"Dee Bukowski" by Michelle Ross

by Michelle Ross

You people read about our town in the news—first the rape allegations, then Dolly Molly, then the car accident—and you think you know what happened. You think you know something about who we are. Reporters come here in their shiny cars and their jewel-toned dress suits, they ask a few questions, they spin a few stories, and now everyone from feminist bloggers to my annoying Aunt Monona, in Branson, Missouri, to random douchebags on social media thinks they know everything there is to know about us. 

Well, no one asked me any questions. No one asked me what I know. 

And I know things no one else does.

For instance, I know that long before Isadora Firelle came to town, Dee Bukowski was a girl who poked holes into the rubbery skin of Barbie dolls. She did it with a fat embroidery needle. Sometimes she burned the dolls with her mother’s curling iron. She used parchment paper to protect the hot iron from Barbie’s melting flesh.

I know that in fourth grade, Dee was the one who defaced Bridgette Carlton’s painting of rabbits baking cookies and that she did it because Tommy Rush, always the teacher’s favorite because he said “please” and “ma’am” and “pardon me,” asked Bridgette to be his girlfriend. Tommy was the smartest boy in class, Dee the smartest girl. They competed for the highest grades on everything. Bridgette couldn’t even do equivalent fractions. Bridgette’s mother, Mrs. Carlton, was our fourth grade teacher, and we all watched as she pointed to blank, sectioned pies and said to Bridgette, “You don’t even have to know the number. Just look at the first pie! Make the second pie look like the first pie!” 

I know too that at Lizbeth Zellig’s thirteenth birthday slumber party, the year her mom made her invite all the seventh grade girls whose families went to their church, Dee was the one who cut the crotches out of Lizbeth’s underwear. I know because I was Dee’s best friend back then, her only friend. She said she did it for me.

Dee went to the party because she worried about me going alone. She said the other girls weren’t my friends. I said she didn’t know what she was talking about. She said, “Those girls are like vending machine donuts, Adelaide. Not only are they terrible for you, they don’t even taste good.” 

At the party I ignored Dee. Not that Dee seemed to care. She sat on her gray sleeping bag and read Ursula Le Guin. She didn’t speak a word. But when we started playing Truth or Dare, we told her she had to play. It was only fair if she was going to be there to listen in on our secrets and watch our dares. Dee closed her book and yawned. 

Laura Lippit, who kept a tube of strawberry lip balm in her pocket that she reapplied four or five times an hour, started the game off by daring Clarissa Mayflower to hump her sleeping bag. Not batting an eye, Clarissa handed her purple lollipop to Laura, then grinded so hard against the Snoopy emblazoned on her sleeping bag that I thought she’d develop burn marks on her crotch. After she readjusted her barrettes, smoothed her eyebrows, and reclaimed her lollipop, Clarissa posed “Truth or Dare?” to Dee. Dee said, “Truth,” and Clarissa asked Dee whether she masturbated. Dee said, “I suppose that if I had said dare, you would have dared me to masturbate in front of you. Of course, I masturbate. Don’t you? Don’t all of you? The real question is why are you all so interested in each other’s masturbation?”

Clarissa said, “God, you’re such a lesbo.”

Dee said, “And you’re repressed.”

From that point on, the truths and dares both were lame, lame, lame. The game ended when Lizbeth dared me to run across the street and knock on her neighbor’s door and hide in the bushes. Lizbeth’s neighbor, a potbellied man in a red plaid shirt, came out of the house with a hunting rifle and marched up and down the driveway. I sat hunched there behind that holly bush, its spiky leaves poking me, for nearly an hour, waiting until it was safe to run across the street. I got a UTI from holding my pee for so long.

Dee later said that if the other girls were my friends, they would have come to help me.

“You didn’t help me, either,” I said.

“You didn’t want to be seen with me, remember?” she said.

My friendship with Dee ended soon after, around the time Lizbeth and Laura started inviting me to go to the mall with them. I shielded them from the eyes of ceiling cameras while they slipped earrings and make-up into their purses. 

Dee sat with Susan Jackson sometimes at lunch, but a couple times a week I spotted Susan crying in the bathroom before lunch was even over. That was Dee for you. She was as prickly as that holly bush. 

