The summer before high school Lindsey and Jenna stood together in front of the bathroom mirror, in the humidity of hot water running to cover their voices and the heat of straightening irons, the clay-like richness of make-up and cloying alcohol of drugstore body spray, cinnamon gum to cover the vodka and nicotine, clear strips Band-Aids to cover the razor lines, tissues spotted with shaky hand liquid eyeliner fuck ups and zit concealer and cheap lip gloss like strawberry super glue and blood and stray smeared dots of bile from the rim of the toilet bowl, Six Underground tinny and looping on extreme singular repeat from Jenna’s iPod forever plugged in to charge. Their shoulders were exposed in spaghetti strap tank tops and jewel colored bras from the broken racks of the strip mall discount clothing store, their shoulder were squared, collarbones out and hollow enough to collect liquid. All of these things they had been dabbling at, not yet committed, not yet married to it, until this moment. In the mirror they watched each other and breathed deep and the song looped back and restarted, and in the silence Jenna said, “Let’s be popular in high school.” Lindsey felt the gravity of it in her skin and her empty stomach, what it meant, what it would take to get there, what it was and what it wasn’t: not the good girl popularity but the other kind, the dark kind, the girls who smoked and who drank as much as the boys, who flocked to the bathroom by the gym where half of the fluorescents were always out to purge and rinse their stinging mouths and sit on the sinks talking shit, the girls who fucked unapologetically and wielded the reverse power of that back against everyone, the girls who walked the halls cruel and unsmiling and untouchable. The girls who hated girls and hated boys and hated the world and fed on the control of that emotional isolation, spun it into a black and hungry self-satisfaction. “Like,” Jenna said, holding Lindsey’s eyes and they did not blink, “really fucking popular.”
Lindsey nodded. “Yeah,” she breathed, and it was sealed as solid as a pricked fingertip blood oath, the sacrifice of everything to a greater cause, like emotional suicide bombers chasing the religion of self.
Kill Me with It
Jamie lives to fuck. Even though it is wrong.
God has given this body but God condemns it. His hands slapped away from the fly of his bathing suit at a church picnic. Belted until the skin on his leg came apart like wet paper after he was caught feverish and shuddering against the cement wall of the winter-cold sanctuary bathroom.
He hears the preacher with his mother through thin walls, God made it too strong, a flaw in the design, and their voices rising, diverging. It makes him sick and frantic so he slips out the window, goes to find his girl.
God made it too strong, kill me with it, he begs the girls he fucks, fierce hands clutching, kill me with wanting it.
Walking her block, hood up against the wind, smoking and picking at the skin around his fingernails. Shaking fingers shredded raw. It’s irresistible, the small bright hurt. Don’t let the preacher see. He sees the fidget, the twitch, the devil shifting around inside, he comes with the belt. Don’t think about that. Shreds of skin between his teeth, Jamie swallows himself and sucks down smoke and there she is streetlight sallow, hands in hoodie pockets, no coat. The girls who go with him are the kind who never have coats.
She sits on his bed cross-legged, hair hanging down like Mary Magdalene. On his laptop they watch camcorder footage of the preacher spitting panting screaming vitriol against fags/whores/liberals/foreigners. Jamie doesn’t believe it, but he wants to, wants the purity of that, the clear dividing lines of good and evil. Though he knows he will fall to the side of evil when the day comes. Everybody knows, it’s written all over him, the things his body wants. The way his disobedient brain will not attach to the Word the Body the Blood the Lamb. He knows.
Still he aches to be good. He leans close to the blue glass of the screen, video pixilated coarse as sand, the preacher’s face less and less human the closer you get, just shadow and white and the possession of his voice wracking his body like exorcism. Jamie’s skin is drowned colorless in the digital light. Take it in, yes: his mouth opens, he breathes the message like smoke from tinny speakers.
He turns to the girl, hungry and distraught for something. To prove himself in some way. To understand worship in some way. Turning The Word inside-out inside himself, self-serving. He will strip her like he strips all his girls, they know to fall passive as he peels them like oranges and spreads their bodies sacrificial across the altar of his parsonage bed. Then with his mouth he reinvents scripture. God made Eve with a pussy sweeter than a mango, he whispers against flesh, and life was forever fucked beyond repair.
The girl unzips her hoodie. She knows what comes next. Like Mary Magdalene, she is willing to lie down.
Chelsea Laine Wells has been published in PANK, Hobart, Collapsar, The Butter, Third Point Press, The Other Stories, and Heavy Feather, among others, and has work forthcoming from Paper Darts, Crack the Spine, and Black Candies. She is managing and fiction editor for Hypertext Magazine and founding editor of Hypernova Lit, a journal publishing the work of teenagers, as well as a high school librarian and creative writing teacher. Find out more about her at www.chelsealainewells.com and follow her on Twitter at @chelsea_l_w.
Photo by Emily Cox