James drove his parents’ car. Chloe ran toward him as he sat in the driver’s seat with the motor running. She squealed like a spaz.
“Shotgun! Shotgun!” Like I was gonna run and get shotgun, you spaz. James stuck his head out of the open window a little. It was early autumn, it was still mild outside. He spoke so effortlessly.
“Hey Mrs. Appleby!” I turned and saw my mother standing in the front veranda, a picture of confusion. By now Chloe was in the front passenger seat, all aglow. I slunk into the back. I noticed that Chloe had bunched her already-too-short cheer skirt right up to her spankies.
“You like?” she cooed to James.
“Bodacious!” he replied. O how I could change him! But then, oh shit, he turned over his shoulder to look at me. My heart stopped and my nerves atrophied. His words were like magic.
“Hey Anna!” I did the whole “say something you idiot!” thing in my head. I had to be quick, so I said…
I thought it sucked at the time of course, but maybe it was cool? Didn’t matter because little-miss-slutty-short-skirt chimed in.
“Pretty soon babe, I’ll be on the sidelines cheering your tight ass on!” James laughed at this. He actually laughed at this with a laugh that passed for sincere. Hormones are indeed strong, I guess. I immediately became violently depressed. Thank goodness James wasn’t looking at me anymore, as he pulled the car out of our driveway. I glanced out at Doris, still standing there, staring, meek and helpless.
James drove fast and carelessly, while Chloe cranked the stereo way too loud with some rock bullshit. Then I could see her method. She scream-whispered into James’ ear, having a clandestine conversation with me mere feet away. How insulting. What the fuck could they possibly be saying that would offend me. Gross me out, sure, but offend me? Hardly. I was my own harshest critic already, only I can offend me. After a minute of secret chatting, Chloe turned down the music and leaned over to talk to me.
“Hey sis,” she said, being mildly polite for James’ sake, “James is getting some people together to check out these waterfalls after school.”
“Yeah,” chimed in James, “you should come.” I was there already, but of course Chloe had to rabbit on.
“It’ll be good for you to meet new people, and anyway, mom told me to help you out.”
Fuck you, cunt!
“Go on, Anna,” said James (saying my name again!), “I want you to come.”
Oh Jesus stop already! I couldn’t speak, so I just nodded, like a dweeb. James must have thought I was a rude bitch. Chloe stared at me with evil eyes.
“She nodded,” she said to James.
“Cool!” said James. Yes. Yes, it was “cool.” Then Chloe turned the music back up way too loud just to piss me off. It worked. She looked at me and we started doing that thing where you mouth words silently with great articulation. Chloe mouthed “you’re a stupid fucking bitch” while I came back with “fucking slut Goddamn fucking whore” and it just went from there until, Oh shit! James saw me. He saw me in the rear view mirror saying such ugly things, being ugly, being bitter and coarse and vile and hateful. I tried to save myself. I smiled like I was just kidding around. Magically, I think, he kinda smiled back. Until Chloe noticed and started to laugh her usual over-the-top fake-as-hell laugh that for some unknown reason people seemed to like. James now just looked bewildered.
“What?” he said. “What are you guys doing?” Chloe just kept laughing. I gave her my demon eyes from Hell.
Look, I know what you must be thinking by now. Chloe is not only my sister, she is my other/self, my twin so inescapably linked. How could there be such animosity between the two of us? I admit, sometimes the venom was indeed so vitriolic, it’s hard to imagine us sharing anything, such as blood, womb, looks. If we were indeed the same person, no doubt we were suffering from deep schizophrenia. It wasn’t normal at all.
But therein lies the point, methinks. We weren’t normal. Our journey together was bound to be a heightened one, as we were forced to respond to questions of identity and self that are far beyond what you the vast unjoined experience. So pity us, please. Allow us some latitude. I have already indicated to you that events in our story will unfold in ways you couldn’t ever possibly imagine. Brace yourself with this fact. Know that we have much ground to cover.
But until then—
In first period art class me and Chloe got into a ravenous to-the-death hair-pulling teeth- grinding scream-and-spit all-out punchfest. We grappled like legends, I thought. All the other students went ballistic cheering us on, going all hedonistic Roman. With good cause. Our combined savagery was so fierce that the art teacher Ms. Tuxford wheedled her little bird-like self out of the room to go get the principal. Good, because her constitution is far too fragile to deal with what I was about to do to my bitch sister. I had her in a headlock at one stage, and almost got in some direct face punches, until I was distracted by James talking to his douchebag friend Tyler. Even amidst all the cheering and yelling and screaming, James’ words cut right to me.
“Twinkie bitch-fight dude!”
In an instant I realized again how ugly I must have looked, my face all contorted in some feral viciousness. There was no way that Chloe would ever allow herself to appear so ugly. I mean, I saw her. Even in a fistfight with me about to wail on her face and make it meat, she came across as sexily unruffled, sweaty in all the right places. It was all too much for me to stand.
