Molly’s father was in prison for “making too much money.” That was all she would say about it. Molly was a child model; she often appeared in catalogs. All her modeling pictures hung around the house she lived in with her mother. Molly couldn’t visit her father, so she cut pictures of herself out of her catalogs for him and put them in envelopes that her mother hand-delivered to the jail where Mr. Sussman would stay locked up another five years; when he got out, we’d be driving.
Molly was my first pretty friend, tan and blonde and so skinny it verged on a problem. I learned from her how good it could feel to eat a salad. At eleven she was already a horse owner, thanks to her modeling money. Her horse’s name was Cat and he was sixteen hands tall and hardy and his coat was a special, rare color: flea-bitten gray. Horses was how Molly and I met, even though we went to the same school; we never talked until we were both signed up for riding lessons at the small barn halfway between our houses, which were twelve minutes apart from each other. At her house we never spent time on the internet or played with Final Fantasy figurines, which was all I did at my own house. Molly was allowed to wear makeup. So at Molly’s we applied eye shadow until Molly said, We look hot. Then we put on short shorts and walked around her block, feeling hot.
Sometimes on our walks we’d go by the barn to say hi to Cat and the other horses: Lilah, the old nag; Quinn, a docile sorrel angel; Brag, a white Arabian who was very bad; Star, who had a star on her face, and who was soon to be a mother but could still be saddled up; and Stormy, who was Star’s sire, though we never called him that; we called him Star’s boyfriend. Riders at the barn could not ride Cat. Molly’s mother paid a large fee to keep Cat boarded there, and only Molly was allowed to ride him.
I would lie awake at night afraid to go to prison because of Molly Sussman’s father: it was so real, so close, because Molly and her eyeshadow and the knocky legs she had from eating her salads and the facts of her horse ownership and her three-story house with a movie theater room had become the center of my consciousness. I pictured myself in prison, like Mr. Sussman, experiencing horrible things: being cold, getting punched, eating gruel, having metal things put inside my vagina. One night I’d read too many Sailor Moon fanfictions on my school-issued laptop, and I’d seen something about Sailor Moon having metal things put inside her vagina by the green man from Dragon Ball Z, who in the fanfiction had a foot-long cock. I never told Molly or anyone about how I stayed up until four in the morning reading pretty much every night. Mostly, during school hours, I was using it for Wikipedia and Icy Tower and building PowerPoints and learning HTML and researching ancient Egypt for the schoolwide Egypt Project and writing a novel about a girl like me who’d fallen into a fairy ring and making spreadsheets with infinity rows, but at night I used it for other things.
I joined an online forum for fans of Final Fantasy X and X-2 and used a picture I scanned from last year’s yearbook of a prettier girl a grade above me as my avatar and looked at a lot of images people were drawing in Photoshop of all the characters fucking each other. I joined a site that was like MySpace but for goths and told people I was twenty-three and searched goth girl on Yahoo and saved a photo as my own and used it to prove I was twenty-three. I would look alternatingly at pictures of goths and drawings of Final Fantasy porn for hours, until my vagina felt the way it felt when I first got off the horse after a lesson, and then I’d close my computer and pull up the covers and do nothing but feel the feeling.
Molly used her computer for real MySpace, and sometimes she’d talk to boys from other schools and we’d meet up with them at Regal Cinemas or at the Abercrombie across from the food court at the nice mall in Boca. We’d walk around in circles until someone’s cell phone rang, letting them know their mom had arrived, and then whoever’s mom was there would say, My mom’s here and we’d wave goodbye. On one trip to the mall the boys we were supposed to meet never showed up, so Molly and I walked our usual circle alone until we got to Hot Topic. Immediately I felt throbbing in my vagina. I asked Molly if we could go in and she said sure, so we went in and I bought a big pack of colorful jelly bracelets for us to split. We took two of a bunch of colors and looped them through each other, tying them into sex bracelets. I was most excited for the black ones because those were the goth ones.
“You know black is fucking,” Molly said, and it was the first time I’d ever heard someone call fucking fucking out loud.
I didn’t know black was for fucking. “Oh,” I said. “But not really, right?”
