Savannah disappeared last Tuesday. Nobody had seen Melody since the Sunday before. The police found both of their bodies, or at least what was left of them, two days ago. There are grief counselors and investigators both at the school today, but nobody talks to me. I am invisible.
Not that I care, really. When people do notice me, it’s not for something positive. It’s not for having the highest score in the class on the Algebra midterm. It’s not for trying out for the soccer team. It’s not for my brilliantly white, straight smile that I suffered four years in braces for, not that I really smile much anymore. I’d rather not be noticed at all than noticed for my faults.
Melody noticed me, once. Fifth grade. That awkward year when, as a female, your body starts morphing, spreading, shaping into something new. Most call it puberty. I called it Hell. I had never considered myself unattractive. Average, really. Average height. Average weight. Average features. I didn’t stand out at all, at least not until that day.
We’d been in the cafeteria, like cattle filed in for the feed. Long, rectangular tables with bench seats formed parallel rows that stretched across the room. I only wanted to eat my lunch quickly and quietly before retreating to the gym to read for the remainder of the hour. My class had been held over, and being late to lunch meant I’d be the last to get a seat, especially on Taco Tuesday. At long last, I spotted an opening just wide enough to squeeze into and sat my tray down triumphantly.
It was only then that I realized I’d sat directly next to Melody, Savannah, and their troupe of what I liked to call Barbies. Perfect hair. Perfect bodies. Perfectly loved by everyone.
“What are you doing?” Savannah sneered.
I felt their eyes on me. Burning into me. Judging every displaced hair, visible pore, and makeup smudge. “Eating lunch,” I responded meekly.
“Not here, you’re not,” Melody stated. “If I have to stare at that big nose of yours while I eat, I’m going to barf.”
The Barbies didn’t even hide their snide giggling, and a proud grin stretched across Melody’s ruby lips.
I could feel a fire rising in my cheeks. Had my nose always been big? I’d never noticed it before, but clearly they had. I grabbed my tray and rose to find someplace to hide. Their eyes were still fixed on me.
Savannah, never one to be outdone by Melody, spoke up as I turned to leave. “Might want to trash those tacos. They’re sure to go straight to those tree-trunk thighs of yours.”
There was an eruption of cackling from the table as I walked away, dumping my lunch in the trash bin. “Average” was a word I’d never use to describe myself again. From that day forward, every time I would look in a mirror, all I could see was a great big nose and fat legs.
It’s a week before the undertaker releases their bodies for burial. I attend the viewing. I’m not sure why, but I actually want to be there.
No one has been charged in their deaths, but the police are looking pretty hard at Stephen Rich, another classmate. He’s our star athlete, and we’ve all heard the rumors that he was dating both Melody and Savannah at the same time. He has anger issues, they say, which could account for the state the bodies were in. Stephen’s father owns the junkyard where the bodies were dumped, hidden away in the trunks of cars to be compacted. It has been a week full of grueling questioning for Stephen and his father. Stephen isn’t present at the viewing.
Melody and Savannah’s caskets are side by side. Birds of a feather, even in death. From this far back, they only look like they’re sleeping. Their bodies are normal. It must’ve taken the undertaker several days to get them looking so natural, so pristine.
“They’re so pretty,” someone behind me says.
“Beautiful, really,” another voice responds, choking back sobs.
“What a shame…” the first voice trails off, deep in mourning.
I approach the caskets. Melody’s first. Her golden hair lay in ringlets surrounding her face, painted on pink cheeks, and a peaceful smile spreading across her lips. She resembles a doll to me, except if you look close enough, you can see where she’s been broken. A turned up, putty nose has been molded on to her face. It’s not unlike her own, the ideal size and shape for a pretty face.
Moving on silently to Savannah’s casket, I am nauseated by the amount of pink. It reminds me of one of the many reasons I called them Barbies. Her casket is lined in a pale, baby pink which starkly contrasts the hot pink, satin dress her parents have decided to bury her in. She’s revealing more cleavage than Melody, and it strikes me that they’re probably still competing for attention even in the afterlife. Unlike Melody though, Savannah’s face is all natural. Her nose still perfectly intact, the undertaker didn’t have much to fix in regards to her face. Her makeup is painted on, much the same as Melody, in shades of pink and there’s a heavy layer of gloss across her lips that matches her dress.
It’s the dress that doesn’t seem natural though, or to be more clear, it’s what is below the dress, unseen, creating a strange illusion in the casket. They’ve positioned her to try to hide it, everything above the waist being visible in the open part of the casket and her midsection placed right at the start of the closed half. If you stand at just the right angle though, you can see it. Down inside the casket, her dress goes from form fitting to not having a form to fit. It simply goes flat.
I leave the viewing without speaking to anyone. No one ever noticed I was there. Invisible as always, nothing worthy of attention. Seeing Melody and Savannah like that makes my emotions surge, and I walk home quicker than I would have thought possible. Luckily, my parents are out of town and will be for the next two weeks. I need to be alone with my thoughts, with myself, and with what I am to become.
I descend the stairs into our basement, the only noise coming from the dull hum of our large chest freezer where dad typically stores the meat from when he hunts. I run my hand over the lid, lifting slowly. Cold air rushes out, grazing my face. Highly focused, I can even feel the blood rushing through my veins, hear my heart pumping.
They’re here. The perfect pieces to make a Frankenstein Barbie. I caress the icy nose and the long, slender legs, my fingers trailing across their chilled flesh. Soon, my monstrous flaws will all be gone, replaced by more ideal features. The box cutter is in my hand without me even realizing I’ve grabbed it. Its cool blade rests against my big, ugly nose. Soon. Soon. Soon, I, too, will have a happy ending.
I’ve loved Marge Piercy’s “Barbie Doll” since I first read it as a college freshman. Body image has been a subject near and dear to my heart, but I didn’t want this story to be identical to the poem. I wanted a different twist, something that would make it even more morbid than the original…and so we meet this main character, as unnamed as she is invisible. I hope you enjoy, and that “Barbie Doll” will lead you to discover more of Marge Piercy’s fantastic work, just as it did for me.
This girlchild was born as usual
and presented dolls that did pee-pee
and miniature GE stoves and irons
and wee lipsticks the color of cherry candy.
Then in the magic of puberty, a classmate said:
You have a great big nose and fat legs.
She was healthy, tested intelligent,
possessed strong arms and back,
abundant sexual drive and manual dexterity.
She went to and fro apologizing.
Everyone saw a fat nose on thick legs.
She was advised to play coy,
exhorted to come on hearty,
exercise, diet, smile and wheedle.
Her good nature wore out
like a fan belt.
So she cut off her nose and her legs
and offered them up.
In the casket displayed on satin she lay
with the undertaker’s cosmetics painted on,
a turned-up putty nose,
dressed in a pink and white nightie.
Doesn’t she look pretty? everyone said.
Consummation at last.
To every woman a happy ending.