It is July 6th, or maybe August 11th, but all that matters is that it’s summer and it’s hot. My mom decides it is a perfect day for a party, and everyone is swimming in our pool, mixing in their sweat, piss, and alcohol with the chlorinated water.
The tube I slip over my head is huge and hangs loosely around my pre-pubescent body like a hoop skirt. I take a deep breath, and hold my nose. I jump in, and the water that splashes me is 30 proof alcohol. I fall through the hole, and sink to the bottom of the pool like the ninety pound weight I am.
It is quiet and it is slow. Everyone’s legs shimmer underwater, illuminated by ancient light that provides no warmth beneath the cool, rippling chlorinated water. Some are muscular and tan, but most are chubby and pale, thick with cellulite, and rippling fat created from unhealthy diets and overdrinking. These are the people my mom associates with.
Someone yanks on my arm, and pulls me up.
“Alex, are you okay?” my mother asks, concern or annoyance fogging her hazel eyes.
One thing you need to know about my mother is that she is a pagan idol. Her image was worshipped for thousands of years by indigenous people. Her dark hair is the reincarnation of the soil they tilled, and her blue eyes are the same color as the night sky they looked upon in awe and fear.
“I’m fine,” I say, spitting hot water from my mouth. “I fell through my tube.”
“You sure did,” she mumbles. “How about you get out of the pool? Right now it’s adult swim.”
We leave the pool together, and that is the last time she holds me. I gain several pounds, filling out with a little extra “baby fat”, in preparation for puberty. On the way to the back door, I see a sliver of a girl walk into our front yard. Her hair is the color of cooling lava, flowing in rivers down the sides of a volcano. Our eyes lock, and hers are incredible. I don’t notice the color, but I notice their size. They’re massive, containing more knowledge than I would ever be able to know, just in their onyx pupils.
When we go into the house, my mother wraps a towel around me, and walks briskly into the kitchen.
“Do you want some apple juice?” she asks me, opening the refrigerator door. She wants to go back to the party, or maybe to that guy. I saw her with him, and she was smiling. He was tall and when he talked, his eyebrows moved around like caterpillars.
She gives me a blue solo cup filled with apple juice, even though I never asked for it.
“Laurie’s kid, Sabrina, is in the front yard. Do you know her? Go play with her.”
She turns around before I can respond, slapping her way out the front door in her Victoria Secret flip flops.
On my way to the front door, I hit puberty. I sprout several proud hairs from my narrow chin, and my teeth grow into a crooked mess of metal wires and calcium. I stop pretending to be an astronaut, and start pretending to be hot shit, when in reality all I am is a typically awkward and anxious pre-teen with acne, and an emasculating fear of spiders.
Sabrina sits on the lawn where she braids her hair with anxious fingers. She looks marvelous, like a nymph that lives in the weeping willow tree that grows next to our mailbox.
“Hey,” I say. My voice is cracking, torn between staying a child and becoming a man.
She jumps slightly, and when she sees it’s me, she grins. Her teeth are perfect, even though they’re slightly yellow. They’re marble pillars that line the walls of an ancient Greek temple.
For a moment, it is quiet, awkward even. Two buds form beneath her tank top, and her waist ebbs inward, like sand dunes in a desert. She is magical, a northern european Aphrodite, with lilac skin and steady breaths, sitting criss-cross-applesauce on our dead lawn.
“Can I, like, sit down?” I ask, rubbing my elbow with my hand.
“Oh, yeah. This is your house, after all.”
I sit down next to her, and we gaze at the street. The asphalt is bubbling like water boiling in a pot, threatening to spill onto the stovetop. The air above it ripples, distorting the house across the street like a funhouse mirror. We don’t talk for a little while. I watch the sun crawl across the sky like a slug in a garden, and Sabrina watches me.
“It’s crazy how hot it is,” she says. Her eyes are cast downward at the grass. It’s dry, and crunches whenever we shift our bodies.
“Global warming, I guess,” I mumble. My voice is deeper since the last time I talked. It sounds heavier and fuller now, like rocks being dropped into a pond. My braces are now a long-term feature of my face, aligning my teeth like a guard at a prison. My facial hair has grown in a little more, and I now have thin peach fuzz spreading like mold across my face.
“Yeah. Anyone who doesn’t believe that is, like, not smart,” she agrees. “Or maybe a scientist. I don’t know.”
Sabrina has changed as well. Her shoulders are broader now, stretching beyond her hips, and her waist is now no longer a gentle ebb, but a strong and defiant curve, like an arch. Her body is thin, like a waning moon, and I can see where her ribs connect at the sternum. I feel like if I hold her hand, I would snap it off her body. Her hair is bleached, and her doe-like green eyes are adorned with thick, black eyeliner that makes them sparkle, like ancient gems that belong in a crown.
She grabs my hand in hers with a surprisingly strong grip, and looks into my eyes. Her nails are torn and ragged, and black paint clings to their centers. Her lips are a mosaic of red, ranging from the deep garnet of scabs, to the bright crimson of freshly chewed lips.
“Your beard is nice.”
I smile, and run a hand along the noticeable dark hair that now covers my weak jawline.
“Why, thank you very much. I worked very hard to get it.”
