liked it because it felt like being in a pyramid, the way the walls started off at a low angle to the floor and met face to face in a point at the ceiling. Some previous owner of the garage had painted several huge black swastikas on each wall. The paint was so thick that each line of each swastika was marred by black drip marks, extending downward like tiny roots. Amber and Fiona had no real feelings about the swastikas, except that they made the attic appealingly creepy. Everyone knows that young girls love nothing better than appealing creep.
- You know where this is going: twenty minutes later, Martha appeared in the attic.
“Hi,” she said, shyly.
Fiona and Amber ran to the window to get a look at Martha’s mother. Her hair was very shiny, like her car. Fiona thought that probably Martha’s house was much bigger than hers, and much shinier, too. (She was right, but we try not to consider these things.) Amber thought Martha’s mother looked like her own mother, but not having a clear image of her own mother, who had been dead for a year, in her mind, she pretty much thought that about everyone.
“What are you guys playing?” Martha asked.
“We don’t play,” Fiona said. Fiona was the kind of girl who, whenever anyone was talking, was always thinking of the way to prove them wrong.
“Okay,” said Martha. “What are you doing?”
“We’re having tea,” Amber said. Amber was the kind of girl who lied uncontrollably, without thought to whether or not she’d be caught. For instance, there were no tea items of any kind in the attic: no teacups, no tea saucers, no tea, no teabags, no hot water, no lemon, no sugar, no spoons. Is there anything else one needs for tea? If so, they did not have it in the attic. Amber remembered distinctly, however, that tea was something her mother had liked.
“We’re talking about sex,” Fiona said. They hadn’t been, of course, but sex is never too far from anyone’s mind, Fiona knew, so it seemed good enough to say. “What do you have to say about that?”
“My mother says your gynie is your garden,” said Martha.
“Your what,” said Amber.
“Jesus H. Christ,” said Fiona.
“That’s disgusting as hell,” said Amber.
“Why don’t we play something,” said Fiona.
“Okay,” said Martha.
“Let’s play Goblins,” said Amber.
“How do you play Goblins?” said Martha.
“We’ll be the Goblins,” said Amber, “and you be the Girl.”
And then Amber and Fiona screwed up their faces and raised their arms and chased Martha down the stairs and out of the attic and into Fiona’s backyard and out onto the sidewalk, shouting, “Gynie! Gynie! Gynie!” like the horrid little Goblins they were.
- Martha ran and ran. Amber and Fiona chased and chased. As Martha ran down the sidewalk, she barely noticed that other neighborhood kids had begun to chase her, too. Neighborhood kids can’t help but chase someone who’s already running. It’s just in their nature. Neighborhood kids would chase cars, too, like the rangy little mutts they so essentially are, if only they could keep up. As Martha ran by, pursued by Amber and Fiona, the neighborhood kids put down their stickball bats and Bop-Its and hula hoops and plastic ponies and comic books and basketballs and footballs one by one and gave chase, so by the time Martha thought to look behind her to see if she had lost Fiona and Amber or if they were about to catch her and turn her from Girl into Goblin, or from Goblin into Girl, she didn’t know, she didn’t really understand the game, every kid in the neighborhood was panting and red-faced behind her. She couldn’t even see Fiona and Amber anymore.
Who she could see, running on the front lines: Steven Klein, the best football player on the eighth grade team, about to become a star when he moved over to the high school. A star! He could get out of that town one day. (But he won’t.) Little Georgie Park, who was only ten but fast and mean, with a mouth full of bubble gum that he would mash into the hair of his victims. He had balded three girls this way already. Kiki DeBottis, who used to be rich, like Amber. All three were grinning wickedly. Grinning like wicked goblins, all three. Martha’s little black flats hurt her feet. Her feet, in their tights, were completely white. Her corduroy shorts felt wet from sweat. She wasn’t wearing the phone sweater, though. At least she wasn’t wearing the phone sweater. Or the back brace.
Finally, Martha became so tired that she had to stop running. She slowed to a walk and the neighborhood kids slowed to a walk behind her. (If they had wanted to catch her outright, they would have done it already, of course.) They whooped and yelled and made smacking noises with their lips. Steven Klein ran up to pinch her butt, and the rest laughed, and Martha felt the force of it hit her like a wave. She ducked off the sidewalk and into an alley and quickly found herself trapped in a dead-end, her back to a faded Wonderbread sign, hanging there limp and impotent in its sad once-primary colors. Above the sign was one small window, the panes covered in dust. But someone had rubbed a small circle clean in the bottom right hand corner, and through that circle, Martha could see a defeated little flower in a dingy mug, straining towards what light there was in the world.
(And what would really be so bad about the world being a giant chocolate chip cookie? Doesn’t that suggest sweetness and happiness and food and love for everyone? Why is wanting that so embarrassing?)
The neighborhood kids gathered around Martha. She still couldn’t see Amber and Fiona. In truth, they weren’t there. Fiona was not a strong runner, and the pack had left her behind long ago. Amber was renowned for her athleticism, but she also loved Fiona, and so she had slowed to walk alongside her friend. Fiona, for her part, really liked purple popsicles best, but would never tell Amber. She would go to her grave swearing she liked the red.
The neighborhood kids pushed closer. They were mostly boys, Martha could see, they were mostly boys and big-looking, dirty all over. She felt an intense fear of their tongues, which she imagined fat and bloody, like sausages. She felt an intense fear of their hands. She was sure they would touch her on the stomach and pinch the round part of the inside of her thighs and rip her clothes and cover her with their faces and armpits and later cut her body into tiny pieces and scatter her across the neighborhood and her mother would never even know what had happened to her.
“Please,” she said.
The neighborhood kids said nothing. They just leered as only gangs of dirty, bored children can leer.
“Please,” she said again.
The neighborhood kids bared their teeth. Their teeth were yellow and fuzzy from gumballs, lack of brushing.
Amber and Fiona edged themselves into the crowd. Someone threw a Sprite bottle, and it hit the wall next to Martha’s head, but it was only plastic; it bounced. Fiona thought Martha had never looked more ugly, and she said so, and Amber nodded.
“Please,” Martha said. Then she unbuttoned her corduroy shorts and pulled them down. She put her thumbs under the frayed elastic of her white tights, by now nearly see-through at the top. She pulled those down, too. Just a little bit. She felt, for the first time, the sun on the raised scar that was nestled just above her pubic bone.
Everyone stared, including Amber and Fiona.
“Please,” she said. “I’ve been attacked before.” She really felt this was true. (What was true: There had been an operation. There had been pain. There had been a group of people standing around her. She had watched their mouths make little circles, like fish.)
- Now, this is the moment where Amber and Fiona should rescue Martha. This is where the mean girls should make good. Amber should kick Little Georgie Park in the shin, and Little Georgie Park should howl and slink off. Fiona should knock Kiki DeBottis’ bike right over, and duck her punch and growl at her, Kiki DeBottis being only a Girl and not truly a Goblin, until she slinks back to her empty house and cries. Amber and Fiona should then turn on Steven Klein, who should already be gone, because that kid was always a coward anyway.
“Git,” Fiona should say.
“See ya,” Amber should say.
“Thanks,” Martha should say. “I thought you hated me.”
And Fiona should say, “We do. Nous te detestons.”
And Amber should say, “But you’re our Girl to hate. Ours and no one else’s. Now pull up your shorts and keep running.”
And Martha should grin, and run, and beat them home, and then they should all sit around for hours, pretending to have tea.
Yes. That would make a nice story.
Originally published in No Tokens Issue No. 6. View full issue & more.