I grew up rough and tough. Mommy was a hooker and Daddy was whichever man she’d sunk her claws into at any given time. One of her men told me that she got rid of my brothers and sisters at the clinic. Flabbergasted, I just gawked at him as he chuckled drunkenly.
I ran away a few times, but always moseyed on back home, after the weather or hunger chased me away from the railroad tracks I frequented.
At school, I was the stinky girl, the ugly girl, the girl with the loose mom. All I wanted was to be the girl with a friend.
At the railroad tracks, I dove into all kinds of delinquent activities with the kids of the neighborhood. They’d steal candy bars from the corner store, then lay low at this one big oak tree that was used as a rendezvous point, chewing mouthfuls of chocolate and caramel. I was always the unnoticed one, but if I was acknowledged, I was the invisible girl, the shy girl, the shadow girl. I just wanted to be the girl that belonged.
It was a fucked time all around.
Then one day my mom left. Not unusual; sometimes she went away for awhile. But she never came back this time. I was ecstatic. I had the house to myself. No more school for me, motherfuckers!
It was cool for awhile. Then it was real lonely. I wanted to tell the kids at the tracks that I had a new hangout spot, where no grown-ups would ever bother us, but I was nervous that one of them would open their giant trap and social workers would come and get me. I knew all about social workers. Plenty of kids were snatched from their parents in my neighborhood.
One day, I legged it all the way to the good side of town, where restaurants, department stores, and beautiful parks replaced corner convenient stores, bars, and crackhouses. I was in love. This, surely, was heaven. Why couldn’t I be born to a mom and dad on this side of town? Maybe my mom would wear lovely, pastel-colored dresses, and my dad would wear a suit. And my mom wouldn’t take my brothers and sisters to the clinic, but bring them home, all swaddled up and red-faced. And my dad would be nice, and never drink that repulsive liquor stuff.
Posted up outside of a store that had these beautiful glittery black flats on display in its window, I saw in the reflection beside me a girl my age. She opened and closed her hand in a wave. I spun around, preparing myself for some sort of insult, or for her to upbraid me for being there, but she offered a toothy smile.
“Hi,” she said.
“Hey.” My mouth filled up with drool as an inept response to the unsolicited attention.
She touched my hair.
“I like that name. You have pretty hair.”
Like a person suffering from Tourette syndrome, I cried out, “You have pretty EVERYTHING!” My cheeks blistered in embarrassment.
She did have pretty everything. Her hair was long and groomed and a light green ribbon tied it back. She wore a dress with butterflies embroidered into it. She appeared to almost shine, she was so clean. I, on the other hand, was grubby and wearing over-sized clothes that were donated for people in need by a church.
She just smiled, cool as a cucumber.
“We should play sometime,” she said as I stepped out of the way of some passerby.
“OK,” I said.
“Get out of the damn way, kid!” a man demanded.
I shuffled closer to the window of the store. I was about to ask Alice when she wanted to play, but she had already faded away into the throngs of people. Feeling let down, I went home.
I’d been asleep for who knows how long when pounding on the front door awoke me. I silently weaved through the living room and pressed an ear to the door, which had grown quiet. A sudden single pound jolted my body like a lightning bolt.
I got scared. I hadn’t thought this alone thing through-there were bad people in my neighborhood. Some of them loitered on the street corners, selling drugs; some trudged around like zombies with bloodshot eyes, talking nonsensical words; others preyed on the weak, the latter attracted to their seductive ways of entrapment. I felt very little in that moment.
I heard a small voice seep through the cracks around the door: “Jane.”
It was Alice! How could she be here? Didn’t she know how dangerous it was to walk around at night? Especially here! I twisted the lock on the knob and stretched on tippy toes to slide the chain out of its metal slot. I opened the door.
No one was there. Was this a game? What was Alice up to?
