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Kill-Marguerite-Megan-Milks-webLevel One: The Rope Swing

BEGIN>> So they are at the rope swing, swinging. The rope swing is this dinky little wooden seat knotted onto a long rope that hangs from a sturdy big tree branch and it swoops back and forth over Swift Creek Reservoir, and you can stand on the seat or sit or whatever. Some of the boys even climb up the rope while it’s swinging because they’re showoffs like that. And there is Caty in her jean shorts and old New Kids on the Block t-shirt getting Hot and Heavy with Alex on the rope swing, at least she guesses that this is what that means. They are making out with her straddling him on that little seat while they’re swinging, back and forth, back and forth, over the creek, and the muddy water smell is lifting up to them every pass, making Caty think of tadpoles and crawdads and such.

If the water’s not too low, you can jump off the rope swing into the creek and then swim to the creekbank. It’s about a fifteen-foot drop, depending on the water level. You have to make sure to jump off at exactly the right moment because there are rocks in the wrong spots and they can bang you up good. And although Caty is a little bit worried about falling into the creek and dying, she feels okay for now with the wind swooping through her hair and Alex rubbing his tongue around the insides of her mouth. A-plus, Caty thinks, especially since Ray and Matt and Brendan are hooting in support, and Caty can hear Kim’s tinkly laughter cutting through. She knows she is doing something right to get this sort of reaction, to be bonding this way with her best friend forever who has already had a go with Brendan, and so there is this like Amazing fizzy feeling in her gut, and she thinks of all the secret-sharing she and Kim will do after this. But maybe secret-sharing is too kiddish now that they are getting Hot with boys.

Caty starts kneading the meat of Alex’s shoulder with her left hand while holding on for dear life with her right. She is surprised at how noisy it is to suck face, but then, this is her first official time. Official. O-f-f-i-c-i-a-l. Official. The school spelling bee is in two days, and Caty is her class representative. But she won’t think about that now. Her eyes are closed, the air feels good, the birds are singing. It’s Happily Ever After, and Caty feels safe and sweet with her man who loves her so bad, even though he’s not really her man officially, just in her head when she’s dreaming sometimes. He’ll probably ignore her the minute they get off the rope swing, and that’s fine because for boys, hanging out with girls is only okay sometimes.

Whoosh, whoosh. Back and forth.

Then the sky crashes open and flashes red. The birds scatter, screeching out portents of doom. Caty feels Alex freeze up and she opens her eyes in alarm.

“Did you see Nicole’s bangs today?”

Fucking shit.

“I know, they were like totally vertical.”

It’s them, the new girls, the sisters, the evil bitch queens of the universe.

“At lunch her hair spray was like flaking off and into her food. She’s a fricking snow globe.”

“Dis-gus-ting.”

Marguerite and Shelly Thurwood of 1611 Glebe Point Road. Caty can hear the whip of Ellie’s riding crop as she whacks her way through the forest. Caty can see the undergrowth wilting to protect itself as the ground trembles under the stomp of Marguerite’s red Keds.

“We’re surrounded by white trash,” Marguerite is saying.

Such white trash,” Shelly agrees. Whap. She sighs. “I hate it here.”

“We’ve got to get Dad to move back,” says Marguerite. “He’ll break down sooner or—”

“Hey y’all!” Kim rings out as they break through the trees into the clearing.

“Hey y’all!” Marguerite sing-songs back with mock enthusiasm. Kim doesn’t get the sarcasm. She can be such an idiot sometimes. Since they moved here Kim has been the bitch queens’ entry point into the Glebe Point Posse even though (1) no one else really likes them and (2) they make fun of Kim all the time, she just never notices. It’s like, all of their neverending snickers and jeers are so totally infuriating. Caty watches in restrained fury as they come sauntering into the clearing like they own the place, all so very look-at-us, all so very we-are-the-bomb-diggity, with those looks on their faces like everything is stupid, especially you. Ellie, the younger one, twirls her ponytail and lashes at a tree trunk with her crop. Whap. Her shirt flashes Hakuna Matata and Caty’s like Shit, she has the same shirt but of course it looks better on Ellie because Ellie is a ballerina and Caty is Fat, and now Caty can never wear that shirt again because Ellie owns it and Ellie is related to Marguerite and Marguerite is a two-faced hussy who has it in for Caty like nobody else.