She laughs, and it sounds like the taste of honey. She brushes her hair behind her ear, and I glimpse purple scars along her wrist, at least three. They’re deep and puckered, like cracks in the icy tundra.
The sun has set, and the lights of the pool party shine brighter than the stars, leaving a sort of gray sheen to the otherwise dark sky. All that is visible is the Big Dipper and the moon. In the time that I sat next to her, I grew almost a foot, and now I can see the undyed roots of her platinum hair.
Sabrina shivers. I wrap my arm around her, and she rests her head against my shoulder. I rest my own against her head, and breathe in the scent of her hair. It smells like roses, even though her hair is green, the same color as Oscar the Grouch.
“Thank you for hanging out with me,” she says. “I was kind of lonely. It’s not fun being alone at parties.”
“No problem,” I reply, smiling with now straight and glowing teeth. “I enjoyed every minute of it.”
She picks her head up, and her makeup is gone. Her eyes, though heavily framed with purple bags, sparkle. Her hair is frizzy, damaged and overworked with bleach and dye, but it still manages to shine, framing her gaunt and ghostly face and jawline cut sharper than stone.
Sabrina leans her head in, and rests her forehead against mine. She is wearing a prom dress. It’s the color of Windex, and it hugs her body like cling-wrap. She’s like a model: tall, thin, and dying. It matches the tie that hands around my neck, and the aqua dress shirt beneath the black jacket. Her hair is curled, falling around her shoulders in a violet waterfall, manicured and shining like the front page of a magazine.
“Let’s go inside. I’m cold,” she whispers. Her breath is warm and smells like mints. I wrap my arm around her shoulder, and we make our way into the house.
Inside, I see the man my mom talked to at the party in the kitchen. His jaw is clenched, and his hair is grayer than I remember. He’s also shorter than I thought, around my height.
“What the hell are you doing? Do you know what time it is!” His voice is grating. God, it’s like thunder scratching against a chalkboard through a loudspeaker.
My mom walks out, and she looks so tired. Her hair is up, and that is the only thing that isn’t falling on her face. “Harry, he is eighteen years old. He can do whatever he wants.” She smiles at me. “Don’t worry, Alex. Is Sabrina staying over? It’s fine if she is, she’ll just have to sleep in the guest room.”
My mother turns away, and that’s when I notice her eye. It is purple, swollen slightly like a fat grape. The edges are yellow and black, like the sun rising beneath clouds on the morning of a storm.
“Mom, what happened to your eye?”
She says nothing. Her shoulders stiffen, and it is as if she really is a bronze idol, cold and solid.
The silence that fills the house is not deafening. It is absolute and dominating, the kind that ends a conversation much too personal and painful to be discussed.
“Yeah, don’t worry. She’ll sleep in the guest room.” I mumble, grabbing Sabrina’s hand and making our way down the hall. I push past my mother, who still stands unmoving, and refuse to make eye contact with the man from the party. I can barely stand hearing him breathe.
There are a plethora of family photos in this hall, all framed in gold and silver, hung up beneath spotlights like amazing pieces of art featuring our slightly obese family. We look at them as we walk to my room. I wonder what Sabrina thinks of them, and what they would think of her.
I open the door, and turn on my stereo. The tinny bass swells throughout the room, moving through the air like waves at the beach.
“Holy crap,” Sabrina mumbles. She sits on the ground, holding her arms in her hands. “Is your mom gonna be okay?”
“I don’t know.”
I turn the volume up on the stereo, until my chest vibrates along to the song, and my ears almost hurt. I sit down across from Sabrina, and hold her hands. They’re cold, and her thin skin is translucent. The moonlight filtering between the cracks in my curtains illuminate her veins, and they are blue like pool water. The scars that run along her arms flow like ink from a pen, deep purple like her hair.
“Alex,” Sabrina begins. She pulls her hand out of mine, resting it on her lap. “What we saw--”
“We saw nothing new.” I lean in quickly, and her lips are chapped and warm. She doesn’t cringe, and she doesn’t stop me. I unzip her dress, and it peels off of Sabrina like snakeskin. Beneath, her body is all smooth plains and sharp edges.
In the morning, I wake up and Sabrina is next to me. She’s facing me, and her eyes are closed.
Everything looks so much better in natural lighting, including the concaveness of Sabrina’s cheeks, and the mascara stains trailing down them. She looks almost angelic. Almost, if it weren’t for freckles across her face, or the width of her strong jaw, or her nose that was far too prominent to be delicate. She was something less than perfection, but nonetheless beautiful.
Sabrina opens her eyes, and they catch the light like fish in a net.
“Good morning,” she mumbles. Sleep clings to her voice like a child to their mother.
“Hey,” I say.
We don’t speak again for an hour, and listen to the quiet static of the stereo. The CD has run out of songs long ago, and now the only sound it creates is the gentle whirr of its spin. The sun that fell onto Sabrina’s face has long since moved on, travelling across the sky like salmon swimming upstream.
Sabrina sits up in bed, and runs a hand through her hair. It looks like the ocean, dark blue and rippling. It reaches down to her waist, and hides her ribs.
“I like your hair,” I say.
“Yeah?” Sabrina asks. “I was sort of getting tired of it. I think I liked it better when it was purple. Or maybe I’ll go back to my natural color. Remember when it was natural?”
Sabrina smiles, and this time her teeth are white.