After slumping into their late twenties, the girls only ever got together for wedding and baby-related events. Their fiancés and husbands and soon-to-be-children gave them perfect cause to reunite and celebrate. It was good to catch up, but more than that, they reveled in slipping back into younger and freer selves from college days, bolstered by shared experiences. In the proximity of longtime friends, even mundane memories turned to sparklers—bright, sizzling, a delight to hold for a few moments. They could look into each other’s eyes in search of their own reflections and find them more vibrant than they felt. Over bottomless bridal brunches, they planned future road trips to the mountains or flights to Europe, events untied from men and reproductive systems. But in a group of seven, their milestones were nicely staggered, so there never seemed time to plan something between the last bachelorette party and the upcoming baby shower.
On that Saturday at Rebecca’s engagement garden party, Natalie was the whisper in everyone’s mouth, when they weren’t chugging golden flute glasses of champagne. They stared at her bare legs without reserve because she’d taken it too far and they wanted her to know without having to say it.
Natalie never dated anyone long enough to give them names in her wild anecdotes, and she was about to be the only unmarried friend. Her cool detachment, worn casually like a good thrift find, stressed them out. Sometimes they felt they were all parts of a single body, and Natalie was a limb that wouldn’t stay put. They tried to guilt her into settling down by admitting she was easily the most gorgeous and wittiest one of the friend group and shouldn’t waste it.
“Aged wine, baby,” she’d respond with her classic wink.
That afternoon, Natalie swanned into the garden party without the need to explain her new look, which her friends found embarrassing. If you were going to do something preposterous, you had to acknowledge it, whether blushing through a rationalization or claiming it loud and proud like she usually did. But that day, Natalie flaunted herself as the elephant in the room.
“Changing her body all the time isn’t going to make her like herself better or make anyone like her more,” Rebecca said, spearing cheese cubes with her left hand to bring attention to the emerald engagement ring all the girls had cooed over more than they’d ever cooed over the man she was set to marry.
“She’s becoming less real with every surgery,” Suzie added. “Someday, there will be none of her left. Why can’t she just get a boob job or liposuction like a normal woman?”
But she would never go for that. Natalie was all about the newest modifications, the trivial kind that made no sense to them. At the last get-together, she’d shown off her clip-on ears.
“I take them off before bed and pop them back on in the morning,” she’d said with a shrug, eliciting a choir of gasps when she pulled her actual ear from her head and toyed with it on the table. “I sleep through the night much more easily now. Plus, I can hide one in a room and eavesdrop on people. Not that I’d ever do that to y’all,” she’d added with a sly smile.
They’d put up with her alterations with side glances and polite oh Natalie’s, but now she’d crossed a line. Clear as day, under the beating heart of the Kentucky sun, her legs were made of dolphin skin.
“I wouldn’t want to date a woman with any kind of animal skin,” Roger said, despite being out of the dating pool entirely—arm currently around Rebecca—and the fact that no one asked him.
When Natalie arrived, legs thick like oiled meat and gray as storm clouds, she split the party into two clusters. One group stood to the side, openly discussing her newest feature, while the others circled around her hoping it would come up organically, though it never did. As the party continued, Natalie toed sloughed layers of her skin under a table, not out of shame but practical courtesy. Izzy, equally disturbed and entranced, did a quick search on her phone and whispered to others that dolphins shed their outer layer every two hours. They tried to imagine how Natalie would go through life leaving parts of herself behind everywhere she went.
Before the sun was even drowsy, Natalie departed, making her rounds with goodbye kisses. She left no lipstick prints because a past surgery made her mouth a permanent rosy red. It matched the wavy lob of her hair that glinted like sangria in the sun, the only part of herself they knew she would never change.
As soon as she was out of earshot, they burst into condemnation. A silly thing for a woman to do. And yet, the party dwindled into something dull in her absence, and as they went their separate ways, Natalie was the only thing on any of the girls’ minds. She was first to leave, meaning she had other places to be, and that made them ache with envy. They couldn’t stop picturing her in the world: a single woman striding across crosswalks with glistening, reflective legs, not caring that it didn’t match the rest of her. Her legs would never need shaving, would never sweat, would never wrinkle. She would never again concern herself with having a “bikini body” when she would be the most elegant swimmer at the beach. She’d taken oddity and turned it into poise.
The girls went home or to their hotel rooms and stayed awake longer than usual, their husbands and fiancés curled into snore piles beside them. They were kept up by thoughts that they’d had it all wrong: about Natalie, about themselves, about everything. Secretly, they hoped one of the others would get pregnant soon just so they could see what Natalie would birth herself into next.
Sarah Fannon is a graduate of George Washington