I found some skeletons in the closet the other day, when I was moving back into my childhood home. There weren’t many, just a few, but I certainly wasn’t expecting to find them. But that’s the thing about skeletons, they come out when you least expect it.
So, of course, I sat down to sort them out.
The one on the very top was gilded with gold, pennies in its eye sockets, nickels for teeth, dimes lined up in a spinal cord. Its fingers were curled around a restaurant receipt. I tugged on it but the skeleton wouldn’t let go. I could see the tip: $100.00.
It was from the summer of freshman year, when I was working as a waitress. The tip was actually for Janice—Janice Quarl, my best friend since the days of nap time and sippy cups.
Cynthia, can you take over my tables? The customers are just about leaving, I promise.
What could I say? She’d wanted to go to the movies so badly. With her other friends, not me. Too bad it was during work hours—but of course, there was always Cynthia to fall back on!
Afterwards, she found me in the bookstore. “That’s a lot of books, Cynthia.”
I shrugged, lugging a plastic basket that swung with the weight of more than ten paperbacks. “Guess so.”
“Did you get a big tip or something?”
I clutched the basket tighter. “It’s my money. I get to use it however I like.”
There hadn’t been much she could say to that. But when she left, neither of us was very satisfied with the other.
I pushed the skeleton away to find another beneath it grinning. It shone with the metallic sheen of candy wrappers: Almond Joys for a rib cage, Twix bars for a pelvis, pumpkin seeds for toes, skull grotesquely round like a jack-o’-lantern. In its jaw was lodged a McIntosh apple, its green flesh sporting a gradual blush. It looked like the apple Janice had stuffed into the mouth of the seventh grader dressed as Snow White, on the Halloween of our sophomore year. Snow White had stumbled back, her mouth an O around the fruit, and I’d snatched her bulging trick-or-treating basket. Her tear tracks glistened on chubby cheeks in the lamplight. We cackled as we ran off. Happy Halloween, Snow White!
Later, as we were strolling home, I wondered if we’d really had to use the apple on her. “Maybe we were meaner than we should’ve been.”
Janice jostled me, hard. I stumbled. “What’re you talking about? The apple was for her costume—no Snow White is complete without an apple. Besides, I don’t know why you’re feeling so bad. You’re the one who has better experience stealing.”
She took her share of the candy home, while I took mine. It wasn’t like the old days anymore, when we’d dump all of the candy on her bedroom floor, when we’d shared secrets and basked in guilt and glory together.
I pushed the skeleton off. That was Janice’s skeleton, not mine. I’d only done what she’d told me to do. I didn’t know what this skeleton was doing in my closet.
The third skeleton wore a glittery black prom dress. My breath caught in my throat. Janice, again! This was hers. I was about to take it off the skeleton when I was hit with the stench of rotten eggs. I scrambled back, pulling my shirt collar up to my nose.
After Janice had turned him down to go to prom with someone else, her boyfriend had recruited several of us: she needed a reality check. She couldn’t do that without consequences.
That night, her dress sparkled in the shade of her porch as she peered out to see if our approaching van was her date’s car. The headlights cast her in a ghastly yellow, set her dress ablaze, forced her eyes into slits. I don’t think she even saw the eggs sailing out the windows until it was too late. But she must have seen me, my face bobbing in the van’s dim interior.
The last skeleton lay on the carpet. Words crawled along its pristine polished bones, like tattoos running up its legs, hips, arms, shoulders. On its rib cage, over where the heart should go, was stamped: THESIS STATEMENT. On its sternum was typed the name: JANICE QUARL.
In our last year of high school, Janice and I both interned at the community women’s clinic. We both planned to study to be OBGYNs. Even so, she rarely looked at me when we arrived, when she passed in the hallways, when we crossed paths in the bathroom. But I was struggling with my college application essays—I simply didn’t know what to write. I’d done what Janice had done all my life. So why could she write an essay about herself with ease while I struggled to form the first sentence?
At last I worked up the courage to ask her for help. Janice studied me. “Help?”
I took a deep breath. “All I need is some insight. I’m not asking for much—just tell me how I should write it, or what you wrote about, or….”
“So you want me to help you,” she said slowly.
“Yeah.” I proffered a small, hopeful smile. “Is that okay?”
She sent me a folder of her essays. One look told me I would never be able to write like that. She was good. So good that I highlighted her name with the cursor and typed in my own.
What else could I have done? What the admissions officers didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. What my parents, who were counting on me to get into a good school, didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them. And what Janice didn’t know definitely wouldn’t hurt her. But after we’d graduated Janice called and asked to see the essays that hers had helped me with. I said I’d lost them. I didn’t expect her to go to my mother, who’d saved copies.
Janice didn’t need to rat, to get me kicked out of school. I hoped that she, at least, was happy with the mess I was in.
I pressed my lips together and shoved the skeletons back into the closet. I’d visit Janice later, just as my parents had been telling me to. I needed to apologize, to mend our relationship. I wanted to ask, What relationship? When had I ever had a choice in the decisions I’d made?
I closed the closet door. I’d go and pay her a visit. She’d have skeletons in her closet too. All I would have to do is go and pull them out.
Rina Olsen is a Korean-American teen writer living on Guam. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in 101 Words, Dreams & Nightmares, Emerge Literary Journal, The Hopper, Jellyfish Review, Nanoism, and Write the World Review. She is a general editor for Cathartic Youth Literary Magazine. Her debut novel, Third Moon Passing, is forthcoming from Atmosphere Press in late 2023.