The teacher asked Magda to tell the class something about herself, so Magda told them that she knew how to time travel. She drew a diagram on the chalkboard—a tunnel with two ends, wide and flat on each end and skinny in the middle. A wormhole, she said. She went on to explain general relativity and relativistic time dilation and the twin paradox but June, who sat hunched in the third row nearly unseen, couldn’t follow. Magda wore red leather cowboy boots whose battered soles flapped open like mouths, and she had a constellation of angry pustules above her brows. June knew to befriend her would be to make life more interesting and also more difficult.
June was small and spindly and still able, at age twelve, to fold her body within itself like a collapsible box. She could squeeze into tiny hiding spots, where she would wait for someone to notice she was missing. Where’s June? her mom would call, and she’d feel the warm satisfaction of having her absence noticed. Magda found June during recess as June sat under a tree reading Anne of Green Gables. June watched her approach, the gaping mouths of her cowboy boots laughing soundlessly with each step.
I’m Magda, she said. Up close, her mottled forehead (the result of Gram negative folliculitis, not acne, June would later learn) brought out the blueness of her eyes. Sapphires, June thought—no, the ocean.
You’re in my class.
Actually, you’re in mine, June thought of saying. But she just nodded.
Magda sat next to her under the tree. Do you like it here?
Under the tree?
No, at this school.
June shrugged. She had never lived anywhere else besides Indiana.
But Magda had lived everywhere; this was her fifth school in seven years, and it was maybe the worst school so far. Her last school had an astronomy club, where they camped out to watch meteor showers and eclipses and sometimes just to stare up at the stars. This school didn’t even have an art budget.
It’s not so bad, June said, realizing as she said this that maybe it was and she just didn’t know any better.
Magda’s parents were artists. Her father made quilt latch hook rugs with farm animals on them. Her mother used digital data to construct kayaks modeled on her vagina.
Do the kayaks actually look like, uh… private parts?
Magda grinned. Vagina isn’t a bad word, June.
June wondered what else she’d been told that was actually a lie.
Magda didn’t have a TV in her house; her parents said TV melted your brain. A giant latch hook tapestry of a chicken hung in the kitchen, and one of Magda’s mother’s kayaks hung in the hall. June stared, trying to find a resemblance to the peculiar pink folds she’d never paid much attention to between her legs.
It’s so nice to meet you, June, said Magda’s mother, a thing people usually just said to be nice but from Magda’s mother’s mouth felt true. Her black-gray hair hung in a braid almost to her butt, and it swung in a pendulum behind her when she moved her head.
They ate leftover homemade macaroni and cheese—June never had mac and cheese that didn’t come out of a box—and then went outside to Magda’s playhouse. They were too tall and had to crouch to get under the doorframe, but the playhouse was free of cobwebs—it was recently played in. Magda made up a game where they were space explorers and the house was their rocket ship and they had to go back in time to save June’s alien boyfriend Sanoj (Jonas backwards, named for the cutest boy in their class) before he was killed by a meteor attack on Mars. June hadn’t been invited over another girl’s house since third grade, when she discovered she liked the company of books more than the company of others girls, but she knew they didn’t play games like this—probably because they could just watch TV. But the game was too fun to feel self-conscious about its potential babyishness.
We should make an actual story, Magda said. A space adventure. We can write it together.
What would happen?
Anything can happen, Magda said.
Magda’s father, who wore a braid in his black-gray beard, brought the girls a pitcher of hand-squeezed lemonade. Magda stood on one foot and stuck her big toe up in the air, her own thumbs-up.
Magda wore something new every day—her mother’s bronze silk-lined fur mink collar, her father’s emerald green shawl from Tibet, even once a pair of round vintage Windsor frames with the lenses popped out that she’d discovered at a tag sale. She didn’t yet wear a bra, and her newly developed breasts poked through her shirt like baby potatoes; June, who didn’t have any breasts at all, tried not to stare. The only thing Magda kept consistent was her red cowboy boots. She would sweep down the hallway with her chin in the air; June couldn’t tell if she was incensed by the stares or empowered.
Once, June asked her if she had always dressed this strangely.
Do my clothes embarrass you?
No, June lied.
I don’t think I dress strangely. I just wear things I like. Why do you always wear jeans?
June looked down at her legs. I don’t know, June said, puzzled that she had not questioned this before.
What’s your favorite color?
Orange, I think, said June. She thought of tangy juice, of the soft skin of a ripe orange.
