The moment they became friends, Spike started begging Alice to let him give her a makeover. She knew she needed a new look. One that would help her get out of town, and maybe even inspire Spike to love her. But Alice worried about him seeing that she still looked forgettable and wrong, no matter what he tried. In her heart, she knew this would be the outcome.
He ended up calling it off after just five minutes.
Weird , Spike muttered. It's like makeup doesn't work on you . The experience was traumatizing for him. His trembling hands fumbled in his pocket for a cigarette and lighter, which Alice slapped away. Not in my room, she'd sighed. Mom will smell .
But this was just Alice being grumpy — her mother, Mary, wasn't home and of course wouldn't care; she was a permissive sort who parented on autopilot now that Alice was in junior high. There were a few anemic rules. There were zombie rules that would occasionally resurrect, fiercely insist upon themselves with an unwarranted hunger, and then disappear as quickly as they'd come. But nothing thrived under her mother's roof, and rules were no exception.
I know you're going to do the drugs and the sex, all of it , her mother liked to say. Life's a bore; why wouldn't you? Mary's boyfriend du jour, a sunburnt construction worker who was always bare-chested, plus or minus a reflective yellow vest, sometimes voiced disagreement. Too lax there, hey, Mary ? Go a bit strict. If you say "No kissing," then it's like a thing in her mind when she's kissing. Some guilt, see, and if she goes further, she feels like a real tart. He'd look down at his belly button, extract something that was lodged inside. When you're all, "Sure, try a threesome and heroin," think about how far she has to go to rebel, huh? You've got to take psychology into account.
Pigshit , her mother would respond. Life is trial and disappointment. Vice gets stale once you've had a taste. And the boyfriend would make a lobotomy face and start thrusting his crotch back and forth into the wall, and Alice would walk away with her mother's cackling laughter filling her ears.
But other than her room, there was nowhere for Alice to go, really. Occasionally she'd wander over to the apartment of their elderly neighbor Patrice, who always left her door open. She was nearly blind, but the way her enormous prescription glasses magnified the thin liver spots on her cheeks made her appear to have additional eyes. Whenever she addressed Alice, she'd look far beyond the borders of Alice's physical person to enter a conversation with a radiator or a long-retired lamp. Patrice always wanted her to smell things, and Alice got the smells completely wrong. Isn't this lilac ? she might ask of a bottle of ancient perfume that had pickled to the odor of warm ammonia.
Once, she opened up a tin of baking flour and reached out to grab Alice's wrist with urgency. Tell me true , she asked, her whisper barely audible. Does this smell like a cat? She pressed the tin too close to Alice's face, dusting her nose a heavy white. The other day I thought I smelled it , Patrice confessed . Wet cat on the bread I made. For the rest of the visit, the tin took on a macabre relevance for Alice. She had to leave because she couldn't shake the creeping irrational thought that it wasn't flour at all. What if the tin was full of the cat ashes of Patrice's former cremated pets? What if there'd been a horrible kitchen mix-up?