Twelve Is Hell
Dylan Brie Ducey
The girls are all crammed in the bathroom. Giggling, whispering, opening and closing drawers. The smell of perfume, the ssssssssst of hairspray. Someone opens a window. Squeals. Only one girl is silent. She is painfully shy, older than the rest, heavyset, with long black hair. The other four girls talk ceaselessly.
The girls are guests here. This is a birthday party, but the hostess is not with the girls in the bathroom. Improbably, she is in the living room. She is with her sister and her parents and her grandparents. The adults do not know what to think. What is she doing out here? Why isn’t she in the bathroom with her friends? If you were a twelve-year-old girl, you would not want to be in the living room with your family.
The guests empty the bathroom drawers. There is the rattling sound of plastic containers hitting the floor. The guests have found makeup: mascara, eyeshadow, lipstick. They proceed to paint each other’s faces. The quiet girl demurs, but is ready to put makeup on others. One girl ends up with the most makeup, what looks like an eighth of an inch of black eyeliner, garish green eye shadow, orange lipstick. Another girl paints concealer on her own lips. Still another takes a pink lipstick to her cheeks. The pillaging proceeds to the adjacent bedroom. The birthday girl’s dresser is ransacked, her clothes strewn all over the floor. Even the younger sister’s dresser is emptied, the older girls squeezing themselves into her tiny t-shirts and leggings.
While her guests binge on clothing and makeup, the birthday girl stays stubbornly in the living room. Her brown hair is curly, almost to her shoulders. She is playing a video game. Her lips are folded. She concentrates on the screen in front of her. Chirping noises emit from the television. “Please stay here,” she whispers to her younger sister. “Don’t leave.” The sister gives a slight nod: In a million years she would never leave her older sister, especially at her own party when her friends are shunning her. The younger sister is ten years old, with blue eyes and heavy blonde hair falling past her shoulders. She has a dreamy aspect to her, an abstract quality. But about this she is very concrete: She is loyal to her older sister. It is a horror, she thinks, her older sister’s friends ignoring her at her own birthday party. The younger sister tries to imagine her own friends behaving this way, but she simply cannot. Her friends would not do this to her. The younger sister cannot fathom the cruel depths of these twelve-year-old girls, with their training bras and athletic shoes, their false smiles and rolling eyes.
One of the girls emerges from the bathroom. She’s the one with black eyeliner, green eye shadow, and orange lipstick, and she has put on a dress that belongs to the younger sister – a short-sleeve blue and white striped bodice with a pink pleated crêpe de chine skirt. A cunning pink rose at the shoulder matches the skirt. The dress barely covers her bottom, and with all the makeup she looks like a clown. Absurd. Grotesque. She skips obliviously through the kitchen as though she lives here, as though it is her prerogative. Really all the guests are behaving this way, with their raiding of dressers and cosmetics, but it is only this one clownish girl who steps, unthinking, into the private sphere of the family. But she stops short at the door to the living room because everyone there is now staring at her garishly painted face, her adolescent body crammed into the girlish dress.
The adults raise their eyebrows and shift uncomfortably on the couch. The older sister turns from her video game to look at this unrecognizable friend. The younger sister gapes, realizing that the guests have rifled through her own dresser. But she doesn’t speak. No one speaks.
The girl in the crêpe de chine dress stands frozen in the doorway. She locks eyes with the older sister and a question is written on her face. Will you come? It’s weird that we’re in there and you’re out here. Will you get dressed up with us and put on makeup?
The older sister’s face has darkened; she seems unable to speak. The girl in the crêpe de chine dress looks baffled, but the adults know what’s going unsaid here and so does the younger sister. I didn’t want to put on makeup and get dressed up. I said I didn’t want to and you all went anyway and you wrecked my bedroom and you don’t even care that it’s my birthday.
The clownish girl turns away then, and she drops something: Her cell phone. It falls and bounces on the kitchen linoleum. She bends over to retrieve the phone and the crêpe de chine skirt lifts a few inches, exposing her underwear and something bulky beneath it. The four adults on the couch all see it and so does the older sister. The younger sister sees it, but she doesn’t understand what it is: The girl’s sanitary pad. She has her period.
On the couch, the women shake their heads and sigh. The men grimace and look away. It’s too much. No one needs to see that. Why are these children behaving so badly at a birthday party, anyway? Isn’t it time for cake and presents?
The girl in the crêpe de chine dress tiptoes back to the bathroom.
The older sister stares after her for a moment, her mouth open.
“What?” asks the younger sister. “What?”
The older sister bends her head down and whispers an explanation. The younger sister gasps.
Now the quiet girl eases noiselessly into the living room. Her dread is palpable, her face hardly visible behind the curtain of hair. She glances sideways at the adults as if fearing they will reprimand her, and then casts her eyes down. She stands next to the birthday girl and inclines her head toward the other end of the house, where the guests are slathering themselves with makeup. They want you to come put makeup on, too. They said it was a misunderstanding. But the birthday girl shakes her head. She smiles briefly at the quiet girl, though. It’s okay, I don’t hold it against you. The quiet girl disappears back to the bathroom.
The adults exchange glances. The quiet girl was sent as an emissary. She did not want to come into the living room, but how could she refuse? She did not want to lose her friends.
The television chirps. The older sister stands wanly in front of the screen. She looks wiped out. The younger sister watches her. It’s her job to stay with her older sister – she’ll stand here all night if she has to. The friends are oblivious. The friends are not friends. The younger sister inches closer now. She nudges her older sister. “Start the game,” she says. “I’ll play with you.”
About the author:
Dylan Brie Ducey lives in California. Her work has appeared in New Delta Review, decomP, Pear Noir!, Snow Monkey, The Pinch, and whiskeypaper.com. Her short story, “All the Things You Are,” won the Matt Clark Prize for Fiction, and was a semifinalist for the H.E. Francis Award. She is an MFA candidate at San Francisco State University. Find her at twitter: @dylanbrieducey