*

But then Isadora Firelle appeared out of nowhere just before the start of our senior year. 

It was on the soccer field that we first saw her. She promptly usurped Lizbeth’s position as sweeper for the varsity soccer team. Isadora wasn’t just good, she was like the superfast, sticky tongue of a frog the way she stole the ball from her opponents before they knew what hit them. If she had been the least bit friendly, we probably wouldn’t have blamed her for banishing Lizbeth to the bench. We started winning games, after all. But Isadora wanted nothing to do with any of us. She showed up to practice precisely on time and left promptly, never lingering to shoot the shit. She treated the one-mile warm-up run as though it were a race. Dusted the rest of us, even Laura, who was on the track team. Isadora corrected us, yelled at us, and Coach Bronner tolerated this. Once, when Julie Snell let the ball get past her without hardly presenting a challenge to the other team’s forward—Julie has always been our weakest link—Isadora took her aside at half time and said, “Soccer isn’t just a game. It’s life. You let people run all over you so easily on this field, you’re going to do it in life too. You’re going to end up married to some creep.” Not long after that, Julie landed advertisers for her fashion blog and said she wished she could keep playing soccer, she really did, but she was just so busy with the blog. We couldn’t say we were sorry to see her go, but still, we didn’t like how much power Isadora Firelle had. The girl had just moved to town. Who did she think she was?

In the hallways at school, Isadora breezed past us as though we were mall-kiosk workers. Didn’t make eye contact. Without knowing anything about us, she’d determined we were not worth her acknowledgment, not worth her breath.

When Rust Fife leaned against her desk and introduced himself by saying, “Hi there. I’m Rust. Who, may I ask, are you?” sealing his words with a wink and a glimmer of teeth (his mom is a dental hygienist), Isadora replied, “Kindly remove yourself from my desk.”

Rust, who was wearing his Texit t-shirt, black with a red Texas on which two white rifles crossed at opposite diagonals like an X, said, “Oh! You’re a feisty one. I’m going to keep my eye on you.”

Isadora glared at him, then slammed her Spanish book onto his fingers.

Rust yelped and from then on out couldn’t take his eyes off her. We saw him staring longingly at that wild, wavy hair of hers, no doubt wanting to add a lock of it to the collection he’d started way back in the second grade, leaning forward and snipping a few strands from an unsuspecting head, storing them away in a pencil box. Since, he’d graduated to a locker. Bit of hair were taped all around the inside walls like paint samples. He had three different snips from Clarissa Mayflower’s head. They were labeled: 2nd grade, 6th grade, sophomore year. From Bridgette Carlton, he had five. He was selective, though. I’d been intentionally sitting in front of Rust for years, and not once had my hair inspections revealed anything missing. 

“Stupid Rust,” we said in the bathroom when we reapplied our lipstick. But Clarissa Mayflower, who played left forward and was our class president and cheerleading captain, said, “Well, if you like the whole fangs and claws kind of thing, sure, Isadora Firelle is a hottie. There’s no denying that.”

Isadora was long and lean with the sharp features of a fox. Her olive-brown complexion and coppery eyes were hard to pinpoint ethnically. Some people said she was straight-up Italian, others claimed she was part-Greek, or Puerto Rican, or Ethiopian, you name it.

She wore cheap clothes, but on her they didn’t look cheap. Like she wore this Old Navy dress sometimes, and the way that dress fit her body, you would never know it was from Old Navy unless, like me, your grandmother sent you the same dress with the price tag still on it. Only mine was a size twelve to Isadora’s six. Straight to the Goodwill pile.

Not only was she the toughest, fastest soccer player we had ever seen, she boxed. Not fake kickboxing, mind you, like some of the girls did at the local Y—more aerobics or dancing than boxing. Jésus Martinez, who was always calling dibs on people’s leftovers at lunch, claimed to have seen her at a boxing gym the next town over, throwing punches in the ring at a boy our age. He said not a single one of the boy’s punches landed on her, she jumped and ducked so fast. When she was done with him, she climbed out of the ring, downed a bottle of water, and took off running down the road.

