This creaky, old porch is the same one that I have spent almost every afternoon on for the last fifteen years. The screen gapes open in some places, the brilliantly teal paint is chipped. My best friend’s parents are too busy with their carousel of jobs and their habits and their special needs son to pay attention to home repairs. Or her, most of the time, which is why when the sun starts descending into the horizon line we go next door to my grandparents’ house for a home-cooked meal. She calls them Nana and Pa the same way I do, and they call her squirt or honey or little shit the same way they do me. They always slide bowls of dessert in front of us when we say we’re stuffed because they know we’re never too full for sweets. We’re both lanky and tall and freckled and mean, our bones always ache at this time of day from playing rigorously outside and we are starving. Nana tells us to wash the dishes or she’ll get a switch and being teenagers does nothing to dampen the impending fear that motivates us to the big, full sink.
After supper, we trek back over to her second-story porch to smoke Marlboros and wait on the neighborhood boys to come slinking around the corner of the house. We laugh and sprawl out on comfortable recliners her dad plucked from yard sales or the side of the road. The breeze picks up and we both do a little shiver. I stare at her and I love her so much that it doesn’t surprise me anymore how much alike we have grown up to look. Exhaling smoke, I gaze over the rotted banister and at the green, stinking pool. I stretch, and her voice interrupts my daydream of the wildlife beneath that murky surface out there.
“Where you’d get that scar on your hip? It looks like a burn, a perfect circle and I don’t remember it.”
This is the first time I have ever tried to summon my father back from the grave. I want his soul to take place of mine for a moment, just long enough to lie convincingly. If he could do anything well in the whole world, it was to modify the world into whatever he made up. But I am not him and so all I can come up with is, “It’s nothing, it’s from early childhood.”
I yank my shirt back down without moving my eyes from the bug-ridden pool in the yard. But she notices that I don’t even look at where she’s pointing and she knows me better than my own mother does. Her silence is an aggressive accusation. Her words prove my theory correct, “Stop lying to me, I’ve been around since you were two, I’d know. What the hell is that?” It makes me want to smack her the way she does me when I tell her somebody could drive a semi between the gap in those teeth of hers, but I won’t argue with her because she’s right and we both know that I’m hiding something. Part of me wants to tell her that I understand just as much as she does. My ignorance to the truth of my own story, in more ways than the chapter that she’s trying to read right now, pushes me to anger that cannot be silenced, “Dammit, look I really don’t know and I stopped caring. It’s just bullshit. You really want to see?”
Some wicked, misplaced giggle escapes my throat like a bubble blown in my stomach that floated out. It was gravity – nothing is actually funny. I sit the cigarette in between my lips and pull my shirt up to expose myself. I’ve got a constellation of perfect-circle scar burns across my ribs. She winces and turns away, mouth quivering, as if she hasn’t seen them 200 million times before but never known to look or ever noticed how much foundation I go through. I paint my face pretty and my torso plain with that liquid magic so that nobody asks me who or where or why.
She looks like she might pass out because we’ve been with each other forever and my memories are more worm than thought when they crawl through her brain. She’s not strong. She’s barely able to use her legs properly as she totters to the side of the porch and violently vomits into the weeds below it. Her mind conjures up what it must have felt like as all those cigarettes were extinguished on the thick cover of my rattling bones. I tell her it’s funny she’s noticing in fall, when it’s too late, because he only ever grows hungry when it’s sweltering out. I won’t tell her his name. After she empties her stomach of every bit of its contents, she wipes her mouth and closes her eyes. “I can’t see how you can still smoke.”
My mother comes into the bathroom to get the hair dryer while I am drying off from a bath. She says, “What is that on your hip?” I smirk, “You should know.” My voice is hardly above a whisper but she gets the point, she looks at me with eyes that are my own. Her lips curl in on themselves and she steals a continuous look that travel across my ribs, down to the top of my thigh. She shivers. “You know this is the only thing that has ever made me feel as murderous as my mother. Can I hug you over your towel?” She can sense my apology but I only say, “It’s been years. It’s not like you haven’t seen them before.” She leaves because she knows that touches are electric blue flames lapping my skin up, messy and grotesque, like a parched dog finding a puddle in the heat.
There is this boy I meet after the trauma that swept me into isolation. At seventeen, I am hostile and blunt and very into my education and liquor. He tiptoes into my world out of nowhere and immediately annoys me because he can barely speak my language. Yet, he clings like a gnat. He’s asking too many questions in his broken, deformed English that he knows I won’t answer and telling me jokes that I do not understand. He shows up at sunset on my mother’s doorstep searching for me on the first day I ever crack a grin at him. Somehow, my family falls more in love with him that evening on the deck than I ever will think about being and for that reason alone, he is allowed into my life. He cooks dinner with my soft-spirited mother and wraps Christmas presents with my spiny-hearted Nana. He never complains when I want to sleep through the day, he just sits beside me as I dream. I wake up to cut fruit and cigarettes beside my bed, and his fingers slowly moving across the surface of my skin.
When he sees the scars it’s because we are camping and before that, I hadn’t been in the woods with a boy for six years, but there is safety in his foreignness and his coming departure. When he saw my bare hip, his mouth formed a perfect O and he sadly stares. You could make beautiful out of ugly memory. Tattoo over. My sister did. I like that he doesn’t call them scars, he doesn’t mention that they are perfect circles and he doesn’t ask who did them. But he does scratch furiously at his own rib cage as he slips from the zipper door and I know he is burning up, though he doesn’t know why. A moment passes and he pokes his head back in, says he’s feeling sick, he’ll go for a walk and be back.
Wildflowers are clutched in his fist when he returns. He looks at me softer than any creature like me should be looked at and whispers that I should get these flowers drawn on my ribs to represent the beauty of uncertainty.
I still don’t know if he said what he was trying to, but I like to think he did.
Sydney Craig is a double major who really just wants to explore the world. She adores spontaneous road trips, antique hunting, photography that makes you feel something, and laughter of all calibers.