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girls by Ella Schwalb


When I was little and drew wedding processions, I knew the wedding dress should be long and flowing enough that it would trail way behind the bride. It needed to trail way behind so that it could be gently held up off the ground by flower girls’ avid little hands. If the dress didn’t trail, what would the flower girls do? Flower girls were the most important part of any wedding, so it follows that the dress had to trail.

I drew the bride’s smiling face and smiling hair, the puffy shoulder sleeves (these were probably misplaced boobs), and the long torso. Sometimes there were a few brides, all with the long gowns. Below the torso, the rest of the dress fabric would fall down to the ground in two neat swooping lines, then curve to meet like a sleek whale fin against the aisle carpet, extending far back behind the bride herself. This fabric would hang so low and so long so as to cover the bride’s feet from view. In fact, the lines of the fabric made a closed pouch around her feet, so I always wondered as I drew: How can she walk, in a sack like that? Would she trip? Is there a special kind of gravity for feet inside the bottom of gowns? A special type of internal floor mechanism? Did the flower girls have an invisible task, operating the aisle in some secret way while they held the fabric? It was a recurring technical and spatial brainbuster for me, but I kept drawing the gown the same way, puzzling the whole time with that magic marker in my hand.


When I see another girl, and we say hi, or wave, or trade little smiles, I become her age if she’s much younger. If I notice her outfit that she put together, then I notice my own and think about all the accessories I didn’t even consider, like a belt or some cool socks. I get a little nervous, like, how much does she notice me and what will she think of me--that I am cool and pretty and will she wonder or care if I am smart and thoughtful. Will she wonder about my family, about my shyness and my habits of being in public and what brought me here to this ice cream shop today. Our shynesses shake hands ahead of us, in front of us, and we say hi only in their wake, having woken them, being woken by them.

So it happens that she sort of knocks on the glass of whatever I’m doing in that moment, whatever movements that, over a decade, I’ve built up not having to think about very hard. Getting some napkins from near the cash register and pushing through the tinkling door to go back out to the table my friend is at with our ice cream, and there’s a girl there, on the doormat, lifting her head a bit as I pass. She says hi--so shy, so brave, maybe neither--and asks me silently what it’s like to be a big girl saying hi to a little girl. So how do I tell her it’s the same?


When you’re a kid at the pool, there can be some really amazing things inside the locker rooms. The girls realized it first. There is a giant flat screen TV next to the mirrors! There is a fireplace, and a lot of bean bag chairs. Really comfy bean bag chairs. Also a hot tub and a buffet with many types of ketchup and a sundae bar. This is a lie everyone is excited to get in on, even kids who don’t usually lie. The boys caught on soon, describing the luxuries at every urinal, but not before a raw minute of fear they had no way to check.



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