My little sister’s seventh birthday. Pink streamers, pig tails, and wrapped-up Barbie dolls. Fistfuls of purple paper fly from her hands while she rips presents open, one by one. The smell of chlorine wafts over from the pool and into the play room. It mixes with the humid summer air to bring us an oppressive weight. Everyone is fanning themselves with birthday cards: dousing their dry throats with red Hawaiian punch. They fluttered their hands in fanning motions like the wings of a bee. We craned our necks in discomfort, as though something perched there like how Atlas carries the globe.

The bee was among us, shouting insults to a bunch of rowdy boys to whom I’m vaguely related. They come from a rich family, where it’s okay to dance on tabletops and smash vases as long as it’s not your property. We are poor, and my mother knows it. She could not afford my little sister a present. Back then, what little money we had was spent on decanters of cheap wine and plastic bottles of Irish cream.

go to the basement

join the party