Magda left a plastic bag in June’s locker the next day. It held a long cotton peasant skirt the color of fire. It came with a note: For you, it said. It was from her costume box.
My mom says blondes shouldn’t wear orange, June told her friend.
I say you should, said Magda.
June changed out of her jeans in a bathroom stall. The cotton swished between June’s bare legs like the cool sheets of her bed, and when she walked down the hallway, heads turned as though she were engulfed from the waist down in flames.
Magda lent June her Wicked soundtrack, and once June knew all the songs, the girls performed together in June’s laundry room, where the acoustics were best. Magda showed June how to do cat’s cradle and the different handshakes she learned the summer she went to sleepaway camp. Magda read books about planets and moons and stars and she taught June everything she knew. Once they spent study period attempting to send each other telepathic messages from across the room; Magda said she heard could almost hear something, and June lied and said she could, too.
With Magda, June was more visible and more ignored than she’d ever been. Heads turned away when the girls walked down the hall. Tables cleared in the cafeteria after the girls took a seat. Nevertheless, their classmates couldn’t seem to keep their eyes off of Magda, watching her fixedly when they thought no one else was looking. This gave June a mix of pride and jealousy she couldn’t explain.
Their teacher, Mrs. Superstein—nicknamed Mrs. Supersizestein for her girth—referred to them as The Star Sisters, an allusion neither of them understood but appreciated nevertheless.
They took turns writing the story each night, and they met to discuss each day during recess, their peasant skirts spread under the trees like pinwheels. June didn’t wear her orange skirt every day, but she had bought a few new orange accessories: a pair of earrings with dangling orange pom-poms, an orange blouse with a Peter Pan collar, a sequin orange belt with an orange star-shaped belt buckle. They named the two main characters in the story, space exploring best friends, after themselves.
They need to have a mission, said Magda.
What kind of mission?
To save something, or find something, or discover something new.
Who gives them the mission?
No one! It’ll be a mission from the universe.
June wrote down everything.
Jonas, the cutest boy in the class, kicked a soccer ball one afternoon at Magda’s face. Dykes! he hollered.
Magda’s eyes filled with wetness, bigger and bluer than ever. Planets, thought June.
June’s mother wasn’t sure what to make of Magda. Magda called June’s mother by her first name, something twelve-year-olds weren’t supposed to do, and she took off her socks and cowboy boots when June and Magda played in the backyard.
You might want to put some shoes on, Magda, said June’s mother. Baxter left some presents out there. Baxter was the family dog.
I don’t mind, Magda replied. Then she turned a cartwheel, her skirt tumbling over her head.
June’s sister, Mauve, who had two years on June and a belly button ring, called Magda Odd Duck when their mother was around and Fucking Freak when she wasn’t. I almost miss the days when you didn’t have any friends, Mauve said.
June and Magda added an alien character to their story named Evuam who tries to crash the spaceship. E-vom, they called her, accompanied by retching sounds.
June reached under Magda’s shirt one night and touched one of her small potato breasts. Except it wasn’t hard or cold; it was warm and malleable, squishy and squeezable as clay. June woke up damp between her legs and thought for a moment that she had peed herself. She looked all over her room, even under the bed, to assure herself that Magda wasn’t there.
Mrs. Superstein found out about Magda and June’s story and suggested that they enter it into a competition. The local newspaper was holding a contest for the best adventure story written by a middle schooler. You girls would be great for this, she said, her fleshy face spread in a grin. The Star Sisters!
Magda grabbed June’s hand. Wouldn’t this be awesome? We’d be famous!
Yeah, said June, slipping her hand away.
Magda asked her during recess what was wrong.
You’re sure? I know you, June.
Yeah, I’m sure. In her head, a voice she didn’t recognize added, No, you don’t.
O-kay, Magda said in that sing-songy way people did when they didn’t believe someone. We should work on the story then, if we want it to be done for the contest.
June agreed, but she couldn’t seem to concentrate on anything but Magda’s feet, her long elegant toes wiggling in the grass, the tiny nails painted electric green.
June joined the Spanish Club, of which her sister Mauve and her friends were members, and couldn’t hang out with Magda as often after school. She asked Mrs. Superstein for extra homework assignments. She took Baxter on long walks and never walked past Magda’s house.
You’re avoiding me, said Magda.
I’m busy, said June.
June stopped wearing her orange skirt, and her orange shirt, and her orange belt, and only sometimes wore her orange dangling pom-pom earrings. Her mother was glad. Orange isn’t your color, she said.
