Jenny Zhang

Even though Jason was the second shortest boy I knew, and his nickname was Shrimpy boy or sometimes Shrimpson, I knew immediately that I wanted Jason to be my boyfriend, and it was the easiest thing in the world to do, all it took on my part was nothing, because I lived, breathed, and exuded mind-boggling, head-spinning, neck-craning, heart-pounding, ravishing beauty. I was the best looking girl in fourth grade. I had straight, long black hair that never tangled. In the mornings before our teacher Mrs. Silver yelled at us to sit down at our assigned desks, the girls, who were taller and already developing tits and asses, coo-ed and ahh-ed at me, and ran their fingers through my hair and told me they wished they could be me, they wished they could have my hair, have slender arms and legs like me, and sometimes, out of sympathy, I told them that I wouldn't mind knowing what it's like to have tangly, messy hair, and sort of thick arms and legs.
      I wore clothes that my mother bought for me from sample sales for grown adult women who rummaged through the one and five dollar bins to find designer clothing for less, and my sweet, resourceful mother spent hours sewing and hemming until the dresses and skirts were my size, and that was how I was not only naturally the most gifted in the realm of physical beauty but also why I became the most well dressed fourth grader in all of history. I never played tag unless it was to give the boys in my school a good look at my rump whenever my skirt flew up which always happened when I ran because, according to my classmates, I ran like a 'demented psycho,' with my butt all stuck out in the air and my hands flying everywhere.
      I ran all the time and had to tell boys to stop chasing me because during recess, everyone who was anyone played the game of Boys Chasing Girls, which was a game where boys chased girls, and the rules were simple: a boy who liked you had to chase and insult you, and then you had to insult him back, and if the boy really, really liked you and wasn't afraid to show it, then he would do something really outrageous like spit on a spot that you were going to sit on and say, “You should really sit there,” and if you did, he would explode in laughter and say, “I can't believe you sat there,” and when that happened, you essentially won the game because that was the most real indication there was that he wanted your ass and you were going to give it to him.
      By February of fourth grade, Jason was my boyfriend. He asked me to go on a date with him by pushing me during a game of Boys Chasing Girls and I said to him, “You can't push me around.”
      And he said, “Well, I just did.”
      And then I said, “Hey, what's that on your shirt?”
      He was supposed to look down, and then I was supposed to slap him from his chin up to his nose, but he didn't fall for it so I had to say, “Um, I just told you there's something weird on your shirt, don't you want to look at it?”
      And that's when he blurted out, “Do you want to be my date for the dance?”
      We went to the Winter “Snow is Everywhere” dance together, and I danced like a woman who was about to have her legs hacked off the next morning so tonight was all there was for showing everyone what these legs could do, and this boy Qixiang came up to me and said, “Wow, how do you get your feet to move so fast?” and I said, “It's genetic!” The class gossip, Felicia Lee saw Qixiang acting head over heels obsessed with me and went and blabbed to Jason.
      “Hey Jason, Qixang is trying to step on your girl. You guys should fight.”
      Jason came up to me and said, “I thought you were my girlfriend. Now everyone thinks I have to fight Qixiang.”
      And I said, “Well, I didn't see you raise your hand when Mrs. Silver said raise your hand if you're a pacifist, so....”
       So in fourth grade, a few weeks before Valentine's Day, Jason was my boyfriend of one week, and already he was willing to fight for me. Honestly, I wouldn't have been surprised if he was also willing to kill, maybe go to outer space to fetch a burning star and bring it to me to win my heart, anything was possible when a boy loved you that much. My best friend Francine, who played the violin beautifully, told me that Yun Hee Kim and Lata Dhariwal had been telling everyone in our class that Jason already had his first wet dream.
      “So you know what that means,” she said batting her eyelashes at me, like the sick perverted puppy dog that she was fated to become, in some or most ways, had already become.
      “No. What?”
      “Now we just have to wait for you to get your period, and he can totally get you pregnant!”
      Great, I thought, as visions of daytime television talk shows flashed through my brain. I spent the summer before fourth grade with my brother Eddie and our cousin Frangie, who was close enough to being Francine in name, but wasn't Francine in spirit, and actually wasn't even my cousin, but I had to call her that because my mother said it was the only polite thing to do for a nine-year old girl whose own father had murdered her own mother less than a year ago with his deathly stinginess, and it was literally deathly, my mother said on the phone every day to anyone who wasn't sick of hearing about it, because he refused to pay for an operation that would have removed the cancerous lump in her uterus in time to save her, and he essentially put her and Frangie in lockdown for all of last year, no one was allowed into their house, and God knows how that woman must have suffered in that awful, shut-in place where no one was allowed to reach her, my mother repeated over and over again in conversation, shuddering and shaking her head as if the person she was telling this to on the phone could see her, could see how visibly shaken-up and guilty she felt over this whole thing, how her compassion allowed her to feel so much for other people.
