By Jody M Keene
This Story Won First Prize in Our Contest
After her dad died, she came to stay with me. Her house was dark, the spaces empty where they’d been full. Mine was skylights and little sisters, swimming in the pool and cold Cokes on beach towels. We were fifteen that summer, drunk with boys and freedom and our future hurtling toward us fast fast fast.
The rodeo was in town then—I wanted barbecue, and she wanted distraction. We both wanted the boys in boots, the sticky-sweet trace of cotton candy on sweat-salty lips. We wanted the dark spaces beyond the strands of bulbs that buzzed and fizzed against the corpses of bugs flirting with the light. What we got was T-boned by a truck turning out of the Price Cutter. A sheet of safety glass landed in her lap like a weighted blanket, and I darted across the lanes of traffic to call my dad from the discount furniture store. He dealt with the cops, with the meth heads in the truck, and I pulled her out of the car to stand with me in the turn lane. The pebbled glass looked like river rocks as it spilled onto the asphalt, blue and glittering stones washed smooth. A rivulet of blood ran down the back of her calf.
We missed the rodeo.
That summer the phone in my room rang all the time. The boys on the other end promised parties and wine coolers and all that life in front of us; forgetfulness and distraction, too. Other times the voice through the receiver was grown up and reasonable and so very male, a voice we learned to recognize too well: words like cunt and pussy and wet turned into weapons against us. Each of his calls felt like penance, felt like punishment for wanting the other boys who called. He called a lot that summer, his even breathing triggering guilt for something we didn’t know we’d done wrong.
After that, we stayed home and let the phone ring. We swam in the pool. We floated and stretched our arms wide and pretended to be dead. We held our breath until our brains buzzed and fizzed behind our eyelids. We burned and peeled and burned again, no one’s eyes on us but our own. At night, we lay with my window open to hear the boys playing baseball across the highway. The crack of a bat and swell of the crowd’s voices punctuated our words, tumbling hot and fast like there would never be enough time to say them all.
When my dad died, she came to stay with me. We were in our forties that winter, my house dark with February twilight, the boys now our sons and husbands, the memories of dark spaces. We curled together on the couch, drunk on good shiraz, and our words tumbled like we were running out of time to say them all, fast fast fast like water over river rocks. Close your eyes, she said. Take a breath. Remember to live.