Cecelia Cherry Said Mine
Anna Lea Jancewicz
About the Writer
Anna Lea Jancewicz lives in Norfolk, Virginia, where she homeschools her children and haunts the public libraries. She is a reader for Cease, Cows and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming at Necessary Fiction, Phantom Drift, Sundog Lit, Wyvern Lit, and many other venues. Her flash fiction "Marriage" was chosen for The Best Small Fictions 2015. Yes, you CAN say Jancewicz: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at:
Cecilia Cherry picked her nose. She picked it until it bled, and then she’d scrape at the scabs until it bled some more. Her nostrils were always ringed with a dark red crust. The other children in her third-grade class noticed, of course. They noticed also that she often made the mistake of tucking her blouse into her underwear instead of her pants, the faded pink elastic visible above the waistband of her well-worn corduroys. Cecilia Cherry did not win friends. But even if she had, she would not have invited them to her home.
The word Mrs. Cherry liked to use for herself was collector. Cecilia did not have another word for it, did not know the words hoarder, or packrat. She only knew that other people did not live as she and her mother did, in a musty landscape marked by dunes of crinolines and acid-washed denim jackets and floral bedsheets, moldy knolls of saved newspapers and water-damaged National Geographics. Other people did not have precarious piles of maimed furniture in every corner, or heaps of costume jewelry in malformed ceramic ashtrays on every surface. Little geckos skittered between the overflowing bins and cardboard boxes, among the things her mother called once-loved. Cecilia wanted them to be her friends, but they never would stay.
Mrs. Cherry had been collecting since her husband died, when Cecilia was still scribbling outside the lines in her Strawberry Shortcake coloring books. Cecilia had no memory of him, or of living another way. Mrs. Cherry worked at the Goodwill on the sandy asphalt drag that led out to the beach where tourists rented bungalows every summer. She brought home trunkfuls of her finds in her rust-speckled ’71 Nova, and carried bag after bag up the exterior wooden staircase into their second-floor apartment. Sometimes Cecilia would paw through the recent acquisitions, searching for her own small treasures, but only when Mrs. Cherry wasn’t around. She had the apartment to herself after school on Tuesdays and Thursdays for two hours, when she was to march herself directly home from the bus stop and let herself in with the key she wore on a chain under her shirt. She liked to find tiny things hidden inside pockets and folds, things whose disappearance would be overlooked by Mrs. Cherry. She liked old coins, pretty hairpins, thimbles. She liked to say Mine.
It was on a rainy Thursday afternoon that Cecilia found the ghost. She was a skinny thing, as raw-boned as Cecilia Cherry herself. She was crimped up and secreted inside a vintage handbag that seemed very fancy to Cecilia, pimpled as it was with colored plastic baubles meant to look like precious gems. The ghost was blur-eyed and sweet-cheeked, her sad face fringed by pale blunt-cut bangs. She surprised Cecilia. Most surprising was the fact that she had a pair of horns curving out from the top of her spectral skull. Cecilia reached out her grubby fingers and rubbed her knuckles along the bowing arc of the ghost girl’s left horn.
The girl gave a bashful half-smile. Cecilia Cherry was suddenly and turbulently in love. She knew that there could never be anything in the whole world as important as keeping the ghost girl a secret, keeping her all and only to herself. She took the girl’s witchy little phantom hand in her own, and led her through the labyrinth of once-loveds to the pallet on the floor in her cramped bedroom. Cecilia sat the girl upon her favorite pillow and smoothed her gauzy bangs with her hairbrush. She kissed the girl’s kneecaps. She unbuckled and rebuckled her darling shoes. Cecilia whispered into the ghost girl’s ear that she would keep her safe, safe forever, and always near. She straightened the scarf around the girl’s neck tenderly, and then she pulled the silk tight and tighter. The ghost girl’s startled eyes shone like wet nail polish.
Cecilia dragged her across the room to her shabby dresser, both of them stumbling over the mounds of cheap broken toys and snarl-haired baby dolls. She folded the girl, again and again, until all of her was crumpled into a dense little poem. It was hard to bend the horns, but Cecilia worked at it until it was done, sweat glossing her forehead. She put the girl inside her jewelry box painted with scarlet roses. She carried the box carefully to the kitchen and used the hammer from the junk drawer to nail it shut tight. Then she placed it again on top of her dresser. Cecilia Cherry had found a friend. A forever-loved. She said out loud Mine.
Cecilia sat and picked her nose until it bled. Then she scraped at the scabs until it bled some more.