      But in conclusion, my mother told me, there's only one polite thing for us, a family as lucky as us, a family who loves each other as much as we do, and that was to take Frangie in as one of our own, which was why I had to call her my cousin, sometimes even my sister, and why she ate dinners with us, slept over our house a lot (meaning forced me off my own bed and onto the floor so that she could have a 'warm, and happy home life,' and I wanted to wring my mother's neck off, and say, “HELLO, what about your real daughter? What about her warmth and happiness and home life which you've so callously denied from her and given to a total stranger who has a really weird name?'), and I was supposed to feel sorry for Frangie just because her mother died (so what) and her father spent three months in a mental institution (who cared), where I imagined him to look like the costume I came up with for the Monster's Ball bash that I went to in third grade when I got my mom to buy a big roll of gauze from CVS, and had her and Eddie wrap it all around me, and then as usual, I was dancing on turbo-charge and all the gauze got unraveled and suddenly, I was standing there in my underwear and my little nubby breasts, and everyone stared openmouthed at me.
      Just kidding, that only happened in my dreams the night before the dance, and in real life when I danced, the gauze flapped around my arms and legs gloriously, the lights in the gymnasium felt permanently trained on me the whole night, and I was so sure that I was the shining, burning star-asteroid-comet-sun-galaxy-universe-rings-of-Saturn-ninth-wonder-of-the-world-never-gonna-burn-out star of the dance.
      My mom was always telling me to be polite and to remember to call Frangie my cousin, but I came up with another polite thing to do, which was to give her a thousand of my father's dollars so she could stop bothering my family, and it wasn't like my father didn't have it to spare, because my mother never seemed to worry much about money, and neither did I, and she said once, 'Our family is so rich,' and technically the rest of that sentence was, 'with love for each other,' but still.
      My mother said I needed to stop thinking materialistically, and I said, I don't even know what you're talking about, and she said, stop talking back to your MO-ther, and I said, you stop talking back to your DAUGH-ter, and she said, I'myourmother, yougotthat? and she kept saying it all in one rushed breath like she was trying to blow me away into pieces like when a bad person decides to destroy a dandelion and send it flying into the harsh, cruel world of never ending pain. She kept saying, I'm your mother, you got that? I'm your mother, you got that? practically yelling it over anything I was trying to say and putting her hands over her ears to show me that she wasn't listening even if I could get my thoughts together fast enough to rival her chanting, and finally because I felt like my head was going to explode, I screamed out as loud as I could:
      My mother looked at me with disgust, and said, Are you crazy? Did you become crazy? What possessed you to scream like that? You know what, Lucy? I'm your mother and you're my daughter, so you do whatever I say, and if I say you have to be nice to your cousin Frangie, then you are going to be nice, and if you mention the thousand dollars again, I'll cut your hair as short as your brother's, and I'll shave off the long hairs on the back of your neck, and it'll take five years for your hair to grow back to its original length, and if you try to resist me, I'll tie up your hands and shave your head bald.
      It was during the long summer before fourth grade started, when Frangie was my 'cousin,' and when my brother boiled frozen dumplings that my parents kept in the freezer for lunch, or he microwaved frozen pizzas for us, or sometimes, if he was in a great mood, he would fry us some eggs, or make ramen and crack an egg on top when the broth boiled, that Frangie and I watched shows where every other word was, 'You beep little beep beep beep, I'm going to beep beep on your beep-ing beep-hole, you deserve a beep-ing so beep-ing hard that I might just beep you right the beep now, and don't you beep-ing try to beep-ing stop me from beep-ing the beep-ing crap out of your beep-ing beep-beep-beep-beep-beep worthless brain. So beep you, and suck my beep like you beep-ing should have in the beep-ing first place, you beep-ing, beep-ed out slutbag.”
      We watched them all day long, on the couch, or sometimes slumped halfway down to the floor, sometimes on the floor completely, sometimes laying on each other, like we were forming the letter T or the letter L, or the letter V or the letter A without the middle line, or the letter O, except Frangie was as inflexible as a tree trunk, and I had a vertebrae like a fish and could bend myself into a sine wave if I wanted to.
      The first thing I said to Francine when school started up again for fourth grade was, “Hey beep, beep beep beep beep beeping beep beep you.”
      “What's that?” she asked me.
      “Beep is not a curse.”
      “You mean is. Is a curse.”
      “You're fucking crazy!” Francine told me. “See that's cursing.”
      I didn't get how Francine already knew how to curse, and I was still imitating the sound that covered up curses. I wanted to know what TV shows she was watching that I wasn't getting on my cable box. It put me in a bad mood, and on the walk home with Frangie, I told her that she might not want to come over my house today because I might feel like slipping some crushed up poison into her soda when she wasn't looking, and she better not tempt fate and just go back to her real home and not be such a little wimpy piece of hangers-on in my home, my one and only home that because of her made me feel like it wasn't even mine, and that because of her, I felt like an awkward intruder in my own house, so go away already.
