Hugs From Jesus

The legs of my chair scraped against the floor and seemed to protest on my behalf. I pulled viciously at my tartan skirt and contorted my spine to escape from behind my desk which was clearly built for a toddler. As I shuffled towards the front of the class and approached Dr. Miller tentatively I noticed, really for the first time, how small he was. We locked eyes for a second; I dared myself not to look away. All at once his head was on my shoulder and his arms were around me, squeezing. I heard him let out a little sigh; so I bit my lip and examined the ceiling. Cracks, holes, gum…? There we stood, pressed together making the world’s most awkward, empty sandwich.

In my teenage brain an eternity passed, though I know it must have only been a matter of seconds before he whispered into my ear with a smile in his voice ‘that was a hug from Jesus.’ I pulled away and held him at arm’s length. Through tightly closed lips I grinned and inhaled deeply through my nose. I nodded my head slowly as our eyes met again. ‘Yes it was.’ I whispered back before I turned on my heel and made my way back to my tiny desk, each whisper and giggle making contact like a slap as I maneuvered myself back into position just in time for the bell to ring.

I was fourteen-years old when I got my first ever “hug from Jesus,” though much to my chagrin it was not my last. Hell, it wasn’t even my last that day. This bodily gift from Christ was delivered to me by my Religion teacher, Dr. Miller. He was also my homeroom teacher, so I was lucky enough to see him first thing in the morning and also just before I went home each day. He was a very special teacher to me. He was kind, funny and incredibly smart. He taught me the Hail Mary and never once made me feel different for being the only Jewish girl in a Catholic school. A very sharp contrast to Mr Neim, my Sophomore Religion teacher who after much fierce debate about the fate of homosexuals after death declared me a “dirty Jew” in front of the whole class and followed that slur with the statement that he hoped ‘me and those fags would be having a disco party in hell.’ What a cliche! Everyone knows that disco is dead and that it would be a Madonna party we’d be having. I’d be 80’s Madonna. Material Girl, not Lucky Star. Anyway, long story short, Mr. Neim was the worst but Dr. Miller was the best and, to my knowledge, is still teaching.

It was shortly after morning prayers that the first sacred cuddle took place. It was customary at St. Mary’s Catholic high school to say prayers in the morning for those who had passed away in the days before. This particular day was the day that my Mother’s death was announced over the loudspeaker and the day that to most of my classmates, I became very different.

Mom was sick. I knew, though she never said; well not until it was too late. She was in and out of hospital since I was 11 or 12. My brother and I watched as she came back each time transformed. He skin stretched, her hair thinned and one day she came back with tubes running through her chest and in her arms. I still don’t know what those were for, but they certainly didn’t make her any better.

I was only two weeks into my high school experience when she died. The rabbi had come for me four times before. “It’s time” became our mantra in those final days. I felt like an expectant father without any of the joy or excitement. I paced halls, I cracked knuckles. That last time he fetched me I had grown tired of the routine. I knew once we arrived home there would be countless people there. Some I recognized, some I did not; fretting, crying, running around the place pushing me into the wall, shooing me from her bedside. I was ready for it to be over. I thought I was ready for it to be over.

Her death, though thoroughly expected, was somehow still a wretched surprise. It was nothing like the countless deaths I’d observed on cinema and television screens. I genuinely thought people just closed their eyes and gracefully expired. She didn’t. I counted the seconds since her last breath; 50, 60, 70, Christ, 80 seconds! Then she breathed again. The sound of it, violent and quick like she was trying to hold on to something earthly. She wanted to stay, but in that moment, I just wanted her to go. In that second I stopped breathing too. I squinted my eyes so hard that my cheeks ached and thought a prayer that must have gone something like this: ‘fuck. God. Cut this shit out.’ At fourteen, I was sure it was some kind punishment for one of us watching, and that she might suffer like that forever, until suddenly I was holding the hand of a corpse. I wanted to scream. To drop the thing and run away, but I couldn’t, even though it was seriously freaking me out and probably doing long-term psychological damage.

I held onto her limp hand and exhaled. My lungs burned. Then just as I was about to excuse myself, this wet, gurgling sound came shimmying and shaking up her throat. I thought for an instant it was her soul until the black liquid erupted like a fountain of tar out of her mouth. There was no end to it. I have seen that moment in my nightmares ever since. I’d never wanted to disappear so badly as I did then, but when you’re fourteen you have nowhere to go.

To this day people ask me how I could have gone to school the day after she died. The only answer I can give is: ‘what the hell else was I going to do?’ I was desperate for distraction, for normality; desperate to get out of a house that smelled of death, which was bursting at the seams with too many people that walked through me and brought casseroles. I could see their disappointment. I overheard their hushed conversations about my lack of emotion. How I should be ashamed for not crying, for always making things difficult by not joining in with their “circle of sobbing” as I liked to call it. They thought I was cold. They probably still do, but they would be wrong.

These people could be upset. They knew her. Really knew her. They were married to her or were related to her or she was their best friend. She was someone so special to them that they never understood that she didn’t trust me, so I resented her. To me it felt like she was just an ever-fading presence in my house that deserted me before ever telling me anything important, she was the person who thought I was too young to handle the truth about her diagnosis.

Before Mom’s death there were no makeup lessons; there were no big talks about boys and about sex. The following year I would be in a hotel toilet in Kansas City trying desperately to figure out how to insert a tampon before a dance competition while my Dad, with his ear pressed against the other side of the door shouted ‘any luck?’ ‘Didya get it in?’ My Mom died at the precipice of my womanhood without leaving me so much as a Lady Bic, and I found rationalizing my abandonment difficult. Rationalizing her death was impossible.

