How We Stay Good Girls

“How We Stay Good Girls,” a short story by alumna Christine Fadden, appears online at Painted Bride Quarterly.

I told my stepmother I was spending the night at Carla’s house and Carla told her parents she was spending the night at mine. Then we went with the boys up the mountain.

The boys were brothers and—for a while—Carla and I were like sisters. Neither of us wanted to have sex, which is contrary to every parent-of-a-teenager’s first assumption. It’s an assumption that says a lot about parents, and its wrongness became the impetus to our lie. If we went up the mountain with the boys and did not behave badly, our mission would prove we were good girls. We would deserve merits—possibly in the form of more freedom! We knew if we got caught we’d get punished, but we fantasized about telling our parents: “You see! We faced and resisted temptation.” Of course, there was no way we could win.

Before we took off for the mountain, Carla and I made a pact: neither would stick the other with the boy she didn’t want to mess around with. It would be she with the younger brother and me with the older one—or Backgammon.

The Müller boys were star soccer players and Carla and I were too, and so even if we fooled around, at least we weren’t going to smoke weed or trip on mushrooms. Not that year. Not that crew. The Müllers were Austrian. They had actual accents, which made an overnighter with them seem educational.

They borrowed their father’s Suburban. There were snowshoes, soccer balls, and a stack of orange cones in the back. Carla and I put cones on our heads and rubbed them together. Carla said, “Let us hone.” The boys turned and looked at us like we were from another planet, which of course, we were. Maybe they hadn’t grown up with Saturday Night Live in Austria, but they gestured back at us, holding up the victory-V behind each other’s heads, and figured out they were supposed to laugh. We wanted to make boys laugh, especially these boys because they were so exotic.

But sure, all boys—All-American or imports—will do harm to daughters. Fathers know this. Their urge to protect us is both gallant and animal-like.
Carla’s father was more than protective. He wouldn’t let her cut her hair. They weren’t Mormon or anything, but her father said, “That head of hair is mine until you leave my house.”

She rarely did leave their house, but that night we were at 5000 feet in a guest bathroom complete with its own sauna. “Let’s take one,” Carla said. “It’ll make our skin soft.”

“Our skin is already soft,” I said.

We were brushing our teeth when someone knocked on the door. “They can’t live without us,” I whispered. We did a little dance in the mirror and hit our fists together in Wonder Twin solidarity.

“We’ll be out in a min-ute,” I said teasingly.

“Open this door right now!”

Carla gagged. Toothpaste dribbled down her chin. I knew her father’s voice from soccer games. I knew the way he yelled at Carla to walk straight to the car without goofing around if she had played poorly.

Her father had driven three hours up the mountain, and he meant to drive us back down.

“You aren’t my father,” I said. “I don’t have to go with you.”

The boys stood silent in the hallway. What seemed to me then as the epitome of European restraint, of class and good manners, now I know was pure fear. Mr. Mitchell’s neck bulged out of his jacket collar. The sleeves of his jacket were too short, and threads of filling popped out. We were only fifteen, but Carla’s father was already bald. His face was pink and pock marked; his dark grey oily jacket fit him like shrink-wrap. He was part sea lion, part molting bird—and all father.

I realized then that I didn’t know what his job was. I’d been to Carla’s house twice and couldn’t get out fast enough for the stench of sweat and the way her father sat in his recliner while her six-year old sister danced on the coffee table in dingy cotton underwear that read Thursday on a Sunday.

Carla said, “Molly, you have to come.”

“I’ll face my punishment tomorrow,” I said.

Carla’s father’s shoulders twitched as if something had stung him between the shoulder blades.

“Your stepmother is waiting for you,” he said. “And from the sounds of it, you’d better prepare to duck.”

I bit my lip so I wouldn’t burst out laughing. The woman was shorter than me and barely older, a ridiculous threat. My father, a car aficionado, described her as a spark plug. “Dad,” I wanted to say. “Does a siphon qualify as a car part?” But I knew better. A girl who has spent any time living alone with her father receives special education in what men don’t want to hear, and just how far she can push it.

“I’ll get our bags,” I said.

“Boys already loaded ‘em.”

Spoken like a man with a gun.

We marched to Carla’s father’s Datsun. The fabric on the car seats and ceiling was ripped and shredded like a bag of kittens had been let loose in there. It smelled too. Halfway down the mountain, he ran out of cigarettes and pulled into a quickie mart.

“Not a word out of your lying mouths,” he said.

In the backseat, I said nothing. I thought that man could see my mouth move from twenty yards away.

“When we get home,” Carla said through her teeth, “he’s going to beat me to a pulp.”

My father had taught me how to drive his Jaguar, so it would have taken three seconds for me to hop into the front seat and guide that lemon Datsun down the mountain. Three seconds to strand Carla’s father in the dirty snow of the quickie mart parking lot in his inadequate jacket.

I didn’t. Hijacking a car wasn’t a matter of saving us girls. Life, as it presented itself in Crown Heights, made me believe we were plenty safe.  …[Keep Reading]…


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