A girl with painted silver hair lies on her bed, legs on the wall. She, stiff as a mourning stone, watches the porch lights bathe her calves in yellow, and tells herself it is the moon.
She says: “I wonder what time it is,” somewhere in the hazing daze of her thoughts. Her voice is quiet as crickets drowned in passing cars. This world is not real.
“You see” she thinks, but lets the thought hang open. Cannot finish with her tongue, from the drooling dryness of her mouth, reddened like an apple peel.
Thoughts spool down from the sky and drip deep into her mouth and she cannot spit them back out again.
This world is not real. It is still. Premade.
She wonders what time it is but can’t bring herself to look at the clock, to see anything other than the pool of false yellow light draped over her legs from the window.
Her mind buzzes and burns up in short shockwaves and the sky pulls itself down onto her. She sucks up all its moisture and leaves it wide and cracked open and orange.
She sees but does not see, and cannot know if she is sleeping.
This world is not real.
Morning appears, unconvincingly, and a girl with unwhite teeth startles awake. A raindrop slips from the window and dissolves.
A puddle of sweat stains the edge of her pillow. Hair sticks to her forehead.
She pulls herself from the bed. Smacks two feet onto the floor. The sun is unrisen and already too bright. She pulls herself across the room and finds the mirror. She can’t breathe under the glazing ache in her mind. It is telling her: Don’t move. Don’t move. Look.
A girl stares back from the head of the mirror, unfeeling and bug eyed with hair drenched across the brows. The thing in the mirror refuses to look away, holds the girl’s gaze as a challenge. Their spine straightens. She runs her eyes down the rolls of her thighs and loathes with the weight of her stuck, seething feet.
She knows, hard as a swallowed stone, that she is only a lacking mass for breath to pass through. Ashy and wet, she lingers in herself. Feels the puff of her abdomen. The pain on her neck. Her bulging waist like the mossy middle of a breadloaf. The unliving cheeks, and how cold, how cold the dead gaze of the thing in the mirror.
She stares. The sun rises. The empty worth of her fills up with gooey air, and tries to be real.
A girl who scrubbed her skin with lilac and honey till it turned raw gold walks to the store down the block. The sun has burned her into something eager, an upshot of dazzling heat. Cars drive past and she keeps walking and her thoughts are the feeling of skin meeting the world. A car full of boys wearing white cloth ankles and stringy necks rolls up next to her. She thinks it slows but cannot be sure until three of them dangle their heads out the window and shout, coarsely and wordless. One looks at her clear through the eyes. The car drives away, and its windows jump up.
She keeps on walking, but tugs the hem of her shorts. Trying to expand it, if only a little.
There is a garden, though, on the little house with the deep pink trim. Her gaze catches on the lilies fearlessly springing from the ground. Their scent pushes her forward.
The corner drugstore is chemically cool. She picks out a berry lip balm and an iced coffee in a glass bottle. Neither of which she needs. But the balm is wrapped in fine smooth paper and the coffee feels cold and satisfying. She considers a display of sunglasses at back of the store. A man passes, roughnecked and graying. She feels his eyes reflecting off the black mirrored glasses. He stands there, and she can smell his failing deodorant.
“That’s a pretty necklace, sweetheart.” He nods towards her, at the gold pendant against her bare skin and the fragile neckline of her shirt.
“Oh, I, um . . . thanks.” She breathes through her mouth, put the glasses back and hurries to the front.
There are two people in line ahead of her waiting on the one harried cashier. The girl shifts back and forth, and her hand turns slippery from the coffee.
“Didn’t think you’d get away that easy, now did you?” Someone says, and laughs in a wheezy sort of way. The man from before is behind her, holding his basket of bread and multivitamins. He’s being friendly, she thinks. He’s trying to be friendly, that’s all.
She laughs, polite and quiet.
“What is it you’re picking up?” he asks her, and she opens her palms to show him.
“Mmmm,” he says. She’s looking at the floor but can tell he’s looking at her. She starts to turn around, just a bit, towards the register.
