| ||This was written by Jamie Bordeau and
it won Seventeen's 2002 Fiction Contest. It's a very weird story.
You'll feel funny after reading it . Yes, I know it's long but I know
all of us have some times when we are bored and looking for something
to do. Enjoy.|
My sister, Frances, disappeared last Thursday, but we aren't
going to put up any posters. We know exactly where she is. There's no milk
The rest of the town is beginning to panic. They are certain that this is the
beginning of a missing-child epidemic. One mother proposed building an
underground shelter to hide the children until the kidnapper was caught. The
mayor voted it down.
We need this money for parking lots, he explained.
The town is angry with us. They feel as if we are not doing enough to find
Frances. They feel that we are in a deep state of denial. Some people are even
convinced that we have killed Frances and hidden her body inside our backyard
But there is no body. There was no hiding. They will never find her.
My neighbor Cynthia has made it her one-woman mission to find Frances. She
claims she will not rest until my sister is found and returned safely, which is
a shame because it looks as if she really needs the sleep. The circles under
her eyes are devouring her face.
I have spent most of the past few days watching Cynthia from my bedroom window.
She is forever outside, carefully picking her way through our shared lawns,
looking for some sign that Frances is still around. At times she brings out her
Pekingese, who is named Muffin, and attempts to use her as a tool.
Find Frances, she says to Muffin. Be a good girl for Mommy.
Muffin usually answers by lying down or peeing on the tufts of dead summer
grass. The grass has been dead for weeks, but the ground sucks in any type of
liquid it can get. It is Nature's withering alcoholic, and Muffin is the
I watch Cynthia desperately toiling for an answer, sweat dripping down her face
and sliding onto her Hello Kitty T-shirt. She is looking for a sign, a reason,
and I can't help but feel sorry for her. I'd like to tell her to stop looking,
to take a cold bath and put tea bags on her shadow-cast eyes. I'd like to tell
her the truth, but she would never believe me.
My mother caught me watching Cynthia yesterday morning and frowned.
That woman is a nuisance, she snapped, always digging up our grass.
The grass is dead, I remind her.
Less to mow, she shrugged.
Cynthia never noticed either of us and just kept digging. Captain Hook with two
good hands and not a Lost Boy in sight.
I have been staring at a bottle of salad dressing for three days. It sits on my
mother's bureau, deprived of its dignified labels and necessary refrigeration.
My mother has torn every bit of paper from the outside of the bottle so that it
is easy to see what lies inside. It was French dressing once, I believe, the
kind that is more red than orange and makes your eyes squint when you taste it.
The bottle sits next to a pile of home and garden magazines, lying lazily on
top of an ugly doily that my mother thinks gives the bureau a little class.
Helen, she always says, a little lace goes a long way.
My mother does not know that I sneak into her room to watch the bottle. I am
forbidden to look at the bottle unless she is there to supervise.
Nine-year-old girls are tornadoes in pink sneakers, she frowns - they destroy
everything they touch and then dance away.
I keep telling her that I'm 11, but she never listens.
The bottle is beautiful right now, sparked by the sunlight that peeks through
my mother's lace curtains. The contents swirl around gracefully, looking for an
impossible exit. I pick up the bottle and watch the pink bubbles bounce off the
sides, sliding into each other with tiny explosions of pain. I bring the bottle
to my eyes and squint very hard, hoping that in some way I can see my sister
floating inside. Once I thought I caught a glimpse of her hand, but it was just
a piece of old French dressing falling from the lid of the container.
We liquefied Frances three weeks ago, and she has been in that salad-dressing
bottle ever since. I suggested that we put her in my mother's crystal vase, but
my mother disagreed.
She might stain it, my mother huffed. It's Waterford, all the way from Ireland.
You just don't risk a piece like that.
She found the half-empty bottle of dressing in the refrigerator and smiled.
This will be perfect, she said, it just needs a little rinse.
I watched as she peeled off the labels and ran the bottle under hot water.
There, she said, that will do fine.
For my mother, this was a victory. She had been planning this for weeks, and
things were working out beautifully.
