projects and writings of Tracy Burkholder
This story was originally published in Vinyl, March 2016. http://vinylpoetryandprose.com/2016/03/t-a-burkholder/
She couldn’t see or feel it yet, but it was there. All that wet wanting to exhale from the sky. I’m walking fast because it’s about to pour. She had the explanation, the dismissive yet biting tone all ready before she got past the school parking lot. In her head, it was perfect. But on her tongue, it was useless. She’d never use it. She’d never say a thing.
Almost immediately, she felt them behind her. Dan in giant white sneakers scuffed against the sand and gravel along the side of the road. Tony slid up the middle of the street, fists in pockets, moving up on her in silence.
They both lived between the school and the stifling safety of her house. What? We’re just going home. On the days they left ahead of her, they waited on Tony’s front steps. A dog in screeching spasms was always caught between the curtains and the glass of the big front window.
God, you’re so fucking hot. The words slithered from behind and choked her.
She wished they’d go back to the generic freak or loser or even the junior high classic, pig. Solid nouns were deflectable. Sarcasm was a stain.
She walked faster.
Don’t get mad. I’m telling you how hot you are.
Dan moved to parallel her on the opposite side of the street. She made the mistake of glancing in his direction. No response for one beat. Two. Like an idiot, she glanced again. His hand swung to his crotch. An ugliness fell across his face. Come on. His voice a whiny joke. Why are you always teasing me?
Don’t run away. Tony’s deeper voice rolled up her spine. What do you think we’re going to do?
She didn’t know. She didn’t know about any of it. That was one of many problems.
Closing in on the corner, her escape route, she gripped the strap of her backpack with both hands, hoping to hide the hard beat of her heart and the lines of her ill-fitting bra. She cut the corner, knocking her shoulder against the pole of the street sign.
Don’t go. Don’t leave me like this.
That night, she lit the thin green candles on the dining room table and tucked a napkin under each fork. The vase of pink roses were a day past fresh but she knew she could get away with leaving them for another day or two before having to throw them away. Dying flowers are interesting, she had told her mother once before. Don’t say things like that, her mother had said. Just get rid of them and put the silver bowl out instead.
She always sat with her back to the kitchen, her mother on one side, her father on the other. The extra leaf had been left in the long oak table after they had family over for Easter dinner. I like how it fills out the room, her mother said. It felt strange at first, but they all grew used to lifting slightly out of their chairs to pass the salt.
She fixed her gaze on her plate, working her way through one well-rounded portion after another. Both she and her mother ate their zucchini first, liking it the least. The conversation vaulted over her head, a jumble of names she recognized as her father’s employees, but knew nothing else about. It wasn’t until her last few bites of buttered bread that her mother asked about school.
Her mother agreed to let her skip her cousin’s birthday party in order to write a paper. Her father wagged his finger toward the butter dish sitting in front of her. She slid the dish to her left, knocking it with her fingers the last few inches into his reach.
Around three in the morning, she gave up imagining the perfect victory over Tony and Dan. She gave up on sleep. Kicking off the top sheet, she opened her bedroom window for the first time that year. Rain patter and still-warm air filled the darkness. She stripped off the old U2 t-shirt she used as a nightgown, stepped out of her flowered underwear and put on the thick terrycloth robe her mother had bought her for Christmas. Her steps were silent on the carpeted stairs.
Enough streetlight filtered in from the corner to create a dim, shapeless reflection in the French doors at the back of the house. With a tug of her thumb, the belt of her robe came undone. With a roll of her shoulders it fell into a pile at her feet. Her reflection turned into a wash of soft, pale curves. The neighbor’s houses were dark and shrouded. Their dead end street was dead. Upstairs, her parents lay unconscious on opposite sides of their California King.
She eased the door open and stepped outside onto the slick gray boards of the back deck. No thought to it. Only need.
Bare skin. All of it pricked against the fresh air. Water tapped the tops of her shoulders. Water worked its way through her thick hair onto her scalp. She lowered herself down: Ass, leg, leg. She lowered herself more: Spine, shoulders, head. The strange wetness cooled her from the base of her neck to the back of her calves.
For a second, she worried that her mother would get up and go to the kitchen for a glass of water and see the vague shape of her outside. She didn’t think about her father. Lifting her head, she confirmed that she was stretched out beyond the frame of the glass door.
She watched the water cover her. Rain trailed down both sides of her breath. Rain rolled off the curve of her belly and rain caught in the tuft of her pubic hair. A shallow pool formed around her then rolled across her back as she shifted her spine against the hard, wet boards. Eyes closed, she felt the rain fall on her forehead and eyelids and lips, on her throat and ribs and thighs. The only place she couldn’t feel it was the bottom of her feet.
With a few deep breaths, she tucked her palms beneath her hips and urged her legs and torso upward into the long line of a shoulder stand. Her chin pressed in towards her chest. Her knees pinned together and pushed her flexed feet higher. Rain dropped onto her arches and rolled between her toes.
Ok. This. This might be enough. This might satisfy as long as she could hold the shape. And so she would hold it – hips up, feet high –until the rain stopped feeling like rain. And her weight stopped feeling like weight.
I’m the only one awake for miles around.
I’m the only one who knows the rain this way.
And you never will. And you never will. And you never will.
Feet to the sky, rain on the soles. The what ifs unfurled in her mind:
What if she lowered herself down onto her spine, lifting up and out? What if she walked, not back into her house, but away? What if she walked down off the deck, into the wet grass and out through the sticky wooden gate?
The rain would fall orange in the streetlights and light up like gems across her shoulders.
And then she’d keep walking. Down the street. Around the corner.
No one knows the rain this way.
She’d stop at Tony’s house. The scruffy dog would be stretched out on the back of the couch, asleep between the curtain and window. Without hesitation, she’d walk across the patchy lawn, right up to the glass smeared with paw prints and spit.
She’d press her finger to it, but the dog wouldn’t stir.
When she flattened her whole palm against the window, the dog would raise its head.
She’d stand there, dressed in nothing but goosebumps and rain and without lifting her palm, poise her nail against the glass.
And then she’d tap. Softly at first. Then harder.
The dog would rise to its feet and start to bark.
Hands at her sides, she’d step out from under the eaves of the house and back into the rain. Stretched tall, ready for whatever came next.