Blondie and Brunette
Jackie was only one and a half years younger than Carla, but because she’d been living on a mountain, it was like she was two or three years younger. She acted more like Kate than Carla. Jackie sucked her thumb, didn’t care if her clothes matched, didn’t know that ‘bird’ meant penis, didn’t realize that babies did not come out of belly buttons. She knew the words to the songs their parents liked, and she loved campfire songs best, “Oh, Susanna,” an unbelievable number of verses to “She’ll Be Comin Round the Mountain.” But what about “Your Kiss Is on My List?” What about anything by Olivia Newton John? Never in her life had Jackie taken a shower. She needed ketchup at every meal and wanted everything to be purple.
Carla said, “Let’s play waitress,” and they all played waitress. Carla said, “Pretend our juice is wine,” and they pretended their juice was wine. When she and Jackie played on their own, away from Kate and Bernie, who still had to take naps, who still wanted to be around their mom a lot, they liked to practice kissing. Carla said, “You be the boy,” and Jackie was the boy. Carla got longer turns with Jackie’s bicycle, with the only Barbie that didn’t have a dog-chewed ankle, and with the round hairbrush they used as a microphone. One morning she made Jackie fold up a long strip of toilet paper and put it in her underpants and call it a maxi pad. With big eyes and big ears, sucking their thumbs, seated on the rim of the tub, Kate and Bernie watched the whole thing.
“But what’s it for?” Jackie asked. She had her nightgown bunched all the way up and pinned under chin, carefully pulling up her underpants so that the folded-up toilet paper stayed in place. The nightgown had a bunch of Muppets on it. Carla, who already had on her maxi pad, who was seated on the closed toilet seat with her legs crossed, top leg wagging, who was growing in size and grandeur with every second she spent with her younger cousins, recognized the nightgown as a hand-me-down from herself.
She said, “Don’t you know about periods?”
Underwear in place, Jackie let her nightgown fall back down. “I’ve heard of them.”
Carla told her about them. She knew about them because one day, watching her mother drop a pink box into their shopping cart, she had asked about it, knowing the box had something to do with dirty things people didn’t talk about, with the place between her legs, with the mysteries of being a woman. In hushed tones, walking past the shampoos, then down the freezer aisle, her mother had been only too happy to tell her all about it.
“It happens when you’re grown-up and you have hair down there,” Carla told Jackie—and the ever-listening Kate and Bernie too. “Every month some blood comes out, and then you can have a baby.”
Kate took her thumb out of her mouth. “Does it hurt?”
“Course it does.”
Kate’s eyes flashed fear. She put her thumb back in.
From where Carla sat, she could see into the girls’ bedroom, where, thumbtacked to the wall above the toy box, was a colored-pencil drawing of Daffy Duck. It was a perfect Daffy Duck—the beak, the feet, everything. It was too well done for Jackie to have made it, even if she’d traced it, and there was something very familiar about how it was drawn, as if it might come to life and jump off the paper. It reminded her of the sketches she had of her dad’s. And so she didn’t dare ask who had made it. She barely had anything of her dad’s, and to think he had given her cousins, his nieces, something he’d made and not her, even if it was just stupid Daffy Duck: it hurt.
Jackie said, “My mom says I’ll have hair on mine when I’m a mom.”
“Well, yeah,” Carla said. “And you’ll wear maxi pads, too.”
Jackie walked to the bathroom doorway and jumped over the threshold and into the hall. “I want Maxi to be my name.”
“Me too,” said Kate.
“You can’t be Maxi too,” said Jackie.
“I’ll be Amelia,” said Bernie.
“You’re always Amelia,” said Kate.
“Mine’ll be Rizzo,” said Carla, getting off the toilet and heading across the hall with the others for the toy box, for the belts, sashes, scarves, and jump ropes
they used to hike up their nightgowns and adorn themselves.
“We’ll be singers,” Carla said. “And sisters. And we live in California.”
Jackie put her hands on her hips and cocked them. “Got it,” she said.
She was Carla’s opposite: a curly-haired brunette with a wet smile and meat on her bones.
There were two kinds of sexy, and they each got to be one of those kinds.
They had all the free time in the world. Uncle Thad left for the office around eight each morning. As soon as they heard him start up the Saab, Carla, Jackie, Kate, and Bernie leaped out of bed and went to the window, watching the car move slowly down the long driveway, then turn right onto the mountain road, toward town. They held hands and danced, ahead of them hours and hours to themselves. Her father mostly kept to himself in the woods, probably still mad about the pot-smoking, and the moms and Phil slept in till about eleven, because they were up late every night, talking, drinking, laughing, playing cards.
Blondie and Brunette is from Meghan Wynne's forthcoming novel Endless Fever