At school I assumed my anonymity would act as a shield, so I wouldn’t have to talk about it. I figured that it was only my second week there, so no one would even know my last name. I didn’t anticipate Dr. Miller dragging me up in front of the class to be publicly squeezed. But I managed to make it through the rest of that first day without too much embarrassment. Occasionally I would meet the gaze of another student in the hall and they would look at me, all big, wet eyes. I quickly realized that avoidance may not be as easy as I had hoped. A few people approached me open-armed and embraced me. Others offered condolences or shook their heads and whispered things like “shiiiiit” in my ear. It all felt very strange, but at least I wasn’t at home.

Dr. Miller greeted me cheerfully at the door for last period and handed me 6 sealed envelopes.

I took them from his hand and met his eyes with mine, ‘Hey Dr. Miller. What’s in these?’

With a mischievous wink he replied ‘warm fuzzies.’

I raised a curious eyebrow, but before I could ask for an explanation he had wrapped his arm around my waist to keep me in place and requested that the rest of the class take their seats. He turned to face me and declared that because I was having such a rough time he’d asked all of his other classes to write me some messages of support or “warm fuzzies” as he called them. The dread began to pool in my stomach when I realized that he expected me to share them with the class. I winced at the idea, but he looked so proud of himself I couldn’t refuse. I cleared my throat in an over-the-top comic way to try to lighten the mood, but my fellow classmates were looking at me so earnestly it broke my heart.

I pulled out a bright green slip of paper that had written in lovely script ‘Sorry about your Mom. You have pretty hair.’ Everyone clapped and nodded and assured me that yes! I did have very pretty hair. I pressed the paper scrap to my chest, turned to Dr. Miller and made a face that I thought read ‘I’m done.’ Apparently not, as he just nodded at me, beaming.’ ‘One more!’ he begged with his hands clasped in prayer position. I sighed. This time it was a bright orange scrap that read ‘Dear Lee, I don’t know you, but it sucks your Mom died’ another chorus of agreement. Yes! It did suck! This oracle of wisdom had united us all with a common thought and something in my chest bloomed.

I fingered all those lovely little bright scraps of paper as a fist formed in my throat. In the sea of grief that I could not navigate, and could not master, I struggled onto the driftwood of strangers’ sentiment. In those silly, well-meant words, I found the comfort I couldn’t find anywhere else and was so grateful to Dr. Miller for his incredibly kind exercise.

I looked out at my classmates and tried to smile. Instead I felt tears sting the corners of my eyes, and just before my vision was obscured completely, I heard the familiar scrape of the too-small chair on the floor and one by one everyone in the class get up and give me a “hug from Jesus” before the last bell rang.

In The Shower

Bill was in the shower. This time of the morning was his scheduled time and it was also his favourite time of the day. There, in his tiled palace, he was able to completely relax. Only here did he have the space to dream his dreams of travelling to far away places and meeting interesting new people.

He imagined his wife and their grown children packing their bags and flying to India or Thailand or somewhere else with exotic food. Bill loved food almost as much as he loved his shower. His daydreams of thick curries and pickles that bit him back so delighted and entranced Bill that he failed to notice when someone switched the light on in the room. He had barely opened his eyes and returned from his imaginary supper in Mumbai when the curtain was pulled back and the screaming began.

Bill stepped back, unsure of what he’d done to cause this strange woman to scream, and tried to introduce himself. ‘Hello there, miss! Sorry to have startled you, I’m Dave’s roommate. My wife is just next door and…’ Before Bill could finish his sentence the woman hit him with such force that he saw stars. She then turned on the water and sprayed him directly in the face. Bill tried to get away, but in the process, his legs gave out from under him and he slid clumsily to the bottom of the tub.

The stranger, still screaming at the pitch of a whistle, called out to Dave. ‘Dave, get in here! Dave!’

Bill was relieved when he saw Dave come through the door. ‘Morning Dave, there seems to be a bit of a misunderstanding. You see; it’s my time in the shower…” Bill was panting, trying to finish his excuses, trying not to fall victim to the drain’s mouth, which was very close and thirstily guzzling gallons of water. ‘I think you must have forgotten to explain this to your guest.’ Bill smiled up at Dave expecting him to help him up. He was sure they’d all laugh about this later.

Dave looked down at Bill disgustedly and without recognition. He shooed his female guest, still wailing like a siren, into the hall. Bill had managed to just gain purchase on a dry bit of the basin and catch his breath when Dave’s giant hand came down and crushed him beneath it.

Two of his legs snapped first. He heard them go before he felt them and the sound made the pain that much worse when it finally did arrive. With his other 6 legs, Bill tried to escape under a raised bit of Dave’s palm, but Dave pressed down harder and closed the gap. Bill felt the rest of his legs splinter into pieces. He opened his mouth to cry out, but he made no sound. His body was completely gone. Left behind, engulfed in pain like fire, but Bill was in the water so he thought that there could not be fire. Then all at once there was no more pain and there was no more thought and there was no more Bill.

Marjorie awoke to the sound of a woman screaming and jumped out of bed. She called out to her husband, “Bill, Bill where are you?” She checked the time and noted that Bill was usually out of the shower by now, so she was confident that the screaming, although it was coming from that area of the house, was nothing to do with him.

Once all the commotion had settled down and she’d had her breakfast, she checked the time again. It wasn’t like Bill to be so late, she thought to herself. She decided to go and see what was keeping her husband. She knew that on the odd occasion Bill could get very lost in his thoughts. She smiled to herself remembering the last time he was late. He’d planned them a whole itinerary for Vietnam and Laos in his head. “My little old fool,” she smiled and muttered to herself before entering the bathroom.

