Mary Miller

My mother wants me to come out.

She wants me to wear a wedding gown while she wears something silk and baby blue and my father sports a tux. All of us at the country club eating lobster and rubbing elbows with a bunch of other rich assholes.

It’s like your formal introduction to society, my mother says. To show you’re marriageable.

I’m not all that marriageable, I say, but my mother disagrees. She says I’m a catch. She says any man would be lucky to have me, which is what she constantly tells my father: you’re lucky to have me.

My cousin came out. She wore the wedding dress and her mother wore the baby blue and her father sported the tux. Now she has a husband and a chunky baby boy.

Your cousin said it was a wonderful experience, my mother says. She met so many great girls.

Bitches, I say. All bitches.

My mother hits pause again and Harrison Ford continues running. She shoves a handful of popcorn in her face.

Oh, and sluts. Don’t forget sluts.

That’s enough, she says. I plop the dog on my lap and run a hand over his coat till he shakes it off.

When the invitation comes, thick and cream-colored, my mother lets it sit on the kitchen table for days. I refuse to touch it.

It is something to be asked, she tells me one morning. Some girls would kill to be asked.

It’s like a silent auction, I say. A heifer sale.

I have no idea what you’re talking about. It’s a ball. You dance. You meet people. You have fun. Ever heard of it?

When I don’t say anything, she says, I don’t know where you came from. I’m sitting on the edge of the tub, watching her apply makeup. She sets the rouge down with a smack, picks up a lip liner. Then she looks at me in the mirror. You have everything and you don’t even care.

My sister, the one I don’t like very much, says, You’ll cave. You always do. This is the sister that never caves. Mother hates her, or she likes her best. I can’t tell which. OK, this is what you have to do, she says. You say no. You say it forcefully like you’re talking to the dog. If it continues, you put your hand out and say STOP. Really loud like she’s about to attack you.

I stare at her blankly. You’re kidding, I say.

No, she says. The woman is thick. You’ve got to be forceful. Then she gets up and goes to the kitchen and fixes herself a bowl of cereal. Raises her eyebrows at me while she chews.

* * *

If I was a poodle, you’d decorate me with all those balls, I say.

This won’t kill you, my mother says, holding the curling iron too close to my neck.

OK, but if I fall, I’m holding you personally responsible. And if you burn me with that thing, I’ll tell everyone it’s a hickey.

We’re required to curtsy in front of everyone, a deep curtsy where you get down low and your dress poufs out. A bunch of old ladies showed us how to do it without tipping over.

She squeezes my hand and says, You look amazing. Just amazing.

It’s too much makeup. I look like a prostitute.

An expensive one, she says, and then quickly, I’m just kidding. You’re gorgeous. You’ll be the prettiest girl there.

I’ve been pretty long enough to know that it’s worthless, that it buys you nothing but more chances to screw up, but my mother thinks I’ve got something and I don’t want her to know that I don’t.

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