Whoosh, whoosh. Back and forth.

Caty and Alex swing over the creek as Marguerite crosses her arms over her Girls Rule Boys Drool crop top and stops a few feet in front of where Kim and Ray and Brendan and Matt are standing. Marguerite’s long blond hair is twisted into a topsytail, the kind Caty always fucks up so it ends up crooked and impossible. But Marguerite knows these things, they come second nature, along with her evil demeanor. Hey look at that. Marguerite’s evil demeanor is demeaning, mean, and demon-like, all at the same time. Caty is going to win the spelling bee if it kills her, but this is unfortunately only a momentary respite r-e-s-p-i-t-e from the nagging fear that Marguerite is almost definitely about to ruin Caty’s life again.

Marguerite saunters to the edge of the overhang and puts her hands on her hips while she watches Caty and Alex swing back and forth, back and forth, and Caty just knows she is thinking of doing something mean. But then Ray, who has a huge crush on Ellie, and who hopes he can get her on the rope swing with him soon, yells out, “Y’all! Quit hogging it!” and sidles over to Ellie and Marguerite until Alex and Caty get off. Caty breathes a sigh of relief when she is off the rope swing and out of Marguerite’s line of sight. Marguerite will choose someone else to pick on today, she guesses. Praise God.

Caty’s stomach rumbles, saying it’s time for her mid-afternoon snack. Lunch at school is so early. So as everyone hoots and hollers at Ellie and Ray on the rope swing, Caty grabs her baloney-and-cheese sandwich from her backpack and goes off a few yards to sit down and eat it.

She is just two bites in when Marguerite in her stupid tiny crop top starts making pig noises and saying “Feed me” in a high-pitched taunt just within Caty’s earshot so Caty knows she is making fun of her, but Marguerite can just shrug and say “What?” when Caty looks at her accusingly.

Then everyone laughs, even Alex. Even Kim.

And you know, Caty has had a bad day at school and she is sick of this elementary-school bullcrap and aren’t they in middle school now, after all? So for once she’s not going to take it anymore, she’s going to say something, stand up for herself, instead of just playing dumb. So she says, quietly, into her sandwich:

“Bitch.”

Everyone stops. Shelly and Ray hop off the rope swing, knowing something big’s about to hit. For a moment, Caty glows with pride.

Then Marguerite stomps over, rage scowled across her delicate face, and shoves Caty hard so she is flat on her back in the dirt. Mmmph.

“What’d you call me?”

Caty observes snatches of dusk through the trees.

“Someone’s talking to you, fatso.” Marguerite kicks at Caty’s sneakers and leans over into her face. “Try again. What’d you call me?”

“Nothing,” Caty mumbles and looks away.

“Bullshit, fatso.” Marguerite straightens. “Hey, Shelly, hold her down. Let’s pull up her shirt. Let’s see her blubber. Let’s see if she wears a bra for her fat little blubbery boobies.” Shoot. Caty’s not wearing a bra—her mom says she’s too young. Still reeling from being pushed into the dirt, she protests and tries clumsily to get up—but Shelly is already kneeling on her shins and Marguerite is straddling her torso, yanking Caty’s shirt up over her face.

“Aww … look at the fat baby’s lumps of lard.” Marguerite jabs Caty’s left breast with a stick.

Caty tries again to get up. No use. Marguerite prods the other breast, then moves to Caty’s stomach, poking and prodding it with the stick. Caty whimpers.

“Crybaby,” Marguerite says.

Everyone laughs as Caty flails around. She is a beached whale. A shapeless turd. A fat cow. Then Riley bursts through the trees running. He leaps from the edge of the overhang to grab the rope swing in mid-air. Marguerite gets up. “Showoff!” she yells. So everyone goes over to watch Riley, leaving Caty in the dirt to pull down her shirt and breathe in deep. She sits up. They’ve stomped her half-eaten sandwich into a gross dirty turd. For a minute Caty just sits, holding in the tears, staring at them all as they hoot and holler at Riley, who is climbing up the rope swing while it’s swinging, a dangerous, badass thing to do. Kim turns and makes eye contact, mouthing the word Sorry. Caty looks away.

Eventually she gets up, slinks over to her bike, plunks her fat ass on it, and pedals numbly away.