“Silly Billy, you’ve been in here half the day. You’ll start to prune up!” There was no response. “Bill, come on now, we’ve got to go visit the kids in an hour.” Something didn’t feel right. Marjorie checked every corner of the room for a web, but there was nothing. She checked in all his usual spots – behind the toilet, next to the radiator, under the lid of the hamper. Her husband was nowhere.

Finally Marjorie clambered up to the top of the bathtub and peered over the edge. Her blood turned to ice when she spotted what looked like a leg poking out of the drain. She crept closer to the lone appendage and her breath nearly choked her. “Bill?” With every step; the reality of her situation became clearer.

She pulled gently on the leg to see if it was attached to anything and it came off in her grip. She knew it was Bill’s, the same way she knew now they’d never go to Vietnam or Laos or see the Taj Mahal and all of that knowing was too much. She began to sob. Great waves of grief crested and thrashed inside her and she found she could not ride them or control them; she was sure they would destroy her.

She clutched her husband’s amputated leg in her arms and rocked it to sleep. She petted it; she cooed at it, she even licked it once trying to remember everything that was once Bill, but was no more. She stayed in the tub with Bill’s leg for hours trying to get closer to it and to make it the whole of him again.

Marjorie had no idea how much time had passed when the room became white. Her eyes stung with the salt of her tears and for a moment, she thought she’d gone blind. After blinking a few times, her eyes adjusted and she realised that her sight was fine and that it was just her roommate, Dave, coming into the bathroom.

Breathing a small sigh of relief she hoped she might now get some answers. “Dave, have you seen what’s happened to Bill?” Marjorie held out her husband’s leg like a dead infant “Is this what the screaming was? Was there a terrible accident?” Marjorie looked up pleadingly, into Dave’s face, searching for an explanation.

Dave threw his hands in the air and shouted, “for fuck’s sake!” Before he reached down into the tub and mashed Marjorie’s body, still holding Bill’s abandoned limb, to pulp beneath his thumb.

Tell Us About It

I was fourteen-years-old and had just started high-school when I got a part in the school musical. Everyone knows that Mrs. McNulty never gives parts to freshman, but I got one, and I even had a line- ‘Tell us about it, why don’t ya?’ I’ll always remember that line; I practised it so many times I wouldn’t be surprised if it was written on my headstone.

Night after night we rehearsed; singing, dancing, blocking our scenes. I got to tap dance. I always wanted to tap dance and I finally had my big shot. I was always slightly off-beat, just behind the rest of them, but I looked the part. Tall, slender, and so feminine; I was such a beauty and no I don’t feel big-headed saying that. That’s just how it was and probably why I got myself in so much trouble. You see, I know now that I was dangerously beautiful, but back then I was clueless as a babe and as innocent, too.

I was the youngest in the cast, but I kept up with the older girls. I made things up if I needed to, just to get into a conversation. We talked about all the usual high-school topics; boys, bras, periods, sex. At the time I was a virgin, but they didn’t need to know that. After all I was a very good actress.

The play ran for three nights and those nights were over in a sneeze. I wiped my nose and the set was being packed away. The high of those performances was more powerful than anything I’ve had since. Neither pill nor line of powder could match the feeling of pure adrenaline combined with teenage confidence. It was intoxicating and I felt I was coming apart at the seams, and urgently needed something to keep me in my own body.

One of the senior girls in the play threw a cast party on closing night, and as I walked through the door I saw that we were not the only people in attendance. There were so many boys there; big ones with stubbly chins, carrying fistfuls of beer. One of them with long curly hair winked at me when I passed him and the breath caught in my throat so badly that I coughed and he laughed.

I made my way into the kitchen where some of my friends were gathered around a marble island in the center, knocking back small glasses of liquor that smelled of mouthwash. Dying to fit in, I requested to try some and through a wall of cheers a glass was placed in front of me and filled with the emerald liquid. Everyone was looking at me with anticipation, so I threw that horrible stuff down my throat and asked for another.

The curly-haired, winking man-boy saddled up beside me and introduced himself as Jack. I’d had quite a few more green things by then, so I reached out, not to shake his hand but to touch the cactus of his cheek to see if it felt like I thought it would. It felt better. He removed my hand so gently I could barely feel it and kissed the top of it like I was royalty. His lips were hot and moist and I felt that kiss in places deep inside me, mostly below my belly button. I clenched my knees together as he looked so deeply in my eyes I thought for sure he could see the dirty movie starring us that was playing behind them.

I broke the spell he’d cast on me by promptly vomiting in my mouth and trying unsuccessfully to swallow it back down. He helped me to the bathroom and rubbed my back as I turned that toilet bowl the look of a four leaf clover with none of the luck or magic. Inside I was dying of humiliation, but I decided to try and play it cool, so I turned to him and tried to kiss him. He lurched back and caused us both to fall over, me on top of him, and we laughed; me at the situation and him at my green mouth. He then carried me back out to the party to a round of applause and deposited me on the sofa, covered me with a blanket, and left me to sleep it off as he rejoined the others.

I woke up with something soft as bubblegum and faintly salty filling the cavity of my mouth. I had the sensation of being cold. I tried to speak, but all that came out were moans on a count of the obstruction.  I was awake, but I couldn’t open my eyes, or maybe they were open and it was just so dark I couldn’t tell. All I knew was that there was a dull pain where I last remember imagining Jack’s kiss and that I was scared. I bit down as hard as I could on whatever the hell was trying to make its way down my throat, which started someone screaming so loud that I started to scream myself.

I was awake now; electricity shot through my veins and animated my limbs. I was as naked as the day I was born, feeling around in that dark room trying to collect my clothes and my dignity. The other person in the room called me a ‘cunt’ and a ‘bitch’ and a ‘tease’ and anything else he could think of to punish me for refusing to allow him to remain in my catatonic mouth.

