This is a rough draft of a short story I wrote about two years ago. I'm posting it because I'm going back to working on fiction and I think when I nervously reread this post later and regret making it, I'll definitely hop to revising. I have about seven short stories that fit this. Time to put something new together.
(although this is mostly NF, though I think two years ago I was trying to pass it off as fiction. lol.)
*this is an embarrassing pic of me and my sister around the age we were given "the talk."*
It’s that time in the service where we have to turn to the people around us and pretend we like them. Hugging seems like a boundary spoken to love, though, not acquaintance and certainly not Jon Roose who smells like mothballs and always makes the weirdest comments in youth group. But hug him I do because my mother is watching me and nudging, no—staring me down like a bad dog. At least the fifteen minutes of hymns are done and I don’t have to listen to my mother’s wilting voice and try to out-sing my sister anymore. Church is always so exhausting. I would have faked cramps this morning but my mom has been monitoring me this week/knows more about periods than I do. I hear you only get cramps in the first two days. I haven’t gotten any. Open the Eyes of my Heart plays softly now as the prayer requests filter on a big screen shining behind Pastor Oaks’ bald spot.
Please pray for our sister, Mary Rodgers, as Richard “Rodge” Rodgers goes for his final check-up.
Please pray for our sister, and Church Secretary: Mathilde Rollins as she finishes her degree in Library Science.
Please pray for our brother, Burt Murphy and his continued struggle with epilepsy.
Please pray for our Choir Director: Mark Harris as he continues his walk with God.
Please pray for our sisters Emily and Samantha Hackleman; unspecified.
I shrink into my sister as my mother appeals to both of us to stop it; she blushes, smiles with encouragement. Or, she’s telling us to turn back into fetuses.
After church, at Family Dinner, my mother tells me and Sam we’re going on a trip with her that weekend. I have to miss my scrimmage and am more than pissed but money has been tight for a few years and trips have always been legit in my family. We’d have to go out to eat at least once and periods mean we finally get to shave our legs. There will probably be boys out. I want to go.
In the car, Mom pantomimes something with her hand I pretend not to see. She’s been talking about “balls” for a few minutes and it’s grossing me out. In porn, I’d seen her reference in action but my sister doesn’t know what “taint” means when I ask her later. Mom hadn’t exactly said “taint,” more like fleshy patch, but I like the logic of “taint” better—ain’t the scrotum, ain’t the asshole—and prefer words that keep the chuck from upping, so to speak. I remember having to explain to my sister that making out couldn’t get you pregnant when she kissed Jimmy Bartholomew longer than a minute which classified as a “make-out” according to a book I read that was supposed to mimic a UK tween’s diary. They’re cooler there. Mom doesn’t talk about making out in the car much, only to say that Dad is a very “wet” kisser and that they hadn’t had sex in a lot of years, like seven, at least. I am thirteen. Over half my life, my parents have spent sexually frustrated.
When I was eleven. I used Dad’s computer once a week to play Neo-Pets for the requisite twenty minutes. One time I was looking for cheat codes, something I’d heard the Kid Who Played Piano talking about on the play-ground—and typed “C” only to have “cyber sex” drop down in the box punctuated by the cursor saying “Are you sure? Are you sure?” I contemplate telling Mom about this in the van but think better of it. Sam falls asleep after the first thirty minutes of the trip. For some reason, Mom feels safer with just me around, like we can really share things. She tells me about blowjobs. I discern not to like them very much. It also occurs to me that since I’d had that dental surgery I might not be able to fit a whole thing in my mouth, my jaw is too small for my teeth, let alone a “ding-a-ling”. That’s what my Mom calls them which I think is fast and loose for a Baptist woman.
At Das Essen Haus, the round barn hotel and Amish restaurant where Mom has booked our weekend visit, we eat sebaceous globs of mashed potatoes and butter. Over dinner, Mom explains the insertion of a tampon and then, back in the room, actually shows us. I cry. Sam cries. Then, we drink hot chocolate. And, as my sister sleeps next to me and my mother snores to re-runs of Charmed, I keep a steady hand until I come for what must be the thirtieth known time in my life. I don’t think my sister knows her vagina can do anything other than pee. It’s strange what you learn alongside people but not with them, things not shared, despite having brushed teeth together for years.
