By Sunshine Barbito
Ali hands me her tweezers then pulls her finger back to her lips. Her hands are always bleeding from too much sanitizer. Stuck at the sharp, flat tips of the tweezers there’s this dry stuff. Brown like old blood and maybe skin. I kneel down and grab the edge of Ali’s rug with the tweezers and pull. The dried stuff flakes off onto the hardwood floor.
Al loves sharp objects.
I click open my birth control wheel and dig my fingernails under the plastic. A few of the pink pills are left and under those, there’s what’s left of the sheet of acid that my boyfriend gave me. Megan scrapes a stick of chalk against Ali’s wall while I tweeze up the tabs.
She didn’t even get to finals before Al’s mom had to put her in the hospital. Megan told me that she came by the house to see how Ali was doing, right after. She said men in spacesuits were hauling trash pile after trash pile out of Ali’s room.
Ali’s phone starts to buzz. She answers it and puts the call on speaker. I put the little sheet of acid on the floor and pinch the tweezers together, pressing the sharp tip into the edges of the tabs to break them apart. The acid squares come loose, and I tell Megan to come here.
On the speaker, Ali’s mom says, “You girls need to get to bed soon.”
Her mom’s room is downstairs because she can’t get up them. Ali doesn’t like us to see her mom. Her mom, who can’t get in and out of the shower without help. Her mom, who had to drop us at the bottom of the hill outside of my house one time, because she was too heavy, and the car wouldn’t go. We stopped going to my house. It’s like Ali thinks that if we can’t see her mom’s body, then we can’t see hers.
When it’s all over, all the weight comes off, and Al’s mom forgets how to eat, and she’s left with skin that hangs off her skeleton. Enough for two of her.
Ali says okay, okay, and hangs up. She gets up from the bed and goes to her desk, and pumps a handful of sanitizer into her palm from the green bottle.
Megan sits by me on the floor and holds out her hand with the piece of chalk in it. Ali sits at the edge of her bed and pulls her sleeves over her hands. Megan and Ali, they’re so junior high. Mostly I still hang out with them because my boyfriend is busy at college, busy with his band. These girls, they still want to prank call boys and give each other makeovers.
I hold a tab of acid at the end of the tweezers and turn to Megan. “On your tongue,” I say, “It’ll rub off on your hand.”
Megan sticks her tongue out and looks up to the ceiling. Black eyeliner goops in the corner of her eyes and on her lids. She always sweats. The tweezers hit her tongue and I unsqueeze them. Megan closes her lips and makes a gross face.
“It’s salty,” she says, and she pulls two handfuls of her blonde ponytail apart to tighten it.
Ali reaches her sleeve-hand out and I stick my tongue out at her. She looks at the tweezers and tells me to hold on, then goes into her closet.
It’s better than before, but Ali’s room won’t stay clean.
Her mom calls it an accident so that you will, too. After it landed Al in the hospital, Ali’s mom had the old carpet in her room pulled up and hardwood put in. She got her a new mattress and a new desk with paints and brushes, so she can make her feelings art. Her mom had a wall in her room painted chalkboard so you can draw on it, but it doesn’t erase easy. Ali’s mom had the painters write happy things on the wall for her. Al erased them, so that Megan and I wouldn’t see. If you squint, they’re still there.
One corner of the chalk wall used to say, No one is perfect! All pencils have erasers.
All over the new hardwood you find ripped socks, used Band-Aids stuck sticky-side-down, old pages of homework and yellow Q-Tips. Al’s room always smells like fast food, even after the spacemen cleaned it. She can’t spend the night at my house or Megan’s after last time, when she stole a whole new pack of pencil sharpeners from Megan’s room.
After the accident, she’s not even allowed to shave her legs anymore. Her leg hair scratches me at night, when I sleep over, in her bed.
When it happened, Ali’s under arms looked like hamburger meat.
She backs out of her closet and Ali turns around watching the glass in her hand, careful not to spill. She sits down on the floor by me and Megan and holds the glass out to us. The smell burns my nose and makes me cough. Megan sneaks wide, goopy eyes at me.
The cabinets in Ali’s kitchen started disappearing cups and drawers disappeared utensils. Her mom figured she had a lazy teenager who didn’t want to put her dishes in the sink. The men in white suits and helmets found glasses upon glasses filled with rubbing alcohol, with paperclips, razor blades and sewing needles, earrings, butter knives, and soda tabs in them. Megan told everyone at school about the spacemen, too.
Now kids call Al the Alien behind her back.
Al’s mom just wanted to make the new bedroom pretty.
“Just to make sure,” Ali says, and she sets the cup down in front of me.