She didn’t always cup Magda’s breast at night. Sometimes she stroked her dark hair. Sometimes she kissed her eyelids, or her collarbone, or her pillowy pink lips. Once, sitting side by side in one of Magda’s mother’s kayaks, June slipped her hand into the dark valley between Magda’s thighs and woke up panting, her heart a baseball card stuck between the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
The story she worked on constantly. In her bedroom at night, perched at her desk, she thought up all the adventures June and Magda would go on together. They’d discover a set of twin planets, Agua Vaga and Vastus Vaga, one made up almost entirely of water and the other sand. They’d come upon a wishing moon, where everyone in the universe’s wishes gathered on its surface like gems. In the end they’d go back in time through a wormhole so they could be the only ones who’d remember it all. She wouldn’t notice the sky grow dark outside her window until she could no longer see the page. Sometimes she’d even forget she was alone.
She’d pass off the stories to Magda at school, a child for which they shared custody.
I miss you, Magda would say.
June wished she’d just disappear.
Holly—owner of three purebred Pomeranians, daughter of a divorcee with a Xanax addiction, and member of the Spanish Club—decided she wanted June to be her new best friend. June obliged. Holly and June spent hours at Holly’s house making collages. They’d get a stack of fashion magazines and pour through them, cutting out pretty models and pictures of high heels and words like “cute” and “fun” and “stylish” and arranging the clippings on colored construction paper and gluing them in place. Because it was her house, Holly deemed that she had authority to take any clippings of June’s that she wanted for her own.
They passed Magda once as she unlocked her Schwinn from the bike rack after school, singing not under her breath, but loudly, like she didn’t care who heard. Her Gram negative folliculitis was worse.
Aren’t you friends with her? asked Holly.
June looked away. Not really.
They had one last sleepover, organized by Magda and reluctantly attended by June. Magda arranged her patchwork comforter so it draped over both of their heads, a makeshift fortress. The flashlight was switched off so all they could see were the familiar shapes of one another’s noses and lashes. Their skinny legs touched at the knees, their mouths so close they could scarcely tell where one warm breath ended and another began.
Do you ever wish you could go back? Magda asked.
Go back where?
Like to one of your old schools?
No, silly. That would mean I wouldn’t be with you.
I mean like back in time.
Magda was quiet, and then she began to speak. She told a story about a girl who didn’t have any friends except the planets and moons and stars and never had to go to school and could just play all day long and June’s eyelids began to feel heavy but still she listened. She watched the girl’s mouth move—open close open—and suddenly the girl’s mouth was prying open June’s like an oyster shell. A tongue, warm and hard. Hands where she’d never felt someone else’s hands before. June kissed and kissed and kissed until her head lifted off her shoulders and floated away, out through the open window, dipping and bobbing up towards the night sky.
June? Wake up! Are you all right?
Magda was shaking her shoulders. June put her hand to her cheek; it was wet.
I think I need to go home, she said.
Okay, said Magda, smiling sadly.
They were announced as the winner of the contest, until the newspaper found out that Magda and June had written the story together and they were disqualified—only one person was allowed to win. They stopped talking soon after that. A Hollywood starlet wore an orange dress to a movie premiere, and suddenly orange was everywhere and in shades June had only ever thought of as fruits: apricot, peach, mango. June began to grow breasts, and she wrapped a medical bandage around her chest every day before school so no one would know they were there.
Rarely did she dream of Magda. The flappy mouths of Magda’s red cowboy boots tried to talk to June one night, but she couldn’t hear what they were saying. Soon after, Magda exchanged her cowboy boots for a pair of men’s penny loafers; the cowboy boots had been saying goodbye.
Magda would move away; it’d be rumored that the landlord for her mother’s store refused to lease her the space any longer, accusing her of distributing obscene materials. Years later, June would go to prom with Jonas, who’d be twenty pounds overweight and no longer the cutest boy in the class. She’d see a picture on the Internet of Magda at her own prom, standing alone in the center of a crowded gymnasium. Though Magda had always talked about making a prom dress out of pink duct tape, she’d wear instead a long, elegant taffeta gown the color—not of apricots, peaches, or mangos—but of fire. She’d smile at June through the screen, her forehead finally clear and her eyes so blue blue blue and June would think, Beautiful.
Corinne Sullivan currently resides in Bronxville, New York, where she is an MFA candidate at Sarah Lawrence College. She has had work published in Allegheny Review and has work forthcoming in Night Train, Knee-Jerk, Saturday Night Reader, and Rougarou.