What She Does When She
1. She makes a game out of hiding the bottles in the woods. Her father goes to work building whatever building needs building that week, sometimes driving as far out as Sullivan County down old M12. L puts down her book—her father likes to see her reading, let him know he's done this one thing right—and tiptoes into the kitchen. She doesn't need to be quiet but that's part of what makes it like a game. One by one she collects the longnecked bottles out of the cabinets. They clatter against one another in her backpack, wind chime, xylophone, slot machine. She hears them as she hoists the backpack over her shoulders, as she pushes the screen door open, as she marches into the woods, back bent under the liquid-morphing-sloshing weight.
2. In art class she lets E draw all over her arms in magic marker. Song lyrics, stars, monstrous faces. He says that he'd draw on his own but his mother would kill him because she believes the ink will give him blood poisoning. She’s scared of a lot, he says. He doesn't say this meanly. At sixteen he is already capable of great empathy. At sixteen he's got the crinkled eyes of a very old man. He tries to walk her home from school but she pressed him away. She wants to get home before her father does, so she can spend agonizing minutes by the bathroom sink, scrubbing at her arms until the dark ink fades from her red-red skin.
3. She sits in the woods with legs crossed. The fallen bark digs into her thighs. The smell of alcohol and sugar and sick oozes out of the dark, damp earth around her. To have that smell come out of the beautiful land, to see the shards of broken glass glitter on the trunk of the tree where she hurled them unsettles her. Every time she pretends that her father will find what she has done to be adorable. A silly thing that a child would do, though she is no longer a child. Or better yet, that she is noble—just like her mother, who would have done away with this constant parade of bottles long ago. The thought curls up and out of her head like woodsmoke.
4. She lets E inside the house eventually.
5. L gathers plans into her arms like fallen apples. When the weight becomes too much
6. she lets them fall back to the earth.
7. Broomstick, hand, boot, other hand, long fingers thick as new potatoes gripping her arm. She starts to cry. And her father, what can he do but join her?
8. He can caress, he can wheedle, he can fondle and grope and tug and grab but E cannot and will not get the best of her. That's what her mother used to call it when she talked about the neighbor girls who got the big belly and the rumors swirling—the best of her. If that's the case, he says, can she, you know, to him? And she does. She doesn't mind. Nothing seems so invasive, so violent in comparison.
9. Mouth and
10. fingers and
11. the simple white curve of her back. She can use whatever she wants, though it is limited to whatever she has and she remembers that she has to
12. she has to say no when her father pleads.
13. I'm begging you, E says, and she says, but I don't see you on your knees. So he gets down before her and says again, Please. She slaps his face and it surprises her too. He looks up at her with watery eyes and licks his lips. When she raises her hand again, he doesn’t look away.
14. After, he asks her if she would please (the word now sparks inside) not tell anybody. He leaves the house with the bottles in the backyard and she sits on her childhood bed, feels the weight in her gut, the knowledge that someday her father will go to some kind of peace and E will talk about her to people she will never meet, and he might use her name or a name that sounds like her name if you screamed it throat-hoarse and keening. She will grow and morph and delight, L, our lady, this slippery fish. As smooth as a pull of whiskey and natural as wanting, she will run out of men’s hands, any man’s hands, like the bottles she carries—how they slip and fall
15. and she learns to let them shatter.
About the Writer
Laura Citino is a fiction writer and essayist from southeastern Michigan. She received her MFA from Eastern Washington University in 2013. Her work has appeared in numerous journals in print and online, including Passages North, Sou'wester, Gigantic Sequins, Pembroke, and cream city review. She serves as Fiction Editor of Sundog Lit and currently lives in Kalamazoo, MI. She can be found online at www.lauracitino.com and on Twitter at @ljcitino.