The other girls are named some variation of Alyssa. My name is spoiled milk on their tongues; they scrunch their dainty noses and spit it out. The other girls flash guava gums. I husk a coconut smile. Over winter, the other girls are blush, champagne, ballet slipper. Over summer, toasted sugar. In kindergarten, Alyssa C. and Alissa Cr. pinned me on the playground, scraped at the “dirt” on my skin until they struck pink.
The other girls’ moms show them how to attract; to plumpen their hips, hair, lips, plait the air with daisies, wink like a pinwheel in the sun. My mom shows me how to survive; flatten the ripe edges of my curves, work the wrinkles out of my voice, yes sir and no ma’am until I’m dull and hard as doll eyes.
All of our moms warn us about steeple-fingered men who rub their blooming shadows over musty doorways and down wet alleys, eager to snatch us up by our passing ponytails. But they don’t warn us about the nice boys. The boys who hold open auditorium doors and say, “After you,” who scrawl You’re my muse in the backs of our notebooks so we’ll see it months later and think of them, who swap sandwiches with us at lunch because their moms make tuna salad and our moms make peanut butter and jelly and they hate the way tuna salad makes the bread all squishy and we hate the way peanut butter spackles the roofs of our mouths and jelly oozes like cut flesh.
One night, when the air balloons with bullfrogs and tallow stars dimple the sky, a nice boy takes me to a drive-thru at the edge of town and buys me a chocolate malt and a cheeseburger. Fat is still melting hot and cold across my tongue when he reaches over the center console, presses my bare thigh deeper into candy-apple cracked vinyl, and puffed-chest whispers the one thing I don’t want to hear.
Ours is the only car ticking in the parking lot and the drive-thru’s neon sign arcs and hums and sweat pools in the shadows notched behind my knees and I know, same as the other girls, whoever I choose to be with this nice boy will stick like a pin. He’ll tell his friends and they’ll tell theirs until one morning I look up from spitting toothpaste into the sink, and there she’ll be in the mirror, Bloody Mary Bloody Mary Bloody Maryed into existence.
Back in the car, I hitch my saw-toothed breath and tell myself two truths and a lie: I am not pretty or popular enough to survive being a bitch or a tease, but I think I can live with being a whore.
Elizabeth Crowder is a law librarian and co-founder of The Sartorial Geek magazine. She is also Acquisitions Editor for X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine and Associate Editor for Uncharted Magazine. Her writing appears or is forthcoming in SmokeLong Quarterly, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and elsewhere.