Tears stung my eyes as I ran blindly back out to the party, trying to redress myself as I moved. I was relieved when I saw Jack sitting on the sofa and I knew for certain it wasn’t him in that room shouting names at me in the dark.

I was suddenly the soberest I’d ever been in my life as I pulled the party host into a bedroom and tried to explain what happened to me, but I found I really couldn’t explain at all. She waited a few minutes until I had stopped trying and the tears had quit falling and all my buttons that weren’t ripped had been done up. Then she looked at me real sweet and sorry, like it was her who’d done something wrong. She pulled me into her and rested my head on her shoulder as she stroked my hair and whispered so sadly and softly in my ear I almost didn’t hear, ‘Tell us about it, why don’t ya?’

My Mother's Body

I came from my mother’s body. Not quickly, not easily, but violently. I punched the air and tore holes in the room with my vengeful war cry and trembling limbs. Covered in a film that looked suspiciously like that of Philadelphia spreadable cheese, I wriggled and fought against the nurse’s silent but firm efforts to clean me up. “The Cream Cheese Baby” is what they called me and she never let me forget that. Once placed in her arms the struggle was over, and I had to accept all at once that I was part of this world, my mother’s world. I no longer lived inside her, but beside her.

I climbed my mother’s body. Using her angles and curves to gain purchase I swung from her arms and clung to her neck. Much taller than other moms I knew, I was in the clouds on her shoulders. My neck ached when I looked up at her busying herself in the kitchen, so I scaled the counter top so our faces were level as we sang together through dirty dishes and dinner preparation. The gentle vibration in her throat like the bleat of a lamb.

I washed my mother’s body. We showered together long after safety necessitated. Her protestations to my growing up were quiet but obvious. I would always strip first and get under the too-hot water which pelted my face and stung my eyes like acid rain. She would get in behind me and soap up my hair, gently massaging the bubbles into my scalp as I shut my eyes hard to avoid the suds that languidly slipped down my face and off my chin. When I faced her - eye level with the slope of her breasts - I’d often open my mouth to catch the water that fell from them in great streams, slightly cooled by her skin. She’d laugh at me as I loudly gargled the liquid and spat it at her in sharp bursts through the sizeable gap between my front two teeth. Once her own hair was shampooed, she’d pump extravagantly coloured aromatic soap into my hands, which I delighted in slapping on her stomach and rump as we vigorously scrubbed each other clean, bumping limbs and slipping on the shower floor, giggling at our silly game until the water began to go cold.

I examined my mother’s body. Cocooned in my fluffy towel I took in her landscape. I knew every dark blue vein that made of her a map, which led directly to the dimpled, soft flesh of her thighs to the nest of her pubic hair, which was so curious to me then. I often wondered what it felt like to have all that between your legs as I examined my own downy specimen with great relief. The curve of her abdomen bulged a bit and I often caught her eyes lingering on this part of herself in the mirror before she roughly dried her back, causing her breasts, which hung low like the heavy fruit of our pear tree, to sway in her reflection. After dropping her own towel to the floor I watched, entranced, as she slicked luxurious, perfumed creams over every inch of her newly-dried flesh, which I knew by heart.

I hated my mother’s body. The wretched thing that had turned against her. Her rose-scented chassis, which we adored and pampered had betrayed her. When she told me that there was little time I said nothing. What could I say? The decision was made and it was out of my hands, out of her hands, the hands with the perfectly manicured nails, belonging to the body that had betrayed her. They put tubes in my mother’s body - one in her chest that pumped medicine into her veins, and one in her arm that watered her like a house plant so she didn’t turn to dust.

I nursed my mother’s body. Her bloated stomach swelled so I thought she was pregnant again. The disease was gestating in the same place I had once; that same place where I came out fighting, where I once wanted so vehemently to remain, was now host to absolutely no hope. I put ice chips in her mouth and a washcloth on her head as she rambled at me words that had no connection or meaning. Words which dropped carelessly from her brittle, colourless lips like pebbles and buried me alive.

I buried my mother’s body. I gave them her favourite stuffed bears to put in the casket so she wouldn’t be lonely. I handed over all of her sparkling diamond rings, and begged that they be placed on her dead fingers. Before the coffin was lowered into the ground, I demanded to see the corpse inside of it, to prove to myself that it was real. None would entertain my morbid appeal, so I stood over the chasm unappeased and angry, thinking of nothing but her body. I wondered what would happen to it, what it would become. Some years later I saw her rings in a box. I’ve since seen those very same stuffed bears in photos, being held by children I haven’t yet met and who will never meet my mother.

I have my mother’s body. Varicose veins blight my skin like ink bleeding through paper and her pillowy cellulite plays peek-a-boo when I cross my legs. My voice quivers when I sing and the laughter that sometimes erupts too loudly from my throat also belongs to her. I am a Frankenstein amalgamation of us both. Her ghost and I stitched awkwardly, permanently together. I am the best things, the worst things and all things from my mother’s body.

Doors

I was 16 when I had my first abortion…only abortion actually. I’ve only ever had one. I thought I should clarify that. I wouldn’t want to give you the wrong impression. I will start again. I was 16 when I had my only abortion. It wasn’t planned, obviously. These things never are. I mean, it wasn’t on my life’s “to do” list or anything. Climb Mt. Everest, become Prom Queen, kill foetus…that’s not how it was supposed to be, but there it was nonetheless.