      Frangie stared at me with her raccoon eyes, which were deep set and always darting in every direction whenever I talked to her, and always looking like she had been scarred even though she was the same as me, and if she was scarred, then I was scarred, and no one had the right to look more scarred than anyone else who was the same amount of scarred because the sympathy that a scarred person who looked scarred could elicit was so much more than a scarred person who didn't look scarred could get, and that wasn't fair at all. I stopped in the middle of the street, crossed my arms, tapped my feet, and stared at Frangie until she started running in the direction of her father's house where she almost never lived because he was so irresponsible and out of it that once Frangie told me that her dad let her drink beer and she got super tired and fell asleep on the floor. I waited until I couldn't see her overalls and purple backpack to continue walking home.
      When I got home, I started a fight with Eddie, telling him that I needed to draw a picture of his butt on his bedroom wall for my science class because we had to come up with a hypothesis that could be tested out, and I wanted to test out my hypothesis that if I drew a picture of my brother's butt on his wall then his real butt would disappear, and Eddie got really mad at me every time I charged towards his wall with a marker and he pushed me back so hard that at one point I thought he had dislocated my shoulder. Of course, he didn't care that he was six years older than me, because he wasn't the type to budge an inch for his little sister who only had nine years of fighting with other people practice against his fifteen years of hard-earned training, and he pushed me down on the carpet and grabbed my ears tight and said he wouldn't let go of my ears unless I said five times, “I'm sorry for being a little twat, I'll never bother you again,” and I was so angry that I hacked up a big lob of spit and sent it flying into his face. It landed right between his eyes, and then I wriggled out of his grasp and ran all the way to my room and locked it.
      When my mom came home from work, she asked me how my first day of school was and I told her it was okay except that Eddie made me cry and now I was going to have to go to school with puffed eyes, which wouldn't at all match with the not-puffed out, super smooth pink cotton skirt I had already picked out for myself and lacey anklet socks with my patent-leather mary janes that I had been wearing around the house all summer in preparation for wearing them outside all autumn.
      “Honey, you shouldn't fight with your brother. He's very stressed these days. There's a lot of homework for high schoolers. You should let him do his work, and you should your own homework, and help Frangie with hers when you finish yours.”
      “How can I do my homework when Eddie's bothering me? And anyway, Frangie's always here and she never leaves, and I don't like it when she invades my privacy.”
      “You know that this is Frangie's home too. She needs to be here until her dad gets better. You shouldn't be making her feel unwelcome. When did her dad pick her up?”
      “He didn't. She just ran home by herself.”
      “What? If you give me your car, I could drive her home,” I said, batting my eyelashes at my mom and smiling with no teeth, the way I had practiced thousands of millions of times in front of the mirror when I was alone.
      “Mom, why can't dad order the good cable? Francine gets like a hundred more shows than us. It's not fair.”
      “Everything is not fair to you, little complaining girl.”
      “Well, it's not.”
      “Lucy, you know your daddy is very busy right now. He's studying for his oral exams, and he has to stay out all night delivering food so that we can keep this house and have good things to eat.”
      “So?” my mother said, and I immediately regretted asking. She had this way of looking at me that made me feel like I had to apologize for being her daughter, that it wasn't fair that she had to love me no matter how obstinately stupid I was, no matter how I constantly frustrated her with my inability to comprehend what was beyond obvious for her. I'm sorry, I said to her in my head, all the time, but never in real life, just like my mother, who never said I'm sorry to me in real life either, only I had no idea if she also apologized in her head, if she also realized that she had the power to hurt me, to disappoint me as much as I disappointed her, that sometimes she had the power to make me feel so alone that I walked into walls and tripped on smooth, flat ground.
      “Daddy has to bike to very far places to deliver food. Didn't you know that? Think of that time we biked all the way down to the park on Cherry Street. Remember how you complained the whole way? And then you refused to bike back and you said you wanted daddy to come pick us up in the car because you were tired? Now just imagine that daddy has to bike to Cherry Street and back ten or twenty times in a night. Think of lucky we are to have a daddy who does that for us.” I nodded my head at my mother, the whole time apologizing furiously in my head, Sorry mom, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry, sorrysorrysorry, sorry again, sorry again, I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I'm sorry again, now I'm sorry again, I'm sorry, so sorry, I'm sorry, really sorry, really sorry about this, I'm sorry, I feel so sorry, I'm sorry, mom, I'm sorry, I'm sorry mom, I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'll never stop being sorry, I'm sorry forever, I'm always sorry, I'm sorry for everything.
