by Rebecca Keith
Black patent leather with a big bow across the pointy toes. Soft pink leather ballerina-style slip-ons (mom would say my heels are too narrow so they’d slip off). White patent leather, also with a bow and a tiny heel! And endless jellies—my favorite are the clear electric blue ones. Transluscent is the word for it, dad said. And grey cowboy boots, also with a heel of course, a thick one but still a heel. Sophie has them all.
Sophie’s mom takes her shopping at Fayva all the time. They probably go there every Saturday. Meanwhile I’m stuck going with mom to Harry’s on the Upper West Side. Or Tip Top. And even for party shoes I have to wear Stride Rite, like with a strap and a flat sole. I do have one patent leather pair, with little leaf shapes cut out of them. But no bows, no heels, and especially no pointy toes. Your feet are not shaped like triangles, mom says, but she still lets me try on her one really good pair of heels. Some Italian designer. The box has yellow and white stripes across the top like a circus tent but very sophisticated. But Harry’s shoes. We don’t even live uptown. We have to take two trains to get all the way up there when we could walk to Fayva and maybe even swing by Eva’s for some frozen yogurt.
At Sophie’s party we play Heartthrob. It’s like Girl Talk Date Line, but Sophie thinks the boys are cuter. Except they all have names like Brad and Trevor. I don’t think I’ll ever meet anyone like that. City boys are so scrawny. Maybe when we get to junior high. Sophie is turning ten and she means business. She’s the first of us, of course, with her stupid March birthday. She has Claire read her horoscope aloud from her sister’s Teen magazine. Pisces: This month is all about YOU. It’s your time to shine, Pisces. Use that fish magnetism to swish past all the boys and have them follow you like your own personal school. Girlfriends jealous? There’s plenty to go around, but you get first pick.
Of course she does, I think. And we scrape the bottom of the barrel. Not like any of us really know what to do anyway. Sophie says she heard some story from her older sister about a girl who got eaten out in seventh grade. Eaten OUT? we all say. It sounds like zombies or rats in a dumpster. And she explains—something involving tuna and maggots. Or peanut butter. It’s way nasty as her sister would say. Way. But this isn’t how it’s usually done, she says, with the food. That was just an added touch. I think she made it up if her sister didn’t. I’m the last one to fall asleep at the party. Her parents turn out the lights at midnight and we stay up giggling for another hour, playing Truth or Truth. Dares would be too loud and not so much fun without boys anyway. Truth or truth: would you let Josh eat you out? I’m like dying inside. Sophie’s sister would say, How do you know I haven’t?
I lie there imagining who I might ever let do that to me. There are only made-up boys for this purpose: Todd—I hate that name, Ted maybe, Nathaniel is the cutest looking boy on the game cards. It says he likes soccer and chess, and going to the beach. He looks like he lives in California, which is all beaches, I think. Look how much of the coast it takes up—like the whole thing. My cousin Jen left for school in California last year. I wonder how she is. She wrote me one letter. Her handwriting is so round. I practiced writing like her for a whole afternoon. I copied the letter over and then added some more parts about her new boyfriend and her classes. In my version she liked her history class the most. She was studying Mesopotamia like us. I fall asleep at the party wishing I could visit Jen at Berkeley (where all the hippies used to be, my mom told me). I could stay in her dorm. Or maybe she lives in a house with all her friends. She told me that’s what she wanted even though I secretly thought living in a dorm sounded so cool. Either way, a sleepover party every night.
Claire hands out invitations for her birthday the next week. It’s at Sky Rink, the coolest. I like Wollman better because it’s outside and you feel like you’re in one of those old-timey Christmas cards surrounded by trees and the park lanterns. But they play better music at Sky Rink. Claire says she’s seen people do the Electric Slide on the ice there. I’ve only done it once, at my cousin’s bat mitzvah. Claire and Sophie always do a dance routine in the talent show, so they know the Electric Slide by heart. When we get to sixth grade they’ll probably do the closing number for the show. Emma isn’t invited to Claire’s party, even though we’ve tried to be nice to her since last year’s wilderness trip when Sophie invented the slam-the-door game against Emma. When our teacher Ms. Klein found out, she was so ashamed—she actually used the word ashamed and made us stay in our bunks and miss the campfire that night and write apology letters. I really did feel bad, and I even spent one of the next recesses trading stickers with Emma and let her trade me one shiny for an oily which is usually worth two shinys.
