Garden Snake – Madeline Cash

Sophia told me to puff my lips out more and I was like ‘they’re puffed!’ I was making a duck face into the lens of a camera held by this guy called Mark. He was like thirty-five I guessed. I was thirteen. I had cried the week before having my ears pierced. It was the first time something so foreign had punctured my skin and I felt violated by the sales associate at Claire’s. ‘No like this,’ Sophia said jumping in front of the camera and puffing her lips out the right way. ‘Yeah like that.’ said Mark.

We were at Mark’s house in Hollywood taking pictures in front of some old car. Men love old cars. Old cars ignite something in men. I changed into my next outfit under my current outfit the way all girls know how to do. ‘Don’t smile so much,’ said Mark. The only instructions I’d ever been given from someone behind a camera was ‘say cheese.’ I stopped saying cheese. I thought of the sad look on Jesus’ face in the mosaic at my Lutheran school Chapel. I pushed my body against the old car and frowned like a grown up. I frowned like Jesus. Mark gave me some sunglasses that weren’t for the sun. They were for me to bite on.

Mark ran a business of buying old flannels and jeans at Goodwill and taking pictures of them on cute girls then selling them online for more money. It was brilliant. It was 2009. Mark was also the resident photographer for an all-ages club night called Spin the Bottle. That’s where I first met him. I was there with my older brother who had gotten out of jail a few months earlier. He was in jail for accidentally smothering his girlfriend during sex. We were there with my brother’s new girlfriend who was embarrassing me to death. She squatted to pee in the alley outside and I watched it puddle around her heels. She hiked up her underwear and said to my brother, ‘your little sister was watching me piss. She gay or something?’ and she lit a menthol cigarette which meant she’d never go to outer space.

I was wearing my brother’s [BAND] t-shirt as a dress and playing brick breaker on my Blackberry among the all-ages bodies. I tried to exude mystery. I was scared of everything and everyone. I could overhear this older guy with a camera around his neck ranting at these anorexic girls about how Obama hadn’t really done shit and about drone strikes and steel beams and research chemicals and then he pointed to me and said, ‘this girl gets it. You like [BAND]?’ And I looked down at my shirt and said, ‘uh, yeah?’ and he said, ‘fuck yeah!’ And I stopped paying attention to brick breaker and the little ball went cascading into the abyss. The older photographer guy asked if I saw [BAND] play at [VENUE] last year. I thought about what I was doing last year. I was getting my braces off. I was lodging a tampon into my guts for the first time and horseback riding at Lutheran summer camp. I wasn’t seeing [BAND] and [VENUE]. I said, ‘yeah!’ and he said, ‘fuck yeah!’ Then he said, ‘could I take pictures of you sometime?’ Then my brother’s girlfriend found me and said, ‘there you are’ and gave Mark a weird look and drove us to Arby’s because my brother was too fucked up to drive and I wouldn’t have my license for another four years.

Mark asked me to come take pictures in the summer. I told my friend Sophia that she had to come too because she was beautiful and I was scared of everything and everyone.

Sophia was in her bra on Mark’s living room floor. His house was filled with piles of Goodwill pants and shirts and shoes like the Holocaust museum. Mark was standing above Sophia who was modeling denim shorts but the focal point of the image wasn’t so much the shorts as it was her little pink tongue which she stuck out at the camera. He kept saying like ‘this is great’ and ‘one more for me.’ Sophia and I exchanged looks and she rolled her eyes like ‘grow up already’ and so I grew up and joined her on the floor beneath Mark.

He told Sophia and me to kiss. Sophia was beautiful. Sophia had milky white child skin. Sophia could do puffy lips. Sophia didn’t say cheese. Sophia looked like an angel on Mark’s disgusting carpet. We kissed in the glow of a neon wall sign that said like GIRLS! GIRLS GIRLS! as he snapped the camera. We rolled around on the ground, our bodies picking up debris from the rug. I rolled over a shard of glass and cut my arm and Sophia lapped at the blood with her tongue playfully. Mark took pictures from above like ‘this is great.’ ‘This is awesome.’

This is great. This is awesome. Your attempts to mask it only intensify your innocence. Isn’t this wonderful? Aren’t you happy to be here? Look at this world I made for you. I said let there be light for you. I harnessed fire and parted seas and scoured deserts for you. I invented the wheel for you and you can’t even drive. Tell me you’re sorry. Frown like Jesus. Pose on my sim card. Wash my feet with your hair. Let me be your shepherd. Let me suckle your nectar and discard your husk. Let’s fall in love in the winter. Let’s file lawsuits in the springtime. Let me create you in my image. This is great, one more for me.

Mark’s patio looked like a cartoon depiction of a junkyard. Sophia and I sat outside on the disemboweled backseat of a car. I was reading Animal Farm for school. Mark looked at the book and said, ‘that book’s a trip’ and I said, ‘it’s kind of bullshit honestly’ and Sophia shot me a look like ‘don’t disparage Animal Farm in front of the cool photographer.’ Then I asked if I could have a bandage for my bloody arm and they both looked at me like I was getting voted off the island.

Sophia stayed at Mark’s house. She told me it was okay. He gave me some stickers with his name on them as I was leaving which ended up on all my binders. I walked three blocks down the street to Fairfax where my mom thought I’d been seeing a movie. My mom was wearing her scrubs when she picked me up and looked like she hadn’t slept in a million years because she hadn’t. She was working the night shift at a county hospital. I was quiet in her passenger seat and she leaned over and touched my forehead and said something like, ‘I’m so proud of you, Madeline. I know I’ve been working a ton but you’re a good kid and I love you to pieces and you hang the moon for me and all of this is for you’ or something like that. She said maybe she’d save up and by summer we could take a roadtrip, just me and her. Then she asked how the movie was and I recounted the plot I’d read on google earlier.