      “Lucy,” my mom said. “Are you listening to me?” In my head I said, And sorry on top of the first sorry, sorry for this, and also sorry for before this.  “Great. Your head's in the clouds again. I don't know why I even bothered to explain this to you.”
      That was the way fourth grade went. I tried to soar through the air like an eagle, tried to cut through the wide expanse of sky to reach some kind of realm of infinite possibility, infinite compassion and understanding, but it was impossible—I kept crashing into things and receiving head injuries. My mother made me feel clumsy when I thought I was graceful, she made me think my faults were incorrigible, her sudden bouts of impatience made me feel small and slow as a turtle, like the time I dreamed I was a giant who poked out the windows of skyscrapers with my fingers and then suddenly Elmer Fudd showed up and shot me in the knee, and suddenly I started shrinking until I was no bigger than a turtle the size of a thimble, and then I was a turtle the size of a pebble, and then I was a turtle the size of a period and when I woke up, I couldn't help but see turtles everywhere, in the small brown birth mark on my brother's upper lip, in the pierced holes in my mother's earlobe before she put her prized pearl earrings through them, in the tip of the ballpoint pen my father used to sign my field trip slip to go with my class to see the dinosaur bones in the Natural History Museum—my day was infested with turtles
      Thankfully, I wasn't a turtle, not even close, and though I wasn't exactly an eagle either, I was still fast, I still roamed wild, and eventually, I found my own inner peace: a boyfriend! For the first two weeks, Jason was the best boyfriend because his hands were never sweaty like Qixiang's, and his hair was a perfect bowl cut. There was just one problem—the whole wet dream thing made me wish I knew how to drive a bus so I could kill Jason with the front of one. It made me sick when Francine told me that Jason had already had a wet dream, and the mandatory sex education that we started having in the second half of the school also made me sick, not because I was being exposed to anything shocking, but because I knew we deserved better.
      We had sex education hour twice a week, and we always had to split up into groups of girls and boys. Mr. Kosecki took the boys into the gymnasium and showed them who knew what, and our teacher Mrs. Silver, recently married and about to rechristen herself as Mrs. Duchamp but we pretended there was no impending identity crisis and kept calling her Mrs. Silver anyway, had us push our chairs into a circle, and we had to hold holds and say in unison at the beginning of each lesson, “What happens in this room stays in this room.”
      During our hour of sex education, we had a question box that Mrs. Silver decorated with glitter and gold star stickers. We were supposed to drop anonymous questions that we had about sex and being a woman/girl into the box, and at first no one did, but after the third sex education class, the questions started coming in. In the beginning the questions made us choke up with suppressed giggles. Someone wanted to know why her one tit was bigger than the other, and we all immediately turned around and looked at Susanna Kim. Another girl wanted to know if it was possible to get addicted to the smell of your own vagina the way kids in first grade used to get addicted to tasting their own boogers.  Someone else wanted to know why she humped the couch after watching a VHS of Lady Chatterley's Lover that her parents had left laying around. The week after that, someone else said she also went and saw her parents' copy of Lady Chatterley's Lover and humped her couch, but also what was 'humping?' The week after that, four more girls in our class watched Lady Chatterley's Lover and dry-humped their couch, and that week Mrs. Silver glared at us and said, “If you aren't going to take this seriously, then we'll just copy vocabulary words for an hour instead.”
Francine and I had renamed it 'tame education' from the very first diagram of a vagina that looked like the mid-section of a dollhouse, and anyway, if we wanted to see a vagina couldn't we just look at our own? Francine looked at mine, and I looked at hers all the time. She already was starting to grow hair on hers, little curly black hairs all lined up around the center.
      Francine came over my house once or twice a week without telling her mom or dad, neither of who cared anyway. They let her do anything and didn't care when she came home, didn't care if she walked home blindfolded or with her laces tied together, as long as they didn't have to come pick her up, they were happy. I envied Francine and she knew it. Whenever she came over, we'd shut ourselves up in my room, and tape a sign to our door that said, “If you look like a hairy ape, or if your name rhymes with Sdkgladeigtonacbhdzzangie, DON'T COME IN HERE.” The ape thing was Francine's idea, and the word Sdkgladeigtonacbhdzzangie was mine.
      I liked opening and closing her vagina lips, pretending it was a regular mustached lip turned on side.
      “Good morning class,” I said in my ventriloquism-of-a-vagina voice, as I maneuvered her vagina lips so they looked like talking lips. “Today, we are going to talk about periods.”
      Francine loved my jokes and I loved hers. I didn't have a single hair on my vagina, but in fourth grade, my vagina started to secrete fluid one or two times a day.
      “I thought I peed my pants again,” I told Francine.
      “Ew,” she said. “Don't you know how to hold it in?”
      “But look, it's not pee.” I showed Francine my underwear, the hardened crust of yellow discharge, and we both smelled it and pretended to faint. Sometimes, Francine stuck her index finger into my vagina, screaming the entire time she was sticking her finger in.
