by Lisa Johnson Mitchell
Baby oil is slathered all over my white, starchy skin. A prism of ooze on my arms is washed with sweat. My legs are outstretched on a beach towel. They go on for centuries. I’m still, a statue worshipping the sun in the backyard. I’ve never felt more alive.
Ruddy snuck into my room last night. He shimmied up the trellis, then slipped in through my window. We got into my bed and it hurt. I didn’t think it would, but it did. I’d heard it might be tight and it was, but I could stand the pain. My skin prickles and my stomach feels weird, probably just hunger.
Dishes clang, the TV is on, and we dig in. Utensils chime in the stunning silence.
You seem sleepy, Mom says.
I heard you get up last night. I heard footsteps.
I was just going to the bathroom. More beans, please.
Are you sure?
You woke me up. Don’t chew with your mouth open.
I need some of that aloe. Can you give me some after I shower?
Tomorrow we need to go to the DMV to get your learner’s permit. I can’t keep driving you to school.
Mom passes me watermelon, her summer standard. It’s gash red. I try to avoid the seeds, but I chomp down anyway and the sweetness bathes my tongue, exploding, juice waterfalling down my chin. I eat with abandon and I can’t stop. More, more, more.
My hair is getting longer and I wash it. I let it drip dry and slip into my shorts.
Mom, I’m ready.
She joins me on the couch and I push my strap down. The small aloe leaf is gooey and cool and her hands feel like love.
You’ve got to wear sunscreen.
No I don’t. I like to get tanned.
The screen door slams behind me and the yard is lousy with fireflies. They dance, just beyond my grasp. They’re so free and magical. I am one of them. I close my eyes and move with abandon, jettisoning into the unknown, sailing away, eating air, devouring the nebulas.
The night is quiet. A few cars pass by. The cicadas are blasting away, a welcome chorus for June. Cool grass massages my feet, a velvet carpet for living. In the corner under an ancient oak, I light up a Marlboro Red I have tucked into my bra. The nicotine razors my throat. I exhale my truth. I have big dreams. Beyond the branches, there’s a half-moon, a slice of apple, marbleized white. Two stars above it make a face, but there’s no nose.
It’s time to burn myself again. Not gonna break my pact with Sandra. I hide the scars in my armpit. I’ve made a cross and need just one more to complete it. The butt glows like the red planet, it hovers over my flesh, then a sharp sting. I am dangerous.
The low part of my tummy just above my privates is all puffy and hurty. I probably ate too many Jolly Ranchers. I stole a ton from Sandra during gym. I broke into her locker. I crave them. My period is supposed to come; I hate the way I feel before, all bloated and cranky and headachy.
Dear God or Jesus or Whoever’s in charge, I’ll never have sex again. I’m scared to the pi power. I push my boobs together with my wrists and yep, they’re sore, ready to nurse, but then again, I’ll just wait it out. Periods and being pregnant, I’ve read, feel the same. Aunt Flo will visit, Mom always says. So stupid.
The line is pink.
We used a rubber, Ruddy says. Oh God, this can’t be, this can’t be happening.
It might have busted, I say.
I’ll go with you to the doctor, the clinic. I love you.
I love you, too, but I gotta go. Mom’s gotta use the phone.
I want to move away or burrow into the ground and pop up in China. My teeth are chattering. I’ve been in my room all day, door shut, Dan Fogelberg album playing over and over, and I’ve been painting my toenails. This can’t be. My voice wallpapers my brain and the sound becomes a whisper.
High school drop out? Wear the scarlet letter? Work at Church’s Fried Chicken? I can’t even make change. I suck at math. I need this alien to go away, this baby, this thing, this membrane. It’s part of me, and then it’s not. I read in a women’s history book that there are ways to do this.
My bag is packed. Cigarettes, check. Heaven Sent, Mom’s perfume, check. More Jolly Ranchers, check. Sandra will never know it was me. Mom’s passed out on the coach drinking Chablis and watching TV and last I looked, her cookbook was open on her lap.
I’m leaving now, I say. You’ll see me flash my lights at the corner.
I’m not coming, Ruddy says.
You said you would.
The bottom of the stairs is a galaxy away. I’m not sure I can do it. Just do a somersault. Pretend to faint. Fake a seizure.
I fling myself down, sharp edges knife my head, my ribs, my legs. Pain shotguns through every cell, come on blood, come on blood. Hope blossoms amidst the disaster of Mom’s approaching footstep.
Lisa Johnson Mitchell’s work has appeared in Cleaver, Louisiana Literature, and Litro Online, among others. One of her stories placed in the Top 10 of the 2020 Columbia Journal Short Fiction Contest. Another received an Honorable Mention from Glimmer Train and was a Semi-Finalist in the ScreenCraft Cinematic Short Story Contest. She was a resident at the Vermont Studio Center and holds an MFA from Bennington College.