Featured Image: Photo by PxHere
Tara pulls out the essentials: her pre-wedding checklist, her day-planner, her receipt folder, her tri-colored ballpoint pen, and her phone. Deep breath. Follow the list and don’t screw up.
The strip-mall parking lot in Tara’s hometown of Cornfield, Ontario houses a desolate party supply store, a now-faded Blockbuster Video sign, and a discount grocery store. China Garden, the source of countless teenaged whiteheads, however, has been renovated since she moved away. The neon sign now reads “Rose and Pearl Day Spa” and “No tax with ca$h.”
She still has to pick up her dress and give one final confirmation call to the caterers. Dimitri is flying in tonight, but Tara made the mistake of heading home a week before the wedding. It’s been hospital corners on sheets and sudden outbursts of tears from a mother who “never thought this would happen,” and who is “so proud, Tara,” as she honks into a tissue.
A woman leaving the spa is walking like Butch Cassidy. Tara checks her phone. Goldie is getting in from a business trip to Malaysia. She said she’d text when she landed. She’d scheduled her trip around Tara and promised to make it for the bachelorette party. Even if pottery-night in Cornfield, Ontario wasn’t Goldie’s idea of a good time. But that’s what BFFs do.
No texts. Tara unbuckles her seatbelt.
Rose and Pearl Day Spa is playing beach waves and seagull cries from the speakers. The new ownership opted to keep China Garden’s murals of the Great Wall, but otherwise, the inside had been converted to stark white and marble. The front desk is bare except for a silver Mac and a genie-lamp-shaped device pumping purple scented mist into the air. Behind the stone slab, “Nivea,” like the lotion, sits with a tight ponytail and a septum ring, deaf to the jingle of the door.
Tara opens and closes Instagram a few times, and shivers in the doorway. It’s still too cold to be a major wedding weekend; Dimitri thought it’d be romantic to marry on her parent’s wedding anniversary. They hadn’t used it since the divorce anyway. She hearts a coworker’s cat photo.
Nivea still hasn’t looked up at her, so Tara approaches the desk.
“Hi.” There’s a delay where Nivea clicks a few things before looking up, expectant. Tara sips on the liter of smoothie her hand. The Busy Bride’s Wedding Checklist, the size of War and Peace and a gift from Tara’s mother, said “no caffeine” the week of the wedding. It dampens the complexion. Helpfully, the authors provide a carrot-kale-ginger smoothie recipe for all the same bounce and double the antioxidants. Slurp.
“Hi,” Tara says again, rubbing just under her lip to catch stray smoothie droplets. Nivea smiles with a closed mouth and dead eyes. “Oh—I, umm,” Tara digs into her bag for her day planner again.
“Do you have an appointment?”
“Tay-rah, Brazilian, right?”
“It’s Tah-rah, actually.”
“Yep. Wedding checklist.” Tara shakes her bridal Tolstoy in the woman’s face like a Bible. Big smile, big nod.
“You have kale in your teeth.”
“Oh,” Tara digs her thumbnail into the cracks between front teeth.
“And how did you hear about us?”
“Oh, my friend Goldie recommended you.”
“Oh, we love Goldie here.” Nivea smiles, for real this time. Her incisors are white and refined and just looking at them, Tara feels their sharpness. “Women wax for years to have pubic hair like Goldie.”
Goldie cried when Tara asked her to be her maid of honor, but had turned her down because of a promotion—she’d been made textile buyer for a junior couture company. Still, Goldie made her thoughts on the dress, the colors, and the bachelorette party quite clear from the sidelines—too puffy, too pastel, and too boring, respectively. Goldie made all her thoughts clear. Except on Dimitri. Goldie never said anything about Dimitri, and Tara had deliberately chosen not to read into that.
While signing away liability, Tara sucks in purple mist and it hits right between her eyes, forcing a wet sneeze onto the marble countertop. Nivea pushes a box of Kleenex forward with a stiletto nail.
She and Goldie had come to China Garden after graduation. They’d ordered two dozen sweet-and-sour chicken balls for the table. Tara had been trying to preemptively lose her Freshman Fifteen, so Goldie had eaten most of the chicken. The memory, and maybe the detox smoothie, makes her stomach rumble.
Nivea stares and Tara shifts her weight.
“Great to hear about Goldie’s—”
“Take a seat, we’ll call you when we’re ready.” Nivea’s eyes are back on the screen.
Tara leans into a white couch with no give, the ball of used tissue dampening in her fist. She pulls out her phone. No notifications. Like everything about Goldie, her Instagram looks effortless. Tara knows the page is curated with precision to suggest a laissez-faire adventurer, but she’d heard her best friend explain away her shutter fingers and pore-minimizing apps by saying “Fashion’s all online now!” countless times. Tara doesn’t really know what that means.
