Audra
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44 The first time Molly saw her, Audra was throwing herself backward, hooking her knees into the high beam of the jungle gym and flipping. She was upside down, and falling through the air. It was spring in Ohio, the summer heat creeping in. It melted the edges of buildings , turned the ramadas and portables, the large flat cubes of the public school buildings, into shivery holograms. Molly closed and opened her eyes, for the girl wavered as she landed and walked toward her—she could have been the shadow of a bird, or a displaced piece of dream. Molly chose not to alert her best friend, Cindy Fairchild. Cindy who sat next to her, expertly flipping colored rings from the backs of her hands to the palms. “My name is Audra,” the girl said, stopping five feet away, standing perfectly straight as if held up by strings. She was small and thin and her skin stretched tightly across her face, a little like cooked plastic , Molly thought, as if she’d been stuck in the oven and Shrinky Dinked. Now Cindy looked up. She wore clip-on hair feathers and they shivered at Audra’s presence, expanded like defensive bird wings. “Stop where you are!” Cindy said. She jumped up and pointed to the border where the cement patio they’d spread their jacks across metthesandbox,thebordersheandMollyenforcedtowardoffboys, to protect their best-friendness from other girls. Cindy crossed her Audra 45 Audra arms over her chest, tapped her foot. She gathered herself into making a visible effort at being polite. “I’m afraid to say that you can’t play with us,” she said, circling Molly’s waist with her arm, including by excluding, in a way that made Molly feel specially chosen, indebted and bound. Once, on an overnighter, lying on Cindy’s plush pink comforter, Cindy told Molly that Molly had a special something—she cocked herhead,lookedintoMolly’seyes,andsaid,“Hmm,Ijustdon’tknow what that is yet.” “What does she have to say?” Audra asked, bypassing Cindy and pointing to Molly, who was stuck, thinking about how Audra’s blue jeans were rigged up with a nylon belt so they buckled under it and folded into pleats. Audra had a silver embroidered star on her hip pocket, but it had burst open—the threads were the trail the star left behind. “I talk, she listens. Our teacher Mrs. Clements says that I’m verbal and she’s visual, which, contrary to what you might think, doesn’t mean she’s stupid.” As she said this Cindy thrust one hand out and put the other on her hip in a defensive dance move à la the Supremes. ThismadeMollyfeelsleepy.Shefeltsleepyeverytimesheplayed with Cindy’s jacks—the azure blue hoops, the lovely bright reds, transparentascherrycoughdrops.Shefelttiredabouthavingtokeep her own jacks, which were scratched and ugly, hidden in her pocket. Shewas tired, which was somehow dangerously close toangry, about not being able to wear her chocolate-flavored lip gloss, the one that shespentthreemonths’allowanceon.Shefeltshecouldnotwearthis lip gloss because Cindy said it made her lips look like mud. What she did next felt violent, like a magician pulling a bright red scarf up and out of her throat. ShelookedupatCindy,whoseheadwasbacklitbythesunsothe blond hairs that escaped her barrettes buzzed in an electric halo. She said, “She can play with us.” 46 Elegies for Uncanny Girls With one swift movement, Cindy bent down and made her jacks disappear into her jack sack. She swooped back up, feathers twirling, and left as the bell rang. And when Molly turned to look at Audra whom she had just stood up for, she was gone. Back in the classroom, at reading time, Cindy chose to partner withJeani,anewgirlwhomMollyhadseeneyeingCindy’serasercollection .She’dseenherlookatthepinkice-creamcones,thefatrubber hearts,thechocolatebarsthatactuallysmelledlikechocolate—erasers bought with the money her father the heart surgeon gave her every time he went out of town on important business. Cindy didn’t vulgarly flaunt her erasers—instead she kept them lined up along the metal pencil rim inside her desk so everyone could catch glimpses of them when she reached inside to slowly sharpen a pencil. When class was over, Cindy and Jeani, who was pretty but who Molly was happy to notice had a mole on the tip of her nose the size of a small ant, walked the long linoleum hallway arm in arm. Out on the playground, the sun was trying to light fire to the grass, great bright patches streaked between the trees, and Audra was running through them, wavering...


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