One of us is pretending to chat up the hot checkout chick tonight, pointing at the rows of cigarettes behind her while two of us linger in the candy aisle. She seems uninterested but distracted by the chatter. Her focus flicks between the cigarette shelves and us.
We peer up at all the bright pinks, greens, reds, blues, and yellows lined up in their plastic containers. Killer Pythons, Pink Clouds, Peppermint Leaves, and Red Frogs, all ripe for the picking. Flipping open the sticky lids, we take our chance while the checkout babe is bent over.
We shovel fistfuls of sweets into our pockets. Our mate keeps lookout at the counter, peering down at her tight skirt. Talking keeps her occupied, crouched and looking for a cigarette brand that does not exist. When she gives up on looking and turns around, we are already out the door. We sprint as fast as we can around the block to our usual hangout.
We pick pieces of candy from our pockets, out of breath but chewing them anyway. The three of us jump the waist-high fence and start wandering down the hill to our school oval. It is well after dark and our parents do not know where we are. They never do. We have come here to smoke, eat our guts full, and feel dangerous.
In the distance, we can see something sitting on the tattered cricket pitch.
It looks almost like a girl.
We edge closer to her and see she is not moving, still as the gum trees looming in the distance. A dead branch sometimes falls to the grass. Nothing else.
We sit down in a loose circle around her. She does not turn to us but stares forward, unblinking. She does not breathe like us. Her skin is not tan and her hair is not blonde, not like the checkout chick. Her lips are a rich red and closed tight. She does not breathe a word.
We have never seen a girl pinker or fluffier. She smells like school fêtes and circus carnivals. We forget our pockets are fat with candy. Someone pulls out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter, flicks the flint, and lights up. Her skin glows pastel as we pass the cig around.
One of us holds it out to her, gesturing for her to take a drag. She does not turn her head or look at the cigarette. Her eyes move slightly over each of us. They are a deep peppermint green. They seem to look not at us, but through us.
Her hand glides up and takes the lit cigarette. She pulls it toward her mouth but does not inhale. The heat sizzles and melts her lips, shriveling her face into itself. We can see she is not made of flesh and blood. She smells and looks just like cotton candy.
Her hand falls to her lap. We take the cig back. She does not know how to smoke. We do not think she knows anything. She looks pretty and smells delicious.
One of us reaches out to touch her. Then another. Then all three of us. She clings to our hands like spider webs. We rub her between our fingertips.
We lean in closer. One of us drops the cigarette. The tiny embers croak and die in the dewy grass. Someone pulls her hand close and holds it to their lips. They bite down and a piece of her comes away in their mouth. She tastes so sweet.
We pull at another part of her, bigger this time. Chewing the fluffy candy, the skin gently fizzles, and disappears on our tongues. This is way better than anything you can nick from a convenience store. We barely even have to swallow.
She does not seem to be in any pain. Her green eyes look into us without fear or anger. She only stares and does not say a thing as we peel more pieces from her. Slide them over our tongues, pick them apart in our hands.
Then someone reaches for her eyes. We pluck one softly from her face, split it in three, and share it around our group. It is sour like a green apple rotting in the Brisbane sun. We do not like it. Spit it out in the dirt.
She looks at us through her one good eye. There is not much left of her now. We keep scooping away, wrapping our whole hands in pink clouds. Sucking her off the backs of our hands, licking the sweet syrup from between our hairs.
We feel her stuck to our faces, rub her from around our mouths. The last few parts are the sweetest. We crave more of the fluffy cotton candy.
But the only piece left now is that second green eye, bitter and sour by comparison. None of us are game enough to try it again after the first. We hesitate to even pick it up.
Someone suggests we take it home. Another says we should trade it for more cigarettes at school. But instead we agree to throw it into the night, further than the line of gum trees, farther than the empty parking lot. We do not see where it lands. Probably in the nearby creek.
Who would ever want to eat that?
By Sean West
Photo by Krista Schlueter for The New Yorker