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Slumber Party

Short Fiction by Madeline Cash

On the eve of my thirtieth birthday, I decide to host a slumber party. I inflate air mattresses and pop popcorn and rent a log cabin in the woods which will lend the perfect backdrop for scary story telling. I call my very best friend in the world. My very best friend in the world tells me she’s nine months pregnant, going into labor as we speak actually, and can’t make it to my slumber party. I say I understand and ask that she at least name the baby after me, even a middle name would suffice, to which she says no and does not wish me a happy birthday. I call my second- and third- best friends. My second-best friend tells me that she moved to Dubai six years ago for work, and my third best friend is planning her flash mob wedding, rendering her unavailable. I call my work colleague. My work colleague says she thinks it would be uncomfortable for us to spend any amount of time together outside of work, even a lunch, and that it would be more appropriate for me to invite a best friend or very best friend. I call my upstairs neighbor. The police answer and inform me that my upstairs neighbor was murdered during a violent break-in by that killer, the one who targets women in their early thirties. I offer my condolences.

I drive to the log cabin in the woods to meet Max and Walker and Anika. I rented them on Slumberparty LLC through the Childhood Memories app. They arrive with supplies like healing mud masks and energy drinks and tarot cards and an eighth of cocaine and new iPhone minis and a PS7, which will all be charged to my credit card on file. I worry it might be awkward at first but the actors are very professional. Anika even brought an itinerary:

5 p.m. Cocktails
6 p.m. Karaoke
7 p.m. Practice Altruism
8 p.m. Gossip
9 p.m. Mani/pedi
10 p.m. Practice ASL
11 p.m. Prank calls
12 a.m. Group sex
1 a.m. Mine Bitcoin/build blockchain
2 a.m. Binge/purge
3 a.m. Conjure the dead
4 a.m. Network
5 a.m. Freeze our eggs

“We want you to have the classic slumber party experience,” explains Anika. We all must sing “House of the Rising Sun” for karaoke. I ask if we can order lox and bagels in the morning but Anika tells me that lox and bagels are a high-caloric food and I did not select the traditional Semitic breakfast section in the Childhood Memories app. I ask when we can tell scary stories and she said life is the scary story. Then we watch forty-five minutes of Shoah.

For Altruism at 7 p.m. Anika uses my card on file to clean up an oil spill in the Mediterranean. Max and Walker buy Pelotons for underserved communities. “And so we beat on,” says Anika. She tells me to pick a cause: women, gays, rust belt families poisoned by the water supply, the ice caps, pygmy goats, Fortune 500 CEOs on house arrest, victims of whiplash, older tennis players, Texans in the winter, the Taliban in the springtime, Roe v. Wade, garden-variety voter suppression. I decide to bail someone out of prison. It ends up being my upstairs neighbor’s murderer.

Anika cups her hand to my ear. I like how her warm breath feels on my skin. These moments of closeness are what it is to be human. It’s time to gossip. She tells me that Max has fetal alcohol syndrome and that Walker has several offshore bank accounts and that Amazon is behind Brexit and that God is dead and that babies can see a litany of colors that we can’t even register. I tell her that I’d like to have a baby one day. “Motherhood will give me purpose,” I say. Anika paints a Chinese dragon on my toenails.

These moments of closeness are what it is to be human.

At 10 p.m. we start learning ASL. “I’ve never had a real sleepover before,” I admit. “Is this part of the classic slumber party experience?” “No!” Anika signs. But the app is sponsored by the American Sign Language Association so we must comply. I sign that I just want to reiterate how grateful I am to have them all over and that it really feels like I’m among friends and that these are the formative moments I’ll remember in life and, even though it’s their job, I hope this night is extra special for them as well. They pretend not to understand me.

The boys make prank calls asking if the recipient’s refrigerator is running. I imagine a refrigerator running—really running, in a 10k with condiments flying left and right—and laugh to myself. This kind of whimsy is what will make me a good mother.

At midnight I am instructed to strip. I shed my footie pajamas, which Anika promptly throws into the fireplace. Anika initiates the group sex by fucking Walker as he sucks off Max who whispers something in my ear. He says he can tell my star sign by the texture of my cervical mucus. He’s sexually clairvoyant. He sticks his fingers inside me and says, “Gemini rising.” They play a trap remix of “House of the Rising Sun.”

I find myself hoping that Anika will open up to me, tell me about her family, or want to do something called a fish braid to my hair. But she remains in character. Contractually obligated stoicism. I think, if we’d met under different circumstances, Anika might be a second or even a first best friend.

I take notes as Max and Walker explain decentralized currency. They say the Dow is up. The Jones is down. “Bull market,” they say. “Liquidity. Mutual funds. Bid-ask spread. Standard deviation. Dividends. Buyback,” they say. “Volatility?” I say. “Price-return? Fifty two-week high? Blue chip? Benchmark? Market Capitalism?” I say. “Good point,” they agree.

While the boys play video games, Anika takes me to TheSaladBar in town. They know her at TheSaladBar and on her 280th visit they’ll give her free dressing. We order massive salads and mine comes with a candle for my birthday. Anika tells me to make a wish as she signs my name on the check. “I wish to have a real slumber party by my fortieth. With a husband and kids and friends and their husbands and their kids.” I blow out the salad candle. The waiter looks at me with pity.

