We began, by fifth grade, to establish a pecking order.
I was gullible—they convinced me once to shave my legs and arms. I dragged my mother’s pink razor from ankle to knee, then wrist to elbow. It was slow going, because each hairless furrow required careful examination.
That week of bristled forearms (and my hand-me-down flared jeans) kept me near the bottom of the ladder, looking up. But I wasn’t last, because of Mona.
Mona’s mother rode a bike. She was also poor and a grad student and a Buddhist. They didn’t have a couch or a television.
In the living room, Mona had an aquarium full of gerbils. Her mother didn’t know how to stop them from multiplying, because there was only one cage, and the babies would do it with their own mothers, Mona said. She pointed out the latest headless newborns, half-eaten by the father gerbils, and we pressed close to the glass to get a glimpse of their pink-red bodies just before her mother lifted them out, pinched between a piece of toilet paper like tiny dog turds. Her mother flushed them down the toilet.
It was hard to tell if Mona’s mom was mad about the gerbil babies. She gave us great big handfuls of dark grapes to eat in the park across the street and herded us out of the apartment. Her lips were squeezed into a line. She said to go play. She said she had work to do.
[story first appeared in issue 3.2 of The Fiddleback]
About the Writer
Chelsea Biondolillo is a prose writer originally from Portland, Oregon. She has a dual master's degree from the University of Wyoming in creative writing and environmental studies and will be the 2014-15 O'Connor fellow in nonfiction at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Brevity, Passages North, Shenandoah, River Teeth, Hayden's Ferry Review, public radio and elsewhere. She is currently writing a book about vultures and knitting a pair of socks.