So there is Caty, riding her old, outgrown mountain bike furiously, all the way from the rope swing to her house, which is a pretty long way, you know, the two being on opposite ends of the neighborhood. Caty is pedaling fast as her thick legs will pedal, her purple handlebar streamers jerking violently to the rhythm of her legs. She is just one sniffle away from crumpling into ugly-crying-fat-girl face, and she wants to get home quick before she succumbs, because then the whole neighborhood will think she’s a big fat crybaby, just like Marguerite says, even though Caty has been told lots of times that she is actually very mature for a twelve-year-old.

As she pedals, she passes Kim’s house, which is right across the street from the Thurwoods. She can’t believe Kim just stood there and let them do that to her, Caty, Kim’s BFF. And Caty knows if she tries to make her feel bad about it, Kim will act like they were just having fun, why does Caty have to take things so personally all the time? Well, when did Kim get so utterly clueless. And why did Marguerite and Shelly have to move here in the first place! Caty bites her lip and stands on her pedals to make it up the big hill.

Before They moved here it was just Caty and Kim, who were total BFFs, and everything was magic. They’d go over to each other’s houses after school every day, and they’d trade stickers and build tree forts and hunt crawdads and pretend they were dogs and detectives and R&B stars. Then one day a few months ago Caty went over to Kim’s house to watch The Birds again and found two other girls there: Marguerite and Shelly Thurwood, from Long Island, who’d just moved into the McAllisters’ old house across the street from Kim. And when Caty walked into Kim’s bedroom, she saw all of Kim’s sticker stuff laid out on the carpet, she hadn’t even waited for Caty, and Kim sitting with a smile on her face and one hand extended towards Marguerite, and in Kim’s hand was—Caty still can’t believe it. It was the huge limited edition Lisa Frank leopard sticker that Caty had been eyeing for months! And Marguerite didn’t even have any stickers to trade for it.

Caty stood there gaping as Kim chirped, “Now you can start your own sticker collection!”

Marguerite rolled her eyes. “Hey, wanna make friendship bracelets?”

Caty knocked on the open door to announce herself.

Kim looked up. “Hey Caty! Marguerite, Shelly—this is my friend Caty.”

Just “friend.” Caty’s face fell. She fingered her half of their BFF necklace and slipped it under her shirt. Marguerite took one look at Caty and scooted closer to Shelly and Kim so there was no room for Caty in the circle.

It’s been like that ever since.

And the worst is that Marguerite and Shelly are both just as skinny and little as Kim, and so now Caty is Fat, even though she’s only fat just a little bit, it’s just a little extra, and according to Caty’s cousin June, who is a real teenager, well, she says that lots of boys like that, especially when the extra’s around the bum area, which Caty’s is, so take that Marguerite, you flat-assed prepubescent.

Yeah. Caty glowers at the road ahead. Take that.

Quit being a lameass turd, Caty thinks, and decides to turn around and tell Marguerite off once and for goddamned all.

So she turns her bike around, not bothering to slow down, she is impatient for vengeance, you know, and the front tire goes off the road and snags the edge of the asphalt, oh no, and Caty saves herself by swerving to the side real quick and uh-oh, there is a minivan in her way. It is an Aerostar, going fast, looks like Mrs. Dabbieri in the driver’s seat and yep, it is, as Caty’s head goes right through the windshield, and one of Caty’s hearts starts to tremble, and Mrs. Dabbieri is looking mighty surprised and then Mrs. Dabbieri gets bloodspattered bright red as Caty’s neck is slit open by the glass.

Caty has died.

_________________________

Megan-Milks-Kill-Marguerite-author-pic-webMEGAN MILKS is the author of Kill Marguerite and Other Stories. Her work has been included in 30 Under 30: An Anthology of Innovative Fiction by Younger Writers; Wreckage of Reason; and Fist of the Spider Woman: Tales of Fear and Queer Desire, as well as many journals. She is co-editor of the volume Asexualities: Feminist and Queer Perspectives and is currently working on editing the next volume of The &NOW Awards: The Best Innovative Writing.

Adapted from Kill Marguerite and Other Stories, by Megan Milks, Copyright © 2014 by Megan Milks. With the permission of the publisher, Emergency Press.

 

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