      “Oh my god,” she screamed, “Oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my god, oh my fucking god.”
      “Stop screaming Francine.”
      “There's swamp land in there,” she told me.
      “So,” I said. “You have a frozen tundra in yours.”
      The whole point of Francine sticking her finger in my vagina was so she could taunt me later when we had forgotten that we had spent an entire afternoon digging around each other's vaginas, and when I least expected it, she would suddenly put her fingers up to my nose.
      “Smell it,” she said, “smell it, smell it, smell it.”
      I always told her no way. “Not unless you smell your own.” Sometimes, I'd stick my finger into her vagina, and she'd stick hers in mine, and we'd cautiously smell our sticky fingers, and then we'd cross our arms over each other to give the other person a good, long whiff. I thought my vagina smelled a little bit like my feet in the summer when I wore sandals, but also like these fried anchovies my parents ate on top of porridge in the mornings for breakfast.
      “You better wash it really good for Jason,” Francine said to me. “Or else, he might dump you.”
      “Whatever. I'll dump him first.” Whenever Francine mentioned Jason, or whenever anyone talked about Jason with me, I always got this horrible feeling of dread in my stomach, a suspicion that there were so many things I had yet to learn, and it was possible that each new thing I understood could reduce me into being like everyone else.
      I wanted to sock Jason in the guts for having a wet dream. We had only been dating for two weeks! The timing wasn't right. And who got wet dreams in fourth grade? I stayed up all night playing Bubble Gum Bubble Gum In A Dish just so I wouldn't fall asleep and have regular, DRY dreams. I wanted to live a dreamless life in my unconscious and be full of dreams in my conscious. Also, I hated having nightmares. I hated how even if you were lucky enough to never have anything terrible happen to you the entire time you were alive, and even if every single thing you wanted was within your reach and grasp, and even if you were the luckiest girl on earth that all the other girls envied and all the other boys liked and all the adults found charming and sweet and full of potential, even if everything went right for you and there was no chance of slipping off that path, you still had to contend with your nightmares, how they intruded on you when you were sleeping when the point of sleeping was to skip past the next eight hours so you could get back to living your ridiculously good life that you looked forward to waking up to every morning if only you didn't have stupid nightmares that made you feel like your body was detached from itself, like you were always floating up into the sky and looking down at yourself, looking down at everyone who secretly pitied you, who secretly laughed at you and threw flowers in your hair not to make you look beautiful but to make you sneeze, who secretly gave you that extra cookie not because they wanted to be nice to you but because it had fallen on the ground a few seconds ago, and you were too stupid to notice that it wasn't a chocolate chip you were crunching on, but a little tiny piece of dirt, and worst of all, you hated how your dreams made you think that the vision of yourself that you saw when you finally allowed yourself to see yourself the way other people saw you was the real you, that maybe you were just other people's idea of a joke, and you hated doubting yourself like that, doubting that the real world was the real world and the dream world was the fakest crap on earth, and on top of that, your boyfriend had to be a sex crazed animal who spurted his junk in his sleep!
      I stumbled from door to door in my house thinking about it all, until my brother popped his head out of his room and said, “Gone retarded again, huh?” and I said, “You must be talking to yourself, retard-boy,” and he said, “I always knew it was a mistake when mom and dad fought for you to be placed out of Special Ed.”
      Whenever Eddie was getting the best of me and Francine wasn’t there, I had to drag myself to the living room where Frangie sat, drinking soda and watching TV, or sometimes watching nothing at all, because she was weird like that, and I would ask her to help me come up with a plan to get back at Eddie.
      “Frangie, help me beat up Eddie,” I said to her after Eddie made up the lie about me getting out Special Ed.
      “I have an idea,” she said. “What if you go buy a wolf and train it to eat Eddie for lunch?”
      “Where am I gonna get the money, stupid?” I said to Frangie. “Stupid,” I said again. “Just wish you weren’t stupid. And anyway, like a wolf would want to eat Eddie. That’s like putting throw-up in front of a wolf. A wolf wouldn’t eat that.”
      “I wish I could be a jellyfish,” Frangie said to me, fidgeting with the clasp of her corduroy overalls.
      “Cause then it would be easy to sting people.”
      “Wow,” I said, shaking my head at Frangie, and then I considered it for a moment. “Actually, yeah. Me too.” I patted Frangie on the head the way my father did sometimes when he got home early enough to tuck me into bed. “Let’s go get a stick and poke Eddie in the butt with it until he buys us candy. Wanna?”

A few days after everyone found out about Jason’s wet dream, I went to school and Francine wasn’t there. I missed her and felt dizzy and thought I was going to barf, so I asked Jason to walk me home after school.
      “I’ll show you my coin collection,” I told him when we were in front of my house.