*

It sounds like we dwelled on Isadora, but we didn’t really. It’s just that Isadora Firelle was that odd sort of outcast you didn’t dare mess with. We tried to keep our distance, tried not to get in her way on the soccer field or anywhere else. 

It might have stayed that way if it weren’t for the senior mother-daughter luncheon, an event organized and presided over with pomp and circumstance by Clarissa Mayflower. Clarissa seated Isadora Firelle next to Dee Bukowski on account of them being the only girls to attend the luncheon stag, leaving the invitations’ lines for their mothers’ names (“legible writing, please!”) blank. 

Susan Jackson was truly motherless, her mother having skipped town to join a troop of traveling abortion protesters when Susan was seven, but Susan was not unaccompanied. Her grandmother sat next to her in a frilly, feathery monstrosity of a hat that looked like it might at any second arch its back and saunter over to the hors d’oeuvre table to sniff what remained of the sweaty cubes of pepper jack cheese. 

Dee’s mother hadn’t gone anywhere; she was a chronic sick person. Some people said she was a hypochondriac. I figured she was just depressed. Dee’s father, who was a CEO of some company in Houston, was rumored to be a sex addict. I know this: he had an apartment in Houston, and he spent weeks at a time there. And he made as much money in a year as his employees made in their lifetimes, according to my parents. People wondered why they didn’t buy a house in Houston. It was as if Dee’s family had chosen to live in our town just so they could be the richest people in it. 

I knew firsthand that Dee’s mother spent the bulk of her days in her bedroom and that when she came out, she could be found in the kitchen preparing something white to eat like hard boiled eggs or yogurt with sliced almonds. 

Nobody knew what the story was with Isadora’s mother—whether she was sick or dead or a traveling protester or what. Isadora lived in the boondocks on the east side of town, out by the bayou. A little yellowish brick house, the size of a garage. Tommy Rush was the one to provide this information, for he lived out there too, just a mile or so from her. He said he saw her running down the road sometimes, and that from the look on her face and the swift movements of those muscled legs, he thought that any maniac stupid enough to try to abduct her while she was out running would have another thing coming. Abductions while running is a fairly common thing in our area. Women, girls. Rural country roads, suburban neighborhood streets in bright daylight. 

So there we were, nearly eighty pairs of vessels of closely matched genetic material, and Isadora Firelle and Dee Bukowski were the only source of asymmetry in the auditorium. If it had been anybody else but Dee seated next to Isadora, we might have felt sorry for the girl having to endure an hour-long luncheon in the company of Isadora Firelle, but as much as we hated Isadora Firelle, we loathed Dee Bukowski. After all, we’d known her all our lives, and that was a long time for hatred to grow. What we felt about Dee Bukowski was like a big old grandfather pine tree compared to the little sapling of hate that had only recently burst to life for Isadora Firelle. 

I know personally, of course, that Dee Bukowski was just about the most intolerable person on the planet, but should you think I’m biased, consider this exchange, overheard by Laura at the luncheon: 

Dee to Isadora, “Will you please pass the margarine?” 

Isadora: “You mean butter?” 

Dee: “If you wish, but technically, it’s margarine.” 

Isadora: “What’s the difference?” 

Dee: “Butter is made by churning the fatty part of cow’s milk. Margarine is vegetable oil that is hardened by reacting it with hydrogen. It’s chock full of artificial shit. It’s a Frankensteinian creation.”

Isadora: “Interesting.”

The next thing we knew, they were inseparable, even though absentee mothers and being completely unlikeable were just about the only two things they had in common.

I mean, Dee hanging out with a super athlete? Dee was the girl who’d proposed to Principal Beaker a couple years back that she organize and maintain a recycling program for the school in lieu of taking P.E. class. Initially, Beaker denied her, but then she went to the local paper with the story. Rumor is Dee’s next move would have been to take Principal Beaker to court if he continued to refuse her and that’s how she won.

Soon enough, though, Isadora had Dee lifting weights and boxing with her, according to Jésus Martinez. Some kids even seemed to forget that Dee had ever been the Trash Girl of Barber High School. 

