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Sharp objects, p.16

Sharp Objects, page 16

 

 


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  We pulled up outside one of Wind Gap’s great old Victorian mansions, completely renovated and repainted in ludicrous blues and pinks and greens that were supposed to be funky. Instead the place looked like the home of a mad ice-cream man. A boy with no shirt was throwing up in the bushes to the side of the house, two kids were wrestling in what was left of a flower garden, and a young couple was in full spider embrace on a child’s swing. Nolan was abandoned in the car, still running his fingers up and down that piping. The driver, Damon, locked him in “so no one fucks with him.” I found it a charming gesture.

  Thanks to the OxyContin, I was feeling quite game, and as we walked into the mansion, I caught myself looking for faces from my youth: boys in buzz cuts and letter jackets, girls with spiral perms and chunky gold earrings. The smell of Drakkar Noir and Georgio.

  All gone. The boys here were babies in loose skater shorts and sneakers, the girls in halters and mini skirts and belly rings, and they were all staring at me as if I might be a cop. No, but I fucked one this afternoon. I smiled and nodded. I am terribly chipper, I thought mindlessly.

  In the cavernous dining room, the table had been pushed to one side to make room for dancing and coolers. Amma bopped into the circle, grinded against a boy until the back of his neck turned red. She whispered into his ear, and with his nod, opened up a cooler and plucked out four beers, which she held against her wet bosom, pretending to have a hard time juggling them as she jiggled past an appreciative group of boys.

  The girls were less so. I could see the sniping zip through the party like a line of firecrackers. But the little blondes had two things going for them. First, they were with the local drug dealer, who was sure to swing some clout. Second, they were prettier than almost any other female there, which meant the boys would refuse to boot them. And this party was hosted by a boy, as I could tell by the photos on the living-room mantel, a dark-haired kid, blandly handsome, posing in cap and gown for his senior photo; nearby, a shot of his proud father and mother. I knew Mom: She was the older sister of one of my high-school friends. The idea that I was at her child’s party gave me my first wave of nerves.

  “Ohmigodohmigodohmigod.” A brunette with frogeyes and a T-shirt proudly blaring The Gap ran past us and grabbed a similarly amphibious-looking girl. “They came. They totally came.”

  “Shit,” replied her friend. “This is too good. Do we say hello?”

  “I think we wait and see what happens. If J.C. doesn’t want them here, then we got to stay out of it.”

  “Totally.”

  I knew before I saw him. Meredith Wheeler entered the living room, tugging John Keene behind. A few guys gave him nods, a few offered pats on the shoulder. Others pointedly turned their backs and closed their circles. Neither John nor Meredith noticed me, for which I was relieved. Meredith spotted a circle of skinny bow-legged girls, fellow cheerleaders, I assumed, standing at the door of the kitchen. She squealed and hopped over to them, stranding John in the living room. The girls were even chillier than the guys had been. “Hiiiii,” said one without smiling. “I thought you said you weren’t coming.”

  “I decided that was just stupid. Anyone with a brain knows John’s cool. We’re not going to be fucking outcasts just because of all this…crap.”

  “It’s not cool, Meredith. J.C. is not cool with this,” said a redhead who was either J.C.’s girlfriend or wanted to be.

  “I’ll talk to him,” Meredith whined. “Let me talk to him.”

  “I think you should just go.”

  “Did they really take John’s clothes?” asked a third tiny girl who had a maternal air about her. The one who ended up holding hair while her friends threw up.

  “Yes, but that’s to completely eliminate him. It’s not because he’s in trouble.”

  “Whatever,” said the redhead. I hated her.

  Meredith scanned the room for more friendly faces and spotted me, looked confused, spotted Kelsey, looked furious.

  Leaving John by the door, pretending to check his watch, tie his shoe, look nonchalant as the crowds kicked into full scandal buzz, she strode over to us.

  “What are you doing here?” Her eyes were full of tears, beads of sweat on her forehead. The question seemed to be addressed to neither of us. Maybe she was asking herself.

  “Damon brought us,” Amma chirped. She hopped twice on the tips of her feet. “I can’t believe you’re here. And I definitely can’t believe he’s showing his face.”