Next thing I know, we’re back in the log cabin and Anika is retching green bile into the toilet. I don’t think the old plumbing can handle it. I hold her hair and pat her back. I feel maternal towards her. She tells me that it’s my turn next and I say I don’t want to. This doesn’t feel like the classic slumber party experience. She tells me that Childhood Memories prides itself on its accuracy. I refuse to vomit and Anika, or the actor who plays Anika, looks angry with me. “Grow up,” she says.

Outside the bathroom, the boys have prepared a seance. They wear brown hooded robes and burn palo santo and have a virgin tied up in the corner. I wave hi to the virgin and she signs happy birthday back to me in ASL. She asks me how old I’m turning and I hold up three zero and she turns away disturbed. Max takes a vial of the virgin’s blood and pours it over Anika’s leftovers from TheSaladBar. “It’s time for you to communicate with the dead,” they say. I kneel in front of the takeout container and wonder who will be conjured. I hope it’s the boy from summer camp who everyone called a faggot and then drowned in the lake. I hope I can apologize to him and assure him that growing up isn’t that great and ask what the afterlife is like. But when the specter appears it’s not the boy from summer camp but my grandmother’s Cocker Spaniel who always hated me and pissed in my violin case. The ghost dog gnashes its teeth at me and growls. Max says it reflects negatively on my character to be so disliked by animals. “You’ll never get into heaven,” barks the Cocker Spaniel. It prances over and licks the virgin’s face affectionately.

I tell everyone that I want to go to bed. Max hands me an iPhone mini and says it’s not time for sleeping. It’s time for networking. He also hands me a script: It’s been too long // How are _____ and ______ // We have to get out to the Cape more // I did want to talk to you have something specific actually // I have a mutually beneficial opportunity // I thought of you immediately. Max and Walker and Anika don headsets for more fluid, hands-free communication and do lines of Adderall as they network. My grandmother’s dead dog and the virgin escape into the woods. I suddenly feel very alone. I open the Childhood Memories app’s rate-your-experience survey offering: “epic” or “meh.” I select “meh.”

She tells me that Amazon is behind Brexit and that God is dead and that babies can see a litany of colors that we can’t even register.

“Hey buddy,” says Anika in a voice that implies she has forgiven me for not purging earlier. She says it’s time to freeze our eggs. I say I’ve always imagined having a family the old-fashioned way. She says, “I’m not paid to indulge in pipe dreams. I’m paid to facilitate the classic slumber party experience which entails understanding our limits as people. You probably won’t find the perfect husband at your age but you could have the perfect child basted into your uterus.” “I’ve been considering adoption,” I tell Anika. Anika says that adopted kids are always weird and maladjusted. I tell her that I was adopted. She says that the medical fee for our egg-freezing was already charged and is non-refundable. She suggests I do something to fill my body. Perhaps lips injections or breast implants.

Max and Walker come into my bedroom with crowbars as the sun starts to rise. They say that they noticed I checked “meh” when rating my experience and if I don’t check “epic” immediately they will break both of my kneecaps. I change my experience to “epic.” They leave without saying goodbye. The palo santo sparks have started a fire in the living room and the log cabin is filling with smoke. I gather my things and tip Anika because she makes 15 percent less than Max and Walker. I ask her again if she wants to exchange email addresses or something. The sparks have spread to the surrounding woodlands and a forest fire is now raging. Helicopters begin dropping water from above. Anika says maybe she’ll see me on my fortieth birthday and gets into the Slumberparty van which is parked outside. I use the forest fire to light a cigarette and walk two hundred miles back to my apartment.

My apartment door is open when I get home. The lock has been picked and the deadbolt stolen. I assume my upstairs neighbor’s murderer had come looking for me and will surely be back. I google burial plots. I can’t afford them after what I spent on Slumberparty. I call my very best friend in the world and ask if she’ll attend my funeral. She tells me she’s experiencing a reverse postpartum after having her baby the old-fashioned way and is filled with constant euphoria. She’s far too elated to reflect on my short, morbid life. She and her husband begin making love and forget to hang up. I listen for a while.

An unknown number calls on the other line and I answer. It’s Anika’s voice asking if my refrigerator is running. I go to my refrigerator and open it. Every shelf is filled with lox and bagels. There are also capers and lemon and a petri dish of frozen embryos. I open the petri dish and the embryos are squirming. They move like inchworms, then like jumping beans—ricocheting out of their container and into the living room. They begin sprouting arms and legs. They’re in the throes of evolution. They’re plasma, then protozoa, then babies in bonnets. I try to breastfeed them but they’ve grown again, into toddlers then into petulant tweens and they’re eating all the bagels. Then they’re in graduation caps. They’re moving the tassel from right to left. “They grow up so fast,” I say as they pack their bags for college. “We love you mom,” say the embryos, hugging me as I cry and remind them to call. I realize I’m still holding my phone. I thank Anika. “House of the Rising Sun” plays through the receiver.