The first time I saw Annie Sanduski she stood in sharp relief against the rust lacework of an ancient Ford Ranger, waiting for the truck to disgorge the bevy of smoke soaked boys that composed her court. There was no sun to speak of; the mist drifted in a slow dissolve off the mountains. Her racoon-lined eyes were discernible through the tint of her purple aviators. The autumn leaf rustle of back to school gossip ebbed and eddied through the parking lot without touching her. The Queen was not spoken to, she was spoken about.
She was the first girl in grade 9 to learn how to tie a knot in a cherry stem with her tongue, a trick she found supremely boring and eventually refused to perform. She preferred instead the one where she used her fox-sharp teeth to skin an entire lemon, the peel spooling out and down her wrist like fairytale hair. Girls told stories about parties attended by friend of a cousin of a friend: how some Coastie off the base had seen the trick and paid her 50 dollars to spit vodka from her lemon lips straight into his, how when the police crashed a party at Southpoint she skipped out on the breathalyzer line by fading into the dark water, cutting through surf and kelp until she beached down the shore and walked, dripping, to her car.
She won a prize in the school art fair for a series of vases sculpted to resemble realistic vaginas—orchids, according to the artist description—plump labia bowed open, delicate lines of hair crosshatched around the edges. The day of the show she placed in each one a single cut carnation, papery magenta leaves nodding back at the viewer. Someone said the Vice Principal bought one to take home to his wife.
If Youtube had made it to the island, her morning routine tutorial would have gone like this:
- Apply 3-4 coats of shoplifted eyeliner. Smudge to desired thickness, at least ¼-½ inch.
- Use fabric scissors to cut thick bangs that fringe out across the forehead, just brushing the eyebrows.
- Smoke one blueberry Swisher Sweet cigar on the walk to school. Make sure the smoke settles into hair and clothes to give a signature scent that lasts all day.
- Let the glances and stares of others settle on your shoulders like a mantle, not a yoke.
When Jason Mitchell called her Annie Suck-Dick-Ski she threatened to kill him, calmly and in detail, and was moved to a seat next to mine. She doodled tiny knives around the border of her worksheet while Jason sang Chingy, oh you got that bomb. When the teacher called the five minute warning she told me she’d pay me for the answers. Her hand was warm and rough, and the black button she pressed into my palm had letters around the rim from some brand, the kind people buttoned snug on winter coats while bustling through the fashion districts of Anchorage or Fairbanks. She corrected two of my answers but didn’t ask for a refund.
The last time I saw Annie Sanduski was across the Juneau High gym. Her family had moved over the summer, although no one could agree on whether it was because they were in the Coast Guard or the state Legislature or possibly Witness Protection. She stood out from the rest of the dance team—a bad graft—the smudged eyeliner and messy ponytail both rejecting and rejected by the clean cat eyes, the tight dancer’s buns of her cohort. The roar of rival fans was deafening, and the other girls looked, glanced, moved around Annie like antigens attacking, like cool didn’t transfuse.
Frances Klein is a high school English teacher. She was born and raised in Southeast Alaska, and taught in Bolivia and California before settling in Indianapolis with her husband and son. She has been published in So it Goes: The Literary Journal of the Vonnegut Memorial Library and Tupelo Press, among others. Readers can find more of her work at https://kleinpoetryblog.wordpress.com/.