Emma and Dani were sprawled out on the bed in Dani’s room snorting cocaine with a one hundred dollar bill and a small mirror that had once belonged to Dani’s pink jewelry box. The kind with the ballerina that you had to wind; when the box opened, the ballerina would twirl around and around to The Russian Dance from The Nutcracker. Bones protruded from Dani’s hip through her translucent skin, and her gaunt face sagged. Her piercing blue eyes were dulled by thick black eyeliner, and the heavy bronzing makeup coating her face obscured her wan teenage skin. Dani took a big hit and laid back on her simple white bed, sniffling loudly and pawing at her nose.
The light blue walls of her room were coated with posters of heavy metal rock bands: Queen, Van Halen, and Black Sabbath. Upside down, Dani studied the picture that was the centerpiece of her bedroom. It was the immense image of her tongue being pierced. Her artsy friend, Emma, had come with her on the day she had gotten it done, documenting the moment. Dani remembered the intense rush of adreneline before and the quick flash of heat and pain that had enveloped her entire being as the needle slipped through her tender flesh. Emma had photoshopped the image, painting Dani’s skin and mouth pale white and intensifying the blood’s violent hue.
Dani sprang up, went over to her closet, and looked at herself in the mirror on the door while Emma finished the last line, gumming the excess. Dani was a tragically beautiful girl, in the traditional sense. Big blue wide-set eyes that had dulled slightly in recent years stared down at her plump cherry lips. A white trail of powder was visible below her right nostril, which she studied and then wiped away with the back of her un-manicured hand.
“Hey Emma…let’s have a photo shoot. I look hot.” Dani sucked in a gust of air but flinched as it collided with the raw skin in her nose. She walked over to the tower of glass and metal that formed the bookshelves and display cases above her immaculate desk. Dani glanced around, Stupid fucking maid! Bitch always hides my things. As she looked to the right, she spotted the green light on the side of her camera charger beneath a used tissue with a hint of blood. The green glowed under the pink cotton before Dani flicked the tissue to the floor. Never mind.
She plucked the sleek camera off the base and threw it into Emma’s lap.
Emma was Dani’s public school friend: an attractive girl, but by no means as beautiful as Dani. What she lacked in beauty she made up for with style. Emma was always well put together. She did not have the kind of money that Dani’s family had, but her outfits were always chic and trendy. Emma had once been rather chubby, but the cocaine had fixed that, allowing her to wear the stylish baggy fabrics that exaggerated her newly gaunt frame. Dark brown eyes stared out from under her chestnut side-swept bangs and smudged black eyeliner. Emma’s mother had always told her that her eyes could drill holes into a person. She had liked her mother’s compliments when she was younger, but as she grew up, she learned not to care about what her mother thought. It was too painful; she was hypercritical of everything Emma did. She was either too fat, or too thin, or not working hard enough. Eventually Emma learned that she would have to stop caring.
Dani opened the door to her immense walk-in closet. She touched the switch on the wall and listened to the mechanical buzz as she selected the ‘dresses’ section on the glowing LCD screen that operated her closet. Racks upon racks of expensive designer clothes flashed by until the buzz stopped and the dresses were in front of her. Dani selected a slinky Marc Jacobs frock, peeling off her ‘Great China Wall’ hoodie. The dress threatened to slide off of her bony frame, and ribs protruded from under a black lacy bra as she changed.
She lit a Marlboro and walked over to the window of her family’s Beverly Hills mansion. She looked out her window at the front courtyard of her home. The sprawling green lawns glowed in the late afternoon sun, and her family’s German Shepherds, Lucy and Sky, stalked around the front gate. Dani watched as her younger brother Scott wheeled around with his two friends on the mansion’s golf carts. She turned back to her room.
“Emma, take this shot.” Dani commanded as she arched her back into the white window frame, sitting on top of an immense wicker cabinet that stored the delicate decorative pillows from her bed.
“Yeah Dani, that’s a good angle.” Emma had once been very involved with photography. She had actually won several awards.
Dani had not showered or brushed her teeth or hair in eleven days and had not slept in three. Her high cheekbones, once a physical attribute, cast dark shadows on her hollow cheeks in the glare of the flash. The digital film presented a sharp angular face, skin stained with sweat. After a few shots, Dani walked to Emma’s side and snatched the camera. She coughed and said, “That’s hot…let’s put this one up on Myspace.”
“Yeah, this one’s great; you look so strung out.” Emma nodded.
The Macbook hummed as photos of Dani filled the screen. The clock in the upper right hand corner of the glowing screen read: Wednesday 6:30 PM.
“How was last night? What did you end up doing?” Emma asked between drags.
“Hung out with Bryce. Ha! We fucked in this sketchy alley…so raunchy.” Dani took a deep inhale.
Dani’s once supple brown hair, now grimy and brittle from the six hundred dollar bleach treatments that had transformed her into a platinum blonde, cascaded down her emaciated body. The smoke curled around her form, and her bedroom filled with the stench of tobacco.
“Very. Oh yeah, by the way, Bryce deals.”
“Oh my God…Wait! That Bryce? Dani, that guy is fucking crazy… I didn’t realize that he’s the guy you’re hooking up with!…Babe!” Emma put out her cigarette and lit a new one. “How did you meet him anyway?” she asked between drags, now very interested.
“He came up to me at that party last week and asked for my number. He’s kind of hot.”