His name was Michael. A boring, ordinary name for an equally boring boy. We’d had a few too many tequila shots at Bethany Parks’ party and ended up tangled in her sheets on the floor because I didn’t want to mess up her bed. What happened that night was strange and remarkable in many ways, though you don’t often know what’s remarkable about what you’re doing while you’re doing it, only after, when the shit hits the fan and you’ve missed your period.

I couldn’t believe my luck at the time. I was at Bethany Parks’ house. I was! She was “that girl”. You know what I mean. The high-school deity that you’d get dressed up for hoping one day she’d smile at you in the hall or ask to cheat off your homework…that’s how I got my invite to her party. I let her copy my French homework and I’m not any better at French than she is, but she didn’t seem to know that. Of course she didn’t. She knew nothing about me. I wasn’t very good at school, but I wore glasses and had no friends so it was a common misconception that I was smart. I’m just smart enough to get pregnant moments after my first kiss.

I waited in that room with other faceless girls. None of us looked particularly healthy. None of us wanted to be there. Planned Parenthood. What a stupid name for an abortion clinic. It certainly wasn’t planned and I was there to avoid parenthood. I fought back the bitter, acidic taste of bile and through tightly sealed lips swallowed back the rising vomit. Maybe it was morning sickness, though it could have been my body trying to communicate with my conscience; to plead with it to stop me going any further into the place where you couldn’t feel God. You could only feel guilt. I scanned the room again and settled my gaze on a girl who looked like I must have looked; tear-stained cheeks, gnawed fingernails, crusty nose, ruddy face. That place was the anti-glamour, it was as if all the girls there had held a meeting and made a group decision that being pretty was what got them there in the first place and no way were they making that mistake again. I wasn’t pretty. Still not pretty. I just wasn’t too ugly either. I inhaled sharply and hugged myself before mustering up the courage to approach the receptionist and fully embrace the cliché that I had become.

The receptionist had the look of someone who hadn’t seen the sun in months. She was gray and shriveled and sad. I suppose being around that much death everyday would suck the life out of anyone. I wondered what the hell would possess someone to take the desk job the death factory. She asked me to fill in a form and asked if I had brought anyone with me. When I told her I was alone the corners of her mouth turned up and twitched slightly. This was obviously a gesture she made infrequently. What was there to smile about? It looked unnatural and died quickly on her lips. “Fill out those forms and someone will be with you shortly.”

I filled in the spaces with my neatest handwriting as if doing that well would cancel out the evil of what I was about to do. I turned the clipboard back in to the gray woman and then I waited. While I waited I saw lots of girls go through the metal doors. Big metal doors designed to be bullet-proof, bomb-proof, baby-proof. I wondered if they were heavy. I wondered if any of the other girls had backed out or changed their minds. I wondered if I would. My name was called. It sounded foreign and fuzzy in my ears. Then with one foot in front of the other I crossed the room and walked through those doors. They were heavy and they were cold.

Where There Is Air

Chris turned the key in the door and held it open as Kelly walked inside. ‘So this is it,’ he announced as he turned on the lights and saw Kelly, a little wobbly on her heels, smoothing down her hair. She smiled at him, knowing she was caught. Chris kicked the door closed and grabbed Kelly by the belt of her coat and pulled her into him, ‘You look great,’ he whispered onto her lips before kissing them.

After several minutes of intense making out, Kelly held up her hands and tapped them on Chris’s shoulders before pulling out of his arms and stepping backwards. ‘I don’t want you to get the wrong idea by me coming here.’

Chris grabbed Kelly’s belt again, pulling her back to where she was before. ‘What idea is that, then?’ He ran a hand down the side of her face and forced her to look at him.

‘I never do this,’ Kelly became aware that her speech was slightly slurred and couldn’t hold back the laughter at her own attempt at genuineness. ‘I’m totally lying,’ she giggled, ‘I do this. Like not a lot, but well, maybe, what’s a lot?’ Kelly rested her forehead on Chris’s and locked her fingers behind his neck to steady herself, ‘Do you have anything more to drink?’

‘Of course, don’t you know me at all?’ Chris led Kelly to the sofa before he headed off to the kitchen, humming to himself.

‘I really like you!’ Kelly exclaimed at the ceiling as she lay on the sofa and kicked off her shoes.

‘Why are you yelling?’ Chris, still laughing, appeared above her with two beers.

‘Shit,’ Kelly whispered, ‘sorry.’

‘Inside voices,’ Chris whispered and they both dissolved in laughter again.

‘Shhhhhhh,’ Kelly held a finger to her lips before taking a sip of her beer.

‘I like you too, Kel, but I’d like you better if you were naked.’ Chris cocked a confident eyebrow as he stealthfully reached behind her and started to pull down the zipper of her dress.

‘Ha! I bet you would!’ Kelly ran her hands along Chris’s back until she reached the bottom of his t-shirt, pulled it over his head and twirled it in the air like a lasoo before letting it drop to the floor. Placing her hands on his bare chest she pushed him back to take a look at the present she’d just unwrapped.

Chris, knowing he was being admired, held his arms out to the sides and then curled them in and flexed his biceps. ‘Take it all in, baby. Your tickets to the gun show have arrived.’

Kelly pretended to faint and squealed a little before clasping her hands over her mouth. ‘I can’t believe that we’ve worked together all this time and not done this before,’ she said through her fingers.

Chris went back to work on Kelly’s dress; talking, between kisses, to her neck and shoulder. ‘Well you never come out for drinks with the rest of us.’ He pulled her dress down to her waist and sat up to position himself to remove it completely.

Kelly placed her hands over his and looped her thumbs into her tights and panties to remove them with the rest of her dress. She kicked her legs out to the side and in one quick movement she was naked from the waist down and back underneath Chris. ‘I’m glad I finally came out tonight then.’

