When Your Step 3 Dumps You 4 Days Before Junior Prom
You could go with Joe Padusca instead. You know he likes you, from the way he tracks you with his pushpin eyes. Go despite finding him repellent. He plays football, other girls think he’s hot, but his cystic acne makes him look like a gourd.
At junior prom, you could dance until your arms feel loose in their sockets. Shake your hair the way strippers do on YouTube videos, make Robert see how much fun you are having. After, you could let Joe fuck you in the back seat of his car that has dog hair everywhere. Think, Take that, while you are taking that.
Or, you could stay home and make vermicelli with squid ink sauce with your mom. Don’t give a shit when the squid ink leaves black streaks, like mascara tears, on the purple taffeta dress you bought last month. High school is a coral reef; you are an azure fish. The cloud of squid ink could blind you, clog your gills, make it impossible for you to breathe or see. But things don’t have to go that way. You can flick your way out of this.
Because you know about these ink clouds. You had a plan for junior prom: slow-dance with Robert to “Perfect” by Ed Sheeran, then go to the after party at Trent Nesbick’s house. This time when Robert asks, let him. Make love in Trent’s sister Corrine’s bed with the plaid cover. And in doing so, rewrite what happened the summer before ninth grade, when you were babysitting six-year-old Sadie DiPresso and had that thing with her father. You never told anyone about Mr. D, not even Ellie, not even the therapist your mom made you see, when you got so thin your hair fell out in seaweed strands.
And because you could never tell even Ellie or Dr. Mossbacher about Mr. D, you couldn’t explain why you were losing weight: that you were shedding having a body altogether. You were trying to become liquid or vapor, no longer solid. To etherealize.
So junior prom, the way it was intended to go, was the final incantation in a protracted, three-year series of spells. It would make you yourself again: a pretty girl who smells like apricots.
But Robert dumped you before you could explain you were ready, and Steph told you he was going to prom with Viveka, she of the vinyl-black hair. You recognize the ink cloud this could turn into, because you’ve been here before, blind and gasping. But instead, you can be that fast, blue fish, with fins pleated like coffee filters. You can swim away.
Imagine life is one of those choose-your-own adventure books. If you ask Joe Padusca to the prom, you know how that trajectory will go; picture the back seat of his car, the dog hair, his tuberous face, his Altoids breath; feel the weight of him. You know how soon you will want to unzip yourself from your body and float.
So choose a different adventure.
Call Ellie, your best friend since you were four. Ask her to sit out prom. She’s supposed to go with Dale Gobanski, but when she hears the scratch in your voice, she tells him she has a fever. Together make popcorn with too much butter. When you see your shiny fingers, picture Robert’s, after his were inside you. Force the image out. Ellie tells you she’s pansexual. Say, “Does that mean you have sex with pans?” Be ridiculous; make plans for your boyfriend the colander, your boyfriend the saucepot. Ask Ellie, “Do you remember when we were kids, and we tied sweatshirts around our heads, and pretended we had long, flowing hair?” She says, “We’re still kids, more or less.”
Kim Magowan lives in San Francisco and teaches in the Department of Literatures and Languages at Mills College. Her short story collection Undoing won the 2017 Moon City Press Fiction Award and was published in March 2018. Her novel The Light Source is forthcoming from 7.13 Books in 2019. Her fiction has been published in Atticus Review, Bird’s Thumb, Cleaver, The Gettysburg Review, Hobart, New World Writing, Sixfold, and many other journals. She is Fiction Editor of Pithead Chapel.
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