  “God, you’re such a little bitch. You know nothing, you fucking druggie fucker.” Meredith’s voice was quivering, like a top twirling toward the edge of a table.

  “Better than what you’re fucking,” Amma said. “Hiiii, murderer.” She waved at John, who seemed to notice her for the first time and suddenly looked like he’d been smacked.

  He was about to walk over when J.C. appeared from another room and took John aside. Two tall boys discussing death and house parties. The room tuned to a low whisper, watching. J.C. patted John on the back, in a way that aimed him directly for the door. John nodded to Meredith and headed out. She followed quickly, her head bowed, hands up to her face. Just before John made it to the door, some boy blurted in a high teasing voice, “Babykiller!” Nervous laughs and eye rolling. Meredith screeched once, wildly, turned around, teeth bared, yelled, “Fuck y’all” and slammed the door.

  The same boy mimicked it for the crowd, a coy, girlish Fuck y’all, jutting his hip out to one side. J.C. turned the music back up, a teenage girl’s synthesized pop voice teasing about blow jobs.

  I wanted to follow John and just put my arms around him. I’d never seen anyone look so lonesome, and Meredith seemed unlikely to be of solace. What would he do, back by himself in that empty carriage house? Before I could run after him, Amma grabbed my hand and pulled me upstairs to “The VIP Room,” where she and the blondes and two high-school boys with matching shaved heads rifled through J.C.’s mom’s closet, flinging her best clothes off the hangers to make a nest. They clambered on the bed in the circle of satin and furs, Amma pulling me next to her and producing a button of Ecstasy from her bra.

  “You ever played a game of Rolling Roulette?” she asked me. I shook my head. “You pass the X around from tongue to tongue, and the tongue it dissolves on last is the lucky winner. This is Damon’s best shit, though, so we’ll all roll a little.”

  “No thanks, I’m good,” I said. I’d almost agreed until I saw the alarmed look on the boys’ faces. I must have reminded them of their mothers.

  “Oh, come on, Camille, I won’t tell, for Chrissakes,” Amma whined, picking at a fingernail. “Do it with me. Sisters?”

  “Pleeease, Camille!” moaned Kylie and Kelsey. Jodes watched me silently.

  The OxyContin and the booze and the sex from earlier and the storm that still hung wet outside and my wrecked skin (icebox popping eagerly on one arm) and the stained thoughts of my mother. I don’t know which hit hardest but suddenly I was allowing Amma to kiss my cheek excitedly. I was nodding yes, and Kylie’s tongue hit one boy, who nervously passed the pill to Kelsey, who licked the second boy, his tongue big as a wolf’s, who slopped over Jodes, who wobbled her tongue hesitantly out to Amma—who lapped the pill up, and, tongue soft and little and hot, passed the X into my mouth, wrapping her arms around me and pushing the pill down hard on my tongue until I could feel it crumble in my mouth. It dissolved like cotton candy.

  “Drink lots of water,” she whispered to me, then giggled loudly at the circle, flinging herself back on a mink.

  “Fuck, Amma, the game hadn’t even started,” the wolf boy snapped, his cheeks flushed red.

  “Camille is my guest,” Amma said mock haughtily. “Plus, she could use a little sunshine. She’s had a pretty shitty life. We have a dead sister just like John Keene. She’s never dealt with it.” She announced it as if she were helping break the ice between cocktail party guests: David owns his own dry-goods store, James just returned from an assignment in France, and, oh, yes, Camille ha
s never gotten over her dead sister. Can I refresh anyone’s drink?

  “I’ve got to go,” I said, standing too abruptly, a red satin halter clinging to my backside. I had about fifteen minutes till I really started rolling, and this wasn’t where I wanted to be when it happened. Again, though, the problem: Richard, while a drinker, wasn’t likely to condone anything more serious, and I sure as hell didn’t want to sit in my steamy bedroom, alone and high, listening for my mother.

  “Come with me,” Amma offered. She slipped a hand into her overpadded bra and pulled a pill from its lining, popping it in her mouth and smiling huge and cruel at the rest of the kids, who looked hopeful but daunted. None for them.

