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Claudia Smith

Jennies

Mary Ella Gentry has a pink room with a Barbie Dream House, the Sunshine Family farm, a Scooby Doo van, a giant Bionic Woman, and a fairy tent. Long pink tassels hang from the ceiling. She likes me to make the dolls alive. They are child catchers, adulterers, thieves. Skipper, the skinniest doll, lives in a cave in the closet, stealing from the dream house. She has no clothes, only tattered hair. The Bionic Woman comes out sometimes; she's too big for her brain, she crushes things. There are too many Barbies to count. There is only one original, the rest are clones, and the original is named Jennifer. The imposters often take over her life, steal her man. The GI Joe with the melted hand is the man we love. He spies on her through the dream house window. Ken is a good boyfriend, but easily fooled. He can never tell the difference between Jennifer and the Barbie clones.

My mother picks me up from the Gentryís in the night. I'm up already, listening to the summer storm. Mary Ella snores, the edge of her blanket tucked in her mouth. She is my best friend, but my brain was getting tired, making up all those stories.

 

At home a tomcat we call Ugly Cat brings us rats. He eats the tuna we leave, but we cannot touch him. Sometimes the rats are dead, sometimes their claws wriggling. Their claws are hands. At night they chew and scrape our walls. My mother says they are too many for one cat, even Ugly. So we put out traps. I leave the clone I took from Mary Ella's under the sink, and, when I pull her out the next day, her body is chewed up. Her head is gone. She was just a replicate, anyway. The original, Jennifer, has a butterfly sticker on her ankle.

Mary Ella calls me. "Why don't you have an answering machine?" Mary Ella lives in Waco, the same town as my grandparents. I wrap the cord around my wrist until it turns purple. "I miss you," Mary Ella says. She sends me butterfly stickers, and letters about school, the boys there, the teacher who does vagina exercises right in front of the class. You can see it happening, the clinching and unclinching, because her polyester pants are too tight. Camel-toe, Mary Ella calls it. She is "going" with a boy named Tray.

"We are too young for boyfriends," I tell her.

Mary Ella is crying. "I miss you so much," she says.

I try to see Mary Ella in my mind's eye, but all I see is Jennifer in an apron, with nothing underneath. GI Joe is watching her from the upstairs window.

"My mom says your father said I had to leave," I tell her.

"My mother said we aren't a free babysitting service," Mary Ella says.

 

The Ackerman twins are redheads. They spit, swear, and every Sunday, we go to Bible school. My mother says they are my best friends, and they say it, too. Their mother is soft colors, milky blonde hair, skin so white she looks dead. My mother leaves me at the Ackermanís every weekend. I make the beds, tucking with hospital corners, folding the pillows underneath the daisy print comforters. Every morning, there's a vitamin beside our plates of fresh fruit and whole wheat toast. We go to Bible school and learn the scriptures. The church smells of the fresh beige carpet. There is no stained glass. We drink red punch and eat casseroles, ambrosia salads, crumbly pastries. I memorize and forget, memorize and forget. Denise and Danielle cut my hair in beauty parlor, cut it way above my ears. No more crowning glory. Their mother cries.

Jenny lives in a cube house, made of glass and steel. My mother met her mother at the Wheatsville Co-op; they talked about window gardens. Her parents look like the Sunshine Family, only prettier. We wash our hair in herbal shampoos her mother cooks in the kitchen. Her father, he's an architect. At night we read books about beautiful, brilliant orphans. Anne of Green Gables. Sara Crewe. Oliver Twist. Jenny has her mother's long golden hair, her father's green eyes. When I talk to her I can say the right things. But when I think of her, all I see is the glass full of colored sand on the kitchen door, the plants in the windowsill, the candle beside her father's desk in the study. It looks like an ice cream sundae, with cherry, chocolate, whip cream. It doesn't suit the house. Someone must have given it to them. It needs dusting.


Claudia Smith's fiction has appeared in several literary journals, including Failbetter, Redivider, Elimae, Night Train and Juked. Her stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction: Short Short Stories From America And Beyond and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. Her chapbook of short-shorts, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts, is available from Rose Metal Press (www.rosemetalpress.com). She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart. More of her work may be found at www.claudiaweb.net.

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