Chris, totally stumped by Kelly’s impressive disrobing technique, looked at her with a goofy, grateful smile and managed to croak, ‘Me too.’

Kelly leaned forward and removed her bra before sticking out her bottom lip in mock-pout. ‘No fair, Chris, you’ve still got your pants on. Let me see what I’m dealing with here.’ Kelly propped herself up on her elbows and took another sip of her beer before lunging at Chris’s belt buckle. Tearing open the button fly, she pulled his body onto hers and performed the same routine on Chris; stripping off his pants and underwear with a flourish. He landed back onto her too quickly for her to get a good look, but she didn’t need to see anything anymore, she could feel it.

After slipping on a condom, Chris and Kelly slid into an easy rhythm; her holding him tightly to her as they moved. It was just light enough in the room that Kelly was able to look at Chris and see he was smiling.

‘This is so nice,’ she whispered. ‘Usually guys feel the need to throw me around the place the first time as a way to assert authority or something…I don’t know. But this is…’

‘Oh I can throw you around,’ Chris cut her off with a grin in his voice and, without warning, awkwardly pulled Kelly on top of him.

Kelly, caught off-guard, somehow managed to stay in place and retained their original rhythm, but she could feel that something terrible had happened. The more she moved the more she could feel it. Chris, blissfully unaware of what he’d just done, beamed up at her cupping a pert, bouncing breast in each hand.

‘Are you almost there? I’m so almost there.’

Kelly gritted her teeth and knew that ever since the position change there was no hope of her getting anywhere near there; she was far too preoccupied with the feeling she was being inflated like a bouncy castle. ‘You go for it, Chris,’ she lied, ‘I never come if I’ve been drinking.’

Chris pulled her face down to his for a long, soft, pity-filled kiss before holding her in place as he bucked slightly under her and groaned the same way her dad did when he got up from napping in his chair. Kelly shuddered at the similarity.

Chris, slightly panting and grinning like a fool, tugged playfully on Kelly’s chin. ‘Right Kel, I gotta pee.’

Kelly pulled her lips inside her mouth and bit them. She made her hands fists and held her breath as she lifted one leg and tilted her body for the dismount and there it was. It shattered the silence in the room like an axe through emergency glass. Kelly’s vagina was a deflating balloon and she could do nothing about it.

‘Holy shit, Kelly!’ Chris broke out in such a high-pitched cackle that Kelly had to join in. The pressure from her abdomen forced more of the air out, making an array of wet sounds. No two were the same.

‘This is your fault,’ Kelly spat out through the hilarity, tears pooling in her eyes. ‘You moved me without warning and all that…that airhappened.’ She lay down on top of Chris and the last of the trapped wind was released in a little finale.

Chris lifted his hand for a high five and Kelly limply obliged before burying her face in her hands. Chris kissed the crown of her head as he slid out from under her. ‘We gotta do that again,’ he shouted over his shoulder as he trotted off to the bathroom, still chucking, and with a noticeable spring in his step.

A New Addition

‘But where did you get it, mom?’

Beverly continued to unpack her bags slowly and methodically, like she usually did. She pulled out a melon and placed it on the counter, then she took out a bag of flour, turned it towards her and dusted it off with a brush of her hand. When she turned back to face Julie she had a streak of white powder on her cheek. ‘What does it matter where it came from, Julie? I saw it and I wanted it.’

‘Mom, you’ve got something on your cheek.’ Julie stepped towards her mother and just like Beverly used to do to her as a child, she licked her thumb and ran it down the length of her mother’s face.

‘Ew!’ Beverly said through a laugh and shooed Julie away, ‘you used to hate that when I did that! How the tables have turned.’

‘I’m a mom now, mom. I get that spit really is the best way to get crud off a face or to get fly-away hairs to stay down. Don’t change the subject. Where did you get it?’ Julie pointed to the floor at the offending object and then leaned against the refrigerator as she crossed her arms. ‘You’re on the “no adoption” list at the shelter because of what happened last time, so I know you didn’t get it there.’

Beverly sighed, ‘Fine. There was a man outside the grocery store with a box of them. I…I couldn’t resist picking one up just to hold it.’ Beverley’s eyes started to get wet.

Julie uncrossed her arms and rolled her eyes, ‘that’s what happened last time, mom. You picked one up, fell in love and then once you got it home and were bored of playing with it you left the door open and it got run over by a car. Remember?’

Beverly continued to put boxes in cupboards, ‘of course I remember. Her name was Ginger and I loved her, you make it sound like I didn’t love her.’

‘Mom, I’m sorry. Stop with the unpacking and look at me. I know you loved her, but you let her get out of the house and you never even told me she was missing. It’s like you forgot about her until the neighbour came by with her mangled body and that box of apology chocolates.’

‘That was a terrible day,’ Beverly pressed her palms on the granite surface of the counter but did not turn around. ‘I don’t like when they get bigger,’ she said just above a whisper and to the wall.

‘I know it’s hard, mom, but they get bigger. They’re not supposed to stay small forever.’ She wrapped her arms around Beverly from behind and pressed her cheek onto the back of her neck, ‘Look at how big I am and I’m still here. Just because things get bigger doesn’t mean that they stop needing you, but I really think you should take this one back to where you got it.’

Beverly turned around and Julie could see that she hadn’t managed to remove all the flour after all. Tear tracks marked her mother’s face, disrupting the flour like skis through fresh snow. ‘I can’t take it back. It’s not like Ginger.’ Beverly’s bottom lip quivered as she spoke, ‘this one was just in a box with a bunch of others, all crying, all so thin…I can’t take it back where I got it.’ Julie nodded her head slowly, her mouth formed a thin line as she crouched on the ground to examine the wretched thing her mother had brought home with the groceries. She poked it and it wriggled slightly and smiled at her.