  “We’ll go swimming, Mille, it’ll feel so outrageous when we start rolling,” she grinned, flashing perfect square white teeth. I had no fight left—it seemed easier to go along. We were down the stairs, into the kitchen (peach-faced young boys assessing us with confusion—one a shade too young, one definitely too old). We were grabbing bottled water from the icebox (that word suddenly panting again on my skin, like a puppy spotting a bigger dog), which was jammed with juices and casseroles, fresh fruit and white bread, and I was suddenly touched by this innocent, healthy family refrigerator, so oblivious to the debauchery occurring elsewhere in the house.

  “Let’s go, I’m so excited to swim,” Amma declared wildly, pulling at my arm like a child. Which she was. I am doing drugs with my thirteen-year-old sister, I whispered to myself. But a good ten minutes had passed, and the idea brought only a flutter of happiness. She was a fun girl, my little sister, the most popular girl in Wind Gap, and she wanted to hang out with me. She loves me like Marian did. I smiled. The X had released its first wave of chemical optimism, I could feel it float up inside me like a big test balloon and splatter on the roof of my mouth, spraying good cheer. I could almost taste it, like a fizzy pink jelly.

  Kelsey and Kylie began following us to the door, and Amma swung around laughing. “I don’t want you guys to come,” she cackled. “You guys get to stay here. Help Jodes get laid, she needs a good fuck.”

  Kelsey scowled back at Jodes, who hung nervously on the stairs. Kylie looked at Amma’s arm around my waist. They glanced at each other. Kelsey snuggled into Amma, put her head on her shoulder.

  “We don’t want to stay here, we want to come with you,” she whined. “Please.”

  Amma shrugged her away, smiled at her like she was a dumb pony.

  “Just be a sweetie and fuck off, okay?” Amma said. “I’m so tired of all of you. You’re such bores.”

  Kelsey hung back, confused, her arms still half outstretched. Kylie shrugged at her and danced back into the crowd, grabbing a beer from an older boy’s hands and licking her lips at him—looking back over to see if Amma was watching. She wasn’t.

  Instead, Amma was steering me out the door like an attentive date, down the stairs and onto the sidewalk, where tiny yellow oxalis weeds spurted from the cracks.

  I pointed. “Beautiful.”

  Amma pointed at me and nodded. “I love yellow when I’m high. You feeling something?” I nodded back, her face flicking on and off as we walked past streetlamps, swimming forgotten, on autopilot in the direction of Adora’s. I could feel the night hanging on me like a soft, damp bedgown and I had a flash of the Illinois hospital, me waking up wet with sweat, a desperate whistle in my ear. My roommate, the cheerleader, on the floor purple and twitching, the bottle of Windex next to her. A comedic squeaking sound. Postmortem gas. A burst of shocked laughter from me, here now, in Wind Gap, echoing the one I’d loosed in that miserable room in the pale yellow morning.

  Amma put her hand in mine. “What do you think of…Adora?”

  I felt my high wobble, then regain its spin.

  “I think she’s a very unhappy woman,” I said. “And troubled.”

  “I hear her calling out names when she takes her naps: Joya, Marian…you.”

  “Glad I don’t have to hear that,” I said, patting Amma’s hand. “But I’m sorry you do.”

  “She likes to take care of me.”

  “Great.”

  “It’s weird,” Amma said. “After she takes care of me, I like to have sex.”

  She flipped up her skirt from behind, flashed me a hot pink thong.

  “I don’t think you should let boys do things to you, Amma. Because that’s what it is. It’s not reciprocal at your age.”

  “Sometimes if you let people do things to you, you’re really doing it to them,” Amma said, pulling another Blow Pop from her pocket. Cherry. “Know what I mean? If someone wants to do fucked-up things to you, and you let them, you’re making them more fucked up. Then you have the control. As long as you don’t go crazy.”

  “Amma, I just…” But she was already burbling ahead.

  “I like our house,” Amma interrupted. “I like her room. The floor is famous. I saw it in a magazine one time. They called it ‘The Ivory Toast: Southern Living from a Bygone Time.’ Because now of course you can’t get ivory. Too bad. Really too bad.”

  She stuck the sucker in her mouth and snatched a firefly from the air, held it between two fingers and ripped out its back end. Wiped the light around her finger to make a glowing ring. She dropped the dying bug into the grass and admired her hand.

  “Did girls like you growing up?” she asked. “Because they’re definitely not nice to me.”