Rather than beat that face into submission, I kept the choke hold, and the two of us veered and bounced clumsily off students and desks and tubes of open paint, until I remember feeling dizzy. The fight had gone on for too long. I’m not athletic, I only have my rage. It burns out quickly, until I really just want to lie down. So everything slowed, the voices, everything. Then Mr. Nodder arrived. The fight was over.
Sitting in Mr. Nodder’s office next to Chloe, each of us sporting a few scratches, a couple bruises and the odd smear of paint, I remember thinking, life is nothing but conflict. Everyday one awakens, every breath is spent in a never-ending head-butt with reality. I remember thinking that I will never know contentment. Such a thing couldn’t ever possibly exist.
Nodder (I’m dropping the “mister”) was finally ready to address us. Like any middle- aged short baldy with a Napoleon complex, he was prone to tediously ineffective pregnant pauses.
“So,” he said, “how did this start?” Chloe leapt in at the first possible instant.
“She jumped me! I was trying to paint, minding my own business, and she jumped me!”
Nodder apparently bought this. “Anna? Is this true?” I wasn’t going to give the little Nazi the benefit of a quick reply. “Anna!”
The bald (ha!) truth of the matter was that I had reacted with pure instinct. Okay, perhaps pure instinct combined with a morning full of conscious and unconscious prodding, nudging and urging from Chloe Queen Slut advertising in big BOLD letters her Undying Love For James and oh by the way I Am Probably Having Sex With Him And You’re Not. All this harrumphing culminated in yet another touch, Chloe in art class reaching out her soiled hand to grab James’ ass for what seemed like the millionth time. I told Nodder.
“She was touching him.”
“Touching?” said Nodder, wanting details like the perv that he is. Of course Chloe would not remain silent for this.
“I was not!” she shrieked. “She’s having some major drug flashback, Mr. Nodder, I mean…” Nodder interrupted.
“That’s enough, Chloe!”
(Why is it that just because I’m pale and keep to myself that everyone thinks I’m on drugs? I’ve been sober all my life!)
“Anna,” said the shrimp, “describe this touching. Whom was she touching?” Fine, perv.
“Him,” I said, “James.”
The truth was, just before the altercation, James was walking over to me, probably to say something that he couldn’t in the car ride to school. But then Chloe stepped up behind him and put her hands over his eyes, playing that retarded “guess who” game. (Gee, I wonder!) James, being polite, turned around, probably out of sheer pity. And when he did, that’s when Chloe extended that twiggy arm of hers and grabbed him by the ass. I could take it no longer. I jumped her. I’m pretty sure James thought it was funny. Nodder looked at me slack-jawed.
“You’re excused, Chloe,” he said.
“Thank you, sir,” said Chloe, ever the brown-nose. She stood.
“And good luck with the cheerleading,” Nodder added. “Get those girls worked up. Reform!” What the hell was that supposed to mean?
“Yes sir!” said Chloe on her way out the door. Nodder stood up to do an authority walk. I knew he just wanted to get closer to me. It was so obvious he was a perv, that’s why he worked in a high school, the sicko. He didn’t even wait for effect. He got right up in my grill from the get-go. He smelled like some strange old-man product I couldn’t possibly describe other than to say, peppermint genital. So fucking gross. His dumb face spoke.
“I’ve seen kids like you. Jealous. Petty. Destructive. City brats. You don’t feel you belong here, so you don’t even try. Probably all doped up on pot, meths...”
“Mr. Nodder,” I interrupted, “I…” To no avail.
“We’re not stupid, Miss Appleby! And you’re a long way from Californ-y now!” This is when I told myself to shut up and go all stoic. Nodder continued. I could sense that he thought he was on a roll or something.
“The thing is, I’ve already spoken with your mother, and, seeing how you’re new here, I’ve agreed to let you continue your day. But if it were up to me, I’d turn you loose into the world. You know what your future is, kid?” No, what! Here’s when Nodder tried to do impersonations or accents or something. It was pure bad stand-up. First he tried doing a hillbilly.
“‘ You want fries with that?’ Or, ‘Anna, you missed a spot.’ ” But then it got even better. He tried to do something vaguely British Isles.
“Or how about, ‘I’d like to sir, but mistress won’t allow it.’ ”
Now I consider myself to have a pretty above-average imagination, but I still have no idea what Nodder was talking about here, other to say that surely it involved something so debasingly deviant and revolting, that I instantly wished I was recording this little conversation, so I could out Nodder as the sex offender that I’m certain he is to this very day. I think even Nodder himself thought he may have pushed his little rant too far with his last comment, as he cleared his throat and moved away from me, finally. His discourse was coming to a close.
“But the fact is, I don’t need to punish you. You punish yourself. Get out.” I didn’t hesitate, but I didn’t bolt out either. I moved calmly. I didn’t want him to win. Nodder couldn’t resist one last gibe as I was leaving.
“And Anna?” I stopped but didn’t turn back to him. “Stay away from James Callifano.” I exited past Nodder’s assistant who was then entering the room. Behind me I could hear her say that his next appointment was there, someone’s parent. I found it hard to believe that Nodder could have an adult conversation with anyone.