Hi, I’m Corpse Bride Barbie
by Hannah Sandoval
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
Blood and toothpaste swirled around the sink and down the drain. Jenny turned off the water and, with a trembling hand, picked up the hard white object that had hitched up against the drain. She placed it in her open palm and let out a shaky breath.
She stared at the tooth. She had been brushing her teeth just after lunch because her mouth felt oddly grimy. She’d felt a wiggling sensation, a small sharp pain, and then her tooth was on her tongue.
She forced a smile to inspect her teeth, so white and straight they could have been a movie star’s. A middle-aged brunette with just a hint of wrinkles around her eyes and mouth smiled back from the mirror. She opened her mouth in an odd grimace to inspect the bloody hole in the back. Her gums looked odd, darker. Around the missing molar, the gum appeared almost black.
Cancer, an ugly voice whispered in her head. What else makes sense?
But she didn’t smoke; she never had. God only knew Heidi and the other girls on her high school cheer squad had tried to get her to start enough times back in the day. Funny that they’d never gotten her to smoke when they’d convinced her to commit much worse crimes.
“Mom!” Tessa called from the kitchen. “It’s one of your bimbo friends calling.”
You’re one to talk, you little slut, Jenny thought before she could stop herself.
Tessa was examining her manicure and tapping her foot when Jenny walked in.
It was Tammy on the line with her usual three-part saga: gossiping about someone in the neighborhood; whining about some mundane soccer-mom task; and not so subtly dropping hints about her personal wealth, achievement, and unbelievably good sex life. Jenny listened even less than usual. The fear over the lost tooth couldn’t completely distract her from her growing disgust for not just Tammy but all her friends.
She was steadily realizing how much they reminded her of herself in high school: aching to be at the top, but always second best. Simultaneously loving and despising the alpha she-wolf. Jenny had achieved her alpha status by marrying Grayson, maintaining her gymnast body, and mimicking her own high school alpha, Heidi. But, increasingly, she wasn’t sure it was any better than beta.
Finally, she was able to force a hang-up with Tammy that she knew she would pay for later. No doubt Tammy was already ringing someone else to say how rude she’d been.
Jenny felt the hole in her mouth with her tongue. It was starting to ache. She rang her dentist and made an appointment for the following day. Only then did she realize she was still holding the tooth. She was just putting it in a baggy to take to the dentist when Grayson walked in, briefcase in hand.
He was an executive on the board of a law firm, so all he really did was blow hot air with a bunch of older men and earn a substantial income with the help of his family name, but he always acted as if he’d been on the courtroom floor battling the defense lawyers of serial killers all day.
“I’m beat,” he said, slamming the door behind him, his face pulled down in a theatrical frown of weariness. “I think I’ll take a nap and then go unwind later with the boys.”
“Grayson, something’s happened.”
“You know what Dawson tried to push through today?”
“Grayson, I’m really worried.”
“Oh, I can’t even explain it to you. He’s such an old fart, sometimes I think he blew out of a mummy’s ass.”
“Grayson! I lost a tooth. It just fell out while I was brushing my teeth.” She wiggled the baggy in his face.
“Oh my God!” he said, grabbing it from her. “Which one? Not in the front?”
He squinted at her as if he could see through her frowning lips.
“No, it was in the back,” she said, snatching back the bag. “I’ve got an appointment tomorrow.”
“Aww, honey, I’m sorry,” he said, holding out his arms for a hug. “It’s probably just a fluke thing. A bad root maybe. Maybe it just never grew in right. Hell, maybe you’re just getting old.”
It was no fluke. The tooth she nearly swallowed at dinner said otherwise. And the one that fell out as she flossed. She stood there, trembling, looking at herself in the mirror, a sweetly pretty brunette defying age with good exercise and the best skin creams money could buy.
* * *
She awoke the next morning from fitful sleep and rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead to push back her hair. A horrible squelching, sliding sensation made her stomach churn. When she pulled back her hand, she let out a terrible scream that sent a disheveled and hung-over Grayson over the edge of the bed with a shriek and a groan.
Jenny’s screams turned to whimpers as she stared at her hand. Two fingernails had simply slid off without any effort. One lay on the bed sheet; the other dangled just inside her peripheral vision, entangled in her hair. Her nail beds were bloody and blackened, the nails gray and sickly looking.
