“Your lifeline is long” Leslie says, “but you have no fate.” She’s holding my palm in hers, tracing with her cold fingertip things I can’t see. My friend Maggie laughs, and then takes a shot of vodka, and then slaps herself in the face.
We are in the basement of a frat house, the theme of the party is Slap Shots. Every time you take a shot, you must slap yourself in the face. The person with the most corporeal damage at the end of the night wins, though the prize is unclear and not the point. Leslie (from my Intro to Psych class, which I’ve barely attended) says she’s been watching me since freshmen orientation. She says that I’ve got demons following me around—she’s seen their hot breath wafting above my head in the lecture hall like smoke.
Leslie continues: she came to this party because she saw my posts and knew I was here. She had to alert me to my condition. It’s like, she says, if she were a doctor and didn’t tell me I was terminal.Leslie says she’s been seeing demons since she was a little girl, and she’s studied them for a long time, but she’s never seen them so attached to one specific person before. Lucky me, I say. It’s not good, she says.
Leslie has smooth skin and wide, blue eyes. I touch her face, she lets me.
“Mags, where the fuck did I put my purse? I wanna put some mascara on her.” Maggie doesn’t know.
“Please,” Leslie says, “I have to live with myself.”
My phone vibrates and I pull it out of my back pocket.
heyy sexyyy, where r u? I smile.
There’s an email from my Mom that I haven’t opened. The subject line is I’m so scared. The last time I saw her before I left for school, she was mummified in gauze and leaking from vague holes, propped up like a skinny stuffed animal on her dusty-rose satin duvet. A facelift is technically called a rhytidectomy, which comes from the Ancient Greek rhytis (wrinkle) and ektome (excision). I know that because one of my followers messaged it to me after I posted a video about my mom’s post-surgery journey on my YouTube channel. My mom thumbs-upped to the camera and gurgled like a baby.
Leslie turns away from me to dig through her backpack for something. I think about how I rarely go to Intro to Psych because I don’t want to recognize myself in the cracks of something. I think about when my ex-boyfriend and I jumped into the pool with all our clothes on for after-prom pictures and my lace gown got caught on my stiletto heel and I slipped and hit my head on the tile edge and everything went dark and for one sublime minute—the best minute of my life— I couldn’t see the dark spots in the corners of my vision that terrify me, the mean shadows that tease and dart away as soon as I try to see them clearly. I thought about my lower-face skin pulled up over and around my ears.
“How far are you gonna take this?” Maggie whispers in my ear, the broken blood vessles in the ghost of her handprint pulsing on her face. “She’s clearly, like, not well.”
My phone vibrates again.
r u in the basement, beautifulll?? i’m coming down.
“Maggie,” I say, “can you go get me another drink? The good vodka we hid upstairs?” I loose Maggie from this place. She ascends the stained carpeted steps, into the white strobe light of the world above. I hope she knows she’s lucky.
From her backpack, Leslie has a taken a small razor blade. She sinks it into her palm, and the blood rises.
“May I?” she asks, and I hold out my hand to her. She slices a thin line across, where my fate would be.
“I can’t believe it,” I say. “You might be the best friend I’ve ever had.”
“I can help you,” she says. Somewhere in the basement something crashes—a shatter, a laugh. Somewhere fainter still a squeal, like an animal under the heel of a boot. She squeezes our hands together, our fingers knotting. “You’re going to have to keep holding on,” she says, “you’re going to have to wait.”
Alexandra Kessler’s short stories have appeared in such venues as Joyland, JuxtaProse, and The Boiler. She has received the 2014 Lizette Woodworth Reese Award for Fiction, the 2016 Ross Feld Award, and the 2017 Lainoff Prize for Fiction. She attended Brooklyn College for her MFA and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York.