Caroline
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35 In the picnic area behind the swimming pool, shielded by a small pocket made by pomegranate trees, we folded paper into prisms and wrote names of boys under folds we colored like peacock feathers. To land a boy you picked a number and watched your friend’s fingers open and shut the prism—nineteen, twenty times—felt your face flush as you leaned over and unfolded one of the petals. Your friend held your future in her hands and the boy you would ride into it, as if he were a chariot. We’d be asleep, like some of our mothers; or driving , with a whip. Buttherevealedboy—eventheoneyousecretlywanted—paled in comparison to the conjuring, the making of the prism, the secrecy , and the power of your friend’s fingers, voice, breath. Inside our folds—under our arms and behind our knees—we also loved one another. Remember? The one who was you, but different. The one you were supposed to leave behind. I loved Caroline. Caroline, because we didn’t go to the same school and had to wait for each other, in stiff winter clothing, for summer when we could be mostly naked. School was bad for many reasons, one of which was that I only had one pair of jeans with the right insignia embroidered into the small front pocket. That horse’s head I imagined would make me run fast, or gallop along the beach like the girl with long flowing hair who Caroline 36 Elegies for Uncanny Girls worethesejeansinthecommercial.Insteaditputmeinwithtwogirls withsimilarjeansandthroughthelongschoolmonthswewalkedina defensivewall,armslinkedagainstboysandtheirbadwords—bitch, douche, snatch, slut—or against other girls and their lesser outfits. During sixth grade our movements nearly stopped. We walked in our wall, or sat in a circle on the playground trading stickers. A yellow heart for a red balloon, a boring teddy bear for a fat rainbow attached to a cloud. I didn’t dare trade for what I really wanted—the stickers from boutiques that Melissa Carlyle owned: the Mylar disco ball, the mood stickers filled with swirls of oil that seemed intricately connected to her royal essence. Anditwastheyeartheschoolnursemarchedintoourclassroom and sent the boys out into the hall. She was on a hunt for the bandit girl who was clogging the toilets with maxi pads. She held one up. Exhibit A. I was surprised to see that the pad looked harmless, like a small boat made of clouds. I imagined I’d put one between my legs and sail into a different, more dangerous land. Summer was another land. Of public swimming pools, and vacations with Caroline’s family to the beach in California. For four years we’d caravanned across two states, hot and sticky inside cars withoutairconditioning,surroundedbythesmellofsiblings,andcar food—dank apples and raisins that stuck to our legs like large moles. Among the welter we kept our status as rulers by reminding each other we owned the only two pairs of roller skates among five brothers and sisters—and we envisioned California, where we’d skate free along the sidewalks that wrapped around our campgrounds . Our background: a soft-rock album cover—a silhouetted palm tree and a fuzzy orange-and-yellow sunset. We’d be miniature roller-skating Amazons—our legs, strong from swim team, would glisten with coconut oil. Of course our parents usually made us share our roller skates. 37 Caroline So for this we devised a plan. We took off one skate each, tossed the other over our shoulder to a waiting brother or sister, and joined ourselves in motion by skating onourinsidelegsandholdingeachother’swaistsforbalance.Wehad to force our legs in because they kept moving out, as if our combined body was doing the splits, and we had to keep our inside legs hitched up for one, two, four seconds until we fell into each other like heavy flamingos. We would skate and crash. Skate and crash. We made a pocket of stunted motion—until we sealed ourselves together by being stupid and the same. And we were the same. The summer we were seven, we each lost a front tooth in the same week. Our swim team bathing suit was the same bright blue, so when we dove underwater our bodies blurred intoidenticalrippledseacreatures.Thewomanwhosoldusicecream said, “You must be sisters.” And once, after a sleepover, Caroline’s mother told us that we’d talked to each other while we slept. She’d heard our voices at three o’clock, but when she went to check on us our eyes were closed, our lips gently...


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