I should have suspected something when my mother started feeding my sister Knox
gelatin at every meal. She started by telling Frances that Knox gelatin was the
secret for long hair and nails, and Frances, eager to keep growing out the
five-dollar haircut that my mother had forced upon her, quickly agreed to down
a glass or two at each sitting.
My mother's plan had begun.
After a few weeks, my mother suggested that Frances stop eating altogether.
Your hips, she said are beginning to sprout hips of their own.
Frances was mortified. In reality she was as skinny as a crane's leg.
But girls always listen to their mothers.
My mother put Frances on a gelatin-only diet. Frances took in about fourteen
boxes of gelatin throughout the day. She was wasting away to practically
nothing, and she had quite a bit of trouble standing up strait. She seemed too
wobbly as she walked, her gelatinous body swimming. Standing sill in the
doorway to catch her balance, she gazed at me with jellyfish eyes, her body
motionless yet always in motion
The gelatin diet went on for a month, until Frances was so weak she could
hardly get out of bed. On Thursday morning, I heard her call out to me.
Helen, she wailed, my hands are melting.
I ran into her room and saw that her fingers had started sticking to her
sheets. They had taken on an elastic quality and were beginning to ooze over
the sides of her mattress. The pink pastel rug below had become a rain bucket,
capturing drop after drop of gelatinous Frances and clinging to her for dear
I carefully lifted up her white comforter and saw that the bed was swallowing
her whole body. Her toes had melted together, becoming one large toe with five
tiny purple-painted toenails.
I wanted to call for my mother.
I did not want to call for my mother.
Frances smiled at me through tired lips that were beginning to coast down the
sides of her face.
It feels so pretty, she whispered, so very pretty. She smiled at me again. I am
the Melting Queen, she said softly. Her eyelids began sliding down, covering
her notorious twinkle. She sighed heavily, and parts of her lungs started to
spill over the bed.
My mother calmly entered the room and saw what was happening. She scooped
Frances up and brought her into the bathroom. She filled the tub with hot water
and placed my melting sister inside. France immediately dissolved, faded, her
sticky nightgown rising to the surface wile her body vanished into the tub.
mother and I knelt in front of the tub, parishioners where there is no God,
staring at a bubbling mass of pink liquid as it oozed in and out of the
nightgown sleeves, searching aimlessly for a form.
A tiny splash hit the tub as a tear fell out of my mother's face. She turned to
me with mascara-dripping eyes and whispered, Helen, go get me something to put
your sister in. They she sniffed and quickly shook her head. I was immobile,
still standing over the tub, slack-jawed, speechless.
Close your mouth, said my mother fiercely, and get me something to put your
I walked into the kitchen with only one though pulsating in my mind
We had just liquefied Frances.
I can't say Frances didn't have it coming to her, because she did.
She was four years older than me, just starting high school. Her breasts had
come in over the summer, and the neighborhood boys were starting to notice how
pretty they looked under the sleeveless sweaters she always wore. Thanks to the
gelatin's effects, her five-dollar haircut had grown out into long blond locks
that curled just at the edges.
She was gorgeous. It drove my mother crazy. Not crazy in a jealous sense, mind
you, but crazy with fear. Frances was too perfect, too beautiful. Her laugh was
too charming, Her walk was too adorable. Her body was too bronzed. She was at
the peak, and she was just starting out. My mother saw her going nowhere but
Helen, she explained to me one day, perfection is a time bomb. Eventually it
explodes in your face and you're left with nothing but reality and a bad
My mother knew all about being perfect. She was perfect, too. She was named
Miss Wyoming 1979. She had long brown hair and big green eyes that looked like
lemon-lime soda, golden, bubble and sweet. She gave her interview on neutering
pets. The judges were blown away. She performed "Yankee Doodle Dandy"
on a unicycle while juggling patriotic sparklers. She was America.
She didn't even place in the top 20 of the Miss America pageant that year. She
later blamed it on faulty lighting.
The lights were up too high, she often reflects, they made me look to pale.
I remind her that she is pale, that we're from Wyoming, that the Miss America
pageant is in February. She always frowns.
Beauty knows no season, she explains.