Molly made her eyes big and nodded and warned me about what all the different colors meant, and about what I’d have to do if a guy came up to me by the pickup loop or something and snapped one; someone had snapped one of Kayla Callahan’s (red) and she’d had to give him head under the bleachers. Molly told me that Kayla had told her at lunch one day when I wasn’t there that the guy had cum in her mouth and then she’d kissed him and spit it back into his mouth. That was why Molly was only going to wear yellow, which was for hugging, and pink, which was for kissing, and green, which was for letting someone touch your boobs over your shirt.
“The guy what,” I said.
One night the phone rang and it was Molly.
“Star’s having her baby,” she said. “Are you allowed to come watch?”
My mom said, “You’re already in your pajamas,” but she brought me over in my pajamas nonetheless; it was only a six-minute drive.
I grabbed my paddock boots from my cubby and put them on without socks. Molly and I hung off of the outside of Star’s stall, peeking over the top, and watched her foal. My feet sweated badly. The stable lady, Jill, who gave us all our lessons, was helping Star out by petting her and shushing her. I’d never seen Jill not wearing sunglasses. I could see her eyes for the very first time. They were bluer than Molly’s, or mine.
“Hey,” said Jill. “You two. Go get me the blue brush.”
“Allie can get it,” Molly said.
“You go with ‘er,” Jill said. Jill was from the accent part of Florida, originally.
Molly grabbed me by the wrist and pulled me off the stall. We went into the tack room and looked for the blue brush Jill wanted. It wasn’t where it normally was. Then we heard commotion. I ran out.
“Hey,” Molly said.
I pulled myself up on the slats of Star’s stall and I saw it: her huge baby was coming out of her huge vagina, covered in everything. My throat made a noise. Jill looked up at me. I wasn’t supposed to see. Molly pulled herself up beside me, but the baby was already out.
“Wait,” she yelled down to Jill. “You made us miss it.” Molly always talked to Jill like Jill was her serving girl.
“Sorry,” Jill said, looking scared, but not of Molly. Then the baby stood.
“I hate you,” said Molly, and she walked herself home.
“How was it,” my mother asked me when she picked me back up.
“Jill made us miss the main part on purpose,” I said, pretending that I was like Molly, that I hadn’t seen a horse come out of another horse. “Stupid Jill.”
“Jill is your instructor,” said my mother, as if no instructor had ever been stupid.
What I wanted more than anything was an American Paint Horse. It had to be a Paint. I found out online that it would cost $6,000 to buy one, including all the stuff it’d need to live.
“What you could do,” Molly told me on the phone one evening, “is model.” Molly said that if I modeled it would bring in some income and that would show my parents I was willing to work for things. She said I probably wouldn’t have to use my own money—they’d buy me the horse, they just needed to see some effort. “At least that’s what happened to me.”
Molly told me that she modeled through Wilhelmina Models and I wrote down wilhelmina models in my diary followed by an arrow. On the other side of the arrow I wrote $6,000 and then I drew another arrow and on the other side of that arrow I wrote paint horse. I hung up with Molly and ripped the piece of paper out of my diary and went into the kitchen to speak to my mother.
“Molly said I can earn money modeling with Wilhelmina Models.”
“I’m sure she did,” said my mother.
“How much money are you allowed to make at once?” I asked.
“Five thousand dollars,” my mother said. It looked like she wanted to say something else. Then she said something else. “So I heard about this Kayla girl today. At the pickup loop. From Carrie’s mom. Did you hear about this girl Kayla?”
“Do you know what a blowjob is?”
I felt a whooshing feeling like when a horse, beneath you, jumped a low rail: like it wasn’t even happening, or like it was happening to someone else. If didn’t answer I wouldn’t have to lie.
“It’s the most humiliating thing you’ll ever do.” She paused, as if for effect. “It’s when a boy puts his penis in a girl’s mouth. It’s something boys will do anything to get. They’ll tell you they love you, they’ll tell you it’s a nice thing to do, they’ll tell you other girls do it. But you should never, ever do it.”
“Okay,” I said. I was thinking about everything I knew about blowjobs, about the fan art I’d seen of Cloud from Final Fantasy VII giving Sephiroth from Final Fantasy VII a blowjob, about how I’d told Criz, this guy I was getting messages from on the goth site who said he wanted to fuck me in a jacuzzi, that I couldn’t wait to give him a blowjob when we finally got to a jacuzzi in a mutually convenient location.