Dee taught Isadora about food. She brought two lunches to school, one for herself and one for Isadora. We sneered as they smeared kale pesto onto crackers that looked like miniature slices of bread and chopped fruits with plastic knives before chucking the fruits into a battery-operated portable blender to make fresh smoothies.

We gave Clarissa hell about having seated those two together at that banquet. 

Clarissa said, “You can’t blame me for those two freaks coming together. It would have happened sooner or later anyhow.”

Maybe it would have. And maybe we wouldn’t have cared either way. Who’s to say how things would have been different if it weren’t for Molly Longshore accusing Leo Farm and Dominick Shawn of raping her?

*

We were all there at Jim Snitch’s house on the night in question. He had a bonfire going. There were a couple of kegs. Everybody was drinking and having a good time, Molly Longshore included. In fact, you might say she was having more fun than any of us. Molly Longshore was an exhibitionist drunk. She almost always ended up running around topless by the end of the night. I don’t just mean she flashed people, though she did. I mean she climbed up onto the highest surface she could find—an oil drum, the roof of Jim’s truck, once a chicken coop—and flung her top off like she was unveiling a piece of public art. Jim’s party was no different. It was maybe forty degrees out, but still Molly had lost her top by eleven o’clock. She was dancing around in the cold, her nipples like raisins. She let Rust rub a disposable hot pack over those nipples of hers at one point. “You’re a doll,” she said to him while he stood there with a big fat grin on his face. 

It was not uncommon for some kids to drink so much at parties that they passed out and for other kids to then pull pranks on these kids. Like one time Jim Snitch passed out drunk at one of his own parties, and somebody stripped him down to his underwear and wrote on his forehead in magic marker, “I suck cock.” We liked Jim. It was just good fun. And while he cursed up a storm when he woke, we could tell that he too was amused. 

On this night, Molly Longshore passed out. I don’t know what state she was in when she passed out. Some kids said she was naked before she passed out, and knowing Molly Longshore, that was entirely possible. Some kids said that Leo and Dominick pulled her jeans and underwear off after she passed out. That was possible, too.

What we all saw was Leo and Dominick carrying her into the house. Leo had her wrists, Dominick her ankles. You could say they were doing her a favor. You could say that if someone hadn’t carried her inside, she might have died. It was fucking cold out at that time of night. Being passed out naked or half-naked in that kind of weather was stupid dangerous. 

What happened was this: Leo started going on about how Molly looked like a corpse. He wiggled her arms around, nudged her in the ribs with his boot to demonstrate his point. He’d treated the dead frog in freshman Biology similarly. Molly didn’t move, either. Then Dominick said, “I bet nothing would wake this girl up right now,” and he put his sneaker between her legs and kind of shook her so her hips jiggled. I remember how Dominick once stuck his hand into my cardboard box of fundraiser M&M’s, and said, “Thank you for donating to a good cause, Adelaide.” Walked away with the candy without paying for it. 

It went back and forth like this for a while, the two of them taking turns prodding Molly and jiggling her to see if anything would wake her up. Yes, they stuck a spoon up her cunt a couple of times, and yes, Dominick peed on her belly and Jim came running in with wet towels to clean up the mess. This was all true. And no, I wouldn’t be happy if they’d done all that to me, but would I cry rape? Would I take it out on other people just because I drank too much and passed out? No. I mean, we were all there laughing. We were all in the room egging them on. And we were all pretty darn certain that if Molly hadn’t been the one passed out and it was another girl on the floor, she would have joined in on the fun.

When Molly Longshore heard the next day about what happened, she and her parents went to the police. The next thing we knew, Leo and Dominick’s names and pictures were in the papers like all over the country. 

*

So fast-forward a few weeks, and we were in Mr. Leary’s physics class, and he was presenting a lesson on space trash. Even debris as small as a screw lost during space station repairs can be deadly at high speeds. He passed around potatoes and plastic straws and said that to gain a better understanding of Newton’s second law, he wanted us to imagine our potatoes were astronauts and that the straws were space debris. He instructed us to first nudge our potatoes gently with the straws and notice how the straws collapsed upon impact. Then he wanted us to jab the straws a little harder at the potato astronauts and notice how they punctured the potatoes’ skins. By the end of the investigation, the majority of the potatoes looked like they’d had run-ins with space-trash mafia. Only Isadora and Dee’s potatoes were unmarred.