Julie grimaced and pulled her hand away, ‘we can take this one to a shelter. I’ll take it so they don’t even have to know you’re involved. Please mom, it’s for the best.’

‘Julie,’ Beverly began as she touched her daughter tenderly between her shoulder blades, ‘please don’t make me.’

Julie rose to her feet and looked at her mom, noticing how small she was and how grey her hair had become. ‘I can’t make you, mom, but don’t you think that’s the best thing for it?’ Julie began poking around in the unpacked bags, ‘did you even get diapers? Or formula?’

‘I have some left from when Ginger was here.’ Beverly snapped, ‘and clothes and toys, don’t you think I’ve thought this through, Julie?’ ‘No mom, I don’t think you have!’ Julie grabbed Beverly by the shoulders and shook her, ‘what will happen when it starts to grow?’ Beverly looked away, ‘or, or even,’ Julie continued ‘even when…let’s face it. You’re an old woman now.’ Julie’s voice cracked, ‘who will look after it when you’re gone?’

Beverly broke away from her daughter’s grip and bent over to pick up the new addition to her family. ‘There, there,’ Beverly cooed, ‘no one’s going to take you away from me.’ Beverly held its head against her breast as she swayed from side to side, her eyes meeting her daughter’s, ‘nobody.’

‘Fine!’ Julie spat, ‘but when you…lose this one, I don’t want to know about it.’ She grabbed her handbag and marched towards the door, her feet heavier than usual. Seconds later Beverly heard a car start.

‘Now,’ Beverly looked into eyes the size and creamy colour of two freshly pressed shots of espresso, ‘what shall we call you?’

Butterfly Words

Gretchen’s eyebrows knitted together as she pushed against the wheels of her chair. Things that used to be easy weren’t so easy anymore. As she approached her dressing table a face appeared in the mirror that at first she didn’t recognise. Her hair had gotten longer; she touched the back of her head and smoothed the sides. When did it get so long? She wondered, but then sat back quickly in her chair, surprised. She pressed her index and middle fingers to her lips. She thought she’d said that out loud, but her lips stayed still.

Her lips, she noted, were very dry. The feel of them was like the leaves she and her sister would collect during her childhood autumns in Vermont. Armed with rakes too tall for them to be effective, they dragged clumps of dirt wrapped awkwardly with fallen leaves to the middle of the yard, their mother observed and laughed at her busy girls. Even now Gretchen could smell that crisp, clean air; an almost medicinal smell. She clenched her eyes shut as tight as she could to trap that scent, that scene in her mind. She knew she needed to, before this memory too was blown away, and like all of those beautiful coloured leaves she and her sister used to jump into, disposed of forever.

That’s what it felt like. That her brain, her memories, herself was being disposed of. One second there, like the leaves, like her sister, and the next not. It was as if there was a vindictive hoover between her ears, sucking up anything of value. Occasionally something was too heavy for the suction so it mercifully got left behind, or sometimes something spun around in the wheels for days and got spat out again. Like her daughter’s face. That came and went. ‘You’re trapped in the wheels,’ Gretchen told her once. Her daughter, trying to understand those words stared back at her and nodded as tears formed in her eyes. She patted her mother’s hand and walked away from her chair towards a man Gretchen didn’t know. She wondered then as she had many times before why her words were so hurtful and why the people who sat with her often cried.

There was a weak knock on the door, ‘Hello in there? Are you awake yet?’ A voice sang softly from the other side.

Gretchen, never sure these days if her voice would even come out or not, pushed air through her vocal chords and made a sound similar to that of a donkey. Gretchen blushed at the sound and coughed.

The door opened gingerly, but just slightly to reveal the face of a tall blonde woman with too much red lipstick on. ‘Good morning! How are we feeling today?’

Gretchen nodded and replied, ‘OK.’ She kept her fingers on her lips to see if they moved. They did, and Gretchen felt herself smile.

The blonde opened the door a little more, and for no reason Gretchen could tell, slid through the small opening sideways as if there was an obstruction on the other side. There wasn’t.

She then approached Gretchen’s chair and knelt down so their eyes were level. ‘Do you know who I am?’

The woman had a slight southern accent, which Gretchen found pleasant, but she hated that question. Most mornings her day began this way: with some stranger coming into her room and quizzing her. When did her life become like this? She wondered. When did it become a big test she had to pass?

Endless questions: ‘What is this?’ ‘Who are you?’ ‘Where are you?’ ‘Who am I?’ To answer, Gretchen often took inventory of all the words she had left in her head and selected one at random, like picking a card out of a magician’s hand. Sometimes, if she was lucky she’d get something right. But, more and more frequently, she could tell that she was not doing a very good job.

Over the past few weeks Gretchen discovered that there was a word she could say that never made anybody cry. She promised herself she would continue to use it until it too was lost, sucked up by the hoover. She wasn’t even sure what it meant anymore, but this word never made anyone’s face twist in the way so many faces had twisted in front of her before. This word almost always brought smiles or the occasional tight-lipped nod of concern, but never any tears. Gretchen was so tired of seeing and causing tears.

Gretchen leaned forward in her chair and searched the face of the woman in front of her hard, but there was no glimmer of recognition. Inside her mind she hunted through the space for words like a child would hunt for butterflies. She swung her net through the air trying to catch the slippery, evasive words, but they were too quick. They dissolved on her tongue like aspirin before she could form them into language.

The woman’s face, so close to Gretchen’s, began to fall. She pushed herself up from the floor, so Gretchen knew she had little time before the tears began. Determined, she tore through the emptiness of her mind again and frantically pushed the first word she found purposefully past her teeth, ‘ Daw-ter.’ Gretchen heard her own voice and held her breath as she waited for the reaction.