      When we got inside the house, I yelled out to whoever was home, “Leave me and my boyfriend alone,” and then grabbed Jason and pulled him into my room.
      “Put it inside me,” I said to him, just to test it out.
      “What’d you say?” he asked.
      “Nevermind, idiot,” I said. “I’m not really allowed to have anyone over except Frangie. Don’t you have to be home?”
      “Yeah, but you’re the one who asked me to come here.”
      “Can’t you just beat it? Scram? Bust out? Leave me alone? Go away. See you later, alligator? Bye-bye American pies?”
      “You don’t make sense and you’re bossy,” Jason said.
      “You act dumb and also, you’re dumb.”
      I waved goodbye to Jason as he walked out of the house, and I closed the door behind me and sighed.
      My mom let me do anything, or well, she didn’t get home until seven each night so she didn’t know what she was letting me do. My father was getting his PhD in English Literature and worked as a Chinese delivery guy who mainly delivered mushu pork to enlightened lawyers on the Upper East Side who didn’t know that there was no such thing as mushu pork in China, or he delivered boxes and boxes of crab Rangoon and fried wontons and pork potstickers to men who lived in their robes and were surrounded by beautiful women who had the kind of tits you wanted to use as shelves.
      At home, Frangie talked to herself in the living room and put on my mother’s clothes and make-up and asked me to stuff socks in her underwear so that she had a pornstar’s ass, and then she’d walk out of the house and strut around downtown with the face of a ten-year old girl, and the ass and tits of a twenty year old. She was like the world’s most confusing-looking slut.  My brother started dating a girl around the same time I started going out with Jason, and he put up a flag on his door whenever his girlfriend was home.
      “That’s for you to know that you don’t disturb me when this,” he pointed at the flag, “is draped across my door. Got that?”
      I nodded.
      “I’m serious Lucy. Come in and you’re fucking dead.”
      I said, “Come into my room, and I’ll freaking kill you, too.”
      “Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said before shutting the door and staying hours and hours in there with his new girlfriend who had tits the size of Kansas, no the whole Midwest, no the entire continent of North America, no make that the continent of Asia, no Asia plus Antarctica, no fuck it, make it the whole Milky Way galaxy. Her tits were out to there. Seriously. They were out of this world. Literally. Everyone I knew lived on a different planet from me, and I was the only person left, still stupidly tottering around on Earth, the banal wasteland of existence where dumb people, who were too slow to rocket off into outer space, had to live, forever and ever, where they had no chance of ever understanding or even glimpsing the world that was just beyond them. I didn’t think it was fair that I was had to be me for as long as I lived while other people got to be other people.
      I put my fingers in my vagina, wriggled them all the way in deep until it hurt and then walked up to Eddie’s bedroom and wiped my fingers on his door.
      “Don’t worry Eddie,” I said with my mouth pressed up against his door, “even if you don’t come in my room, I’ll still freaking kill you.” I ran back into my bedroom, locked the door, collapsed onto the carpet, put my fingers back in my vagina, and waited for my mother to get home.

The next day, Francine showed up to school with make-up on and I said, “You look very dumb,” before she even sat down in her desk.
      Later, Francine told me during art class that if you have big knockers then you can come the second your boyfriend puts it in you.
      “I don’t care about that,” I told her.
      “About what?” she asked
      “Ew,” she said. We made ourselves sick sometimes just by talking.
      “So has he yet,” she whispered into my ear.
      “Oh totally, yeah.”
      “What?” she screamed.
      Our art teacher, Mrs. Feducci walked up to our table. “Francine, do you want to go to the principal’s office for the second time today?”
      “No,” she said, head bent down.
      “Didn’t think so,” Ms. Feducci said, and then turned back around to help Angela Davis with her origami paper crane.
      Francine stuck her tongue at Ms. Feducci, and I giggled into my shirtsleeves.
      We started to pass notes.
      Francine: Why didn’t you tell me you guys did it.
      Me: Oh, you know. Busie n stuff.
      Francine: Yea right.
      Me: Yeah! Right! I’m right! You said I was right!
      Francine: I sooooo bet you didn’t.
      Me: No, you said, yeeeahhhhhhh, right, you sooooo did.
      Francine: Um, you didn’t do it.      
      Me: Fine.
      Francine: HA! Caught you!
      Me: But I asked him to.
      Francine: And?
      Me: He doesn’t know how.
      Francine: I’ll help you teach him.
      Me: Okay.
      Francine: Okay.
      Me: But Frangie is gonna be there.
      Francine: Ew.
      Me: My mom said she has to be there.
      Francine: She always has to be there?
      Me: Yeah always. And never never has to be there.
      Francine: Not fair.
      Me: duh. like I don’t know.