“You’re a very pretty young lady, you know.”
She nods, focuses on the beads of water emerging from the glass.
“Did you hear me, miss? I said you’re very pretty.”
“Thank you,” she croaks. A register opens up, manned by a middle aged woman, her children hanging in gold from her neck.
“You doing alright, honey?” the woman breezes.
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. Thank you.”
She gets back to the street as quickly as she can, her arms crossed over her body. The plastic bag slaps against her thigh with each step.
There are people arriving at the pink house now. She holds her breath and does not look as they look. She quickens her stride and the sun bolts down and stares at her with so many blinding eyes. A low throb starts in her head from the light, a shiny bullet lodged between the brows. She cannot see, she cannot see. It is only for a moment, but it is enough.
When she gets to her front door she stands in the sun, sweating through her thin teal blouse, and stares at herself in the door’s glass. Her face is sweatful and harried, and she does not see herself in it.
There is a girl with bitten fingers. She is sitting in a shirt revealing both her stomach and the way it rolls when she sits down and slumps.
“You’re being fucking stupid, you know that?” Someone is saying to her from the kitchen while she sits and sinks and watches the same TV show she was watching last week and doesn’t remember. “If you think you can get by being completely irresponsible, and never taking responsibility for your actions, let me tell you, if you think you can do that? You should be doing something with your time. You just … sit around all day.”
The girl sits and listens and knows nothing but the tightening of her stomach and the heat in her chest and the scarred acne that lines the tops of her collarbones. She knows the sun and the joy of waking up to a quiet house.
The TV squawks its parade of blushing brides in holy white. She chose this sound but cannot bear it. And her mother is still talking, still yelling, still pulling out pieces of her daughter, and the only feeling is red and black and nothing.
The girl says nothing, is nothing, is only her bones too thick inside her arms. She is just crawling skin and eyes that sting and unwashed hair. Nothing but the squirm of her eyes.
“Sorry,” she moans, too low to be heard.
We are sailing down the road, running on nearly bare feet, itching from long days cooped up in stale summer jobs. There are three of us. Or maybe seven. Maybe we’re a gang in our too-short shorts that show the pale underbellies of our thighs and hair that’s still thick and shining and messypretty. It doesn’t matter to you, for we are just a mass, syrupy and naЇve.
It doesn’t matter to us, either. Not the way you’d think.
We are running, parking our mother’s sensible blue hatchback in a parking spot three blocks too far back and pulling the moon inside of our mouths as we laugh— loud and high and pealing.
Some of us start running. Some hang back against the blur of the streetlamps to wait for the girl who drove us to hop from the car and chirpchirp it shut, and then grab her arm and run forward with the rest. And we’re talking about, well, the gods only know. But we know it is vital, these words:
“… and it’s basically like a complete dismissal of like, everything we used to stand for but now she doesn’t even care. I mean, I don’t care. If she wants to go off and end up washed up and sorry for herself and lost under the weight of her life then what the hell do I care, you know? I mean it’s like …”
“… such an amazing concept. I’m completely obsessed with it. It’s so magical and exciting like, it makes you feel like you’re a kid again. Every time I watch it I feel as though I could just” she flourishes her dark fingers in a delicate spiral “and make the world move… “
“… and I think we’re going to. I want to. He wants to. There’s no reason not to. When we’re together? It’s just like that scene, you know, where they’re dancing and and everything is just… “
“… free! You’re free now. Be young while you still can. When will you ever be…”
“… like the world is closing in and I can’t breathe and then… “
“… just want to live …”
“… feel like she’s dying …”
“… because, God, there’s so much hurt in the world. I just want to make him stop … “
“… “ruining everything I’ve worked for like he ever gave me anything… “
“… she doesn’t deserve to be … “
“… like a princess, like I …”
“… think I might be ready. I just want to…”
“… listen to the ocean. Can’t you just feel it?”
We cross the boardwalk, hand in hand, arm in arm. Eyes forward and yearning. Sandals slip from feet and into hands as easy as bras tossed into laundry piles.
