High school senior Ashley St. Helens
has suddenly found herself living a fairy tale life....
Which is not as much fun as it sounds.
Until... the other shoe drops.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

The Vines of Doom


Another beloved feature of my room was an antique sewing machine, which had been a present to my mom from Dad before I was born. It ran on foot-power with a treadle, which I pumped quickly now to finish stitching up a burst seam on Sylvia’s dress. She showed up, next, in her girdle and pointy bra.

“Is my dress ready?”

“Yes, here it is.”

“Help me on with it, will you darling?” It was no easy task. I had to stifle a laugh when I noticed the iron-shaped burn-mark on her bottom. Oops! My bad.

“There.” I said. “Looks nice. Have a nice time.”

Sylvia’s tone was unctuous, just dripping with charm. “You too, dear. Have a lovely evening. Try and get the kitchen finished, will you? It looks clean, but I found dust on the top of the refrigerator.” Oh, for the love of pie. That really was a low blow. I’d worked hours on that kitchen this afternoon, digging the grunge out of the joints on the sink with a toothpick, even, making sure there was nothing, nothing at all that could be judged. But she won. She always won.

I sighed. “Yes, Sylvia.”

“Be a good girl, now.” She left, and a second later I heard the heavy front door slam. I settled in my bed, which was basically a mattress stacked on top of boxes of books, and started to read. But I had only read a sentence or two when the words in front of my eyes started to swim. Big drops of water plopped from my eyes onto the page.

I stormed down to the kitchen, the anger from my bitch session with Harry returning. One night. Why couldn’t they be nice to me for just one night? I wet a rag and swiped the cursed dust off the top of the refrigerator. Took thirty seconds. Big deal. On the way back up to my room, though, I wandered slowly through the empty house with the rag. I felt so alone. In my efforts to stem the comments and potential sabotage that would doubtless have come my way if I had showed any sign of initiative, my personal pendulum had swung from hope back to helplessness, and I had resigned myself to not going to prom. I would have to take the city bus or ride my bike in that amazing dress.

I found myself in Sylvia’s bathroom, staring at my limp hair, my baggy gray sweats in the toothpaste-spattered wall mirror. I smeared it around with my rag, thinking about getting the vinegar and water sprayer and some newspaper, and cleaning it properly, but… what was the use? Depression crept up from the soles of my feet, like evil, magic vines twining up to pull me down. I struggled with, and succumbed, to the terrible self-talk, automatically bending down to wipe up the water on the floor from her shower, adding my tears to it. I picked up the towels. I folded them neatly (in thirds; they really do look nicer that way), and hung them up again.

But, as I mentioned before, there were sparkles inside my head, and as I cleaned hair from the trap of the Jacuzzi Sylvia’d had installed, they shifted me to a new headspace....Instead of just wiping fingerprints off the brass knobs, I could open the spigot, fill the bath with bubbles, and give myself a treat.

Why not?

I pushed down the plug and opened the hot water tap, feeling possessed by the power of those two little words. I wiped around all of Sylvia’s bottles and potions, opening up each one until I found a smell I liked, coming from a cut glass bottle of green bubbles. But why stop there? As the bath filled, I washed my face with some sweet smelling almond foam, pulled open her makeup drawer, opened a lipstick, and drew on a bright coral mouth.

Then I caught my image in the mirror.

Oh my God. What was I thinking? I looked garish and horrible. I wiped the color off, buried the tissue deep in the trash so she would never suspect I was “intruding,” spat orange-red into the toilet two or three times, and flushed it. I stopped the running water, opened up the plug, and got myself the heck out of there.

As I lugged myself back up the stairs, the vines of doom came winding their way around my ankles again. I thought, maybe Debra was right. I don’t have a date. There was only one boy I liked, anyway, and everyone liked Jeff Prince. After fourth grade, girls and boys don’t talk to each other anymore unless they have to, and by the time we got to high school, well, I guess we’d both changed. I’d voted for him for Homecoming King. Everyone had, as far as I knew.

It would still be fun to go, if only to see him in his moment of glory. I closed the door behind me, glad to be back in my cozy room, and looked out the window at a sunset that was probably making him and all my other classmates feel pretty special and spectacular as they piled into limos with their dressed-up friends. I pulled out my journal and made some notes. My mom always encouraged me to write a little every day.

I wrote about Jeff. I was always proud of him, happy for him. He was a really good guy. In second grade, the music teacher had taught us this song: Ice cream soda, lemonade punch. Tell me, who is your honeybunch? We all had to clap along, on the quarter notes and eighth notes. Jeff had leaned over and whispered in my ear. “I’ll tell you who my honeybunch is: Ashley Stain Helens.” He had read my name!

I wondered, with my pen, if he still remembered this. If he remembered that I was sweet, and kind, really, in my heart, without all this drama that had taken hold of my life, sweet and kind and peaceful, and kind of fun, just like him.

I shook my head and started slashing at the page. Who was I trying to kid? If I went to prom, I’d probably get to stand in the back and watch him dance with one of The Girls. Yes, they had somehow been nominated, and Sylvia was confident one of them would win. I shuddered at the idea, feeling sorry for him. And then I sighed. I didn’t know what to do with this feeling, the feeling I wanted him. He was so adorable, but if I tried, maybe I could give him up… like I gave up everything else. There was no arguing with the fact that we were separated by pretty insurmountable obstacles. I closed my notebook, slipped it back between two stacks of books, and tried to start reading again.



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