No cellphones when you’re in middle school, so this story has no receipts. Only learn, word of mouth, about the seventh grade orgy, after the fact, and not from a middle schooler, eighth grader, like you — but from your devout Mormon mother, also the assistant principal.
“You’re never to speak to Mavis Tate again.”
Mother knows you’re friendly with that seventh grade suave set Mavis leads though you’re a pariah in the eighth grade. Sees you two chatting before morning bell by the benches.
Meet Mavis in gifted class. You and the one other female in eighth grade gifted aren’t remotely cool. The eighth grade in-crowd’s all cheerleaders and jocks, neither your métier. The rumor you are in a cult that worships trees, and the reality your mother paddles your peers on a regular basis preclude any chance of an exception.
Seventh grade gifted has five girls who dominate the social hierarchy. Just a year behind you, they make “nerdiness” hot, are wooed by the football players, flanked by the pom-pom posse all under the punctilious purview of magnificent mysterious Mavis.
In a beach town where blonde and tan seems the only aspirational aesthetic, Mavis has jet black hair and vampiric skin — a goth by genetic design, she’s ranges from preppy to Prada in presentation.
Same hair and skin that designate you an alien and a freak in the grade above, Mavis makes a trend. Maybe it’s because you resemble each other, beneath her Burberry headbands, Ralph Lauren tartan pinafores. and Clinique makeup that she reaches out to you at the gifted Christmas party.
“You don’t look like you come from here either.”
Mavis’s tone and diction is eloquent and polished, the volume so low you never hear her unless her words are intended for your special ears. And when you do, they are like a mellifluous gift.
This is your first time.
“Third generation. I just look like a yankee or so they say.”
“Fuck them.” She giggles and you do, too. The surprise of the word “fuck” sounds even dirtier from her ladylike mouth. The giggle squelches her dark eyes in a familiar way that relaxes you. It is if you are looking in a mirror but inside a dream.
“Who wants to seem like they are from here anyways? Let me introduce you to the girls.”
You follow Mavis across the classroom. The girls are drinking punch and sharing secrets punctuated with cheeky winks and raucous laughter. They wear mini-skirts, chunky platform shoes, long socks. All have multiple holes in their ears.
You are in a dress your mom sewed for you because the philistines won’t make hemlines appropriate for teenage girls with nightmarishly inappropriate breasts that must be concealed with great caution. The legs beneath the dress are unshaven above the knee because no one should be seeing that area anyway, but they do of course in PE or when your dress pulls up as you sit. Your ears, like the rest of you, have never been penetrated.
In eighth grade you’re a target. But Mavis picks you up and sharpens you like a blade — a weapon. Pulls you into their gossip circles before and after school. When you compliment Mavis on her clothes, she always turns it around as instruction —
“This color would look amazing on you, too.”
One morning, she pulls out a rainbow palette of eyeshadows and eyeliner and asks if she could do your makeup.
“My mom will kill me if she sees.”
“Wash it off before the end of the day. Please. You have to start taking some chances.”
Misty Davenport comes to your defense.
“Hey, easy for you to say, Ms. I Have A Driver So I Change In The Car. Don’t let her pressure you too much, Christina. Your mom is actually here all day and a real bitch, sorry to say.”
You know she is right
“I’ll risk it,” you say locking mutual dark eyes with Mavis.
While she makes art of your puerile face, Mavis talks to you about her favorite books — My Sweet Audrina, Memoirs Of A Dutiful Daughter, Fanny Hill or Memoirs Of A Woman Of Pleasure and most recently The Claiming of Sleeping Beauty.
“Filth, fucking filth,” she says with a blush and giggle about the last one. “Once in a while my mom brings home something worthwhile to read. A girl needs to be educated in all things.”
You want to write down every book she suggests, every color she conjures for you, every vocabulary word introduced by those perfectly pink painted lips in her offhand instructions to her most devoted new disciple.
“Never accept critique from a 14 year old who looks old enough to be your mother. Heather Ebert is going to need a facelift before she graduates. Gauche gauche gauche, and you my lovely are quaintrelle.”
Worldly and graceful, lewd and fashionable, Mavis is everything who you want to be when you grow up, and she is thirteen. So when your mother says you will never speak to her again, you do something you never do at home for fear of the belt — or worse. You ask questions.
“Why, Mom? I don’t understand. What could she possibly have done?”
Mom is sewing after a full day of work and dinner. Throws down what she is working on and approaches. Her almost six foot frame hovering over your barely five feet makes you tremble, cover a cheek she hasn’t slapped yet.
“Do not repeat this to anyone. Could cost me my job. Though God knows those little tramps can’t stop talking about it. Little Ms. Perfect Mavis Tate hosted an orgy at her house while her mother was away — Dane Dryer, Tripp McGovern, a dozen seventh grade boys and that whole pack of girls you pal around with at drop off. They’re not even ashamed — the girls are the ones bragging —- do you understand me bragging about it? Actually had to have a conversation with twelve and thirteens to explain morals. Did you know about this? What do these girls talk to you about?”
“No, Mother. Nothing like that ever. We talk about books and makeup.”
Your mother looks skeptical, and you’re still shocked though you believe the story — even from your mother’s hateful lips. Lied just enough about the subject matter of your chats, though only a little.
Certainly Mavis never told you about any orgy. But she has taught you in small ways about pleasure and freedom — the gauche and the quaintrelle.
You’ve never heard the word orgy in real life before. It’s tainted by the sound of it coming from the puritanical twisted lips of your miserable mother. Imagine Mavis speaking it in one of her sacred whispers close enough for only for you to hear. Your skin tingles at the thought of it. It makes you sad it didn’t happen this way. Did she not trust you? Certainly she knows you’re a virgin.
You’d like to ask Mavis so many questions. Imagine yourself in your idea of her house — a house to which you haven’t yet been invited — now know you will never see. You imagine it sprawling, composed of glass and lit by chandeliers and candles. Press your nose against it in your fantasy of it and watch all the beautiful people you know naked and joyous and free. Touch yourself thinking of it in bed that night.
You know Mavis saw this in you. In a homemade dress and cookie sprinkles on your lips, she spied the makings of an adventuress and she claimed you as one of her own. It may have ended before it really began, but it happened, and your mother can never take that from you.
The next day, Mother neglects her duties to a population of adolescents at the benches — only watches you. Find one as far away from Mavis and the others as you can. Sit alone in a sweater the same shade of blue as Mavis’s dress yesterday. It looked good on her, so it will look good on you. See a seventh grade boy pass by you. Was he at the party? What does he know now? Everywhere you look you see pleasure and possibilities pass you by while you stay stoic and unmoved.
The sadness of your separation from Mavis spoils middle school. You are a ill-fashioned doll no one plays with, who shuffles through halls with button eyes on the ground or hurried in books about pleasure that all remind you of her. Plastic irises consume every indecency translated in text though your body won’t become flesh from experience until you’re 18 — so afraid of what your mother or father would do to you if you spoiled yourself. If you took chances.
Your mother thinks she has won but she has no idea about you at all. She is gauche and you are quaintrelle. You will take chances, and you’ll talk about it, and this smug bitch watching will never be able to make you stop.
Kristin Garth is a Pushcart, Rhysling nominated sonneteer and a Best of the Net 2020 finalist, the author of THE MEADOW (a novel from Alien Buddha Press, October 2022) and many other books of poetry and prose.
image: MM Kaufman