As I made to go back in, I noticed a small, wooden box on the ground. It had my name engraved into it in elegant, elongated letters. My heart joyously skipped a beat. Alice had left me a gift! I snagged it and hurried back to my bed, excited to open my present. I lifted the fragile latch. There was a piece of paper and the scent of flowers emanated from it.
If you want to be friends, meet me at the railroad tracks
Love, Your Future Blood Sister
Buzzing with delight at the prospect of having a friend of my very own, I changed out of my pajamas and into dark colored clothes. I dug a flashlight out of my closet (stored there for those nights that the electricity was shut off for nonpayment) and set off to meet Alice. I avoided main streets, traveling through dark alleys, until I neared the grassy field that the railroad tracks were stitched through.
I didn’t know exactly where Alice meant for me to meet her, so I went to the oak tree and sat down, leaning against its rough trunk. It was frigid, but I was sweating profusely due to my trek. The later it got, the more I grew afraid that she wasn’t coming or was playing a mean joke on me.
Awhile later, I chastised myself for being fooled by her as I got to my feet, ready to leave and go back home. Then, there was crunching from the other side of the trunk. Now I felt no elation, just fear-what was on the other side?
A face emerged from the right side of the tree trunk, making me jump. It was Alice, if Alice had a gothic twin. This girl’s face was the same, only eerily pale, black-eyed, with stringy locks of disarrayed hair framing it. She sneered and-I swear-snarled.
“A-are you a ghost?”
“Nah.” She brought her body out from its hiding place. She still had the butterfly dress on, but the material was tattered and worn.
“Jane, I want to be your friend. Do you want to be my friend?”
I nodded, even though I was not so sure anymore.
“Give me your hand.”
I followed her direction, scared to tell her no. Her grasp was icy.
She flipped my hand palm up and, as rapid as a hummingbird’s wings, jabbed a needle deep into my flesh. I blanched and exhaled air through my teeth. Next, she stuck the needle into her own palm.
“Put your hand up, like this.” She lifted her hand like she was going to give me a high five. I followed her lead.
She tightly intertwined our fingers, rubbing our wounds against each other. My palm simultaneously tingled and burned. She grinned her toothy smile. The expression was no longer friendly and comforting.
“We’re blood sisters, Jane.”
I gulped my spit down.
“I-have to go.”
Frozen, her grin remained in place and seemed to widen with every passing second.
“Did you-hear me? B-bye, Alice.” I waited for a response for a second before pumping my legs into a mad dash in the direction of home.
The next day, a grim-faced cop knocked at my door. Too frightened to ignore him, I reluctantly pulled the door open a crack.
“Hi, there. Are your parents home?”
I shook my head.
“It’s a school day-why aren’t you there?”
“I-I-I-” I tried to lob an explanation at him, but my mind kept chanting, ‘Social workers, social workers, social workers.’
“I’m here because you haven’t been to school in awhile. I’ll be back-I need to talk to your parents. OK?”
“Are you OK?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” His concerned expression tugged the words out of me-I didn’t want him poking his nose into my business.
“Alright. Goodbye, then.”
I shut the door and put my back against it. My palm pulsated with a dull, aching pain where Alice stuck me with the needle. I shook my head, purging my mind of the memory of the previous night.
I had two present problems that needed solutions: 1. I was very low on food. 2. The police were trying to get in touch with my mom over my truancy. I’d been thoughtless, being absent this much. I should’ve had the foresight to know this would lead to cops at the door.
That was it, I had to go back to school. Attending school would take care of both problems, in a way: maybe it would stave off the police, and I would get fed twice a day. My stomach grumbled and growled at the thought of food. I felt I could punch my mom in the face for a cheeseburger, at this point. I’d eaten yesterday, but only a can of green beans. I’d have to venture back into the sparse pantry and pray I could come up with something else edible.
A stitch hit me in the pit of my stomach and rippled outward. My first thought was that I was going to get sick, but then it came to me: I missed my mom. I actually missed her. I curled up on the couch and cried. I didn’t want to have to solve problems. I wanted her here to take care of them, even if it meant doing so with her unconventional ways and ignoring me when someone with a penis was in the vicinity.
