Chelsea Voulgares ~ Hotbox

The tough girls stand in the bath­room, apply­ing Lee press-on nails. Simone’s their leader, and she leans against the grey cin­der block and hot­box­es a slim men­thol cig­a­rette. Her bangs fan up toward the ceil­ing, stiff and shin­ing with extra-hold hair­spray. They are epic. I shrink into my stall and hide behind the scent of glue and smoke and the iron of the trash bin where we throw our used pads. I can see her through the crack between the door and the jamb. The light pours through, a bea­con. Hey, Dana, she says, and points at me.

I didn’t think she knew my name. I breathe deep to calm my heart and take one step across the linoleum. Yeah?

Aren’t you John’s lit­tle sister?

I nod.

Ignoring the glares of the oth­er girls, she walks toward me. She comes right up, close in the tight space, and places her hand on my shoul­der. She leans her face three inch­es from mine. Her hand is hot and dry through my T‑shirt.

I thought so, she says. You have the same curly hair.


She starts to walk home with me after school every day. Instead of doing home­work, we watch music videos. We raid my par­ents liquor cab­i­net and pour tiny splash­es of whiskey into our grape pop. The smell is sweet and sour, and when I drink it burns my nose. Simone insists she’ll mar­ry Billy Idol when she grows up. I’d pre­fer Grace Jones or Debbie Harry, but say the guy from Flock of Seagulls.

When my broth­er comes home from bas­ket­ball prac­tice, Simone pats the couch beside her and tells him to take a load off. He smirks, mess­es my hair, and says he needs a show­er. I check my bangs and feel my face go hot.


Because I’m fif­teen, I have a learner’s per­mit. Nights and week­ends, John teach­es me to dri­ve. We do squares in the gigan­tic park­ing lot of the dis­count depart­ment store. Right turn, left turn, brake. Once I’m good enough, we hit side streets, then the main drag, then the high­way. The car’s an old compact—I hit six­ty and the engine shakes. I’ve start­ed to like it, though. The cheap grip of the vinyl steer­ing wheel under my hand.


Simone shows me how to do my make­up. She draws eye­lin­er into thick, bold streaks, and paints my lids with dark black and brown. Her breath on my face, her lips close to mine, the foam pad of the appli­ca­tor tick­les. With my eyes shut, I place my hand on her waist so I don’t lose my bal­ance. I gig­gle and squeeze. She’s done and tells me I’m gor­geous. I look in the mir­ror and think maybe she’s right.

The night before my driver’s test I prac­tice one last time. Simone, as usu­al, is hang­ing out at my house. She and John get in the back seat togeth­er. Don’t wor­ry, he says to me, you got this. If you were legal, you wouldn’t even need me.

I click “Rebel Yell” into the tape deck. I pull out of our dri­ve­way and into the street. We dri­ve through down­town and my pas­sen­gers chat.

I dri­ve down Walnut. Down Main. Down Lincoln and across. By the time I pull onto the free­way, Simone and John are qui­et and mak­ing out in the back­seat. In the rearview, I see John’s hand inside her shirt. I roll down my win­dow. Push my foot against the gas. The lit­tle car shakes and Billy Idol sings for more.


Chelsea Voulgares lives in the Chicago sub­urbs and is the edi­tor of the lit­er­ary jour­nal Lost Balloon. Her work has been pub­lished recent­ly in JMWW Journal, Bad Pony, Passages North, and Jellyfish Review. You can find her online at or on Twitter @chelsvoulgares.