As Marion wiggled the rubber brush against my eyelashes I strained to keep my eyes open as long as I could. A salty pain began around the edges of my corneas, quickly working its way toward the center of my eyes. I couldn’t stand it any longer.
“I told you not to blink!” Marion, in a stern yet whiny voice. “Now look,” she said with I-told-you-so eyes, “You have mascara all over your face.”
I glanced up at the mirror to see fourteen black vertical lines under my right eye. To my horror, a tear was halfway down my face. I quickly wiped the droplet aside, embarrassed that Marion might think I was crying. I had never seen Marion cry, but Marion saw me cry once. It’s dangerous to show Marion too much weakness – give her an inch, and she’ll take a mile.
“Gimme that,” I said with surprising confidence.
I took the tube from her outstretched hand. Out came the blackened wand with a shoop! Marion scrutinized me through the mirror. Arms akimbo, she wore a white tank top and jean shorts with frayed edges – my mom thought that short shorts were inappropriate, but I convinced her to buy me a black pair with clean edges.
Carefully, steadily, I waved the wand over my eyelashes. “Taaa daaa!” I smiled and turned toward Marion.
“Jane! You look soooooo pretty!” she squealed, “I can’t believe this is your first time putting on mascara! One day, when you’re a fashion designer in New York, you’re going to be putting on mascara for the gazilionth time, and you’ll think of me, teaching you how to do it.”
“Well, I’m sure we’ll live together by then and we can talk about all the fun things we did as kids every day,” I replied, trying to make up a story like she always did. My stories never felt quite like they’d become true. I felt a twinge of doubt that Marion and I would truly be best friends forever – our friendship often felt like a fire that would either quietly extinguish itself or become a destructive inferno.
Marion’s house was newer than mine and had an elevator. It was really slow but it was an elevator in their house. Marion told me that if robbers ever came into the house, she would go into the elevator and make it stop between two of the levels. Safest place in the house. I always figured I would hide under my bed if bad guys came, but they would probably find me in a minute for my lack of creativity.
“What should we do now?” I asked Marion. She always knew what to do. She made the mundane special, even sacred.
“There are two things we can do,” she said decisively. “We could put on more makeup and take pictures on my computer using the special effects. Or . . . we could go upstairs and get fudgesicles and take Harvey on a walk to the park and jump off the swings.”
“Hmmmmmm,” I said as if I was really taking the two options under consideration.
“Let’s go to the park!”
The fudgesicles at Marion’s house were made out of weird, healthy ingredients so the texture was a bit off. Harvey was a Yorkshire Terrier, a tiny well-groomed dog who always had bows behind his ears, even though he was a boy dog. Marion told me that he’s gay so he doesn’t mind the bows. I didn’t even know a dog could be gay.
Whenever Marion and I walked outside together, people asked us if we were sisters. I never thought that we looked very similar, but we were both skinny with light brown hair and blue eyes. Depending on the day, we would either lie and tell people we were twins or tell them we’re just friends. Once, we dressed up as boys and told people we were brothers.
“Did you know that for every one step we take, Harvey takes six to cover the same distance. Kelly and I counted once.” Kelly was Marion’s big sister.
“No, I didn’t know that obbbbviously,” I quipped.
“Well I guess I’m just smarter than you,” she replied in a sing-song voice. This made me a little mad since I knew I was smarter than her, but I never seemed to be able to prove it. Even though I liked to read books and always got A’s at school, she could make me feel like a speechless dummy with the smallest turn of her words.
Marion had used her popsicle stick to pin her hair into a bun. I was jealous that I didn’t think of that idea, but didn’t want to copy her, so I threw mine out. The playground was for kids, but the swings were still okay for twelve-year-olds to use.
We walked gravely, monastically to the swing set. She chose right and I chose left. We hoisted ourselves onto the plastic seats and giggled as our feet swung, free from their earthly constraint. Back and forth, we swung, gaining momentum. My hands gripped around the chains; they had the sweet-and-salty smell of metal.
I closed my eyes and smiled, feeling the wind around me. I knew in my heart I shouldn’t be jealous of Marion. From a young age, Marion understood that seeing is believing. She showed off so that people would believe in her. I knew I didn’t need that kind of approval. I looked up at the sky, which had the hazel touch of evening descending upon its azure, framed by the black of my painted eyelashes.
“Hey Jane, do you want to sleep over tonight?” Marion asked.
“Sure! I just have to call to tell my Mom.”
“Great! I can teach you how to take off your mascara with Vaseline.”
As we swung back, her small grin challenged me to jump; we swung forward and set ourselves free, hurtling through the air toward the sand below.
“Marion” appeared in Issue 39 of Berkeley Fiction Review.
Charlotte Muth is a student of English and Linguistics, two fields that have taught her that language is vast, nebulous and ever-transforming. At this moment, she is probably also studying the way a leaf is falling off a tree or the way that everyone seems to coincidentally wear the same color on certain days. She believes that our words and the way we combine them are important: they are the means and ends of all intellectual pursuits.