I heard her head came clean off.
Because it’s not enough a girl our age is dead. Not enough her mother found her hanging from the ceiling fan in the game room. Tina has to make it extra.
It did, she insists. Because her body was so heavy. From the … you know.
We knew. Even if we didn’t know the dead girl because she was a year ahead of us and not in any of our classes. Sonja’s sister was in gym class with her.
She always forgot her gym clothes, Sonja said. Sat out the class on the bleachers while the other girls turned cartwheels or whipped volleyballs. Got a D for the day. But not an F, because at least she showed up.
Showing up is everything. That’s why we’re here now in church clothes, sitting on folding chairs with our legs crossed at the ankles (lady), not the knees (slut). Looking but not looking at the dead girl in the front of the room.
There’s a line to get to see her. Stairs you have to walk up, a wooden kneeler like a church pew cut in half, a red velvet cushion to kneel on while you look at the dead girl and think about what to say.
I have nothing to say. I didn’t know the dead girl. I’d seen her at her locker a few times, sat one table over from her in the library during lunch period. Always in the library, never the cafeteria. She was one of those girls who never ate. What hunger lived inside her? What did she do with that hunger, how did she fill all that emptiness?
They put her in a high-necked dress, because of course they would. And, tucked right up to her chin, a grandmother-flowered scarf that looked like it would be scratchy, if she were alive to feel the itch. Weird, dark makeup, like somebody’s hand slipped with the self-tanner.
Only the top part of the coffin is open. You can’t see her stomach. You can’t tell if they cut it out of her.
Although what would be the point, now? If they’d done it three months ago she wouldn’t be dead.
I remembered in the library she’d been sitting with a group of older girls, asking to borrow a phone. Her parents wouldn’t let her have one till she was fourteen. She was trying to call in to some radio show to win tickets to a concert in New York. I’d never heard of the band. Like the band was even the point.
They fly you there, she was telling the girls. First class. They pay for everything.
I don’t know if she got to make the call. I know she didn’t win. If she’d gone to New York, found a free clinic, would she have come back down here? I wouldn’t.
Jenn and Tina are staring at me and Jenn widens her eyes, juts her chin. Do it already, she means.
I lean in close to the girl in the coffin and there’s a pink smell, like antiseptic soap at the dentist’s, and I know nothing in the world could make me kiss that makeup cheek. I put my hand on her scarf instead. If I pull the scarf away, would her head roll off with it, like the girl in the story about the ribbon?
Part of me wants to do it. Take her head and roll it over to Pastor Jim and all his little suck-ups from the Abstinence Club.
Then my hand touches the dead girl’s hand and the smell gets stronger, baby powder mixed with oranges gone bad, and I’m running down the aisle, out of the room crowded with kids and parents and folding chairs, out the double doors where I can finally breathe air, where I can throw up behind some bushes and walk and walk until I can’t see the funeral home anymore and I’m leaning against a tree, looking up at clouds, at an airplane the dead girl could have been on. I could be on it with her. Stewardesses in pastel suits like in old movies are leaning over us, smiling. They ask what we’d like to drink. It’s first class. We can have anything we want.