“A blowjob can give you cancer of the throat.”
I looked down at the paper in my hand.
“You can’t be around to ride your special horse,” my mother said, “if you get throat cancer from a blowjob.”
Molly wasn’t afraid of dirt the way I was. She’d kiss Cat on the nose and the neck and the flank, but I’d never kiss any of the horses I rode anywhere because I didn’t want their germs. Whenever a horse ate a snack out of my hand I’d have to go over to my backpack and get the Purell hanging off the side and Purell myself up to my elbows. On Fridays we rode Western style, which hurt my vagina worse than English style did; Jill was always telling me to make my body loosey-goosey, but I couldn’t.
One afternoon during Western, Brag ran away with me. I made the mistake of getting too close to the gate, which probably made him think we were done riding around the ring, but we weren’t. He nosed the flimsy gate open and ran and ran down the long dirt path from the riding ring to the stables. I pulled as hard as I could, but I wasn’t good with split reins. He ran me straight into his open stall. When he finally stopped and started eating some hay off the floor, I felt like I weighed maybe two pounds and like I didn’t have a jaw or a heart. I looked down at the palms of my hands and they were bleeding and the bloody wounds were covered in brown grime from the reins. All the germs from all the other riders who’d ever touched the reins and from the air in the tack room where the reins were kept and from all the bugs and barn mice that probably crawled all over the reins at night when nobody was at the barn were in my bloodstream already, I knew it. I wanted to scream for Jill, but I felt I shouldn’t. I wanted to get off of Brag’s back, but I was afraid he’d rear or buck if I moved and then I’d fall and wind up in a coma like a girl my mother had read about in The Parklander and reminded me of each time she dropped me off for a lesson. So I swung myself off really fast and ran out of the stall and closed Brag in with all his tack on, which was against the rules, but I told myself I’d earned it. When I locked the door my hands were still shaking so bad that I sliced the top of my first finger open on the latch. I turned around and Jill was there.
“Open that door up and get back on him,” she said.
“But my hands,” I said, holding up my hands.
“He thinks he won,” Jill said. “Look at him.”
Together, we looked at Brag. He did look proud.
Jill opened the latch and pulled Brag back out. Then she helped me back on. She took the reins and led me around the stable in circles. “If he bucks,” she said, “I want you to push your heels down without kicking him in his belly.”
“I don’t want him to buck,” I said. I was crying. Cat never bolted. Cat never bucked.
“He might not,” Jill said. “But if he does.”
Molly was coming back from the ring, riding side-by-side with this girl Elle who was also in our grade but who wasn’t in any of our classes because she was technically in Learning Lighthouse, which was a special program at our school for kids with mild disabilities. Elle always got to ride Quinn because she was so close to retarded that she would’ve fallen off any horse with a personality. She was riding Quinn right now. She and Molly were laughing, most definitely at me. It didn’t make any sense. Elle was fatter than me and stupider and less popular. She never ate salads. I’d never seen her in short shorts but I knew there was no way she’d look hot in them.
“My butt hurts,” I said to Jill, because I didn’t want to say that my vagina hurt.
“You can be tough for this, Allie,” Jill said. “I know you can.”
I let Jill pull me around and around the stable, unsure of what would be the thing that would signal to the horse that he’d lost and I’d won.
In our 2D art elective one afternoon we were allowed to use our computers to research famous self-portraits so that we could draw our own self-portraits, which were 30 percent of our whole grade, in the style of our favorite existing self-portraits. I got so deep into reading about Frida Kahlo getting her leg amputated and imagining festering and gangrene and pus and disease that I didn’t notice I’d accidentally put my reading face on.
“Oh my god,” Molly said. “Your tongue.”
My reading face involved my tongue moving around my lips. Molly and Elle waggled their tongues at me, making gross noises.
When I looked back at my computer I could see in the window behind the window about Paints behind the window about Frida Kahlo’s rotting leg that I had a new message from Criz. I clicked it and read it as fast as I could. It was more jacuzzi stuff. Cant talk babe, I wrote back, and then I clicked it closed, looking up to see if Molly saw. But she was looking at her own computer screen, playing Icy Tower.
She looked back over at me and, as she did, she lost focus and died. “You made me die,” she said. “Why are you looking at my screen?” She bent her neck over and looked at my screen. “What are you doing, looking at anime?”