“Oh yeah…right…he was the one with the long hair and that nasty scar.”
Dani scrolled down further on her Myspace page.
“Yeah, I think the scar is so hot.” She paused, staring at the glowing computer screen. “Dude…Emma…Bryce left me a comment. He wants me to come over tomorrow. You should come too! I’ll tell him to invite people…we can make it a party.”
“Yeah that sounds so fun! I’ll just tell my mom I’m staying at Hannah’s house…working on my fucking college apps or somethi—”
The purr of Dani’s mother’s silver BMW 645 convertible was drowned out by the screech of tires.
“Maybe I should go.”
“No Emma stay, it’s okay. Just let me go deal with this.” Dani decided to intercept her mother before she could start yelling and embarrassing her in front of Emma. Again.
She put her computer down, got up from the bed, and walked to the door of her room. Dani passed the family portrait on her way down the hall to the elevator. Her father, mother, brother, and sister, all in white, smiled gayly beside her. She remembered the day they had gone to take the portrait photo. Everyone, including her late father, had gone to Umberto Salon in Beverly Hills to get matching highlights. The light of the setting sun caught the shimmer of the ocean behind them. They were all smiling on the bluffs in Malibu.
Truly the quintessential California family.
Dani tilted her head to the right, staring intently into her father’s eyes.
She unfixed her gaze and hurried to the glass elevator. The down arrow glowed as she waited for the elevator to reach the third floor. Ding. Mind blank, she stepped into the glass walled box with the expensive chandelier. 3, 2, 1. Ding.
There was her mother, in the grandiose entry hall, viciously stabbing the already glowing ‘up’ arrow again and again. The entrance hall to the home was simply enormous, a towering cavern of marble and gold. The lavish staircases that led to the second floor were strategically placed on either side of the foyer, surrounding the decadent room.
Dani looked at her mother and sighed. Sarah’s sultry red lipstick was smeared, giving her drooping face a comic air. Her hair was disheveled, and Dani could smell the alcohol on her breath. One of her Manolo Blahnik heels had broken, and she was standing slightly off balance. Dani took a deep breath.
You. Yo- You…” Sarah started sobbing and screaming.
“Yes mother, it’s me. Your favorite daughter.”
“You ruined me!”
“Another bad date mom?”
“Don’t fucking talk to me like that you little shit!”
“Well, I can’t imagine why! I mean, I know that the guys I date love it when I throw up on their shoes. It always adds a little something extra to the evening.”
“Fuck you, Dani.” Sarah slurred her incoherent rant between rattling sobs. Dani could amuse herself by sparring with her inebriated mother for hours, but for the sake of time, and the fact that Emma was waiting for her, she rolled her eyes and cut it short.
“Okay mom, you are so incredibly right…I am the reason your life sucks, and I am just so insanely sorry. Okay? Now can I take you upstairs?”
Sarah missed Dani’s sarcasm entirely and smirked as if she had won the battle. “Finally, you show some fucking respect.”
“Right mom.” Dani reached out to take her mother’s arm, but Sarah would not cooperate.
“Piss off. I can fucking walk you know.” She tripped over her broken heel as she said this and fell to the cold, hard marble, bruising her right knee. Sarah felt nothing as a trickle of blood progressed down her toned calf muscle.
“Woops. Wha-?” Sarah slowly looked around, trying to understand why she was on the floor as blood spilled from her knee at the point of impact. Dani reached down and swung her mother’s arm around her shoulder. Feet dragging, Dani managed to hoist her mother into the elevator and, panting, hit the ‘3’ button. Sarah hissed nasty words at Dani.
“You fucking smell. You’re fucking disgusting…shit my head hurts. Get the fuck off!” She whined. Sarah started to struggle against Dani’s stern embrace again.
“Okay mom. Just a little further.”
Ding. The doors opened, and Dani dragged her mother into the regal master bedroom suite. Golden trim lined every piece of furniture, including the towering canopy bed. Beige dripped from every wall of the room. The marble bathroom shined in the evening sun, and pink and gold rays poured through the tall glass windows opposite the bed. Sarah winced as the light contracted her green irises.
“Dani, close the fucking blinds!”
“Yes mother dear.”
Dani walked to the wall covered with delicate fleur de lys wallpaper and pushed the button beside her mother’s bed. The mechanical buzz droned, and the drapes lowered, slowly strangling all the light out of the bedroom. Dani switched on the lamp and reached into the second drawer. The open pack of cigarettes spilled out into the drawer, as Dani violently tugged it open. She pulled a lighter out of her pocket, closed her eyes, and took a deep inhale as her mother groaned on the bed. Dani listened intently to the sharp hiss of the cigarette as she pulled the smoke into her lungs.
“Turn off the fucking light.”
Dani shoved the lit cigarette into her mother’s mouth and went over to the bar to pour a glass of cabernet sauvignon. Dani knew the routine well. She picked up a delicate crystal wine glass and poured a considerable amount of 1986 vintage. She could try to argue with her mother, but in the end, Sarah would get the wine one way or another. Before she walked back to the bed, she took a big gulp of the cabernet and let it burn in her chest. Dani then carefully navigated back over to the bed in the dark room, placing the glass on the bedside table, ready for her mother to drink the next morning. Sarah had convinced herself that the only cure for a hangover was more liquor. Lights off; ready to go. Dani paused to look at her mother, lying limply in the dark atop the immense California King bed.