We wanted to off Janine Wong’s doll like a burnt offering but just couldn’t settle on a suitable deity to please. The doll, Mindy, was blessed with synthetic hair and a face as impossibly smooth as a newborn’s pinky finger. We didn’t want the little freak to have nipples, so we scraped them off using coins, much like our superstitious aunties who obsessively attacked those elusive scratch-off lottery prizes. Always a loss, but we were free from the weight of numbers under our chests, thankfully.
We wanted moon ownership, but bickered over who should get the honor of bursting it like a giant celestial pinata. Our ultimate goal was bendable Barbies, ones with knees groaning under manipulation, and golden locks that left a blueish hue in bathwater. If life were a living advert, our bellybuttons would scream, “Dial 1-800-MY-SKIN and we’ll ship our skins right to your doorstep for a risk-free trial. Beware of paper cuts!” We echoed the warnings of Narcissus: don’t plunge too deep into your reflection.
It was a constant contest to see whose knees boasted the most attention-grabbing scars. Wearing Tweety-Bird mirrors around our necks, always hoping to achieve the same coolness as Janine Wong. Janine had a mom that managed a Safeway, and that’s where we learned to shoplift like pros after Janine pulled off that mascara heist (which inevitably backfired into a case of mistaken diarrhea).
Begging for makeup, crushed pearl powders, and horse-oil lotions to mold us into gleaming, deadly instruments. Boys dreamed of touching teal eyeshadow, though they couldn’t tell you if the color was more sky-like with undertones of smog or if it was.green like Janine’s family SUV. None of us could keep from vomiting while in that car; Janine’s mom had squirrel-foot syndrome, tap-dancing on the pedals and jolting us into a sickly stupor.
To pass the long days without our mothers, we nibbled on the most lifeless scraps, sucking cockroaches clean of their crumbs, and our toenails softened after long hours of simmering. It was an upside-down kind of life.
There was a ground-level temple close by, our occasional refuge, with card tables laden with shiny oranges, and flies buzzing all around, helping their human souls climb the reincarnation ladder. We weren’t supposed to squish those annoying flies, as they could be our lost relatives, but Janine killed one in a fit of rebellion, declaring it her own personal moon.
The provoked nuns, hiding weak scalps under swim caps, angrily sought revenge with bamboo brooms, screaming that we were less like daughters and more like dogs. Janine wished aloud for her grandmother’s death so we could have feasts atop her altar, and, to our surprise, her grandmother did die, tumbling off a balcony in Reno wearing nothing but false teeth. The word revenge clung to our tongues like it belonged there.
We plotted our payback on the nuns that tormented us, turning our serenity into a bug-slaughtering crusade, desecrating the eternal cycle of life. Nuns sobbed, and the news of one’s suicide sent chills through our spines. Did we squish her son-reborn-as-a-fly in our frenzy? We feared we’d come back as slaughtered cows.
Repentance soon followed. Unaware of how to atone for our follies, we followed Janine to a dry creek, rains having migrated and refusing to revisit. The tiny skeletons that dotted the creek bed seemed almost poetic.
Janine, in her boundless bravery, waded into the muck up to her knees, and we pulled her back using our entwined braids, only to uncover a lifeless form, a half-deer, half-girl buried in the earth. This is the first time we decided we wanted to be reborn as flies.
An Ovidian metamorphosis awaited us if we chose this path. Fluttering through eternity, we’d traverse uncharted territories, alighting on the sweet, fickle flavors of life. The long-dry creek would be our origin story, the genesis of winged explorers.
But we were no fools. We knew animals couldn’t dictate their destinies like we could. Saturating our lungs in the sky’s fragrance, we’d touch down on the good stuff, move from skin to skin, city to city. Except we only really knew the city of the long-dry creek. Janine said there was one way to transform ourselves into flies, and it was through the mud.
So we carried ourselves down into that ancient, sepulchral mud, right by our mothers’ sides. Remembering the birthplace of our newfound understanding, the temple walls bearing the evidence of our destructive tendencies, we knew where we’d settle post-reincarnation. The temple would be our haven as they’d never forget to feed us there, a nourishing constant in our ever-changing worlds.
Elina Kumra is a high school student from San Jose, California. Summit Tahoma High School. As a young writer, she enjoys poetry, creative and innovative fiction. Outside of her literary pursuits and doodling caricatures on restaurant napkins, the 16-year-old is also an accomplished concert pianist and numismatist. She deeply appreciates classical literature, with a particular fascination for the poetic oeuvre of Catullus, Horace, and Virgil. Presently, Elina focuses on A Brush on Recovery, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization she founded, which seeks to promote mental health awareness through art therapy. Within this organization, she is also leading a digital humanities passion project, geared towards creating a digital archive of underrepresented Harlem Renaissance authors and texts.