Becca padded down the stairs to the first floor landing. She could hear her mother making a power smoothie in the kitchen. The blender’s motor sounded like it was dying which was no surprise. Her mom was pretty vigilant about kale.
Becca slipped into the kitchen and made her way to the breakfast bar. She spotted a bunch of tops and tails on the counter. Today’s fountain of youth looked like beets, strawberries, wheat germ and spinach. Her mom drank some sort of concoction like it every day and then waited for the years to peel off her face like bark off a birch tree.
Becca perched up on a stool just as the blender came to a stop. Her mother briefly glanced her way as she noticed her come in then peered back under the blender lid to judge the consistency of her shake. “Rebecca! Welcome.”
Caroline smiled which was mother signal for ‘I’m not going to react’ which was EXACTLY why Becca called her Caroline.
“I wasn’t sure whether you’d run away or died in your room. But I guess I would have figured it out eventually. Right?”
Becca stared blankly at her mom then nabbed the Life and Leisure section of the paper to get the Sudoku.
“Rebecca, it was a joke!” Caroline unlocked the blender from its base and poured her garden vomit into a tall travelling mug. “I don’t know what’s happened to your sense of humour. You used to have one, remember?”
Becca flung the Life and Leisure section aside.
“What? What’s wrong, Becca?”
“You do it in pen and you screw it all up. And now I can’t do it.”
“The Sudoku. Why do you DO that all the time?”
“Because it’s my paper, Becca. So, is that what you’re wearing today?” Caroline licked her spoon. Soon, it would be time for her eyes to roll back into her head.
“Why are you always in blacks and greys? You know, there’s a whole world of colour out there, right? If colour is your message, what are you saying?”
Becca looked down at t-shirt and shrugged. “How about: ‘Everything sucks?’”
“Honestly,” Caroline said, “what do you have to be depressed about? You live in a fantastic home, you want for nothing. You have no responsibilities, no children to look after. No hours to keep, no bills to pay. This is the greatest time of your life.”
Her mom wasn’t listening. Becca ran her pen back and forth along the edge of a napkin. Next, Caroline was going to give her the old “Life is what you make it” crap.
Becca already knew life wasn’t what you made it. Life made YOU the first three weeks of high school when you were slotted with the popular kids, the freaks, the nerds, the slackers, the clowns, the goths, the Christians, the skaters or the gangtas. If you hadn’t been slotted into any group by the time the two week mark rolled around, then by default you were a loner which meant going around telling yourself were deep and mysterious while you were actually just eating your lunch in the bathroom which was indescribably pathetic.
“I mean it, Rebecca. If you showed a little more pride in the way you look, I think you’d start to really feel better about yourself. And who knows? Maybe you’d actually have the confidence to get out there and make some friends.”
“I know, mom. I KNOW.” Becca said louder and louder, trying to drown out Caroline’s voice. Caroline believed everyone should peddle their assets the way she peddled air time at the television station: with a hard sell. “Could you stop talking to me, please?”
“Don’t get snarky, Rebecca. It’s not attractive.” Caroline said, tossing another newspaper section aside, “I’m just saying this is your time to shine and I just wish you would. You’re a beautiful girl. You should be proud of that.”
“Why can’t I be proud of my grades?”
Caroline smiled brightly. “Funny bunny.” She buried her head back in the travel section of the paper.
“Can I have some coffee?”
“I can buy some at school, you know.”
“Jesus, Rebecca Okay! I get it: you want breakfast.”
Becca thought about how other parents in other houses made sure their kids ate before they went to school. She started drawing scallops along the edges of her napkin. “Can I have some cereal?”
Caroline half-slipped off her stool finishing her paragraph on salt flats in Tunisia and walked briskly into the kitchen, the sharp creases in her tight tangerine pants carving a flight path to the fridge. She returned with a tumbler of low fat milk and a half grapefruit.
Becca looked from the grapefruit back to her mom for an explanation.
”You’re getting a little muffin top,” Caroline explained, pulling on her perfectly pressed linen jacket.
Becca’s arms immediately dropped over her stomach. “God! Mo-om!” There were no body secrets in the Chalmer house. None. And Becca hated it.
“Don’t get upset, Becca. I’m just trying to help. Anyway, it’s better you hear it from me than some of the kids at school.” Caroline straightened the lacy bits of her bra so they just peeked out above her camisole. “Besides, you know you feel better about yourself when you’re ten pounds lighter but you never take the initiative.”
There wasn’t an ounce of fat on Caroline. Her mother’s body had been tanned, tweaked, stretched, exfoliated and conditioned. She was like a dedicated athlete at the top of her game, only there were no Olympics for this event. There probably was a zipper-bag of extra skin hidden away in the back of the freezer for Caroline’s golden years. Becca pushed her grapefruit away at the thought of it.
“You should probably take that nail polish off before you go to school.”
Becca looked down at her hands. She’d painted her nails with her mother’s powder blue polish Saturday night. “Why? What’s wrong with it? “
“It makes your hands look like a tranny’s,” Caroline answered.
“A whatchamacallit. A transgendered person…You’ve got your father’s short fingers. The blue polish makes your hands look short and stubby like a man’s.”
“How do you expect me to react, Mom? You just basically said I have man-hand.” Becca shot off her stool and crossed to the junk drawer. Why had she let her mother talk her into trying it on in the first place? Becca pulled open the drawer and rummaged. “Where’s the nail polish remover?”
“If there’s none there, I guess we’re out.”
“Oh great, mom. Nice one!”
“Becca. I’ll pick some up tonight. Stop freaking out. It’s not a big deal,.”