When Mr. Leary asked them why they weren’t participating, Dee said, “I’m not comfortable with the nature of this investigation.”

“Not comfortable?” he said.

“Pretending something is human and then repeatedly stabbing it,” Isadora said.

“I think you’re taking this out of context,” Mr. Leary said. “They’re just potatoes.”

Then Dee said, “Even if we forget for a moment that you asked us to pretend they’re people, potatoes are formerly living things. It’s one thing to eat them for sustenance, another to desecrate them with straws and then toss them into the garbage, especially when there are so many hungry people in this world.”

We snickered. 

Even Isadora seemed to recognize the crazy in Dee’s statement because she piped in before Mr. Leary got the chance to reply. “You’ve got to admit, Mr. Leary, this is one whacked out lab activity. Especially given what happened to Molly Longshore.” 

We glanced at Leo. His straw was lodged so far into his potato it looked like it might soon poke out the back end. Leo grimaced at the mention of Molly, who we hadn’t seen since the party. Her schoolwork was being sent to her house. Rumor had it she was going to finish out her senior year from home.

Nobody made a sound.

Mr. Leary stared at Isadora and Dee, but he didn’t say another word to them. Instead he returned to the front of the classroom to finish up the lesson about Newton’s second law. He said, “Who can tell me why the straw punctures the potato more deeply the faster it strikes?”

A few hands went up, but Mr. Leary called on Leo of all people, Leo who had not had his hand up. Leo pointed this out.

“You didn’t have your hand up? Well, how about that! Why don’t you give me your answer anyway?” Mr. Leary said.

“It’s stronger,” Leo said.

“Explain.”

“The faster the straw is, the stronger it is.”

Somebody snickered. Leo’s face grew redder.

“When you say it’s stronger, what do you mean exactly?” Mr. Leary placed a piece of chalk tip to tip between his palms like an axle, and he moved his hands in circles like feet on the pedals of a bicycle.

“I mean it’s more powerful, so it does more damage,” Leo said.

“You’re talking in circles,” Mr. Leary said. “What makes the straw more powerful? What does that mean?”

“It’s got more force,” Leo said then. 

“Ah, force! Tell me about force.”

Leo just stared at him, wouldn’t utter a word more. Upon recognizing we had only a few minutes until the bell would ring, Mr. Leary explained that the faster the straw moves, the greater its acceleration, and since force equals mass times acceleration, etc. etc., the straw’s force increases directly with its acceleration. 

At lunch, Leo was quiet. He shoved a burger into his mouth and chewed. Lizbeth said, “I’d bet my left breast, heck, the right one too, that Isadora and Dee are dykes.” Since our freshman math teacher, Ms. Tope, had received a double mastectomy a year earlier, it had somehow become common practice for us girls to talk about wagering breasts like this. 

Rust Fife said, “Isn’t that common knowledge?” He produced two of the maimed potatoes from his backpack, broke the tines off a plastic fork, and gave one of the potatoes dagger-like arms. He made moaning sounds as he made the potato with the arms stab the other potato repeatedly. When the fork tine dislodged itself into the victim, he said, “Dude, he’s castrated!”

“Serves him right,” Lizbeth said. She was only pretending to scold Rust, though. There was a twinkle in her eyes. Fringed as they were by mascara-heavy eyelashes that arched out like whiskers, her eyes resembled the snouts of star-nosed mole rats.

“Ah, he was just having some fun,” Rust said.

“Oh, yeah? He likes to play rough, does he?” Lizbeth said. She popped a green grape into her mouth.

“He does,” Rust said, and he raised his eyebrows twice like the blub-blub of a single heartbeat.

“Cut it out,” Leo said.

“Dude, what’s your fucking problem?” Rust said.

“My life’s ruined because of that bitch. That’s my fucking problem,” Leo said.

Just then, Isadora and Dee walked by our table, and Leo seemed to direct all his anger at Molly toward the two of them. “Fucking cunts,” he said barely loud enough for them to hear.

They stopped on a dime. Isadora turned to him and said, “What did you say?”

“You heard me.”

“I don’t think I did. You want to say it a little louder?”