The sand is cool, and somewhere in between blue and silver. We know from the sun that it is tan and blistering, but this world is not that world; and in a dreamy voice she never uses, one girl recalls how she read somewhere that the beach is like one massive magic crystal, ancient and powerful and pure.
One of runs into the sea, her mass of dyed hair billowed behind her. The surf surges to meet her, and against the glow of the moon and the boats she is but a dark slip of a thing. Her silhouette melts into the sea, arms flung up, waves against the sky. The water is cool and real, lapping her calves.
She tosses her head and shrieks and breathes. Waves rise up to her thighs and sacrum and her belly and breasts and swallow everything. Her legs hold her up and bring her on, and she forgets for a second that she despises them them.
Another runs up next to her, not seeing the sea but seeing the sky, seeing clouds, seeing the racing raving sunset. Icy thin hair that she’s too scared to cut wraps around her cheeks and covers her eyes. She can’t see but she feels the rush and the rain of seaspray and the caw of seagulls not yet nestled to sleep.
The girls clasp hands and wrap around each other, and rush in deeper as the sea engulfs them.
When they come up again they are shining and soaked, selkies gray and slick and enchanted, shirts and shifts soaked through with dusky light. They are whole, and their heads curl into each other.
They jump in again.
Three girls are sprawled in the shade of the boardwalk. Their fingers and toes dig in the sand for buried treasure.
Staring unbowed at the sky, they search for the three constellations they know. Orion’s belt glimmers, one star for each. The Big Dipper appears after a few minutes, the Little Dipper hanging on tight by its side.
They are too old to pretend they don’t know what will happen, and too young to know what a blessing it will be. So they hum and they look and the stars sing back to them.
Still more girls — or maybe the same ones, made older by the roar and the silence — are standing at the water’s edge. They watch the colorless ocean engulf their ankles. The bony and the scarred and the pale-with-orange-freckles and the black and the brown and the thick and the strong.
Someone muses that this water has touched all the rest of the water, how every drop has a twin melting into salty ice slabs at the top of the world, a cousin who makes up the soupy skin of southern lakes, a mother that is bright and teal and births tropical fish with gemstone scales.
Another sits down, lets the ocean soak her shorts and does not care. Her grandmother told her that the ocean is their mother, the first mother, twins with the moon that is her mother. This girl can smell the salt that protects them and feels power rising high tide in her. She is full and gleaming, and whatever she wills shall be so.
There are white seams on this ocean, and when they ebb they leave diamonds of water on the spongey sand.
All the girls are gathered now, all six or ten or twenty-six of us. Cross-legged and tired, we sit in a circle and listen to the waves.
Whoosh crash. Whoosh crash. Whoooooshhhhh. Craaaaaasshhh.
The sand is cold now, soft and cool like pillowcases, and the sky is a rolled-under black. We are laying on the land that the ocean left behind, fingers knotted into the ground and into each other. Silver like the moon, and the street lamps cannot touch us.
We breathe in deep, taking in the salt. It goes from the air, to our mouths, to our lungs, and we are imbued with the paleness of seawater till we decide to breathe out again. We hold our breath in for as long as we can, and when we finally let go, the waves cling to the insides of our cheeks, and foam there.
Millennia later, when we rise, we are tall and imposing. Our shirts billow out into the dim gray sea, and when we raise our arms, the wind comes.
One girl starts to run, towards where the sun will rise in a few hours. She tosses her head back and dares day to come. The sand shudders, the sky gives its answer. The moon bursts from the clouds, and we are bathed in blue light like water nymphs of old.
“Tell me,” we seem to say. “What will happen now?” We rest our heads on each others shoulders in reply, and walk back out into the world. There is no need to hurry. We know we will arrive.
Jaime Marvin is a first year student at Wesleyan University. She feels a deep love for both Persephone and paperbacks, and a deep ire for catcallers. Her passions include moonlight, the smell of cinnamon, and lilac bushes. In her spare time she plots immodestly ambitious novels.