There are times when I think my mother sill believes she is Miss Wyoming. She
will walk to get the mail with her back arched and her head pointed straight up
in the air. Her legs crisscross like fighting eels as she slinks to the ugly
plastic mailbox to grab the daily bills with her long acrylic nails. She is
saying, look at me. She is laughing. She is beautiful.
I miss Frances.
My mother constantly tells me that she is doing the right thing.
Helen, she says, if it weren't for me, your sister would be a the mercy of the
wolves. Men would take advantage of her. Women would despise her. And when she
settle down, she'd probably let herself go, and that would be a shame.
She patted my pin-straight hair. Lucky Helen, she mused, you don't have to
worry about any of that. Yes, I say slowly, lucky lucky me.
There are days when Cynthia rests more than normal. She sits upon her steps,
gripping a coconut doughnut, talking to Muffin in a highly intellectual manner.
I believe, she says to Muffin, that this coconut was shipped through Costa
Rica. Import and export- it's a fascinating economical configuration, isn't it?
Muffin never replies.
My mother has turned the couch cushions over at least seven times today.
The sunlight makes them fade, she explains.
I ask her about curtains.
Curtains, she frowns, only hid what is beautiful.
The refrigerator runs and runs, and my mother and I sit on the turned cushions
and let our bodies save the couch.
Cynthia has begun to wear a T-shirt with France's picture embalmed on the
front. She wears it every day, in the hope that someone will recognize the
beautiful blonde on it.
The picture that she has of Frances is lovely one. We took it last year on our
trip to Lake Watauga. She is smiling in the sunlight, her blonde hair ignited
by the summer haze.
Cynthia never takes the shirt off, and there are times when I wonder if she'd
like to switch places with the face on the front.
I wonder what it is like to wear my sister's face all day. I imagine Cynthia
standing in front of her mirror, watching Frances smile. I wonder if she speaks
to her, asks her for the answers. I wonder if Cynthia ever makes love, and if
she does, does she wear France's face? I want to ask her, I want to have her
tell me what it's like to play Frances for a day, but she is too busy for my
questions. It has been three weeks of glorified insomnia fro poor Cynthia, no
sleep and yet never awake.
The heat has become unbearable, to the point where the smell of frying ChemLawn
has completely engulfed the neighborhood. Miracle-Grow has sold out at the
Super Kmart, but I have not seen one miracle yet.
The children of the neighborhood are relaxed in their central air-cooled homes.
Their mothers have almost forgotten about "the kidnapping," and most
of them are pretty certain that Frances is dead. Mr. Walters, who works the
deli counter at the A&P, offered my mother a free meat tray if she wanted
to hold a good-by ceremony.
My mother refused. She hates cold cuts.
My mother also refuses to turn on our air-conditioning because she is afraid
that Frances will freeze. She stuck a 25-year-old fan in my bedroom but prefers
to keep herself cool through margaritas and menthol cigarettes. She won't smoke
Her asthma, she explains.
I wonder what liquid asthma feels like. I imagine it is much like drowning,
without the relief of death.
Cynthia has started selling her valuables in order to earn money to fun her
Save Frances campaign. She asks my mother to donate $500, but my mother
Money, she rationalizes, cannot bring her back.
Cynthia assumes that my mother has gone crazy with grief and simply rubs her
hand upon her shoulder, as if to say, it's all right, you've lost your mind.
But I'll find your daughter.
There are times when I catch Cynthia staring up at the night sky, her fingers
running along the crease of her T-shirt where France's smile turns upward. She
pats the shirt and sighs, perhaps wondering why she is looking so very hard for
a girl who never even knew her last name.
Two days later, my mother moved Frances from the bedroom into the kitchen. The
heat was just too much. A quarter of Frances had evaporated.
Evaporation, my mother wailed, I hadn't even thought of that.
With a Goldilocks mentality, my mother placed Frances in the refrigerator. Not
too cold, not too hot. Frances sat on the shelf next to a giant jar of pickles.
I was glad. Frances loved pickles.
I checked on her every fifteen minutes, just to make sure she hadn't evaporated
any further. I wondered what parts of her had faded. Her hand, her leg, maybe
her hair. I hoped that it was only her toes. Toes are useless anyway, and
Frances hated sandals.
