When my fraternal twin sister Celine got me a job at the ice cream stand where she worked, I didn’t think too much about Berta the mummy. Berta wasn’t a decoration, but a real desiccated corpse the goth owner bought from an “antiquities” dealer. The mummy stood in her coffin-shaped case in the front corner of our year-round Halloween-themed shop Creepy Custard, right across from the sprinkle station.
Of course, Berta was the least of my worries. Celine and I had been growing apart over the last year. No more late night hair braiding, or whispering in the dark across our shared bedroom. It was my fault mostly. Celine and I hit puberty during the same month that year, our fourteenth. She grew two inches, her breasts swelled, her waist thinned, and her blonde locks took on a new shine. I grew a potbelly and skin tags. My mousey brown hair became frizzy.
When Kyle, the boy I’d liked since kindergarten, asked Celine to the movies, I took my revenge and put Nair in her bottle of shampoo, a brand with a heavy watermelon scent to disguise the hair remover. After her shower that day, she came at me. She glared, her fingers clasped around clumps of lost curls, and said she’d never speak to me again.
That lasted about a month. Our parents grounded me and in penance (and with nothing better to occupy my time) I did all Celine’s chores until she forgave me. The shit of it was she didn’t even look bad. She shaved her head, bought some combat boots, and ended up even more edgy and cute.
I begged her to get me the ice cream job, hoping it would be my chance to reconcile, and she eventually agreed. But really, she used it as a way to punish me. Celine would mysteriously disappear into the back room if two pee wee baseball teams showed up at the same time. I would scramble to pour cone after cone out of the soft serve machine while little boys shouted, changed their orders ten times, and wiped muddy gloves across the counter. If we were slow, Celine texted Kyle and they made out in front of the mixer. I pretended not to notice. I read news on my phone or dusted Berta’s case. Kept my head down. Eyes forward. One time Kyle put his hand on Celine’s boob and I nearly choked on a peanut butter cup.
It might seem surprising people weren’t grossed out by eating next to a mummy. The yellow skin of Berta’s face peeked out from behind her bandages. She smelled faintly of mold. Yet girls and boys and their moms and dads would happily order a twist, spoon a few crushed Oreos over it, and sit down right beside her. She peered out at them through her empty eye sockets. Still, though, she held a kind of allure.
On the nights Celine was particularly cruel, I offered to stay late and close up without her. I locked the door and listened to the freezer hum. Then I switched off all the lights but the one closest to the coffin, and wiped down the tables and chairs while staring at my reflection superimposed on top of the mummy’s. In that glass, my round stomach looked smaller, my hair smoother. The light hit Berta just right, and she smiled at me, a new best friend.
Chelsea Voulgares lives in the Chicago suburbs and is the editor of the literary journal Lost Balloon. Her fiction has been published recently in Cheap Pop, Midwestern Gothic, JMWW, and Jellyfish Review. You can find her online at www.chelseavoulgares.com or on Twitter @chelsvoulgares.