  I tried to reconcile the idea of Amma, brash, bossy, sometimes scary (stepping on my heels at the park—what kind of thirteen-year-old taunts adults like that?) with a girl to whom anyone was openly rude. She saw my look and read my thoughts.

  “I don’t mean not nice to me, actually. They do whatever I tell them. But they don’t like me. The second I fuck up, the second I do something uncool, they’ll be the first to gang up against me. Sometimes I sit in my room before bed and I write down every single thing I did and said that day. Then I grade it, A for a perfect move, F for I should kill myself I’m such a loser.”

  When I was in high school, I kept a log of every outfit I wore each day. No repeating until a month went by.

  “Like tonight, Dave Rard, who’s a very hot junior, told me he didn’t know if he could wait a year, you know, to get with me, like until I was in high school? And I said, ‘So don’t.’ And walked away, and all the guys were like, ‘Awwwww.’ So that’s an A. But yesterday, I tripped on Main Street in front of the girls and they laughed. That’s an F. Maybe a D, because I was so mean to them the rest of the day Kelsey and Kylie both cried. And Jodes always cries so it’s not really a challenge.”

  “Safer to be feared than loved,” I said.

  “Machiavelli,” she crowed, and skipped ahead laughing—whether in a mocking gesture of her age or genuine youthful energy, I couldn’t tell.

  “How do you know that?” I was impressed, and liking her more every minute. A smart, fucked-up little girl. Sounded familiar.

  “I know tons of things I shouldn’t know,” she said, and I began skipping alongside her. The X had me wired, and while I was aware that under sober circumstances I wouldn’t be doing it, I was too happy to care. My muscles were singing.

  “I’m actually smarter than most of my teachers. I took an IQ test. I’m supposed to be in tenth grade, but Adora thinks I need to be with kids my age. Whatever. I’m going away for high school. To New England.”

  She said it with the slight wonder of someone who knew the region only through photos, of a girl harboring Ivy League–sponsored images: New England’s where the smart people go. Not that I should judge, I’ve never been there either.

  “I’ve got to get out of here,” Amma said with the exhausted affectation of a pampered housewife. “I’m bored all the time. That’s why I act out. I know I can be a little…off.”

  “With the sex you mean?” I stopped, my heart making rumba thumps in my chest. The air smelled of irises, and I could feel the scent float into my nose, my lungs, my blood. My veins would smell of purple.

  “Just, you k
now, lashing out. You know. I know you know.” She took my hand and offered me a pure, sweet smile, petting my palm, which might have felt better than any touch I’d ever experienced. On my left calf freak sighed suddenly.

  “How do you lash out?” We were near my mother’s house now, and my high was in full bloom. My hair swished on my shoulders like warm water and I swayed side to side to no particular music. A snail shell lay on the edge of the sidewalk and my eyes looped into its curlicue.

  “You know. You know how sometimes you need to hurt.”

  She said it as if she were selling a new hair product.

  “There are better ways to deal with boredom and claustrophobia than to hurt,” I said. “You’re a smart girl, you know that.”

  I realized her fingers were inside the cuffs of my shirt, touching the ridges of my scars. I didn’t stop her.

  “Do you cut, Amma?”

  “I hurt,” she squealed, and twirled out onto the street, spinning flamboyantly, her head back, her arms outstretched like a swan. “I love it!” she screamed. The echo ran down the street, where my mother’s house stood watch on the corner.

  Amma spun until she clattered to the pavement, one of her silver bangle bracelets dislodging and rolling down the street drunkenly.

  I wanted to talk to her about this, be the grown-up, but the X swooped me up again, and instead I grabbed her from the street (laughing, her elbow split open and bleeding) and we swung each other in circles on the way to our mother’s house. Her face was split in two with her smile, her teeth wet and long, and I realized how entrancing they might be to a killer. Square blocks of shiny bone, the front ones like mosaic tiles you might press into a table.

  “I’m so happy with you,” Amma laughed, her breath hot and sweetly boozy in my face. “You’re like my soul mate.”

  “You’re like my sister,” I said. Blasphemy? Didn’t care.

  “I love you,” Amma screamed.