“What am I supposed to do in the meantime?”
“Jesus, I don’t know! Stick your hands in your pockets if you’re worried about it.” Caroline folded the classifieds and tucked them into her purse. “Okay. Are you ready?”
“Well – not now!” Becca jammed a finger in her mouth. She could immediately tell she’d never be able to bite the polish off.
Caroline wandered into the kitchen to pick up her tub of baby carrots and her car keys. “Rebecca, you’re making mountains out of molehills. No one will even notice.” She jangled her car keys. “Okay. Come on.”
“Wait! Just – please!” Becca picked up her black Sharpie and filled in her thumbnail. The power of a Sharpie was ominous. “Five minutes? Just five minutes.”
“No. I have a meeting. Just bring the marker with you in the car.”
“I won’t be able to put it on straight if the car is moving, Please, MOM!”
“No. I can’t hang around waiting for you. You’ll have to take the bus.” Caroline picked up her purse and her briefcase. “When you get home tonight, I left some salad and some boiled chicken in the fridge.”
“I thought you said we were going to do some hot yoga and then watch Dancing with the Stars.”
“I know what I said…” Caroline answered, having clearly forgotten.
They had talked about going to a street festival last Saturday but she’d forgotten that too and Becca had ended up staying in her room with her iPod on blast while her mom entertained a guy who set up the surround sound for free. “You never spend any time with me.”
Caroline hunted through her pockets and found the tube of lipstick that perfectly matched her linen suit. She ravenously bit off the tangerine colour, leaving the lipstick with an even more pronounced shark fin shape.
“You know what I say to that? Abandonment is a two-way street. I’m not the only one who cancels plans, am I Rebecca? We were supposed to go shopping together the week before last and I ended up going alone.”
Rebecca mind raced to the shopping trip in question. “I told you! I don’t want a bikini!“
“Tch. You’re ridiculous.”
Caroline was one of those people who got comfortable wherever she went. The family photo albums were filled with pictures of her in bikinis or shorts and halter tops with her arms wide open, draped around complete strangers’ shoulders, leaving no place for self-consciousness to hide. Caroline with her arms draped around Becca’s chem teacher. And her fencing teacher. And around several camp counsellors at Camp Ipiwachonga.
“I’m sure you can come up with all sorts of reasons for backing out, but you cancelled me, kiddo. You can keep your guilt trip.”
Rebecca felt weary, like she’d just put on a bikini and completely vanished. If she was going to vanish, she didn’t want it to be because she was standing next to her mom at the beach. Perhaps that was the point of suicide.
“Anyway,” Caroline continued, “you’re not a little girl anymore. You should be out, doing your own thing.”
“I don’t have my own thing.”
Caroline pushed out a long sigh as she brought out the tube of lipstick that perfectly matched her linen suit. She bit into the tangerine colour, leaving the lipstick with an even more pronounced shark fin shape.
“God. Okay, fine. I was going to go out with a few people after work. I’m going to go but I’ll have just one drink. Okay?” Becca nodded.
Caroline picked up her ionized water and her bag of baby carrots. “If it’s early when you get home, I want you to mow the lawn. Okay?”
“Uh huh.” Becca answered, turning her attention to Sharpie-ing her nails.
“Do you really think that’s better?” asked Caroline.
“Better than looking like a tranny? Uh – Yeah.”
And with a tangerine coloured air-kiss, Caroline was gone.
Becca blew on her Sharpied nails. They weren’t completely dry yet but she was starving. She slipped off her stool and wandered into the kitchen. There HAD to be something real she could eat. Becca flung open the cupboard door hoping for PopTarts. Instead, she found a package of Wasa Crispbreads. They were Caroline’s sin food which was not exactly a ringing endorsement because Caroline’s sin drink (any kind of hard liquor) sucked.
The Crispbreads on the box were vaguely bread colour and had the word “bread” in their name so Becca decided to give them a try. Besides, all the popular anorexic girls at school ate them.
Becca carefully popped the box open with the tips of her fingers to avoid smudging her nails and shook a few pieces out. They made a polite “clink” sound as they landed on the counter. She picked up a… technically she guessed, it was a slice… and sniffed it. It smelled slightly sweet so it might be okay but then again, so did red bean paste and THAT led nowhere good.
Becca cracked off a corner of a crisp and chewed. Then spit. Being thin and popular was so not worth it.
She noticed her fingernails had somehow gotten covered in specs of wasa dust. Becca tried blowing them off but the granules stayed put. She found a tissue and tried to gently wipe the brown dust away but wispy bits of tissue stayed stuck to her nails along with the brown dust. The day was just starting, her fingers smelled like beans and everything sucked ass. Everything.
She wished she had the guts to go through with her plan. Today would have been a perfect day to die.
Becca jammed her sketchbook into her satchel bag, trying not to care what happened to her nails but having to look. There was an impression of what was probably an oatmeal flake from a granola bar. Boned by grains again. Becca slammed the door on the way out.
There were dozens of people waiting for the bus. It might as well have been hundreds.
Becca couldn’t bear the thought of having to get on the bus with them all. Of having to breathe in another person’s noxious exhales. She bolted out of the line like it was a prison yard then forced herself not to run but to walk to the corner.
As she waited for the light to turn, wondering how long it would take her to walk to school, she noticed a middle aged guy in a frumpy suit sitting in an Impala, staring at her tits. Last year, she would have flipped him the bird. But she wanted something else, now.
Her heart pounding in her ears, she leaned into the man’s car. “Which way are you going?”
NEXT WEEK: Chapter 3 Role playing