|BWS Stories - Contest Winners|
Contest Winners - You Would Cry Too, If It Happened to You* - April/May Winner!
Laurie Klein's award-winning prose appears in journals and anthologies. Writing projects and co-editing Rock & Sling keeps her busy. She has given up on ever being cool.
You Would Cry Too, If It Happened to You* - April/May Winner!
"Hey, want to sleep over?"
I spun the dial on my locker and turned in surprise.
Brown eyes locked with mine. Sally Rae James with her perfect pageboy and cover-girl skin, third-coolest-of-the-cool in our Junior High, was addressing . . . me.
"Neato!" This came out way too loud, so I relaxed my face to look suitably bored. "I mean, sure," I said with a shrug. "Okay."
It was 1963, the year of "Louie, Louie" and "Da Doo Ron Ron," year of the "I have a Dream" speech and Kennedy's death-not that I was civically minded. I was a gawky preteen in a backwater town where you could drink at age eighteen. Parents wigged out every weekend, decrying boy/girl parties and the local passion-pit. Most nights, I knelt at my window seat praying for breasts. Doing time in the locker room had revealed a staggering truth: girls my age wore bras. Sally Rae's had lace cups and thin satin straps.
Ba-zaams, however, were hardly my sole desire. I yearned to belong, or at least be noticed (in a good way) by The Clique.
Now my moment had come and I drank it in.
You could say that Sally Rae James was spoiled. Most people did. Today she wore a green mini-skirt in wet-look vinyl and black tights. Thirteen-going-on-thirty, she epitomized all I longed to be: popular, cute, worldly, rich. Always bubbling over about something, she effervesced like those tablets Mom took for heartburn ("Plop, plop, fizz, fizz . . ."). Oh, to be an only child.
"Dr. Kildare is just to-o-o dreamy," Sally Rae gushed as we headed home.
I'd seen his TV show but still thought guys gave you cooties. However, desperate to please, I played along, stopping every few blocks to yank up my socks, relentlessly sucked under my heels by the hideous ("good for your feet") saddle shoes Mom made me wear. Sally Rae's laughter started to bug me.
"Lose the shoes," she advised.
A kid zipped past on a bike, three dozen baseball cards snapping against the spokes. "Little spaz," she said. "How retarded." She folded a stick of clove gum into her pouty, lip-glossed mouth. "Got something fab to show you," she said at her front door. Her house smelled of Comet and smoke, perfume and sunshine. "I'm home," she called.
Tanned and svelte, her mom glided out of the kitchen. "Hungry?"
"Starving," we said in unison.
"Jinx! Coke on you," Sally Rae said.
I shivered. My mom claimed soda would curdle your bones and eat out your stomach. I'd never tasted cola and just smiled, looking around. There were pastel easy chairs, a TV on tapered legs in the corner, and a Hi-fi surmounted by gilded cherubs clutching ribbons and baby birds.
Sally Rae switched on the latest hit single and launched into a mean Twist, while Lesley Gore wailed "It's My Party." I writhed along, flailing and lumpish by comparison, both of us chiming in on the chorus: "Cry-y-y if I want to . . ." (I was starting to want to.)
Out in the kitchen, the metallic ratchet of ice tray levers made me hanker for Mom's lemonade. In came Mrs. James with her bouffant hair and lit cigarette. She set down a huge bowl of potato chips and two bell-shaped glasses, tinkling with ice cubes and something dark.
I tipped my head back to drink, then froze. Something like mist enveloped my nose and lips. Flinching, I stared at the glass, aware of Sally Rae's snicker. I heard fizzing and sniffed again, then crinkled my nose at the first sip: sharp and acidic, almost oily. Ice bumped my teeth and liquid darkness seared my (virgin) throat all the way down, a raw, stinging sensation that tasted of lime and vanilla, of pepper and . . . well, call it magic. I swallowed, sputtered, and drank again. Syrupy sweetness prickled my tongue and tonsils; it stung the inside of my nose like subzero air.
"What is this?" I gasped, alarmed yet already craving another gulp.
Sally Rae laughed. "You loser, it's Coca-cola," she said. "It's the coolest."
"The pause that refreshes," her glamorous mother added, then drifted away in a haze of smoke.
From that day on I was hooked. I later switched to diet cola, often swilling half a gallon (or more) a day. At first, it was one more way to belong, a hip way to diet-through dehydration. I should have known that any drink first brewed in a backyard three-legged kettle was trouble. I won't totally blame my past addiction on peer pressure and caffeine and carbonation, but it turns out Mom was right: Osteoporosis has curdled these aging bones.
I did, however, ditch the saddle shoes.
*Leslie Gore's #1 1963 hit single was written by Gold, Gottlieb, Gluck Jr, and Wiener