By this point, it was so quiet in that cafeteria, you could probably hear a cockroach scuttle across the linoleum. Everyone’s eyes were on Isadora and Leo. Everyone was listening. And Leo, he was smart enough to know, I guess, that he was on thin enough ice as it was. He didn’t need to give anybody any more reason to think he should go to jail or whatever the fuck other penalties he was possibly facing. So he said nothing. He stuck the burger back in his mouth and chewed. 

Dee didn’t say anything, either, but the way she looked at us—or was it me in particular?—I remembered her comment about vending machine donuts.

I remembered, too, how when we were kids, we’d flip through magazines and newspapers, selecting photographs of the women we wanted to become. The women Dee picked out for me were always smiling, teeth visible. They were usually modeling clothes or furniture. For herself she picked out stern, intense-looking women. More often than not they were politicians and such. Although I indeed preferred the smiling women, something about the discrepancy in Dee’s choices for us had always bothered me. I sensed in this contrast an evaluation. 

*

Soon after that physics lesson on Newton’s second law, things got worse for Leo and Dominick. Things got worse for all of us.

Cellphone video taken at the party ended up on the internet and in the hands of police, and the media went crazy with it. We’d known cellphone video existed. A number of kids had taken video. We’d crowded around those kids’ phones at school to watch. We thought, God, how can that girl blame anybody but herself? This is what happens when you pass out drunk. We all know that. We’ve all seen shit like this go down before. Well, maybe not quite like what they did to Molly, but something like it, more or less. The point is we knew well before what happened to Molly that you had to be careful how much you drink, you had to make sure you didn’t pass out, because if you did, you’d be humiliated in one way or another. And after Molly, we looked out for each other sometimes at parties. We’d say You better cool it if you don’t want to wake up with a spoon in your cunt.

The people writing about Molly and Leo and Dominick in news magazines and blogs said the video was appalling. They said Molly was a victim of sexual assault. They said everyone there that night watching should be treated as accessories to the crimes. They wondered about what kinds of monsters we all were that we could stand there and laugh while two boys committed such “atrocious acts.”

Well, it all seemed about as ridiculous to us as objecting to puncturing a potato with a straw.

Still, we wondered what kind of a moron would post this video up on the internet for everyone to see. Though we didn’t agree that Leo and Dominick were criminals, though we didn’t agree that we had done anything wrong, we had enough sense not to post what they had done online for everyone to see. We understood that outsiders might judge us. Just like they judged us for dressing up as homeless people for Halloween.

Just when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, Isadora and Dee showed up to school one day with a blow-up doll. It was nude and equipped with fuckholes. You know, the kind of thing really desperate guys blow their wads into. Isadora carried the doll by her wrists, Dee her ankles. They lay her prostrate body on the floor between their desks during classes. 

Many of the teachers complained. A nude sex doll was distracting to their lessons. When Principal Beaker announced, reluctantly, that the doll was an exercise in civic protest and so had educational value, Mr. White, who taught Pre-Calculus and Calculus, shrouded the doll. He draped Dolly Molly himself, leaving her face visible, as though tucking a child into bed. So lying there with that weird pursed mouth on display, as though the rest of her had been covered to accentuate this feature, Dolly Molly looked even creepier.

Of course, Principal Beaker never should have allowed it. Civics lesson, my ass. We all knew the real reason they got away with it was the same reason Dee had been allowed to start up that recycling program. He didn’t dare risk Dee’s daddy sending his lawyer over. Some people thought he also allowed it because he didn’t want to come off in the media as condoning what had happened to Molly. 

Isadora and Dee carted around that doll for barely a day before it caught the attention of the national media. Before long, they were being interviewed by The New York Times, Life Magazine, you name it. They were called “precocious,” “bold,” and “provocative.” It was like they were national celebrities. 

As a result, Molly, Leo, and Dominic became celebrities too, but of a different sort. Molly, to her credit, wanted nothing to do with Isadora and Dee. When some reporter asked her, “What do you think about the statement these women are making on your behalf?” Molly said, “My behalf?! Those freaks don’t know anything about me or how I feel right now. I hear they’re calling it Dolly Molly. My behalf?”