The thing about Claire’s party is there will probably be boys there. She invited Josh and Davy and Peter and both Mikes. Sophie says she has dibs on Peter. I wonder if she’ll pull out that horoscope to back it up. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who likes Josh, and he was pretty nice when we did that report together on hermit crabs a couple months ago, though we didn’t agree on our class crabs’ names. He said the biggest one was Killer and I insisted on calling her Penelope.
At lunch you can smell the hot dogs the whole way down from the fourth floor. It’s so so gross. Luckily there’s pizza too. The line reaches all the way from the cafeteria in the basement to the first floor landing. Claire and Sophie cut in front of me.
Guess what? Sophie says.
What? I say.
Claire’s mom got her Lee Press-Ons for the party!
Like three kinds, Claire says, even one with flowers on them. And she said we can have marshmallow fluff.
Ooh, I say, I can’t wait.
And?! Sophie says, looking at Claire.
And Sophie’s sister says she might lend us her crimping iron to get ready for ice skating!!!
I’m so excited. I used Sophie’s sister’s crimper one time last year but if we can use it before we go to Sky Rink we’ll look so cool. I have a pair of clip-on earrings too, plastic triangles, and I’ll wear my favorite sweater with the hot pink flowers. Sophie has an ice-skating skirt, of course, and her own ice skates, but I think she’s the only one unless Claire’s getting one for her birthday.
At the table we make more plans for the party. Claire says her mom is getting her Dirty Dancing. My mom wouldn’t let me see it last year but she said maybe I could watch it this year. I look over at the boys and Mike R. chucks half a hot dog at Mike F. Mike F dips the hot dog in his leftover chocolate milk and passes it to Peter. I hear No backsies as they pass it around the table until it spills and Mr. Caputo comes over and tells them to clean it up and that they’ll miss five minutes of recess. At recess we work on a play on the third floor landing. A couple of times a week a teacher comes by and tells us to get back to the gym, but usually we hang out here and work on our plays. This one is about an imposter posing as a millionaire’s daughter. When she’s discovered, the butler pulls off her wig to expose a bald wig and under that her real hair, which is red and thus obviously makes her an imposter to the blond millionaire. I’m the millionaire because Claire likes to be the butler. She tells me I have to push Sophie harder when we discover her scheme. Sophie swears revenge on all of us.
Mom drops me off for Claire’s party. Don’t forget to bring your extra socks to the rink, she says. Sophie’s already there, probably arrived early. They’re doing makeup.
Here, Sophie says, and hands me a tube of frosty pink lipstick. Mom would never let me wear makeup outside of the house, but I glide it on and then add some sparkly light blue eyeshadow. The lipstick looks like something the cool older sister on Kate & Allie would wear. Claire lets me pick out a pair of legwarmers to borrow, turquoise with black stripes. Jenny and Emily arrive and we take turns crimping. Claire’s bathroom has two sinks and actual vanity bulbs like a movie-star dressing room. When we’re done, I clip up a section of my hair—I could maybe pass for eleven. Claire’s mom gathers us in the hallway for a couple pictures and then we squeeze into a cab.
Sky Rink is on a long block by the river that’s always windy and seems dark even during the day. Then you have to take an elevator up to like the thirty-third floor. The building is huge and tan and ugly, and I don’t know what’s on the other floors. Offices? It looks like a prison.
The boys are meeting us there. We have a bench reserved, with balloons and some Happy Birthday streamers over it. Mike R. and Peter are already there, with Peter’s mom, lacing up their skates. We go to trade in our shoes and I see Josh coming in. Claire grabs the sleeve of his coat. Come wait in line with us! After her mom pays for all our skates, we sit on the benches. Sophie is ready to go in her little pink skirt and perfectly white skates. I’m glad Claire and I both got the same. I hate that the rental skates are all blue and orange and kind of plasticky. Josh sits next to me on the bench.
Did you know they have hockey here sometimes? My brother plays.
Cool, I say, even though I don’t really know much about hockey. How old is your brother?
He’s twelve, Josh says. He goes to I.S. 70.
Whoa, I say. I.S. 70 is full of tough kids. Everyone’s scared of going there but it’s kind of the only junior high.
Yeah, he got beat up in the fall by some eighth graders, but now he’s cool. Josh smiles. He has huge dimples. He’s kind of spiked his hair up tonight. Usually it falls in his face, but he’s still cute.
I wonder if the girls beat each other up in junior high. This fifth grader used to steal my Fruit Roll-Ups while I was waiting for the school bus when I was in kindergarten. I heard a story last year about girls ripping earrings out of each other’s ears
on the subway, but I think they were in high school and they were wearing gold and I don’t like gold.
