You sucked the milk from my sweater. I remember. We were drinking tall glasses, tucked away from the adults, sitting on a rag rug beneath my grandma’s dining room table. My glass slipped and splashed my chest, milk beading up on the blue wool like tiny pearls. My father had just died, and so it was easy to spring tears for the empty glass. You said: “My mom told me it’s nothing to cry over.” We were too young to know about cliché, but the words were stones dropped into a pool – heavy and useless. I cried more.
It was your rosebud mouth that stopped me, the way you bent your head to my chest and wicked the pearls of milk with your tongue. Butterflies filled my throat, and then evaporated. They wouldn’t flutter back there until highschool, when a boy kissed my breasts, and I’d think of you then. A neighbor boy with blue eyes; the crab apple tree we played in one summer; the horrible wool suit your mother made you wear to the funeral. You showed me how its collar had etched red marks on your neck.
“There!” you said, after cleaning my sweater. You grinned – triumphant.
In other rooms, the adults ate baked ham and deviled eggs, forks clinking on china plates. The men tried not to look too long at my mother. In her grief, she was dangerously beautiful, sitting by the fire, her skin lit. The women pecked her glowing cheeks as they came and left.
Mom and I were so alive, and yet . . . we held something of death in the space my father had haloed around us. It made people careful.
We build whole cities to forget that underneath our feet, worms inch through earth. That somewhere, a corpse stares unseeing from an open tomb. Maggots crawl through the socket of a robin’s eye. My father’s body now is white as the moon.
Do you remember my sweater? In that moment, we forgot everything. I was clean. Your teeth were so small when you smiled. A speck of blue fuzz like a birthmark on your lip. All we could hear was your breath and my breath.
Lacey Jane Henson grew up in Illinois and spent time in New Mexico and Paris before landing in Seattle. She has an MFA from the University of Washington and founded a popular reading series called The Off Hours. In 2009, she won first-prize in the Katherine Ann Porter Prize for Fiction given by Nimrod International, and her stories have since appeared MAKE: A Chicago Literary Magazine, Third Coast, among others. This year, she’s a fellow in Seattle’s Jack Straw Writing Program, and finishing her first novel, Nobody Told Me.