They’d been sixteen when they went to New York for a model UN conference. Their first night in the hotel Goldie rapped on Tara’s door, all sequins and jewel tones.
“Come on—I’ve got a plan.”
Goldie painted and dressed Tara the best she could. Goldie’s clothes were too small on Tara, and Tara had brought clothes to make-believe international policy, not sneak into nightclubs. Still, they’d gotten past the bouncer. Goldie because she was Goldie, and Tara because who would have cared?
But Tara didn’t stay. They’d gained entrance just before midnight, and Tara turned around and left. There were notes to go over before she represented Poland, and what if they did room checks? So Tara went back and Goldie went on to meet international designer Roy Baker. She’d spent her final two summers of high school interning with him. Tara scooped (and ate) ice cream instead.
No new photo on Goldie’s page. Just the same bright colors, Malaysian fish markets, and bronzed up Goldie in a bikini hiding the famous pubic hair.
Flipping to “the week before” page in The Busy Bride’s Wedding Checklist, Tara hovers her pen over the check-box but closes the book. She’d save the satisfaction of checking the box as a reward for the wax.
A woman in her early fifties with familiar, heavy-lidded eyes leads Tara to a softly lit room with a table and a trash can. One end of the table is encircled in film-grade lights.
She is far more beautiful than the faceless robot Tara had hoped would be waxing her.
She places a package of Wet-Ones on the table and motions to Tara’s crotch. “Take off everyting below your vaist and vipe yourself down, eh?” Her voice comes from her throat, dropping h’s and pronouncing w’s as v’s. “I vill be right vit you.”
Taking four wipes out at once and peeling off her jeans, Tara gives herself what her mother calls “a whore’s bath.” She feels like a sex offender, lurking Winnie-the-Pooh style naked, surrounded by the mural of giant herons flying over the Great Wall of China. She pulls her fingers through the coarse hair and sits. And then stands. And then sits again and settles on the table with legs crossed.
“You need to let it grow for at least three or four weeks. No shaving!” Goldie told her. They’d met for drinks in an airport hotel before one of Goldie’s trips. “Dimitri will be fine, I promise. It makes everything more . . . aromatic.” And then she wiggled her nose like Samantha in Bewitched and slurped her martini like James Bond.
Dimitri hadn’t really noticed a change, though. It made the years of ingrown hairs feel a touch futile. But a Brazilian, The Busy Bride’s Wedding Checklist assured her, would be striking.
The esthetician knocks and wheels in a metal cart displaying her tools. The wheels screech against the door frame.
“You okay, Mona?” says Nivea from the lobby, sounding surprisingly helpful, given Tara’s interaction with her.
“Te cart is stuck again,” Mona shouts back. Some waves crash on the imaginary beach in the speaker as Nivea’s heels approach. Tara lays her hands in her lap.
Together, Nivea and Mona jimmy the cart into the room.
“Sorry,” Mona smiles at Tara, but her forehead is stiff. She bends down and flicks the power bar. Film-grade light floods the room. “Lie down, legs tovards te light.”
Tara lies back, clenching her legs together. Gloves snap.
“Uncross,” Mona says, tapping Tara’s leg. “And scoot down until your bum ʼits my ʼand.”
From Tara’s spread-eagle position, Mona’s face is visible from only her eyes and forehead up. “Is your first time?” Mona asks, separating and adjusting Tara’s labia as if arranging utensils on a napkin.
“And ve’re just doing te biscuit?” The woman circles her hand over Tara’s vulva. “Not te legs? Is not te same vitout te legs. Inconsistent.”
“Oh. I didn’t think of that.” Tara looks down, finally realizing how dark and patchy her leg hair is.
“Is for vedding?”
“Yeah.” Tara tries to motion to her absent checklist.
“Ve do te legs.” The woman winks up at Tara. She pulls a few additional Wet-Ones from the container and begins cleansing Tara’s pubis. “You take an Advil?”
“No, I guess I should have.”
Mona “tuts” in reply, now wiping Tara’s crack like a baby.
“Don’t vorry,” she says. The Wet-Ones whoosh into the trash can. “Te first time alvays ʼurts te most.”
Tara lost her virginity to Dimitri in a tub, and by that time she had been ready to throw it away. Goldie didn’t get it, though. She’d lost hers too young to someone handsome and older.
“I wish I waited!” The Skype feed glitched because Goldie stole her internet from her NYC neighbors. “In a tub? Really?”
“Yeah, you’ve seen movies. Shower sex is a thing.” Tara glanced at the nutritional info on the box of crackers in her hand.
“I know, but a tub? Do you even have the space to you know—spread out?”
“I’m not that fat. I can fit in a tub.” She munched into a cracker.
“Oh please,” Goldie rolled her eyes. “That’s not what I meant.”
“Well, there were no malfunctions.”
