By Karin Terebessy
In the attic above the sugar shack, Perry pressed his nose into a gap between the floorboards. Curls of sugar steam from the floor below rose to meet his nostrils. Becky slid on her belly beside him. Spying on the grown-ups together, just like when they were kids. But harder now to sneak around quietly in their awkward teenage bodies. Harder now to sneak playful kisses and ignore the crackle of skin.
“What are all those?” Perry whispered. Rows and rows of six-foot-tall oblong casks lined the creaky wooden walls of the sugar shack beneath them.
“They’re candy molds.”
“They look like coffins.”
Becky lay her forehead on the warm, wooden planks of the attic, absently fingering a small splinter poking up from the floor. “My dad is making girls. Life-sized girls out of sugar. For the troops.”
Perry’s stomach lurched. He pushed himself to stand. Becky rolled onto her back, her long blonde hair splashing across her throat. Her dark eyes burned like scorched caramel.
“You got your papers, didn’t you?” she said, more than asked. “When do you have to go?”
Perry clenched his fists.
Sand got in everything. The gunnels of his ears. The space between his teeth. His throat. His lungs. It seasoned his food. His waking dreams. Embedded under his fingernails, behind his sleep-hungry eyes, between his butt cheeks, and beneath lids that no longer blinked.
It was Becky’s idea to sneak into the sugar shack after dark.
Perry heard sap boiling down. Sniffed the hot, maple-filled air. Waited in the dark, as Becky wound her way through the vats to flick on the light switch.
Girls made of sugar lined the walls. Leaned at stiff angles like mummies. Coarse and unfinished. Grainy white and oddly blinding beneath the harsh light of the lone electric bulb.
Becky wrapped her arms around the waist of one sugar girl. Scraped her fingernail at a spot on the low belly, leaving a small dent.
“I’ve been giving them all navels,” she admitted. “I don’t know why.”
Perry’s voice was barely audible. “These are for the troops?”
Becky wedged herself behind the statue, and placed her right palm over it’s hard, colorless breast, and her left palm, saluting at its brow.
“For God, Country, and the girl back home,” she quipped.
Perry’s legs went weak. He brushed her hand off the statue. “You’re my girl back home.”
Artillery rained down. Burst from the ground like hot springs. Flew in from the sides like wind.
“I don’t know where to shoot!” someone screamed.
It might have been him.
The girls were glazed in candy coating. Sealing in the sugar. Smoothing out the skin.
Most were painted and ready for shipment. Redheads and brunettes. Lifeless blue eyes. Frozen pink lips.
“Dad’s going to make a fortune. They’ve already commissioned another thousand. ‘Good for morale,’” she quoted, giving a stiff salute. “He’s already talking about expanding to a new sugar shack. I might be somewhere new. When you come back.”
One statue in the corner of the room had long blonde hair. Dark brown lashes. A hopeful twitch in her thin, pale lips.
“Did you paint that one?” Perry asked.
“Snuck in last night,” Becky confessed.
“It looks just like you,” Perry marveled, “but sadder.”
Becky took a step toward him. Slipped her trembling hand into his. “I thought maybe this one might find you.”
Unsure how to land, unsafe to deliver, the planes dropped the sugar girls like bombs. Strafed the desert with limbs.
Chunks of sugar, hard as concrete, shattered on contact like shrapnel.
Troops gathered decapitated heads. Dug them out of six foot pits. Pretty faces. Legless torsos.
Uncertain whether to hump them or eat them, the troops piled the girls with the rest of the dead.
Perry ran frantically. Tripping over bodies. Falling to the ground. Clawing through the silt.
Unearthing a blonde statue, buried in the sand.
Becky poured herself onto the candy cooling marble slab.
Perry climbed on top of her. Into her.
Fighting the shriek of mortar and pestle. Of grinding down sugar. Scraping down sand.
Blocking his senses to the stench of burnt sugar. Planting kiss after desperate kiss on her melting mouth. Until her lips dissolved and slipped from her body. Ran away like hot syrup. Away like a fantasy. Far away from him.