Beauty Queens

13,094
05.03.2019

Sosie took it all in, nodding. “After the crash, I was so scared. I found this place. It was really weird. There were all these jars of Lady ’Stache Off.”

“Maybe they fell when the plane crashed?”

“That’s what I thought at first. But one of the jars — the one the snake just had for breakfast — had this weird, almost-battery-looking thing in it. The jars were all in a box. And that’s not all. Come on, I’ll show you.”

She offered her hand to Jennifer, and Jennifer took it, marveling at the softness of the girl’s fingers.

“Sorry. I stink like snake insides.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

“What?”

“It’s okay,” Jennifer shouted, feeling like an idiot because wasn’t that what people always did with the deaf? Talked louder, as if that would help?

Sosie positioned Jennifer’s fingers in her own, nudging them gently into new forms. “O … kay,” she said.

“Okay,” Jen repeated, putting her fingers through the motions again.

Sosie smiled. “Very good. If you want, I can teach you to sign.”

Jennifer blushed. She wanted. She wanted very much.

Sosie inched closer to the snake corpse. She poked it with a stick. It didn’t move. Feeling braver, she and Jennifer examined it and saw that it had been sick. Its long body was covered in disgusting sores and tumors. Its scales were mostly gone. The few that remained were an iridescent greenish blue that dazzled. It had probably once been a glorious creature, and Jen was reminded of the old, tough-as-algebra barflies in her neighborhood, the ones with the long, permed hair who still clung to the leopard-print dresses they’d put on thirty years ago and refused to retire.

“Poor thing,” Sosie said.

“That poor thing tried to eat us,” Jennifer said.

Sosie nodded. “Poor bitch.” She grabbed a shard of the plastic Lady ’Stache Off jar. “I wonder what made the snake explode? You think it was that battery thingie?”

Jennifer wiped her hands with the edge of her dress. “Don’t know. It looked pretty sick anyway.”

“What?”

“The snake. Looked sick,” Jennifer repeated, and Sosie showed her the sign for sick.

“I want to show you something.”

Sosie led the way through ruined trees and denuded earth. Off to the right were a series of weathered totems. Clearly, this had once been somebody’s home, but whoever they were, they were gone now, and the land around here didn’t look like it could support so much as a carrot patch, let alone people. At last they came to the ruins of an ancient temple carved into the side of a mountain. Veiny tree roots closed around it protectively, as if saving it from the destruction their brothers and sisters had faced.

Sosie motioned for Jennifer to follow. The temple wasn’t too dark inside, thanks to a hole in the top where a family of birds had built a nest. There were also seat cushions from the plane, a blanket, a kerosene lantern, and an old ham radio.

“Dude! A radio!” Jennifer grabbed for it and hugged it to her chest.

“Doesn’t work,” Sosie said.

Jennifer twisted the knobs and dials. Nothing. She opened the back of the radio. The wires were a jumble of color. She let out a low whistle. “Man. That is a mess. Still. I might be able to get it up and running. I’m pretty mechanical. I wonder where all this stuff came from.”

“What?” Sosie said, and Jen said it more slowly, letting Sosie read her lips. “That’s not all. Look.” Sosie showed Jennifer what appeared to be a military ration kit. Inside were chocolates, water, and protein bars. There was also a machete, two knives, and a wooden crate packed for shipment with the lid pried loose. Sosie removed the lid. Inside were moldy packing peanuts stuffed around several jars of Lady ’Stache Off.

“It’s so strange. What’s this stuff doing on this island?”

Jennifer ignored Sosie’s question and pointed instead to the ration kit. She made a puppy begging face, which made Sosie grin. Together, they sat on the weed-choked temple floor and shared a chocolate bar, which tasted better than anything Jen could remember. She’d never had a meal in silence before. At home, there was her little brother yakking it up, Jen and her mom arguing. At school, at juvie, at the pageant training center, someone was always instructing, advising, reprimanding, and Jen had learned her only defense was to talk, loudly and a lot, in order to keep the needling “helpful” words of others at bay. Now, there was just the food, the company, and the quiet.