“Well,” the reporter said. “According to my sources, it’s the other kids—”

“Fuck them,” Molly said.

The next thing we knew, these crazy feminist bitches, and a few men, flocked to our town and set up camp at the public park across the street from our school. “A shanty town”: that’s what Mr. Ferst, who taught Government and American History, called it. Thanks to Isadora and Dee and the shanty town they spawned, instead of skimming textbook chapters our predecessors had already highlighted for us, now we had to write research papers about civic protest and human rights activism. We had to interview residents of the shanty town and write essays that combined our interviews with personal material from our own lives—reflection on a time when we’d witnessed injustice and did or didn’t act on it, blah blah blah. 

As far as we were concerned, the injustice was our being made to suffer because of Isadora and Dee’s actions. There was no question in our minds they needed to be punished. But how?

Isadora and Dee didn’t give a fuck what we said about them. And it’s not like we could pick out the toughest girl in school and sic her on them like a pit bull. Because Isadora was the toughest girl. We’d have to be more imaginative. We’d have to be cleverer. Poison, just enough to make them pallid and feeble? Too easy to fuck up. Photo-shop fake naked photos and disseminate them on the internet? Too juvenile. Sneak fake blood capsules underneath them so it would look like they... They probably wouldn’t give a shit. 

We settled on a rattlesnake. Rust and his dad had been hunting them together since he was six years old. In fact, they already had four trapped in a cage in their garage for the upcoming rattlesnake roundup in Sweetwater. 

Dee drove Isadora home every day after school, but those two never went anywhere for lunch, so her car was in the parking lot all day unattended. Just about everyone left their windows cracked, to let out the heat a little, but even if Dee didn’t that day, Laura’s boyfriend, who’d spent a few months in a juvenile detention center when he was fifteen, had taught her how to unlock a car door with a coat hanger. Depositing the creature into their car would be relatively easy. 

If one of them was actually bitten, we knew they wouldn’t die from the bite. They were smart enough not to panic, smart enough to get themselves to a hospital for antivenin. We just wanted to fuck them up a little bit, give them a scare. 

But you must have heard how it turned out. How the snake bit Dolly Molly as she lay across the back seat of Dee’s car. It sank its fangs right into that fuckhole mouth, which caused Dee to swerve and scrape up against Mr. Leary’s truck. Isadora and Dee and Mr. Leary, they were all fine—just a few bruises and cuts. Mr. Leary taught class after that with a pale pink Band-Aid plastered above his left eyebrow. The snake, it wasn’t seat-belted, either, of course, and something about the physics of exploding plastic caused the snake to be suctioned in by Dolly Molly, so that when the firefighters found the animal, its head was buried in the doll’s plastic face. 

What you probably don’t know is that when I helped Rust put the snake into Dee’s car—everyone else talked a big game, but when it came right down to it, they flaked out—I wasn’t thinking about Molly or Leo or Dominick. I wasn’t thinking about the shanty town or the reporters or all the extra work I had to do in government class. 

I wasn’t even thinking so much about getting Rust’s attention. 

I was thinking about Dee. 

For so many years, I’d thought Dee was full of shit when she said she didn’t want to be popular, didn’t wish Rust or Leo or Jim would notice her, didn’t wish she was a cheerleader or a class favorite. But it turned out I’d been wrong. Because here Dee was in magazines and newspapers, talking about sexist ideology, talking about pack mentality, talking about internalized misogyny and how it helps explain why so many white women voted for Donald Trump over Hillary Clinton. No regard for how Leo’s and Dominick’s lives are ruined because of one prank. It’s sickening how even now, after their sentencing—two years in juvenile detention, talk of adding their names to the sex offender registry—here Dee is still going on about them, still betraying all of us. Dee may think she looks like the women she picked out for herself all those years ago, but I know—I know better than anybody—what it is she’s really become. I know who the real criminal is.


Michelle Ross is the author of There's So Much They Haven't Told You (2017), which won the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award. Her fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Colorado Review, Electric Literature's Recommended Reading, SmokeLong Quarterly, TriQuarterly, and other venues. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review and was a consulting editor for the 2018 Best Small Fictions anthology. www.michellenross.com