After school, the sky darkened and I didn’t know if day had become night or if night had become day, and then I decided that day had become night like my nightmares that made me believe I was living in a world without day, and under the threat of thunderstorm, Francine, Frangie and I ran all the way home. I told Jason that he had to set his stopwatch for ten minutes and only start walking towards my house after it beeped because we didn’t want him to know what we were going to do, and also partly because Frangie was awkward around boys. The only boy I ever really saw her talking to was my brother.
      When the doorbell rang, my brother opened the door.
      “Who the hell are you?” he said, looking down at Jason, who was wearing a big green sweater with a leaf print and was dragging his bookbag and black down jacket behind him on our steps.
      “Get away from there,” I said, running down the stairs. I pushed my brother aside. “That’s my friend from school.”
      “Um, you mean boyfriend,” Francine shouted from few feet behind me.
      My brother looked at me and then looked at Jason and then burst into laughter.
      “Is something funny to you?” I asked him and then turned to Jason. “C’mon Jason, ignore him. He needs mental work.”
      “You have a boyfriend?” my brother asked me.
      “Yeah, so?”
      “Do you even know what a boyfriend is? I mean, obviously not, because you’re stupid enough to think that little twerp is your boyfriend,” my brother said, shaking his head. “I’m staying out of it,” he said. “I have no desire to know anything about you and your weird little friends.” He went into the kitchen to make a sandwich, and Francine and I led Jason up the stairs into my room where Frangie was waiting.
      When we had gotten home ten minutes earlier, we pulled Frangie onto my bed, stripped her clothes off, and I stashed them in my closet while Francine tied Frangie to my bed with my mother’s scarves. Frangie didn’t say anything, she was probably imagining being a jellyfish, for all I knew, and I told Francine not to tie the scarves so tightly around Frangie’s wrists, it wasn’t as if she was a prisoner of war and we were trying to torture her or anything.
      When we pulled Jason into my room, he immediately turned around and reached for the doorknob, but Francine and I were already on it, we blocked the doorknob with our bodies, me backed up against the door with my hands spread out like they were wings, and Francine stood in front of me in the same posture.
      “Shrimpson,” Francine said, smiling, “come here. You aren’t scared are you?”
      “No,” Jason said. “Course not.”
      “Yeah right,” I muttered. “Why’s your face all red then?”
      “Shrimpy, you know you want it. If you didn’t, why did you have a wet dream?”
      “Yeah,” I said. “Why did ya? Huh?”
      Jason shrugged. “That’s just a rumor.”
      “Says you,” Francine said. “Don’t they tell you in sex ed that there’s nothing to be ashamed of?”
      “Yeah,” I said, feeling like Francine’s echo. “Yeah, didn’t you know that?”
      “Guess so.”
      Francine clasped her hands together into a prayer, and I reached around her waist and did the same. “Please Jason. We promise you’ll like this. Promise you won’t try to leave, or we’ll tell everyone you’re scared to do it.”
      “Do what?” he said.
      “Promise us,” Francine said. “Just say you promise.”
      “Please Jason, just promise,” I said.
      “Okay,” he said, shaking his head slightly so that the front parts of his hair swished left to right like a pendulum. “Okay, okay.”
      “Say you promise,” Francine said.
      “I said okay,” Jason said.
      “Say, I promise.”
      “He said okay,” Frangie said. “That’s the same thing.” The sound of her voice startled us. We all jumped a little bit, felt our skin crawl away from us for a brief moment, and then Francine was in charge again.      
      “Sit,” Francine said and pointed to my chair. We got on our knees and unzipped his pants. Francine said, “You take it out. He’s your boyfriend.”
      I pulled out his dick. “It’s so different,” I said to Francine, even though I knew she knew just how different it was. Everything that was new to me was yesterday’s meatloaf to her, but I didn’t care, I was holding Jason’s dick in my hands, and it was this little tiny, flabby thing. I wanted to squeeze it black and blue.
      “Hey,” Jason said. “Who said you could touch it?” He slapped my hand away from his penis. I reached for it again. He slapped it away. I reached for it. He slapped my hands away.
      “But I’m your girlfriend,” I said, reaching for it.
      “And how do you know it’s different?” he said, slapping me away.
      “Shut the hell up,” Francine said. “Do you want to do this or not?”
      “Do what?” Jason said.
      “Yeah, do what?” I said.
      “Um, Lucy, this was your idea,” Francine said.
      “Well, it was until you stole it from me and started cursing for no reason and bossing me around about what to do.”
      “We have to make it hard,” Francine said to me. “It’s easy. You just put your mouth on it, or you lick it up and down.” She knelt down next to me and traced the length of Jason’s dick from the shaft up to the tip with her finger. Outside, it was almost completely pitch dark. The lightening was stalled, but I knew it was coming soon.
      “I’m not doing that.”