The rubbing alcohol looks almost pink. I dip the tweezers into the glass and then Ali holds out her sleeve for me to pat them dry. I tweeze a tab of acid into Ali’s mouth and then pick up two more with my fingertips and drop them onto my tongue.
“I’m used to it,” I say.
Megan stands up and gets back to her drawing on the wall. The acid tastes like nail polish remover on my tongue. I swallow big, stinging swallows. Ali goes to the sanitizer at her desk and pumps another palm full, then sets the glass down on the desk. She rubs the green goo over her hands over and over again and asks me when she’ll start to feel it.
Before the tabs go away, I stick my tongue out and try to comb my bangs down across my forehead, to take a picture with my phone. Pieces of dead hair break off and fall onto the hardwood. My boyfriend likes girls with colorful hair, so he bleaches mine sometimes, dyes it blue or pink or green, like now, or whatever he wants to see me in.
My hair won’t grow anymore, so I try and make my chin-length-green look okay. I angle the picture so it’s only tongue, then text it to my boyfriend and write, So long. I tweeze the rest of the acid back into my birth control wheel.
When the spacemen came, there were bowls of cereal hidden under Ali’s bed with milk hardened into the bottoms of them, from the head of the bedframe to the feet of it. Spoons stuck out of the crusted milk that had turned to this puke shade of green.
Megan scrapes the chalk against the wall and starts to laugh to herself. She says, “It’s almost ready,” She makes a yuck sound and asks me if she can just swallow the tab.
“Kinda chew it with your front teeth,” I say, not looking yet, at the chalk wall.
Megan says it’s ready. Al gasps when she sees it.
A text from my boyfriend dings my phone screen on. It says, What are you wearing?
Megan looks at us with her lips open and her teeth bouncing on the paper. In chalk, floating heads take up the middle of Ali’s wall.
The me-head has crooked bangs that stick up and her hair’s drawn in jagged, fried lines around her face. The Ali-head is a big circle face and two chins with dimples like moon craters. The Megan-head is all nose and ponytail and little Us on her face like beads of sweat.
“What’s wrong with you,” Ali says.
“It’s funny,” Megan says, “it’s cartoons.”
Under all of us, in half-erased chalk, the wall says, People come and go, but the right one’s always stay.
Ali kicks some socks and notebook paper out of the way and walks up to the drawings. She covers her mouth with her sleeve pulled over her hand. Ali says, “Erase it.”
I click my camera app open and tell Megan to come here. She sits down next to me on the floor, and we pose with our chests puffed up and our stomachs sucked in. Ali just stares at the cartoon-her. I angle it so you can’t see my hair and snap the picture of Megan and me.
Megan leans over my shoulder and sees the text from my boyfriend. She screams, “EW!” she says, “Don’t send that.”
“He wants to know what we’re wearing,” I tell her, and hit send.
Megan smacks my arms and says to leave her out of it. She says, “He always wants to know what we’re wearing.”
Ali pulls her sleeve back and blood gushes from her finger all over her hand and soaks into the sleeve. She puts her finger in her mouth again, my cheeks puff out like I’m gonna throw up. Megan screams yuck and tells Ali to go wash her hands. Ali swings the door open and heads for the bathroom.
The night I lost my virginity was back when Ali could still go to parties, and we threw them at Megan’s house. My boyfriend bought us a handle of vodka. I remember some of it and some of it is black. But Ali said that my boyfriend took me to a bedroom. She told me that she tried to open the door but there was a sock on the doorknob, and she couldn’t bring herself to touch it. When it’s all over, in the end, I don’t get to tell her it’s okay.
Megan looks at her drawings then back at me. She says, “I could’ve added antenna.”
I stand up from the floor and bounce onto Ali’s bed. A dusty smell comes off the blue covers. “And a spaceship,” I laugh, “that’d kill her.”
My phone dings in my lap, makes my stomach drops. A text from my boyfriend glows on the screen. It says, That’s all I get?
Ali rushes back into the room with a Band-Aid around her finger. She pumps sanitizer into her palm and rubs it up and down her arms. I get up on my knees on Al’s bed, push my boobs together with my elbows, and take a picture of my chest, leave my head out of it.
Megan goes oh my god, and she starts to laugh. We stare at her while she looks up and down her arms, hugs herself, until the shivers creep over Ali and me, too. I click on the camera app and look at my eyes in my phone screen, gone all black. All goosebumps and wild eyes, I hit send on the boobie picture.