“OPEN THE DOOR, JANE!” Someone shouted from the front yard.
I recognized the voice-it was Troy, one of the train track gang. I jumped off the couch and opened the door, not caring if he picked on me for being a cry baby-I was just glad to have the company. Troy, Megan, and Charlotte were congregated on the welcome mat. The two girls were two grades higher than Troy and me.
“Hi, guys,” I greeted them.
“Let us in,” Megan commanded.
“Where the hell have you been?” Troy asked when we were all gathered in the living room.
“Yeah, you been missing a lot of school-you could end up in juvie for that,” Charlotte said.
“Where’s your mom?” Troy added.
“I know, I know. I’m coming tomorrow. Boy, I’ve missed you guys.”
Megan laughed and rolled her eyes toward Charlotte.
“Who was that?” Troy asked.
“Where?” I asked, craning my neck to look out the window and fervently hoping the cop hadn’t doubled back to interrogate me.
“In your hallway, stupid-I just saw someone. Is your mom home? I heard she fucking left town.” Troy cussed with the awkwardness of someone just learning how.
“No, it’s just me here-and she didn’t leave town.”
“Really? How come I ain’t seen her with her tits hanging out, walking the block lately?” Charlotte chimed in, grabbing her tiny breasts for emphasis.
‘Oh no-I forgot Charlotte lives down the street.’
“She’s lying! Her mom’s gone! I bet she ran off with some big dick in tight pants, too,” Megan said.
“Who you got in your house, you damn freak?” Troy asked.
My head spun with the weight of their accusations and questions.
“No one! No one’s here but me!”
“Let’s go see,” he told the others.
Single file, they marched down the hall, me following helplessly at the tail end of the procession. At the end of the hall, I’d left my only doll, a China doll with a crack down her cheek, setting on a table of knick knacks.
“Hello!” Troy called out.
The doll’s face turned, its eyes appearing to be trained on us. Megan screamed out; Charlotte hadn’t seen it happen, so she kept asking what; Troy was speechless and propelled himself through our line, trying to reach the front door.
Before running out of the house, Megan whipped around and said, “Did you do that, you fucking FREAK?! I always knew there was something wrong with you!”
Not bothering to close the door behind her, she hurried out into the light rain that drizzled out of the gray sky, trailing the others. I was panicked to see them go-I certainly had not caused that doll to move, and now I was alone with it.
Soft laughter came from behind me. Alice stood, clutching her stomach as she giggled.
“You did that!”
“Yes, I did. Don’t be angry, they’re asses. I just wanted to scare them. That’s what blood sisters do; they have each other’s backs.”
“You said you weren’t a ghost, so how did you do that with the doll?”
“A magician never reveals her tricks. Want to play?”
I did want to play. My interaction with the train track gang coupled with the visit from the cop left me feeling forlorn. We played hide and seek for hours, until the moon was high in the starless sky.
“I have to go to bed. I got school in the morning.” I yawned.
“School? Why are you going there, because of the cop?”
“How long have you been in the house?” I asked with narrowed eyes.
“Listen, don’t worry about that cop.”
“Well, it’s not just him. I’m almost out of food. I get two free meals at school.”
“Don’t worry about food, either, you worry wart! I’ll take care of you. We’re blood sisters.”
After I brushed my teeth, Alice tucked me into my bed. She kissed my cheek and sang softly to me as my eyelids drooped, and I dropped off to sleep.
“Jaaaane. Jane, wake up, sleepy head-I have something to show you.” Alice’s blurry face filled my tired vision.
“What? What is it?” I asked.
“Come find out, silly goose.”
Jane took me into the living room and herded me towards the couch. Seated upright on its faded, cigarette-burned fabric was the cop from yesterday. His head was split jaggedly in half, the contents of it spilling out.