My mother has just purchased a $200 designer tablecloth to hide the nicks in
our kitchen table. I miss the nicks. Some things are better left uncovered.
Cynthia is standing in the street, buzzing with the streetlights, swinging her
arms in a helpless direction, wearing a faded T-shirt of a faded girl. She
tilts her head to one side and gazes toward the sewers, scouring the dirty
grates for a pink ponytail holder or a stick of cinnamon gum. She is losing the
I decide to step back from my window and breathe. At times I forget what
breathing really feels like, a and I have to remind myself through long, hard
inhalation. After about four lung fillers, I make my way down the stairs and
out the screen door, where the summer moths have gathered for a porch-light
I stand upon the concrete steps watching her through the windows I was born
with. She notices me standing and shifts her gaze in my direction.
At night, she says, it's easier to see things.
You miss her, she asks, don't you?
Nice shirt, I reply.
She sighs and looks down at the faded Frances. I messed it up in the wash, she
explains, that's why her hair looks a bit green.
Oh. That is all I can say.
Stupid bleach, she frowns.
Cynthia, I ask her, why are you going through all this trouble?
Why aren't you? She replies.
I freeze with honesty and kick a pebble toward the sewer.
There are times, Cynthia continues, that I really think she'll walk up to my
front door and say trick or treat, and I won't have anything to give her.
We stare at the dying streetlight and the glow that it casts on the cracked
blacktop. I wonder what Frances had ever given Cynthia.
She never knew your last name, I tell her.
Yes, she says, but she knew my first, and that is what matters.
Cynthia's eyes fill with watery goo, sticky with the residue of overdue sleep.
I think of Cynthia's empty house, her lack of boyfriends, her refrigerator
stacked with leftovers, as if to say, please come eat with me, I have so much
left to give.
I think of Frances in the sunlight, her smile glowing under the serenity of
July skies, her eyes dancing. We are both in love with her in a way...in the
way that she is everything, every girl, every beautiful stream of daylight,
every answer, every secret, every sister.
She is the reason to believe in perfection.
Cynthia sighs and sinks to the pavement. When Frances was here, she explains,
there was always hope.
Together we click our tongues and wait for the fireflies to fade out, so that
we can stop looking for sparks in the darkness.
I have been staring at a salad-dressing bottle for three weeks, and I can see
her dancing inside. She is the cream in the center of the cookie, smooth and
pale and soft. There are times when she bubbles, and I swear she is calling me,
calling me screaming, daring me to pull her out.
I cannot watch her bubble anymore I steal her from the refrigerator sanctuary,
check the halls for my mother and execute the plan.
The bottle is cold in my hands, and wet. Some of Frances seems to have
condenses along the lining of the cap. I rub it through my fingers and hold
them to my nose. They smell of French dressing and sweet, sugary honey. I pass
my fingers to my lips and taste. I have found her escape.
I quickly rip open the bottle and begin to pour it down my though. France oozes
down, past my 11-year-old molars and into the darkness of my insides. My mother
catches me midway, but she cannot stop what I have started, Frances is in me,
running through my blood like a mouse on the subway tracks, scurrying along to
find safety, to find home.
My mother screams and wails and finally just sighs, knowing that here is
nothing she can do. I am the savior now.
The glass bottle is empty, and we are safe.
Well, says my mother, as she sighs and takes a seat at the kitchen table, at
least I know where she is.
I smile as Frances seeps into my organs. I want to tell Cynthia, to press
against her T-shirt and let her feel my sister safely melting inside me. I want
to run to the bathroom and set her free, liquid salvation down a porcelain
bowl. I hope she comes out blue. That is her favorite color.
When she leaves me, and I send her on her way, I will tell her to look after my
goldfish and I know she will.
My mother is tired, Miss 21st place, all that work for nothing. I wonder if she
still has her batons.
We sit together at the kitchen table, dreaming in opposite directions.
Well, she says finally, what do you think of this tablecloth?
Together we stare at the black-and-white swirls that cover our old kitchen
I feel France bubbling once more. I rip the cloth from the table and toss it on
the pink linoleum floor.
There, I reply, now it is beautiful.