Authors: Celia Vogel
She hid herself away in an attic, a space small and crammed with cardboard boxes stored atop a child's dresser, discarded furniture, porcelain dolls with matted hair and books whose bindings had become crumbled and detached. The two small windowsills were dust-covered; the white paint was cracked and flaking off and in bad need of repair. Spider webs with the intricate detail of Queen Anne's lace, clung to the frame, as if by magic. White sunlight shimmered through the dull glass as it made its way into the room, illuminating the area with natural light. She sat in the middle of the room, hunched over and cross-legged on the floor, rummaging through family albums spread out around her, looking at photographs. There was a picture of herself as a baby; she couldn't have been more than a day old. How many times had her mother told her the story of her birth? she wondered. She turned the pages of the album, and there she saw a plump girl of four with wavy dark hair, tightly secured with metallic hair clips, gazing up in smiling trustfulness for Mommy and Daddy, who were holding the camera. She peered at this picture, trying to recognize the girl she had once been. What had become of that girl? she wondered. Jillian gazed at the girl's black hair: the beautiful tresses cascading in gentle waves over her shoulders. “
You have such beautiful hair”
She flipped quickly through the years of her childhood. Oh how the years did fly, and then suddenly high school. On the pages in the Humberview High School yearbook her friends had written poems and best wishes. How sweet the verses were! The simple rhymes brought a cheer and made her smile. She touched the inked letters with her fingertips and felt a pang of regret. She slowly turned the pages and saw a picture of herself with two girls— her best friends at the time, Amelia Hartman and Annie Treadway. She studied the picture, faded now. They were lying on the beach; a scribble at the bottom corner read, “
Summer of 2001.
” In this picture her friend's smiles looked so perfect and natural, but her own smile looked half contrived, startled, as if the camera had caught her off guard. Her friends had shouted,
“Just be yourself, Jilly”
moments before the picture was snapped. Unlike people in some cultures who refused to have their pictures taken for fear their spirits might be stolen, Jillian had wished that the camera would capture her soul so that she could take a glimpse of it. It hurt her to remember that summer. So embarrassing! The year she nearly drowned. She sighed and closed her eyes. The slow crawl of memories began as she looked back to a place in her heart— a long time ago. Growing up....
The waves broke out rhythmically against the jagged rocks where nearby children were splashing up water as they ran barefoot, their fresh morning faces laughing with excitement, their hair flying up with the wind while they chased sea shells that glittered on the sand as it rolled back with the drag of the water to the depths of Lake Ontario. Jillian was looking at the children as they played and then glanced out across the lake and was nearly blinded by swirly white points of light, stretching as far as the eye could see.
“I'll go get you something to eat from the snack bar,” she heard her friend Amelia Hartman say.
The water felt cool on her feet. She brushed herself off, put on her flip-flops and picked up her swimming-goggles, then turned slowly around to face a group of teenagers assembled in a half circle on the side of a makeshift campfire. A mellow mournful sound of strumming guitar strings playing Neil Young's 'Heart of Gold'. The month was May. The year was 2001, and the Grade 12 graduating class of Humberview Secondary School students were celebrating the end of four years of high school at Ashbridge's Bay in the Beaches.
A second group of teenagers had just walked up, their bodies tense and their eyes fixed far off at an indeterminate spot on the horizon. Sarah Flint led the group; she was wearing a tie-dye wrap that fitted snugly across her torso and enveloped her hard perky breasts as she moved with that gracefulness of a dancer, the thin sheer fabric slapping her thighs and flowing airily with the breezes as she walked. “Where should we unpack?” Her brilliant blonde hair floated high above her head in tight spirals and curled away from her face. They stopped abruptly to look around the beach with an air of disliking everything about them and reluctantly settled on a strip of sand closest to the shore.
Sarah removed her wrap, knowing she was being watched, to reveal a simple brown string bikini exposing a light and even tan. She retrieved a bottle of sunscreen SPF 45 from her handbag and then ran her hand vigorously over the sides of her legs, looking up to see who might be watching, all the while smiling to herself. She straightened herself and waved— an exaggerated gesture— as she called out to a group of boys, “Hi, there!” Some of them whistled and waved back. The new arrivals then proceeded to get down to the serious task of relaxation and sunbathing. Moments later, they were lying face up, soaking up the delicious rays of the May sun. Masses of Sarah Flint's golden curls sprayed in all directions as one gleaming leg negligently extended off the reclining chair. The roar of the waves thundered in the background. Abruptly, Sarah lifted herself up.
“Oh God, look!” she called out. “Who invited these losers?”
They all sighed and exchanged knowing glances.
“Word of mouth, I guess,” replied one of her friends.
“Look at the bathing-suit that one's wearing. It looks like a hand-me-down from her mother.” As if taking pleasure in the cruelty, she waved to Jillian, who was still standing by the water's edge.
Jillian waved back, smiling hopefully, and then suddenly recalled that she and Sarah had never been close in high school yet she was now waving to her as if they had been good friends all along. “Impossible,” she thought. Her smile quickly faded. Sarah flung her head back and laughed. Jillian pulled her straw hat over her eyes and tiptoed carefully across warm sand that had the texture of brown sugar under her toes, mindful not to jab her feet on shards of glass from discarded beer bottles.
“I think the city council should set minimum standards for anyone on public beaches,” said one of the boys. “The first order,” he continued, raising his index finger, “no uglies allowed.” This was followed by more laughter.