      “What the hell? First you say you want to, and then you say he wants to, and then he says he doesn’t want to, and now you say you don’t want to either. What’s wrong with you people?” She rolled her eyes and grabbed Jason’s dick, and before he could push her away she put the entire soft, limp little thing into her mouth.
      “Mmmn,” she said. “Mmmm mmn mnn.”
      “Francine,” I said, feeling sick. “Francine,” I said louder this time. “Francine,” I said, shouting now. “Francine. No. Stop it!” I said into her ear, pushing against her shoulders with my hands, but her upper arm muscles were so so strong from playing violin every day. With one hand, she grabbed a hold of my wrists, and with her other hand she covered my mouth. The lightening was here now, so was the rain.
      “Shhh,” she said. “Do you want your brother to hear?”
      I heard my brother take a few steps up the stairs, his big dopey footsteps sending vibrations right through my heart. “Lucy, can you and your friends stop screaming? It annoys the crap out of me, and you know it. I know you’re trying to get on my nerves, but I’m not going to be bothered with you anymore. From now on, you don’t even exist to me. Okay? Let’s keep it that way? You and your friends shut the hell up, and I’ll go on pretending you don’t exist, we don’t bother each other, and everyone’s happy.”
      But I’m here, I said to him in my head. I’m here, Eddie. What if I needed you to know I’m here, I said in the smallest voice I had, and I sent my words flying over my stupid boyfriend who I was going to break up with first thing tomorrow morning, pronto, alert the presses, Lucy Chiu was dumping Jason’s Zhao’s rat-fink-piece-of-crap ass, and I sent my words hurtling over his seated body, completely still as Francine licked the tip of his penis with her tongue, and I noticed that his one leg was shaking and rattling like newly planted trees in a hurricane, and I wanted nothing more than to kick that leg right off his body, but I kept pushing my words forward, I sent them hurtling through the crack in my door and willed them to reach my brother’s wax-filled ears.
      “It’s time,” Francine said, getting up. “Jason, get on the bed.” Francine explained to me earlier that we both needed to do this, and that there was only one way it could be done, and it had to be done that way because Jason needed to learn how to do it with me properly, and what better test case than Frangie? I needed to save myself for when Jason knew how to do it properly with me so that it would feel good, and she told me that I also needed to watch carefully because it wasn’t like everyone was born into this world knowing how to be good at sex, she certainly wasn’t, and I probably wasn’t either, some people had to work constantly at it, like math, like those algebra equations that Francine and I got wrong every time, and so that was why everything was the way it was.
      Jason cautiously climbed onto my bed. He was still wearing his green sweater and it obscured most of his ass and his genitals. He looked like a granny smith apple with two toothpicks sticking out of the bottom. He was straddling Frangie’s knees, and Francine was telling him to move up higher, to get closer to her vagina. Frangie’s raccoon eyes looked up towards the ceiling. I kept waiting for her blink, to make a sound, to say she wanted to go home, but she just laid there, her hands tied up to the posts of my bed.
      “Frangie,” I said. “Frangie, my mom says you should stay for dinner.”
      “Jason,” Francine said. “Move up closer, you retard.”
      “Frangie,” I said. “I still want to be a jellyfish with you.”
      “Jason,” Francine said again. “Closer, I said closer. You’re still too far.”
      “Frangie,” I said. “I saved an orange soda for you. I’ll get Eddie to put your name on it, so that I don’t forget and drink it by accident.”
      “That’s good,” Francine said, leaning over the bed, holding onto Jason’s dick, shiny and gross with her saliva but still tiny and soft. “Now, you open her up,” Francine said to me. “Do it like we usually do.”
      “Frangie,” I said, putting my fingers on her vagina, and parting her lips with my thumb and forefinger. “Frangie, my mom says she’ll take us shopping this weekend.”
      “Fuck, it’s working,” Francine said, clapping her hands together. “Well, sort of.”
      “Frangie,” I said. “You need anything? You want that orange soda? Cheese doodles?”
      “Oh my god. Look at Jason’s face. Look at his face, Lucy. He looks like he needs to poop.”
      “Frangie, close your eyes,” I said trying to pull her eyelids down with my fingers, but they were stiff and open, like the lid to an open tin of anchovies. “Frangie, please. Please close your eyes. Frangie?” Downstairs, my brother was singing along to the radio, sprinkling little pepper flakes on his finger and licking them clean, out there, my mother was telling someone how she had taken Frangie in as one of her own and no, she didn’t treat her any less than her blood-children, and even farther somewhere, my father was riding his bike all around Manhattan with a plastic bag tied around his face, speeding past lights like he was light itself, accepting quarters for tips, forcing a smile after each delivery, and as for me, I was waiting for that first clap of thunder, that moment when I could detach from myself again, when I could hover in that space above reality, and this time, I would like it, I wouldn’t struggle at all, instead, I would just allow myself to see what was really there, down below me.