* * *
“My God!” said Dr. Shafer, disgust unconsciously curling his lip. “It’s as if your gums have rotted. Two of the teeth you’ve brought me look completely dead, but they didn’t hurt you at all before yesterday?”
“Yes. Now they all seem to be hurting. My whole mouth aches.” She swallowed. “Is it cancer?”
Dr. Shafer grew grave and his brow crinkled, perplexed. “That’s the only thing I can think of, offhand. However, you don’t smoke, so it seems strange. Also, it happened so rapidly, within a single day it seems. I’ve never heard of such a thing. Also, your gum isn’t really eaten away, like with usual mouth cancer. It’s all there, it’s simply... well... it’s as if it’s starting to decompose.”
* * *
Decompose. She frantically brushed and flossed her teeth, barely holding back more tears. Decompose. Her breath had the cloying scent of road kill, and no amount of toothpaste or mouthwash was helping. Decompose. Her mouth felt sore. Her graying fingernails felt odd and brittle. She felt dirty. She hadn’t felt this dirty since high school. Suddenly, she remembered the newspaper, the pictures of a disfigured Arabella Shade, and throwing up over and over.
She wondered if she was the only one who’d felt dirty, if the other girls felt any sort of guilt. They deserved this. She deserved this. She looked at herself in the mirror, her eyes devoid of light.
“You’re a walking corpse, Jen.”
The telephone rang, startling her. She shuffled to the kitchen, answered, and then froze, eyes wide, as the person on the other end began to talk.
Shane, her old high school friend, the giggly petite bottle-blonde, was dead. The funeral was in three days. The family hoped she would come. Shane had talked about Jenny and the other girls a lot just before she died.
“How did it happen?”
“It was really quite dreadful,” Shane’s sister, Rebecca, said with a sob in her voice, “She had a severe allergic reaction to a seafood dish at a new restaurant. Her tongue swelled up so badly that it just... burst.”
Rebecca was reduced to frantic sobs. Jenny gave her condolences and managed to calm Rebecca.
“I didn’t know Shane had any food allergies,” Jenny said, clenching the phone.
“Neither did she. None of us knew. They still aren’t really sure what caused it. The restaurant is under investigation. They think maybe it was some sort of chemical used in preparation or storage or something.”
Jenny rushed to the computer after hanging up. She searched Heidi Perkins, knowing exactly what she would find. It had been all over the news a few weeks ago.
Strange Illness Overtakes Beauty. Model Slain By Freak Disorder, the headlines shouted at Jenny, making her head throb. Heidi’s face smiled coyly at her. A natural blonde with startling blue eyes, but she was no Barbie doll. She was voluptuous, a full hourglass with curves that wouldn’t quit.
Let’s bounce, bitches, the high-school aged Heidi echoed in Jenny’s head.
Jenny had been in awe as soon as she’d set eyes on Heidi. Popularity on Heidi’s level was what Jenny coveted. Jenny had shoved her way onto the squad with her gymnastic skills. To Jenny, the squad meant her ticket to being loved and admired. To other girls, it was about getting scholarships. To Heidi, it was her natural right, something to occupy her time with the added bonus of a sexy outfit.
Their cheer captain may have called the shots in practice, but at all other times, Heidi ruled. Do it, Lena. Nobody wants to watch a dancing cow. You might as well eat your pom-poms instead of shake them.
The image came back to Jenny clearly. Heidi standing with arms crossed and chin tilted high. Lena’s doleful eyes scanning the other girls for help that didn’t come. It had been chilly in the tiled bathroom, and Jenny remembered holding herself and rubbing at the goose pimples on her arms as Lena turned to the toilet bowl.
Just a few minutes before, during practice, Jenny had remembered thinking that Lena looked like she’d lost weight. She’d also gotten a tan on a family vacation. She looked good. A few of the other girls had told her so. But Heidi didn’t think so.
Heidi, come on. If she doesn’t want to, then... Jenny had been startled by the sound of her own voice, the echo of the bathroom somehow making it sound small and thin, ghostlike.
Lena straightened up and looked around with hope on her face.
Heidi’s platinum hair swished as she whipped her head around to face Jenny. Those baby-blues did a quick scan over Jenny’s toned gymnast body, barely covered by the blue and white uniform.