C’mon, slowpokes! Sophie yells and stamps her skate. Josh goes over to the boys and the five of us girls head out onto the ice. I only have to hold onto the wall for a few seconds before I’m off, gliding next to Claire. Jenny says she likes my earrings. She says she has a slap bracelet to match and maybe I can borrow it sometime. Sophie has skated backwards into the middle, but there’s a girl in there wearing a full sequined and lace outfit doing twirls and little jumps. Sophie just kind of skates around her a little then comes back to us.
Someday by Mariah Carey comes on and we all squeal. Some-da-ay, ooh some-da-ay, the one you gave away will be the only one you’re wishing for. I swear I can hit the high note at the end.
Prove it! Sophie says.
Not while we’re skating, I say, and roll my eyes.
Fine, then later.
The next song is Paula Abdul’s Straight Up, which we like even more. I kind of skate backwards for a second then almost lose my balance. We catch up to the boys. Paula Ab-drool they say, and we skate way fast ahead of them. We pass a whole group of teenagers, most of them holding hands, a couple with their hands in each other’s back pockets. I wonder how they don’t fall over. On our next spin by the benches we skate over to the wall and peel off our scarves. Bobby Brown sings, Every little step I take, you will be there, as we skate back out.
A couple hours later we pull off our skates and put our sneakers back on, all groaning to make a big show of it. My feet feel like marshmallows on the moon. It’s crazy. In the bathroom Sophie pulls out the makeup and we touch-up our lips and eyelids. She even has a teensy sample of Jean Naté that we spray on our wrists and dab on our necks. The whole place smells like French fries and Claire’s mom says we can get some and hot chocolates before we leave.
We’re in line and Sophie whispers, Truth or Dare?
Dare, I say.
I dare you to kiss Josh goodbye. On. The. Lips.
I look back at him. He’s standing next to Mike F. who’s sticking two straws in his nose like a walrus, making all the boys laugh.
Okay, I say, piece-of-cake-like. Suddenly my feet aren’t marshmallows anymore. They’re rock-feet, so heavy I may be stuck in the hot chocolate line forever. We get our hot chocolates and one large fries to share. Claire’s mom appears from some secret nook around the corner with a giant cake and we sing, the boys adding in the you look like a monkey verse. Claire blows out all the candles and lets each of us have one to lick. It’s ice cream cake. I never like ice cream cake because the frosting is always too sweet and the ice cream is just plain chocolate and vanilla and strawberry which is the grossest. I’m trying to swallow a couple bites when Mike F. comes over and drops a French fry with ketchup in my puddle of melted ice cream. Ketchup is way worse than ice cream cake. EWWWWW, we all scream together, and the boys crack up. Claire’s mom and Peter’s mom say the sugar party will be wrapping up soon.
I can’t wait to watch Dirty Dancing. I’m more excited to see Dirty Dancing than I’m nervous to kiss Josh. I’ve seen the picture on the front. Patrick Swayze in his sunglasses and leather jacket. I don’t think I’ll ever meet a boy who looks like that. And what boy likes to dance? No one even dances like that anymore. I saw in the preview—the girls wear these really beautiful dresses with layers and layers of pastels or red and they spin and spin and get lifted up and the layers billow around them like the flowers in The Nutcracker or the I like to be in America scene in West Side Story.
We’re getting our coats and Sophie pushes me just a little. Do it, Claire whispers.
If I do it, I whisper to them, Sophie has to kiss Peter at recess on Monday.
I walk over to Josh. I guess I’ll see you at school, I say.
Yeah, he says.
I think tuna maggots peanut butter. I hate peanut butter. And tuna. And nobody likes maggots except maybe other maggots. I think Sophie hasn’t kissed a boy, but maybe if I don’t kiss Josh she will? I think is everyone watching me? Is Josh even taller than me? Where’s Claire’s mom? And Peter’s mom? Will she tell Josh’s mom? My lips are dry. The lipstick makes them feel weird. One time in the fall we prank called the boys we liked off the class list and hung up. Standing this close to Josh, does he recognize my breathing?
Rebecca Keith’s poetry, fiction, and other writing have appeared in Best New Poets, The Laurel Review, The Rumpus, BOMBlog, The Awl, Dossier, The Millions, and elsewhere. She holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and is a founder, curator, and host of Mixer Reading and Music series. She also sings and plays guitar and keyboards in Butchers & Bakers and the Roulettes.