The word struck the woman like a stone and her spine straightened. She turned to face Gretchen again and the red lipstick, like blood in the rain, spread across the woman’s face and revealed two rows of beautiful white teeth. She crouched back down, supporting herself on the chair. She looked directly into Gretchen’s eyes, still ferociously smiling. She reached out and grabbed both Gretchen’s hands and squeezed. ‘Yes, Mom it’s me.’

Her eyes, Gretchen thought to herself, are the very colour of the autumn leaves I used to collect as a child. I must try to remember that.

Summer Camp Surprise

Rachel waddled down the dirt path to the port-a-potty and flung the door open. The smell slapped her in the face and escaped with such force she actually stepped out of its way. Trying to ignore the tears she could feel welling in her eyes, she perched tentatively on the urine-soaked seat and locked the door in front of her. The sun shining through the turquoise plastic gave everything a bit of a green glow so that even her tanned, downy legs looked alien.

The thing Rachel hated the most about summer camp was the portable toilets. Last year, one of the geeky kids, Michael, got trapped inside one by a group of boys, and remained imprisoned as they tipped the whole thing over sideways. Legend has it, poor Michael nearly choked on a turd and the blue liquid in the water dyed his skin and he stayed that shade for weeks.

Rachel shuddered as she recalled the tale of Michael, and focused her attention back to the matter at hand. She took a deep breath, shut her eyes, and pulled down her shorts and underwear. She stayed that way for a second, eyes clenched tight and praying. She knew that this could be the exact moment when she changed from being a child to being a woman and she wanted to remain a child so badly.

‘Shit.’ Rachel stared down at the mess of gore in the crotch of her panties and fought back the urge to scream. She had never seen more blood than a grazed knee could produce and this was a gruesome scene. Even the lace along the borders of the leg-holes was crimson.

‘Mom was right, she’s always fucking right,’ she said to herself as she packed her underwear with layers and layers of horribly cheap toilet paper. Just before Rachel left for the summer, her mom approached her with what, at the time Rachel assumed were pillows for her teddy bears, but upon closer inspection were giant sanitary towels.

‘You might need these this year, honey. I got my period around your age.’

‘Ew, mom, I’m fine. I won’t need them.’ Rachel pushed her mom’s offering away as she rolled her eyes. But now, stuck in the Camp Pisim version of hell, she was cursing her own foolishness.

Finally confident that the toilet paper piled in her underpants would stay put, Rachel opened the toilet door and was assaulted by the full fury of the sun. She stumbled out of the plastic stink-box covered in sweat, gratefully gulping down big portions of fresh air as she made her way to the nurse’s office.

The nurse wasn’t someone Rachel ever had cause to meet. In her three previous summers at Camp Pisim, she’d never had so much as a headache. Now, she had to go shake this woman’s hand and ask her for menstrual advice at the same time. Rachel’s face flushed at the thought as she stepped inside the shockingly cool room which caused goose bumps to emerge all over her bare arms and legs.

A round woman with red hair and a huge smile hurried towards Rachel. ‘You OK, honey? You look kinda pale.’ She placed the back of her hand gently on Rachel’s clammy forehead. ‘Oh dear, I could cook a hotdog on you,’ she led Rachel to a white folding chair and motioned for her to sit down.

Rachel could feel the tears in her eyes again as she shook her head. ‘I can’t sit down, Ma’am, there’s ah…something in my shorts.’ One tear freed itself from her eye and lazily rolled down her plump cheek. She tried to catch it before the nurse saw, but she wasn’t fast enough.

‘Oh! I think I understand, of course.’ She lowered her voice to a whisper, ‘Come with me.’ The nurse took Rachel’s hand and led her to a room in the back of the office with an examination table, a sink, a large scale, and lots of glass jars filled with cotton balls and tongue depressors.

‘What’s your name, sweetie?’ The nurse produced a sucker from her pocket which momentarily distracted Rachel from the humiliation of the situation.

Rachel unwrapped the green candy and without making eye contact replied, ‘my name’s Rachel Cohen. I’m really sorry, but I don’t know what to do.’

‘Don’t you worry, hon,’ the nurse’s smile remained fixed on her face. ‘It happens to us all. We’ll get you sorted out in no time.’

By day three Rachel was starting to get the hang of things. The pads her mom sent overnight express from home were huge, but both the nurse and her mom assured her that she could participate in all the usual camp activities, even swimming.

The nurse advised she wear a pair of boxer shorts over her swimsuit to hide the indiscreet bulge, but due to the conservative nature of the camp, it wasn’t unusual for the boys to wear t-shirts and the girls to wear shorts while swimming in the lake.

Rachel got changed into her new swimsuit and after sticking a monstrous pad to the inside, pulled on a pair of the boxer shorts she usually slept in. After checking herself out in the mirror, she concluded that with the shorts on, no one could tell what was underneath. So, she strode out to the beach and jumped into the water.

One of the boys started a game of Marco Polo and everyone swam frantically away from the elected Marco, who was blindly trying to catch all the surrounding Polos. By the time it was Rachel’s turn to be the seeker, she’d all but forgotten about the water-logged mattress between her legs.

She thrashed around the lake, lunging and grasping at slippery limbs and grabbing fistfulls of air. A cacaphony of giggles filled her ears, until suddenly everything went quiet. ’Marco,’ Rachel called into the silence and then someone screamed.

Rachel opened her eyes to see everyone pointing at something, shouting and trying to get away from it. From where she was standing she could just identify her dislodged sanitary towel, floating towards them, bobbing about like a bloated corpse on the surface of the lake.