The next day we eat sandwiches in the mini-van atop a gracious excuse for a hill that looks out over the broad Indiana afternoon. There are cornfields upon cornfields, golden and rising to meet blue. The landscape is dotted with birds and squirrels including one bright cardinal, like a hatchet wound in a Bob Ross painting. My parents’ most recent Christmas present to us was a back seat DVD player, so my mother takes the opportunity to show us a Life Time movie about a reckless teenage girl that gives her whole high school gonorrhea.
In my heart of hearts, I know she thinks she’s doing well by us, taking the time to be frank, and share in what we all, as women now, must share in. But, Mom is out of touch. She never learned anything about sex from her mother. She’s brainwashed by the church ladies, the knitting circle, clicking needles and clacking tongues. She can’t even knit. All the girls in the church are having “Coming of Age” brunches, parties, you name it; she doesn’t want to leave us out and she doesn’t want to be left out either.
Later, in the dark, my mother snoring under the sound of the air-conditioner, Sam turns to me to ask if gonorrhea is real or more like Santa. I don’t actually know, but I believe it is about as real as Bloody Mary: don’t go asking for it, and you won’t get it. She tells me she regrets asking Mom about condoms because she thinks Mom probably thinks she isn’t a virgin anymore, but I tell her: “Probably no one thinks that,” and I make her mad at me. She doesn’t talk to me at all the next day—I mean not to our standards, at least. We do share a room so sometimes a ”Pass the remote,” or “It’s your turn to shut off the light,” is necessary.
Morning scratches at the window. Sam has tossed all the blankets off us in the night so I wake her with an elbow to the side. She huffs and rolls over. In a matter of seconds, Mom is standing over us. She’s a big lady. She swallows all the light in the room and replaces it with a flourish, producing two stark white dresses from behind her back. Good morning, daughters. She says bending her voice in excitement. I sit up immediately because I love new clothes, not dresses, particularly; but new clothes are new clothes. Good morning, Mommy Dearest, I throw out into the artificial static of the hotel room. Mom snarls and laughs because she love/hates that movie. Nearly every time she used to spank us, she had reminded us, pointing once to the wire hangers of the guest closet, “This could be so much worse.”
After we’re dressed, I spend an outrageous amount of time flipping out my accidental soccer mom bob into my signature bat wings. As we pay for our room, Mom won’t let us eat any donuts or waffles from the continental breakfast. This means we must be going out. I’m so glad I kept up on that shaving. I hadn’t even worn shorts, let alone a dress, in the eight months we’d lived in Indiana. I blamed my self-consciousness on Mom for calling me Wooly Mammoth all throughout middle school in response to my constant moaning about being the only girl with hairy legs in PE.
The place we’re going doesn’t seem to be a place of many boys. It’s Cecily’s Teas. From what I can gather, it’s a tea party house thing where girls and ladies drink tea and eat tiny cookies and sandwiches and dress nicely for the whole shebang. We walk slowly through the house populated by small groups of small women politely chatting next to a large, dead fireplace. In the swelling back room stand about a dozen or so ladies I know from Indiana—pretty much the only women I know in Indiana, besides my mom. They are mostly from Church except Nora, my mother’s hair stylist.
I feel like I’m in some sort of Greek Tableaux as we, all dressed in white, pull up our chairs to the table which practically buckles under sweet-breads, ginger dill finger sandwiches, and porcelain tea pots. Sam and I are so invested in the scene: these ghost-women we barely know, whose edges flicker and bend like people in old photographs with the sun behind them. The literal mountain of sweet bread is next to my plate and I can’t take my eyes off it. Only, I do when Sam pulls my sleeve. Our place settings are different than everyone else’s.
My mother’s china is rose-colored, Aunt Jan’s—not my actual Aunt—is navy colored and bold as she, the rest of the women’s plates and teacups are equally individual and glorious. But ours are cracked. They had once been white, but time colored them sallow. My cup, or maybe mug is a better term, even sports a smudge of ancient church cupboard dust. Aunt Jan stands up and holds court over the gaggle. She ticks her teacup with a very small spoon and we all turn to face her at once.