“Okay. Was it good?”
“I don’t know.”
A curt laugh. “So, no.”
“No! I just don’t have a yardstick yet.”
“Well, did he make you feel special at least?” Goldie waved to her roommate, a young model, as she came in, sending feedback through Tara’s speakers.
“We get along really well. We’re going out again tonight.”
“W-o-w. So is it official?” Goldie raised her eyebrows and the poor connection froze her awkwardly on Tara’s screen.
“No. I’m still working on it. I think he’s worried about our friendship.”
“He’s worried about your friendship, but he fucked you in a tub.” Goldie had a tone in her voice. Tara ignored it.
“Well, I didn’t say he was that worried.” Tara made a face at her friend and checked the time. “Anyway, I need to go put on my face.”
Goldie blew her a kiss and signed off.
“Do you shave your purse?” Mona asks from under the bright lights.
“Your purse, the lady, ʼer ʼair is stiff. Tick roots from shaving.” She twists knobs of Tara’s hair in her fingers and begins snipping at them. “You’re nervous?”
Tara laughs uncomfortably in reply. Mona lifts her head to look at her.
“Oh, no, not really,” Tara says, twitching as she tries to ease herself onto the sticky plastic of the table.
“You lie! You’re sveating!” The woman laughs. “Don’t vorry. You feel like a new person after. Clean.” The woman sprinkles powder over Tara’s pubis like seasoning. “You vant it all gone?” She lifts the pots of wax from the hot-plate.
“Uh . . .” The wax smells like old lipstick and melted Barbies. Tara grimaces . “Yeah. I guess.”
“It’s te style now, anyvays.” Mona pulls the s long. “Pull your skin to your chest.”
Tara strains her neck up to see and mimic Mona’s hand motions. She places two hands on the flesh of her stomach and pulls it up toward her breasts.
“Yes,” says Mona, with the long s again. “Just like tat. Belly to boobies.”
Stretching the “belly” flesh upwards to combine it with the “boobie” fat blocks out the sight of Mona’s face between her legs. Tara relaxes her neck onto the plastic head cushion and imagines someone building a model train set between her thighs.
First comes a swipe of warm. Squish-rip.
“Ay-ay-ay-ay-ay,” Mona says, slapping her hand over Tara’s newly bare clitoral hood. “Don’t vorry. Pressure ʼelps.”
Tara focuses on the itch of her polo against her neck. Her mum had picked up the shirt this morning from Costco and the collar was starchy. It makes a crunching sound as Tara shoots her neck backwards. It’s then, with her neck contorted back, that she notices the gilt-framed photo above the door of the handsome, heavy-lidded face of Charbel Nadi.
Charbel had been in Tara and Goldie’s class since the sixth grade. He’d had the sort of charm that came from being loud and getting seconds at dinner without having to ask. He’d joined their class in the middle of the school year, and beaten Goldie’s well-researched speech on corsetry with an impromptu rant on video games in the school’s Toastmasters club. She had sworn to hate him forever, and Goldie never broke a swear made from vengeance. Tara liked him despite that, or maybe because of it.
In the eighth grade, the class was fifteen students, electrified with hormones and drowning in pimple pus. Tara ate lunch with Goldie, “ate” being a generous term, but when she got home, she messaged with Charbel. They talked about Survivor, and Dane Cook. She told him more than he ever asked.
In the spring, her cousin was to be married and Tara was asked to be a bridesmaid.
“I thought you weren’t supposed to outshine the bride?” Charbel said.
Laughable, given that the only sign of puberty on Tara at the time was her love handles—which, fear not, remained intact. But Charbel always spoke like that.
“Just a little blood. Such tick ʼair!” says the voice from beyond the belly. “Tut-tut-tut,” and Tara recognizes her vulvarian torturer.
“Can we take a break?” she says.
“Sure, sure. You are so sensitive!” Mona—Mrs. Nadi, Charbel’s mother—laughs, wiping some sweat from her upper lip with the back of her forearm. She’s flushed, as if Tara has been an unexpected workout. She gets up and places a fan between Tara’s legs. “So te lady can breathe,” she says, as she leaves the room.
Under the glamor lights and the watchful eyes of the life-sized herons, a wind machine blowing on her vulva, Tara immediately regrets asking for a break.
She peels herself off the table and reaches for her phone. Still nothing from Goldie or Dimitri. Tara types into the Instagram search bar: ThatGuyCharbel.
His photos are as expected—city skylines, Drake lyric captions, and women with inflated lips. Tara enlarges a beach photo of him and a bronzed stick in Barcelona. She zooms into the girl’s bikini line. “She waxes,” Tara mumbles.
Charbel’s mother returns with a waft of clove smoke. She settles onto her stool. The snap of new gloves. Gull squawk from the surround-sound.