You know, Jenny, you should probably do it, too. Looks like you enjoyed your Thanksgiving a little too much. The words were sweet, delivered with a pearly smile and the soft touch of a confidant on Jenny’s shoulder.
Shane’s tinkling laugh bounced off the tiles to become a chorus of bells.
I ... I’m on a new workout routine... I just have some water weight.
Oh, come on, don’t be such a baby. Heidi shook her head to show it was no big deal, a smile still painted on her face. We’ve all done it.
Jenny had wanted to say, Have you? But that was when Heidi had shoved her toward the next stall, dethroning her from her honored position at Heidi’s side. Shane quickly stepped up to take her place.
Jenny got one last look at Lena before she was prodded into a stall like a cow that had strayed from the herd. Lena’s look of defeat had frightened Jenny more than the half-stifled laughs or Heidi’s domineering stare.
Come on now, bitches. I don’t have all day. Just do it. Remember, it’s for the good of the squad.
As Jenny had leaned over the toilet and brought her finger to her open mouth, she imagined Lena doing the same in the next stall while the whole squad — minus the captain, Grace — watched with mingled looks of horror, curiosity, and malicious glee, Heidi standing dead center with Shane on one side and Rainie on the other. The image conjured the idea of some sort of strange game or sporting event, and Jenny had heard an announcer’s voice in her head say, Step up to the bowl, bitches.
Now, staring at the computer screen, the face of her idol sent a chill through Jenny. The baffled doctors were quoted as saying Heidi appeared to have a malicious, severe, and fast-acting case of early onset arthritis. Something never seen before. Jenny scrolled down the page and had to hold down her gorge when she saw the leaked photo.
Heidi looked deformed. Her hair and skin still looked healthy and young, but her body looked like that of a hundred-year-old woman who’d seen very hard times. Her spine was bent nearly double in a gruesome arch. Her fingers were gnarled, mottled knots of flesh and bone. Her arms and neck were twisted at odd angles. Cause of death: her spine had snapped under the pressure.
Jenny stifled a gag and typed “Rainie Jones” into the search bar, holding her breath.
Rising Star Fashion Designer Dies Unexpectedly.
The stories were dated just under a week ago. Rainie, Heidi’s gorgeous right-hand bitch. Rainie’s family was from Barbados, and her island looks rivaled Heidi’s own. Jenny had always suspected Rainie could have reigned as high-school queen except, unlike Heidi, she wasn’t promiscuous. Rainie also didn’t have Heidi’s ability to feign sweetness. Rainie was a grade-A bitch all the time simply for the fun of it.
When Jenny’s grandfather had died unexpectedly in a car accident, Rainie had quickly grown bored of Jenny’s sudden tearful episodes when a thought of him would strike her unexpectedly.
God, get over it already. He was old right? He was going to die sooner or later. Get a grip; I’ve been listening to this crap for a month now. Rainie had delivered each line in between licks of her ice cream cone, one cheek pulled up toward her eye by a look of annoyed disgust.
Oh, suck your cone, you whore. Heidi had pulled Jenny in for a hug, her eyes biting into Rainie, who’d just barely managed to swallow her rage — her lip curling for only a second — and shrug indifferently instead. Heidi had stroked Jenny’s hair and said, You cry as much as you need to, Jenny. You’re not bothering anyone who matters.
Heidi could be tender when she wanted to. But only to one person at a time.
Jenny scanned the article. The medical examiner had concluded that Rainie had died of an unidentified tropical virus picked up on her trips around the world for fashion shows. The assistant who found her had thought at first that she’d been murdered, bashed over the head. Copious amounts of blood had oozed from every orifice, soaking into the posh carpet in her home office. Her death had spawned a quarantine and a mild panic in New York, as Ebola was initially considered a likely candidate, but no other victims emerged.
Panic pressed on Jenny’s chest, making her breaths come fast and shallow. Her friends — all the girls who had been there that night — were all dead under strange and gruesome circumstances. I’m next. She clamped her eyes shut against the tears and saw that long-ago fire behind her eyelids, heard Arabella’s terrible screams. She let out a whimper and then raced to the bathroom and vomited.
* * *
Copyright © 2016 by Hannah Sandoval