I screamed and screamed as Alice laughed.
“Shh, shut up, Jane! Someone will hear!”
“What have you done?! What have you done?!”
“Don’t be like that! I did it for you! We’re blood sisters! I stole you some breakfast, too.”
I gagged on stomach bile-I needed breakfast like I needed a bullet to the head.
“Alice, I have to get help. You-you can’t do stuff like this!”
“Stop talking nonsense. He was causing you trouble. Now it’s over. If it’ll make you feel better, I’ll get rid of him-”
“NO! I have to get an adult!”
Alice’s eyes zoomed maliciously into my sight-she’d stuck her face right in mine, the tip of her nose smashing mine.
“No. You. Aren’t.” The black in her eyes expanded outward, covering more of the white.
“I-I have to, Alice. You killed him.”
She took my neck in her hand and placed pressure on it.
“Stop saying stuff like that. We’re blood sisters, Jane. You can’t rat your blood sister out. I did YOU a favor, you ingrate. So, tell me thank you.”
I sputtered, trying to speak. Her hand relaxed.
After a short coughing fit, I said hoarsely, “Thank you.”
She smiled and backed off, but her eyes remained blacker than they’d been before.
“That’s more like it. I’ll take him away, but I gotta go get some stuff first. Why don’t you get washed up?”
When she had gone, I went to school. I didn’t want to hang around, waiting for her to return, and I didn’t want to be left alone with my thoughts-or the cop’s corpse. Troy didn’t give me any shit. When his eyes accidentally landed on me, his gaze would falter, and he’d quickly find something else to be interested. I guess he and the others thought I had some sort of mystical powers. I walked around in a fog all day, until it was time to go home.
At home after school was dismissed, I flipped the light switch in the living room, but the bulb didn’t turn on. The electricity had been shut off. I thought about my mom and wept in my bedroom, wishing to stay far away from the now empty couch. Footsteps entered my room. It was Alice.
“Why are you crying?”
“I miss my mom.” That was partly to blame for my emotions, but I was also mortified of Alice and had no idea how to get rid of her presence.
“Why don’t you just go to sleep? I’ll sing to you again.”
I flopped over onto my belly, and she sang sweet lullabies as she pet my hair with her murderous hands.
Coming out of an uneasy sleep, my eyelids cracked open-it was still dark out. I could hear a noise coming from the kitchen and, snatching my flashlight, went to investigate, curious to see if Alice had gone. As I drew near to the tiny dining area, I saw her crouched over something.
She ceased moving. Slow and steady, her head turned…and kept turning, until it was twisted backwards atop her body. Blood and viscera painted her lips, cheeks, and chin. She’d been chowing down on something. She snapped her teeth at me, and bloody drool dribbled out of her mouth. Her eyes were consumed in blackness.
Then I saw what she was chowing down on: Megan.
I fell to my knees, my voice failing me.
“What? I was hungry. And she was mean to you. How do you think I got rid of the cop, silly goose?”
Regaining an iota of composure, I fled from the house to a neighbor’s, choosing in those seconds that facing social workers was a far better fate than being Alice’s friend.
Social workers took me into custody the next day, after entering the house to find no electricity, no food, and no parents. I’d held my breath the whole time they were stomping through the house, expecting to here shrill screams of horror when they discovered Megan’s remains. But nothing of the sort happened. Alice had cleaned up.
Alice never came back to me, but she did leave one more box for me when I got into college. The note inside read,
Think twice about having kids-I’ll devour them as they sleep peacefully in their cribs. Blood sisters are for life. I’m always watching.
Love, Your Blood Sister
I now teach inner city kids. I am single and haven’t slept with anybody in a long time, out of fear that I’ll get pregnant. I intend on never marrying, sure that Alice will keep her word about my unborn babies. At night, as I lie in bed, I sometimes hear her deceivingly sweet voice, singing a muffled lullaby. She’s never far.