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Terese Svoboda

Party Girl

The movie speeds along. She and he and the Wolfman, or It or giant ants. No sound. Who can hear with the snoring, the scrapping, the mechanical clicks and stops of dialing up boys? The party is going well when the party girl says over it: They get divorces.

The twins start to giggle then, taking turns. Divorces? they cry. Divorces! They laugh so hard they really cry but who knows the joke? All the party girl said was what happens to TV stars when they have to kiss other people. The party girl blinks. Then smiles. They have a mother with a divorce so they think they know. But it is her party and her mother who lets them mess up the bathroom with hair gel, who lets them flick on and off the TV. Let them kiss other people, let them kiss the TV.

Her TV has a long cord that reaches down into the basement half-window, creating a draft, a finger of cold that gets down into her sleeping bag by her leg. The TV cord barely makes it to the kitchen outlet. You can see it strung out across the linoleum if you go upstairs. Once already Hershey has unplugged it going on her first trip to the bathroom and now the father, stumbling, has backed out Wolfman into static which they have to fix.

The party girl feels her breasts. They are talking cup now, what old women wear under housedresses. She is in another country where you could wear just grass on a string around your middle forever. What would Tarzan think? He would get used to it. She would probably fit a doubleA coconut she says out loud but the others are looking at their fingernails now, and on the screen someone is kissing again, this time the absolute wrong person.

The party girl wiggles further into her bag. Getting kissed by the wrong person-how can you tell for real? She smells the heat in her bag. Now that she showers every day, she has forgotten the smell. She is an animal like the screen couple, their legs cramped from sitting so close together in the front seat, captured and tortured by the It and getting older with more smell.

If she digs into her bag so only one eye can get cold and the rest boils, she is safe. But Hershey sticks a receiver against her arm in the bag, with a boy talking on it. Dead mouse, dead mouse, screeches Hershey, and she pulls it out by the cord and her fingertips like it smells and the boy is still talking.

No one sleeps. The party girl gets out of her bag and eats more cake. It looks green in the absolute dark but with red spots where the seance candles puddle over their holders. No ghost hangs around, however. All they got was a squeak in the chair the party girl is sitting on. Not like at the other party where the Ouija wouldn't stay still, where they had the phone by itself play on the board.

The moon is finished, like the cake now. It is strange to see it gone. She is about to say something moony when Hershey does the Heimlich maneuver on one of the party girl's big dolls, saying how you have to know this to be a waitress which is what she wants to be.

Now the girls dance, now they jump rope. Now they all stand still for the National Anthem, and prop up Becky who will not wake up but just smiles because she has to do her brother's paper route when it gets light. Then the twins hyperventilate and fall down. Then the screen is snowing like everything is over.

Ah, to be eleven again, the party girl says, lighting the seance candle stubs with the lighter. The lighter comes from the emergency pack her mother is saving for when the bomb drops, she says. None of the other girls say anything. They just dial, this time to the boys' grandmothers and then to hang up after they ask, Do you know where Bert or Rodney is? or giggle.

Jammed up to her pillow is an album cover with two people looking at a moon, but not the one that people walk on because it is so close in their convertible that it seems to keep them apart. At that cover moon the twins are tossing giggle poison, popcorn, and letting it roll across Becky's open mouth on the bounce.

Someone is going to the bathroom now because she can hear the mother shout out across the living room upstairs, What time is it? like she, the girl, is a burglar. At school they told the story about the party where a parent shot a girl climbing in the window after talking to some boys. They thought she was the same one the week before who took the set, the silver and the trophies. It was the father's hunting rifle next to the bed just in case, they said.

That's why the party girl asks her father when she's coming out of the bathroom and he's at the fridge, whether he has ever hunted. All he says is-after he pours in milk with the grapeshot-Grapenuts is too personal, he says-is, Hunting? Me? No, but your brother can't find his lizard.

Her brother comes down to tell everyone it is loose, her mother said to. So? say the twins together with Hershey. We like lizards and they lean toward him saying he is cute and would he like to protect them? The brother doesn't stay and the party girl knows he is really worried about that lizard. He paid for it with his own money. The girls think he put it in the toilet which is why they're all going upstairs, even though the party girl says lizards don't like water that much. Not that he wouldn't try it, she says, and yawns.

Usually when the party girl falls asleep, the curlers against her skull are just like the pillow. Now she has a half-dream about being one of those guys who lie around on a board full of nails sticking up, and then Indian tortures of things going under the nails, the ones the nuns read at rest time last year to keep the boys quiet. Hershey has already pulled out her curlers but she is naturally curly. At twelve, what will it be in hair for the party girl? More curls? More parts? You need a fortuneteller for fashion. But nobody fell for the party girl's mother's palm readings. Who is tall and dark in seventh grade? Girls. The party girl is the tallest.

But the party is a success because she finds out where to get nylons without a mother. Hershey has a catalogue that will send even bras in a plain wrapper. That makes her feel safe. She can't buy them in a store or someone will see and tell, and she says No to shoplifting, not like the twins.

So far a success. And there is not much left to change that. The morning is coming. She sees it through the half-window and she sees then, all at once, that this, and not when someone jumps out from behind the fridge and stops your heart, is what it is to be dead: the snowy set light, the no moon and dull stars and almost sun but not, the sound upstairs so far away it could be a pharaoh's pots and pans, and the smell of bacon that makes you so hungry you have to shut your eyes.

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