“Ladies,” she bellows. Only, she directs the title to Sam and me. “What you have before you is what you give your husbands on your wedding day, if you choose not to remain abstinent. ‘Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own.’” All the women kowtow to this slice of biblical wisdom. My mother stands up and hugs the back of our heads to her bosom.
“You are women now,” she exhales, replacing our dirty china with beautifully scalloped, filigreed plates and, masterfully delicate teacups.
I look up and beam at all the strange women, clucking to each other, nodding, beginning to pour tea. One by one, they approach us and touch our foreheads or wrap their arms around us. Sam is uncomfortable and laughs in accordion burps as the women squeeze air from her. I try to take everything in gracefully. Grace is what women have but also a thing we must all ask from God. My white dress is pinching my armpits.
Back in the mini-van, the windows lit with damp October light, Sam sleeps next to the carefully wrapped and packed china. Mom has been talking non-stop about painting and re-carpeting our house. It’s a mansion but only by the standard of size. She can’t wait to have it look like all those Home & Garden magazines she collects on the wicker, but right now it hasn’t much going except that bats fly out of the blocked off chimney right as the sun sets. I’ve imagined kissing a boy underneath the eaves, a setting sun and bats swooping big old heart swoops against a dappled, rosy sky. I think Mom wants the kitchen walls the same red.
I want to ask her about the china, if she picked it out, if it’s going to hang in our room. I’m not really the china type. Sam is. They can both hang on her side for all I care with all those fucking creepy china dolls. I love my sister but those wide, white eyes staring at me while I change has always freaked me out. Still, she lets me collect rocks. We share.
As we pull into the drive, Mom takes off her sunglasses. “I think I’ll hold on to the china, for safe keeping. You can have them when you’re eighteen,” she says, opening the garage.
Sam pours a cup of warm water down Mom’s back and adjusts her swim-suit. Mom’s pretty out of it still from surgery but awake enough to be demanding a warm bath. Just before Christmas, she’d fallen on ice in front of my Aunt Judy and Uncle Pete’s house. Apparently, she’d had to lie there, forty-five minutes on the ice, waiting for the ambulance to come from two towns over. Judy and Pete’s new, young neighbors brought coffee for her and a pillow for her head. Sam and I are visiting from college, finally eighteen and finally not sharing a room. Though, in secret, we do congratulate ourselves on making each other such tolerable roommates for others. Our dorm is the Nunnery. Most of the girls there are wallflowers, odd girls, small town girls, or sex queens and we can handle any of them.
But we still can’t handle our mother. Before the surgery, in the doldrums of the hospital, she’d made a big deal of reminding us how she planned to give us those Purity plates and shit back, but only after a long, drawn out fight about how I’d let Richard have my virginity. And, I decided to get hot-blooded about semantics.
Now, scrubbing her back in slow circles, I use the silence to remember how right I was to say, “Think about the use of ‘have,’ Mom. I gave it to him.” At this Sam chuckles. She’s smokes pot now. It makes her less anxious, and more fun in my book.
I think about pinching Mom, Mommy Dearest. But Sam can see what I’m thinking. She splashes me quick and Mom smiles with a wobble. To her we are just girls playing, rays of sunshine on an old home movie where two babies play in the rain. We help her out of the small pool we’d inflated by the kitchen sink and walk her slowly to her bed. Dad’s at the hotel, something about the concierge’s wife going into labor, covering the front desk. She hasn’t divorced him yet.
On the front porch, in the tumult of fire-flies, Sam and I split a cigarette and she says, “I don’t even want that fucking plate.” She still hasn’t lost her virginity. She’s president of the swing-dance club now. I’d curled her hair for the election dance and we did a sister pow-wow dinner in the dorm basement diner. Fries for good luck.
I wanted to tell her about Richard, how I’d done the whole thing on my own. I hadn’t even given him the Swine Flu despite still being in recovery from it as I’d walked cross-campus in the dark, appeared at his door in nothing but a trench coat and garter. I’d touched a penis before, seen plenty of them, but trying to put on a condom was fucking hard, and no one tells you how strange it all smells.
Under the moon, bats still leaking slowly from our chimney, my sister and I smoke three more cigarettes. We climb back in through the jankity front door glass broken long before. We fall asleep and I turn off the light for Sam, no matter that she falls asleep before asking.