It’s like she’s choking on her laugh. Megan curls up like a baby in a cradle on the new carpet floor. The hair sweating hair around her face sticks to her skin. My jaw won’t unclench, like when you can feel the puke piling up in your throat. The inside of my mouth tastes like the dentist, tooth dust from grinding them down, shaving and shattering them.
Ali can’t get off her bed.
She reaches her arms under the covers, rocks back and forth against her pillow.
Her cell starts to sing. Ali answers and asks, “What? Hello?” She tells us that her mom wants us to be quiet, and that sends Megan cackling.
I step off the bed spinning, stupid, sweating. The blue blanket bed looks floating free, zero gravity. Ali hangs up on her mom. If I press my hand into the black wall, I will fall through it through to another side somewhere else. Tap my phone screen. Nothing. Tap again.
Megan gets to her knees. She finds the piece of glowing green chalk chip and starts to scrape it against the black burnt board. Megan carves shooting stars into space.
“Still nothing,” I say, and hold my phone up so they can see the boobie picture.
She goes, “Your boyfriend,” in slow motion, and Megan finds her feet. She starts to sew a new funny face next to ours in outer space. She says, “Maybe I should freak out,” she says, “then I’ll get all new art stuff.”
“I didn’t freak out,” Ali says.
My ankles tickle and tingle and I try to tell Ali to stop tossing and turning, but my words won’t work. Gooey green worms wiggle around my feet like vines of veins. I smack at them with my cell-hand to get them gone, but more fall from sky to skin.
Megan says, “A new room.” She keeps at her cartoon and her shirt goes grey with sweat.
Ali says, “Stop it.”
Alibounces across her bed and she pulls my hand away from my feet and my other hand away from head. She says to stop scratching, I’m making all my hair fall out. Ali’s fingers blush and bleed, drip down and sizzle on me; an egg on a summer sidewalk.
Before I can look at the message making my phone glow, Megan laughs herself back to the floor and she falls into Ali’s drawing desk. The glass of pink rubbing alcohol spills and splashes onto the hardwood. The smell burns like when my boyfriend bleaches me.
From the floor Megan says what the fuck. Ali yells for Megan to get up. I get down on the floor and look under Ali’s bed. Brown bag after brown bag soaked in grease and grime are all shoved on top of each other. Under the bed starts to spin and smell and I shiver. The bags say, Taco Temple, and Best Burger.
Up from the floor the new floating head on the new space wall by Megan catches my eyes and everything starts spinning. He looks old with big, bad bags after bags under his eyes and monster, murder-teeth. The eyes start to follow me, all evil and eerie. Ali says over and over again that she’s going to throw the food away, she just hasn’t yet.
Megan calls at her cartoon from the floor and says, “Your boyfriend.”
I step over where either the floor is ruined into rubbing alcohol, or the alcohol has folded into floor. Wiggling, blue worms swim around the puddle, alcohol pond.
A buzz of boyfriend text on my phone. The text says, Show me something real.
Ali’s blood starts to brown on my wrists. Megan pulls a Band-Aid from the back of her pants and picks at the sticky stuck to her pants.
She says Ew, and Ali tells her to keep it on the carpet.
“How come you can’t even come to my house, but your room is disgusting,” Megan says, sticking the Band-Aid back onto the floor.
“If it’s all there,” Ali says, and she pulls the covers from her bed down to the alcohol puddle and presses it down, dries what she can. She says, “Then it’s not on me.”
My cartoon-boyfriend-head stares at me from the stars.
I say, “Let’s be blood brothers,” I say, “sisters.”
Al steps onto the covers and the blue blanket gets dark blue with the wet. Megan laughs like it’s just a joke. On the bed where Ali was sitting, spots of blood bleed into the sheets. There are the tweezers, and Ali tells us to wait. Her phone buzzes on the bed. She tucks the phone under her chin and gushes green sanitizer into her hands.
Ali says, “What, Mom,” then disappears into the dark.
Megan tells me to watch, and she takes the chalk to the space wall and starts shooting star marks crossing the cartoon Al. Ali’s Mom’s voice yells phone-fuzzy from the closet that we were supposed to be in bed hours ago. I shiver and little green hairs fall onto my feet. Megan makes antenna on the Ali-head and a UFO.
Below my boyfriend-head, if you squeeze your eyes squinted, the wall says, Even the darkest night will end, and the sun will rise!
Megan adds big, bulging alien-eyes to the Ali-head.
He won’t stop looking at me, licking his cartoon lips, his blood-dripping mouth. I scratch my scalp and give the green hair worms their freedom from me, wish I was free, and the little greens itch their way down my body, and the shivers won’t stop, the walls turn into the star-filled walls of space, and Al’s not finished fishing around in her closet, so I pull her out of there, take her cell from her chin and chuck it onto the blue bed.