I slammed my laptop shut. My teeth were shaking. I was glad anime was the worst thing Molly could think of.
“Ms. Weiss,” Molly said, “Allie’s looking at anime.”
Ms. Weiss said she didn’t want to have to start passing out conditionals, and she expected us all to use our computers responsibly.
“I’m looking at Frida Kahlo,” I said, louder than I meant to. I’d never had a conditional, which was, unlike its name implied, permanent: on your record forever.
“God,” Molly said. “Chillax.” She went back to using her computer, as we all did, irresponsibly.
A famous author came to speak to our grade; he’d written a sci-fi novel about a prehistoric monster shark that survived at the bottom of the ocean for millions of years and then surfaced, in the year 2000, to feast. I’d read the book in the library during study hall; there was a lot of fucking in it. I brought my diary to assembly on the day of the author’s visit, hoping to ask how big a prehistoric monster shark’s giant head would be in relation to the lecture hall. Molly and I were coming to the assembly from different classes, so I waited for her by the double doors. She was with Elle. Molly said hi to me but didn’t ask if I wanted to sit with her and Elle. I followed close behind them anyway. We sat in a row near the back together and I pulled out my diary and put my hands on top of it in a weird way because I was nervous.
“Why are you holding it like that,” Molly asked me, and Elle laughed.
I moved my hands. Now the wrist I wore my black sex bracelet on was very prominent. I’d been wearing it nonstop, for showers and everything; it was getting rough and scabby the way plastic gets.
“I can’t believe you’re still wearing that,” Molly said. She’d stopped wearing hers (pink) after the first day went by, and no one broke it off. “Black is for sluts, by the way.” Elle laughed. “And it’s like: no one’s even ripping it.” Elle laughed harder. Molly was smiling her ratty catalog smile. You could see she knew it was a moneymaker.
The principal came out and introduced the author, and then the author came out. He talked about working as a marine biologist, and about getting the idea for the book, and about writing the book, and about talking about the book with cool people everywhere. Soon, he said, there would even be a movie of the book. At no point did he mention all the fucking that was in it.
When there was a chance to ask questions I stuck my hand up high and asked how big a monster shark’s head was in relation to the auditorium.
“Now—let’s—” the author looked at the signing table nearby, all set up for after. “Tell me—do you happen to be at least five feet tall?”
The author called me up and asked me my name. I gave it to him in front of everyone. No one said anything or made a noise when I did. If this girl Laurel had been called up, I knew, lots of boys would’ve said, Yeah Laurel and if this guy Matt W. had been called up all the bad kids would’ve laughed and chanted, Matt, Matt, Matt, Matt and if Elle had been called up lots of Learning Lighthouse kids would have been like, Yay, Elle. Everyone could see my sex bracelet. I put my hand over it. That made me feel like people could see it more.
The author put the chair from behind the table on top of the table. “Okay,” he said. “Now—can you stand up on the table?”
I crawled up on the table. My asshole quivered.
“Now,” said the author, whom I now hated more than anyone alive, “could you stand up on the chair on top of the table?” I hesitated. “I’m right here,” he said, and he put his arms out, like he’d catch me if I needed him to. Very slowly I climbed up on the chair and stood up, looking out at three hundred people who didn’t want to pull my sex bracelet off.
At home I smiled at myself in my bathroom mirror, trying to remake Molly’s narrow smirk; I couldn’t do it. At the assembly I’d seen her for what she was: a child. My own smile was starting to look crooked. I’d recently thrown my retainer away on purpose, wrapped in a napkin that was wrapped in a snack bag that was wrapped in a brown sack with my name on it, bookended by hearts. Molly, I knew, still had baby teeth. She couldn’t imagine about the goths or the Final Fantasy forum or the chatroom connected to the forum or reading Piccolo fanfics until my laptop fan got loud as a weedwacker or that most of what I thought about was what it would be like on the day when I could finally get eaten out, preferably in a jacuzzi. Brag galloped away with me. Molly was afraid even to canter. Her expensive velvety helmet couldn’t hide it. I saw her face whenever she was on Cat’s back.
One morning my mother woke me up for school early by turning on the light and sitting on the edge of my bed. There was a piece of paper in her hand. She put it down in front of me. It was my profile on VampireFreaks.com.
