A Perfect Darling by Mackenzie Belcastro
I spun left, then right, watching the silver silk ripple.
“Smile,” I told myself.
My lips twitched in their corners, then fizzled, straightening.
“Scarlet,” mum cried. “Are you almost ready to go?”
I looked at the door, wishing I had powers like Matilda to move things with my eyes.
“Julia’s just called,” her voice rang again, “she'll be here in five.”
I said, “I’ll be ready,” flicking my gaze back to the face in the mirror.
I listened as it hissed, told me to “quit being like this,” to “be excited,” to “feel grateful to be going to a birthday party”—my birthday party it pointed out, to “stop sulking like a broken, little princess.”
I furrowed my eyebrows, watched it do the same.
“Relax,” it went on, mumbling platitudes that had no real link to me, my life or my happiness, “It’s not as if you won’t know everyone there anyway.”
Then I thought, And therein lies the problem.
I smoothed my hand over the slippery silk, trying to push my truth to the back of my mind. But it was being stubborn, sticking to its favourite place: up front and centre. There it showed me bobbing and weaving my way through a room crowded with people, desperate to escape. My throat was clutched by my hands. I was suffocating, silently—
I shook my head. “Yeah?”
“Julia’s mother’s pulling up now!”
“Okay, I’m coming!”
I rolled my eyes, adding, “In just a minute” to my reflection. Biting that last word “minute,” because I wished I could have had longer.
I stepped back and assessed the effect of it all: the dress, the flats, the necklace, the earrings, the nude lipgloss. I was a walking line of silver, so pale I may not have even existed.
I walked over to my bedside table and picked up the tiny jewelled box that lived there. I’d bought it when I was six at a market, lured in by its colour and promise of enchantment. Its weight felt good in my hand, its rhinestones soothing in their press against my skin. I clicked it open and released my answer to all the silver: a yellow, floral pendant given to me by Lizzie five years ago today, when I’d turned eight.
I strung it onto the chain around my neck and walked back to the mirror. The sun, setting, struck it with its ray, made it glint. I smiled, knowing I shouldn’t, knowing I ought to have outgrown it by now—kept the little thing in its gilded cage—but I couldn't. I couldn’t help myself. I felt calm with it there, near my heart.
I sighed at my reflection, picked up my beaded clutch, and trickled down the stairs. I wished Lizzie hadn’t gone back to boarding school. Lizzie was my only true friend. We met when we were still tots bumbling around in a sandbox with butterfly clips in our hair. Neither one of us were very talkative, but somehow we started building sandcastles together. For weeks we didn’t share more than a few words, just that little pink shovel, and those yellow plastic buckets. I’d felt like she understood me though, felt like she wasn’t so surface level like the others in my class at school. Then one day I’d found out my inkling was true, and the reason why.
She’d said, “My sister was taken. That’s why I’m so sad all the time.” I hadn’t known what to say, so I’d just passed her the shovel and my Ziplock bag of Teddy Graham crackers and nodded.
I’d been happy that day that she hadn’t asked me why I was so sad, but then eventually it came out anyway, when I couldn’t suck it back any longer.
I said, “No one in the world knows all of me. That’s why I started asking my nanny to bring me to this park after school.”
Lizzie scrunched her eyebrows. “I don’t get it,” they read.
I shrugged, “I can be the whole me here, because the park’s empty. Except us.”
“What’s the half-you like?” Lizzie said, young and snappy.
“It’s like this,” I said, covering my body in sand. “See?”
Lizzie nodded. “Sometimes it feels good to be all sandy.”
“Yeah,” I laughed, dumping the golden grains in my bucket on her lap. “It does.”
Lizzie flicked sprinkles back at me.
Before we’d packed up that afternoon I felt the tickle in my hands that told me if I didn’t get out what I really meant to confess, I’d regret it come nightfall, be unable to sleep.
“Liz?” I said.
“Yeah?” she took off her sun cap, shook out her hair.
“There’s something else about the whole me.”
She paused, sat all straight like a yogi and said, “Okay.”
“Well,” I hesitated, running a hand over my arm. “Well,” I began again, “I sort of…do this thing.”
“Uh huh,” she said, bringing her thumbnail to her lips, biting down.
“I don’t know how or anything—I promise I’m not evil,” I said, trying to laugh.
She narrowed her eyes, thumb still between chiclet teeth.
“—but, uh, I make stuff appear.”
Lizzie said nothing for a moment, stretched her legs out in front of her. Then, touching her toes, she said, “What kind of stuff?”
I looked down at my hands, sure they were the culprit, somehow, some way. “Rings, usually,” I said, “but not always, sometimes bracelets too—always jewelry. And almost always jewelry for my hands.” I looked up at her, pushed a giggle. It sounded like tin.
Lizzie said, “How?”
“I—I don’t know,” I paused. I looked at her face, searching for something that wasn’t there. Then I said, “You mean, you believe me?”
“Sure,” she said.
And I’d believed her for some reason, right when she said she did, like apparently she’d believed me, right when I’d told her all this.
I looked up to find myself at the bottom of the stairs looking at Julia. She was standing on my doorstep, all decked out in her layered, bubblegum dress. She looked like a cake, I thought, but she evidently thought she looked perfect. I could tell by the way she stuck her leg out like that, like she was centre stage, mid-beauty pageant.
I wished then not that Lizzie hadn’t gone to boarding school, but that I’d gone along with her. I felt like that girl I’d seen in my head earlier, the one desperate to get out of the crowded room. I was already craving escape from the charade that this night would be, this night that, yes, technically, was “my birthday party,” but in reality was something else entirely. That is, another soirée for Julia to document then show off, use to prove she was still tops in our grade.
That right there, that desire to flee, or at least flee from most? That was what I should’ve spent my time talking to Lizzie about that afternoon—that afternoon I’d felt pulled to confess to her “the whole me.” Only, I hadn’t realized yet how important it was. I wouldn’t realize for a while how important it was.