  We were spinning so fast my cheeks were flapping, tickling me. I was laughing like a kid. I have never been happier than right now, I thought. The streetlight was almost rosy, and Amma’s long hair was feathering my shoulders, her high cheekbones jutted out like scoops of butter in her tanned skin. I reached out to touch one, releasing my hand from hers, and the unlinking of our circle caused us to spin wildly to the ground.

  I felt my ankle bone crack against the curb—pop!—blood exploding, splattering up my leg. Red bubbles began sprouting onto Amma’s chest from her own skid across the pavement. She looked down, looked at me, all glowing blue husky eyes, ran her fingers across the bloody web on her chest and shrieked once, long, then lay her head on my lap laughing.

  She swiped a finger across her chest, balancing a flat button of blood on her fingertip, and before I could stop her, rubbed it on my lips. I could taste it, like honeyed tin. She looked up at me and stroked my face, and I let her.

  “I know you think Adora likes me better, but it’s not true,” she said. As if on cue, the porch light of our house, way atop the hill, switched on.

  “You want to sleep in my room?” Amma offered, a little quieter.

  I pictured us in her bed under her polka-dot covers, whispering secrets, falling asleep tangled with each other, and then I realized I was imagining me and Marian. She, escaped from her hospital bed, asleep next to me. The hot purring sounds she made as she curled into my belly. I’d have to sneak her back to her room before my mother woke in the morning. High drama in a quiet house, those five seconds, pulling her down the hallway, near my mother’s room, fearing the door might swing open right then, yet almost hoping. She’s not sick, Momma. It’s what I planned on yelling if we were ever caught. It’s okay she’s out of bed because she’s not really sick. I’d forgotten how desperately, positively I believed it.

  Thanks to the drugs, however, these were only happy recollections now, flipping past my brain like pages of a child’s storybook. Marian took on a bunnylike aura in these memories, a little cottontail dressed as my sister. I was almost feeling her fur when I roused myself to discover Amma’s hair brushing up and down my leg.

  “So, wanna?” she asked.

  “Not tonight, Amma. I’m dead tired and I want to sleep in my own bed.” It was true. The drug was fast and hard and then gone. I felt ten minutes from sober, and I didn’t want Amma around when I hit ground.

  “Can I sleep over with you then?” She stood in the streetlight, her jean skirt hanging from her tiny hip bones, her halter askew and ripped. A smear of blood near her lips. Hopeful.

  “Naw. Let’s just sleep separate. We’ll hang out tomorrow.”

  She said nothing, just turned and ran as fast as she could toward the house, her feet kicking up behind her like a cartoon colt’s.

  “Amma!” I called after. “Wait, you can stay with me, okay?” I began running after her. Watching her through the drugs and the dark was like trying to track someone while looking backward in a mirror. I failed to realize her bouncing silhouette had turned around, and that she was in fact running to me. At me. She smacked into me headlong, her forehead clanging into my jaw, and we fell again, this time on the sidewalk. My head made a sharp cracking noise as it hit the pavement, my lower teeth lit up in pain. I lay for a second on the ground, Amma’s hair folded in my fist, a firefly overhead throbbing in time to my blood. Then Amma began cackling, grabbing her forehead and nudging the spot that was already a dark blue, like the outline of a plum.

  “Shit. I think you dented my face.”

  “I think you dented the back of my head,” I whispered. I sat up and felt woozy. A blurt of blood that had been stanched by the sidewalk now seeped down my neck. “Christ, Amma. You’re too rough.”

  “I thought you liked it rough.” She reached a hand and pulled me up, the blood in my head sloshing from back to front. Then she took a tiny gold ring with a pale green peridot from her middle finger and put it on my pinky finger. “Here. I want you to have this.”

  I shook my head. “Whoever gave that to you would want you to keep it.”

  “Adora sorta did. She doesn’t care, trust me. She was going to give it to Ann but…well, Ann’s gone now, so it was just sitting there. It’s ugly, right? I used to pretend that she gave it to me. Which is unlikely since she hates me.”

  “She doesn’t hate you.” We began walking toward home, the porch light glaring from the top of the hill.

  “She doesn’t like you,” Amma ventured.

  “No, she doesn’t.”

  “Well, she doesn’t like me either. Just in a different way.” We climbed the
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