“This was in the printer this morning,” she said. “Is it yours?”
“No,” I said. “Maybe it’s Daddy’s.” I’d meant to print my first-draft outline for my paper on canopic jars. Clearly something had gone wrong.
My mother nodded and took the paper and left the room. I laid back down and sweated under the covers, trying to go back to sleep. A few minutes later my mother came back in and sat back down. “Daddy says it isn’t his,” she said. “Should I believe him?”
“Maybe it’s . . . Marlena’s?” I said, talking about our housekeeper.
That was when my mother dragged me out of bed by my hair.
“Don’t hate me,” I said. “Don’t kill me.”
“Kill you?” my mother asked. “I’m not gonna kill you, the freaks on this fucking website are gonna find you and kill you first. How dare you lie to me. I don’t know who the fuck you are. What the fuck is this shit,” she was saying, rubbing the paper in my face. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“It was a pop-up,” I said. “I got a pop-up when I was doing homework and it wouldn’t go away.” My mother stared at my face, so I made my eyes as big and as true as I could. She knew hardly anything about the internet. I watched her start to buy the pop-up lie. She let go of my hair. She asked me a couple more questions. I lied like an animal. She grounded me heavily still. No computer. No barn. No pool parties. No mall visits. No anything.
“But Molly,” I said. “And the baby horse. And I have to have my computer to research canopic jars.”
“You can use the library,” my mother said. “And the baby horse will be a baby for a long time. And Molly’s a little bitch. She’s horrible to you. I don’t know why you’re so far up her ass. And I know when you’re with her you put on makeup even though I’ve forbidden it. Her mother’s a drug addict. She’s addicted to pot.”
“Nancy doesn’t do pot,” I said, crying.
“Of course she does. But you can’t see that,” my mother said, “because you’re eleven,” she said, getting louder, “which is too young,” she shouted, “to be fucking around,” so loud her voice was rattling in her throat, “with fucking freak shit.”
I blinked. My scalp hurt. “How can you tell when someone’s addicted to pot?” I asked.
After thinking a minute my mother said: “You just can.”
I cried on the way to school and for a minute during English and again on the way home from school, on the bus, which I was riding because it was a Thursday, in the row behind Molly, who was sitting with Elle. That night, I cut up all my sex bracelets and put them in a Publix bag and brought the bag to my mother while she was washing her face, getting ready for bed.
“What is that?” she asked, patting her neck with a handtowel.
I told her that it was goth stuff and that I didn’t need it anymore. I asked her if she was still mad at me and she said she was. I asked her how long she thought she might be mad. She said she didn’t know. I asked her if I could maybe still get a Paint if I stayed off the internet and made a good grade on the Egypt project.
“We’ll talk,” she said, “but in about four years you’re going to want a car.”
“I’d rather have a horse.”
“So you can ride it to school?”
“Go to sleep, Allie,” my mother said.
In bed I looked at the wall and tried to imagine my first day back at the barn. Jill would say something like There’s Allie! or Welcome back! or Where ya been! and I’d say with sadness: I got mono. It would be time to train the baby. I’d hold her pink halter in my hand and rub her snout. She’d jerk her head, then dip her nose and wait. I’d slip the halter on and clack the plastic buckle tight and smooth her forelock. I’d hold the rope, which would be thick and new, no germs. At this point I pictured Molly stomping into the ring. I pictured her trying to take the rope away. I pictured myself screaming at Molly about how her dad was being anally raped every day with knives from the jail kitchen, screaming that he would die of AIDS in his jail bed, that he’d never come home, that I’d kill Cat and cut his head off and put it face first back into the neck hole; that Molly sucked Elle’s giant retard pussy on their playdates and also that her mother was a drug addict who paid the stable owners so that she could fuck all the boy horses’ foot-long cocks, that Nancy was full of horse cum, her vagina and her mouth, that Molly could go fuck herself. Molly would wail. The foal would rear. I’d lead her around the ring. She’s yours, Jill would say. Only I’d seen her be born. Only I could tame her. There the fantasy ended. I played it again and again until I was certain that someday it would happen; that it was the only thing that could happen. I played it until I felt the feeling. I felt the feeling and did nothing. It was so hard to fall asleep without my laptop, warm and full of experiences, pressed against my ribs.