“You’re shaking still!” Even more laughter as Mrs. Nadi holds down Tara’s leg with her petite claws. “Ve breathe.” She sucks in air and motions for Tara to follow. She smears wax alongside the lips of Tara’s vulva, squishes the sheet. “And out,” she says, and yanks it off.
Charbel was growing handsome with all the love he received, and soon Tara was one of many girls with whom he chatted online. He started making lists, ranking the girls in the class based on looks or breast-size. When the girls compared them, the list’s recipient was always ranked first.
She’d asked about the lists once.
“I don’t wanna offend anyone,” he’d admitted, “but I don’t have to lie to you.” He told her she wasn’t the prettiest, but that “it was her personality” that got her ranked so highly.
Dimitri had said something similar when they first started dating, that she wasn’t his normal “type.” Normally, he liked skinny girls. Goldie told her to “leave his ass behind,” but Tara didn’t think it was right to punish someone for honesty.
“Roll over and spread your sh-eeks,” Mrs. Nadi says, cracking her neck left-to-right.
Tara takes her time rolling over, giving herself a moment of relief, but mostly debating how personal she wants to get with the woman staring at her anus.
“Is that your son, above the door?”
“Charbel? Are you ʼis friend?”
Her voice. So much love.
In the tenth grade, Tara finally snapped at Charbel. He and Goldie had been partnered in Debate. They’d kept interrupting Tara’s mousey partner and her mousey self in the debate, razing them like pests. Charbel had ignored her for the rest of the day, but picked her up from the shoulder of the road to offer her a ride home after school.
“We went to school together,” Tara answers, a side of her bum in each hand.
His car was new and her house was shabby. She hadn’t wanted him to drop her off right at her house, but he had done just that, and walked her to the door. Her mother had been out of work at the time, so the TV and the Schnauzers trumpeted from inside as they stood on the porch.
His dark hair and lashes like calligraphy on his face—inches from hers. She wanted to kiss him, but she’d never kissed before. Their heads bobbed together like they were weighed down with magnets of the same pole, always veering away when they got too close. They hugged—she smelled like lunch meat, he like Axe body spray. It had been the most romantic moment of her life. Until she met Dimitri.
Her perineum now hairless, Tara clenches her neck muscles in anticipation as Mrs. Nadicoats her anus in wax. Her body seizing, Tara stares directly into Charbel’s photo. It burns into her retina. The edges of her vision fog like she’s an oracle of Delphi.
“‘E’s in law school now,” Mrs. Nadi says. “Top of ʼis class.” The woman smiles up at her son, who watches her wax genitals all day. She closes Tara’s legs and pats her bum. “Good job.”
Tara sits up to inspect her puffiness.
“No panties after vax,” Mrs. Nadi says. “You don’t vant ingrown ʼairs.”
“But I wore jeans,” Tara motions to the crumpled pants. Mrs. Nadi throws her head back with a sharp laugh and “tuts” out of the room, leaving Tara to dress under her son’s gaze.
In the photo, Charbel’s lips are full, and in the middle a little wet from his incessant talking. She’d wondered what it would be like to kiss something so pillowy. She thought about Dimitri’s angles. She would be signing herself away to a lifetime of their familiarity and cold sharpness in only a few days.
Tara pays Nivea in cash and tips heavily. Charbel’s mother rushes out, a photo in hand. “I knew I recognized you,” she says, the precision and unmovingness of her brow making her broad smile appear clownlike.
The photo was taken in their final year of high school, after the school play. Tara’s role had been gender-bent and she’d been cast as the lead’s best friend. She wore a paperboy cap that flattened her curls. Goldie was down the line, leaning on Charbel’s shoulder—they’d played the lovers, the curtain dropping after their kiss. She remembered Charbel telling her it was his first kiss. It wasn’t Goldie’s, though.
Tara hands the photo back and Charbel’s mother engulfs her in a hug.
“Come to me again next time you need vax, I give you discount.” She winks a heavy-lidded eye, the creases and unblended powders of her makeup made visible in the daylight coming through the spa’s front windows.
Tara gets back into her car and adjusts her bare labia to either side of the middle seam of her jeans. A new photo appears on her timeline. “Flight delayed, but look who I found at the airport!” and there was Goldie in tight jeans with her long, thin arm around Dimitri’s shoulders.
Tara types and presses send quickly, chucking the phone into the drink holder of the car. The phone rattles against the plastic. Tara flicks open her Instagram to the new private message.
ThatGuyCharbel: Hey beautiful, hear you’re getting married this wknd. Need a getaway driver? :P
Tara hearts Goldie’s photo and pulls out her essentials, checking off “Brazilian wax”on her wedding checklist in her tri-colored ballpoint.
Holly Easton has an archaeology degree and only one cat. She wants more. She writes the occasional play and enjoys procrastinating by reading mountains and mountains of short stories.