Megan throws the chalk down and wipes her wet palm across the wall to try and wipe away the wild alien she made of Ali. I tell her to come here. Ali holds a new glass of rubbing alcohol in her hand and the rubber handle of a steak knife sticks out of it.
She says, “I’ve been saving this.”
I pull the knife out of the alcohol and the smell stings like when he took my virginity, the vodka-night, behind a closed bedroom door, when Ali did nothing, didn’t even knock. Nobody told me the pushing in would sting like alcohol on an open wound. My phone dings with a text from my boyfriend, bright blue screen, and it says, I’m waiting.
I throw my phone on Ali’s bed.
“Here,” I say to Megan and I hold my hand out, waiting for her to give me her wrist.
“You’re crazy,” Megan says. She says, “No way.”
I tell her to come on, Megan, we all want to do it. She crosses her arms over her chest. My fingers curl around her arms, try and pry pink skin free, force her to fix me, but she pulls harder, and my fingers slip away, she falls backward onto Ali’s covers.
“We need to match,” I yell, and Al’s phone says, Girls?
Ali rocks back and forth with her finger in her mouth. She squints at the space wall. Megan scoots, crab crawls away from me on the hardwood and says she won’t do it. Sweat drips from her forehead.
When it’s all over, Megan and me, we don’t stay friends.
The sound of phone-fuzz over voice says, Girls, again, and then Ali screams. She points and panics at the Ali-alien-head and covers her mouth.
Megan says, “It’s just a joke, Alien,” and she laughs.
Ali pushes up her sleeve and unfolds her forearm arm across my chest. Her skin is all glossed over with soft, shiny pink worms, striping her skin, red burn bubbles polka-dotting her skin, and she tells me to do it.
I drag the steak knife down and deep from Ali’s elbow crease till it splits open her hand. Ali’s phone beep, beeps like to end a call. Megan curls and covers herself. Ali’s knees thud against the floor and she gasps, gulps for breath.
She starts to crawl out of her bedroom.
I walk out behind her, squeezing the knife in my palm. Ali gets to the top of the stairs. She cries and calls for help, anyone, and her elbows wobble soft, they give out. She lies there on the hardwood. Al reaches over the first stair and slides down it a little, on her stomach. She lies with her legs facing me, her head pointing down the staircase. There are footsteps, then a violent voice from the bottom of the billions of steep stairs.
Her mom yells, “Ali,” and then help her upon help her.
My birth-control alarm goes off, blue light glows, ding, ding, dinging. Back in the bedroom, a pink pill pops out of the plastic into my palm. When it’s all over, Megan and I can’t remember if it took forever for someone to save our friend or no time at all. Men in uniforms rush up the stairs because Ali’s mom tries to, and only gets halfway to the second story.
She only makes it to the stair where the worming, thin stream of Al’s blood lands, and finally stops dripping.
If you squint, next to the floating heads in outer space, it reads, Push yourself, because no one else is going to do it for you.
I swallow the little pink pill and open the camera app on my phone. While they wrap and wrap Ali’s bleeding arm, I see myself in the screen; the dead, green mop from my college boyfriend bleaching and fixing my hair, me, all the time. I sit down on Ali’s bed and drag the tiny tweezers toward me. My phone mirrors me. Me, pinching a group of green locks together with the tip of the tweezers, then pulling them up and out of my scratchy scalp.
When it’s all over, my hair takes years to grow back.
Megan sweats at the edge of the bed, burying bloody things, razors and knives and anything sharp, in the blue blankets. Evidence. She asks me what we should do. In my phone screen I look like a cartoon. I yank strand after strand out of my head and let the dead hairs drop from my dead head, and fall all over Ali’s pretty, perfect new bedroom.
Sunshine Barbito is a fiction writer. She currently lives in New York City. Her short stories have been showcased in many literary magazines, the most recent being: “Glory of Love,” which won first place in Ember Chasm Review’s Fiction and Poetry Summer 2020 contest and was published in their third issue, “Baby,” published by Sad Girl Lit, “Sleepover,” published by Fecund Magazine, and “Jump for Heart,” published by Prometheus Dreaming. Sunshine has worked as a freelance editor, collaborating on projects with Dark Horse Comics, including The Umbrella Academy and Fight Club 3. She spoke at a panel about crime stories in comics at the 2019 Portland Comic-Con, to promote her first series as sole writer, Mafiosa, which will be released in October 2021. Sunshine works as an editorial intern with DZANC Books. To Sunshine, fiction is everything.