Jillian settled herself down on a reclining beach chair; a straw hat shielded her head from the sun's hot burning rays, and a magazine lay in her lap, the pages whipping in the breeze. Every once in a while, the wind carried loud peals of laughter in her direction. She felt excluded and slightly jealous of Sarah's group and now wished that she had stayed home and planned for her trip to Kingston. She was leaving the following week to begin her apartment-hunting for the fall.
“Well, well, well. Look what the waves have brought in.”
Jillian looked up to see her best friend, Annie Treadway.
“It's about time you got here. I was beginning to think you weren't going to show.”
Annie's eyes were squinting in the midday glare. “Sorry, I got delayed” she said as she put on her sunglasses, looked around, and caught sight of Sarah looking in her direction. She nodded to her, and, not to be outdone, Sarah nodded back. Annie bent over and gave Jillian a playful tug and whispered fiercely into her ear, “Oh, this place is like a catwalk in a New York runway.”
“Yeah, well,” replied Jillian, looking abstracted and flipping through a fashion magazine. “I don't know why I even bothered to come.”
“But I'm glad you did. I wouldn't have come otherwise.”
Jillian nodded and enviously regarded her friend. Annie had a certain natural beauty that did not require makeup to enhance it— thick wavy blonde hair that fell over and past her shoulders, a pale heart-shaped face and deep blue eyes. She was smiling half embarrassed and biting her lower lip to a chorus of whistles as she carefully drew her halter top up over her head to reveal the top part of a two-piece swimsuit.
“Well, that's one sure way to get people's attention,” noted Jillian, smiling.
“The change rooms are closed for cleaning,” replied Annie as she struggled with her pants. She then straightened herself up, adjusted her sunglasses and walked lazily to the shore, where she dabbed her magenta polished toenails in the cold water. A gleam of mischief came into her eyes as she yelled out to Jillian in a loud animated voice, “Those guys over there have been staring so hard, like hungry puppies. You'd think they'd never seen a girl in a swimsuit before!” She began to laugh, stretching her arms out wide, and did a little dance in the cool breeze, which expressed with every movement a sort of reckless freedom. She screeched out excitedly, “Good-bye high school. Hel-lo life!” This was followed by clapping and barking noises as she walked over, jutting and swinging her pelvis from side to side as if she were on a runway modelling the newest bathing-suit. She opened her beach chair and set herself down to absorb the sun's warm rays.
Amelia Hartman joined them, arriving breathless, carrying a tray of fries, tortillas and drinks, looking much older than her eighteen years. She was plump but pretty if you cared to look beyond her thick hips and large waistline. She had a pug nose, a sulky mouth and mischievous hazel eyes that often crinkled up in creases as if someone were flashing a bright light into her face. Her skin was pale and looked as if it were hardly ever exposed to the burning sun.
“As of yesterday,” she announced proudly, “I've resolved to get this bod of mine into shape. I've started exercising. I'm up to thirty push-ups a day”
Jillian looked at her with a puzzled frown: “But why would you do that, Me-me?” ('Me-me' was a nickname close friends had used for Amelia ever since kindergarten.) Annie lifted her head up, removed her sunglasses to get a better look and agreed: “It seems like absolute torture to me, Amelia. There's nothing wrong with your body.”
“Oh, you're both sweethearts for saying that,” she replied with a sulky expression. “Honest, but I've got myself some serious cellulite.” She slapped the soft fleshy part of her thighs hard, and they jiggled like Jell-O. She looked over at Sarah and then cleared her throat, pausing and lowering her voice to a near whisper: “She's had a nose job.”
“What?” Jillian cast a furtive glance over at Sarah Flint.
Amelia was grinning, also looking secretly over at Sarah and shoving her sunglasses against the bridge of her nose so as to get a better look. “She probably had her lips done, too. You know, doctors take fat from the butt and inject it into the lips to make them fuller. It's a well known fact.”
Jillian and Annie shrieked out in laughter, but just a little too loudly, so that it found its way back to Sarah, who looked up startled from her reclining chair, wondering what the joke was.
“You don't think this is— gender rivalry, do you?” whispered Jillian with glee.
“Of course not,” said Annie matter-of-factly. “We're simply stating a fact.”
“That's right. Everything about Sarah is phoney,” stated Amelia forcefully.
There was a lull in the conversation as they contemplated their words, looking discreetly over at Sarah sunning herself.
“I honestly don't know why she hates me,” Jillian added.
“I think it goes back to third grade. Don't you remember? You stole the leading role of Dorothy in
The Wizard of Oz
from her, and she ended up being the Tin Man? You remember that. The role landed you on the front page of the
Globe and Mail.
She was absolutely
with envy for weeks.”
Jillian crunched up her face as if she had just smelled something rotten. “You don't think she still holds a grudge about that, do you? That was years ago.” She lay back on the beach chair and turned her head so she could see Sarah. In her mind she could hear Sarah's sweet voice just as clearly as she had heard it back in grade three, singing the Tin Man's lament, '
If I only had a heart.
“It wouldn't surprise me the least bit.”
They reluctantly admitted that Sarah Flint did have a nice tan.
“Do you think she gets her hair done at Capucci's? It's so expensive there! Kinky afro hair is very much in right now, and being a natural blonde doesn't hurt. You know the expression “'Men prefer blondes'.” Jillian looked over at Annie's beautiful hair as she popped a French fry into her mouth. “ She probably uses lemon juice to bring out the highlights from the sun.”
“What? You don't think she's a real blonde, do you?” snapped Amelia with a look of disgust. “Mousy brown is more like it. Her hair is as phony as she is. It comes out of a bottle— Nice and Easy. The only true blonde I know is our very own Annie. Most blondes are not
blondes.” Amelia reached for a few tortillas and proceeded to crunch them with intense concentration.