On a warm summer night when the smell of trampled grass permeates the air and lightning bugs light the dark woods with blinking gold flecks, a girl runs barefoot through the neighborhood streets, feet padded by callouses, chasing boys down concrete walks, up small hills where humble ranch houses stand like still rocks protruding from the earth, solid and stagnant, a place to flee and avoid until the mothers call them in, a trumpeter for the end of things. The end of fun. The girl with sweaty blonde hair two shades closer to brown now, her nine-year-old body rounder and covered in downy hair, on the verge of heating up for the same boys she pinned down during tag, drags herself to the red front door with a skinned shin and a beating heart. She doesn’t wave to her father, who sits on the side concrete porch flanked by a rusting chain-link fence and an aluminum roof, a Corona in his hand and a cooler full of beer near his bouncing leg. Every single summer night. Summer days, too.
At a party your mom told you not to throw while she leaves town on a Friday night for a work trip to represent the teacher’s union, suck the dick of a guy in your AP physics class on the concrete porch where your father used to sit. Do this to make Lucas, whom you’ve loved since you were nine years old, deadly jealous. Find out later he left the party before you went outside. After the guy zips his pants and returns inside, sit down and play with the firefly who rests on your smooth, bare knee. With your back against the brick house, remember your father always saying, I never had much. God takes it all anyway.
Football games in the fall, acid trips in the spring.
8 AM classes, liquor on your breath.
On Friday nights you prove your prowess at keg stands where boys lift your legs into the air, your hands gripping the aluminum handles on each side, the rubber hose fixed firmly between your teeth. They cheer your name while Notorious BIG blasts in the background. On this night, with your legs aloft, a boy slips his beer-sticky fingers past the barely-there barrier of your thong and jams his thumb into your asshole. You choke.
Spit beer on the floor.
Someone behind you boos.
You graduate with 25k in debt and a belief that you’ll discover who you are through whatever job you find. At the start-up marketing firm where you’re hired (somehow) to write ad copy for a pet supplies company, turns out nobody cares where you went to college, or how long it took, or what you majored in. Do you look people in the eyes when you speak to them? Do you have a sense of humor? Can you make phone calls? Can you spot spelling errors? Do you know how to think? Can you write a clear fucking sentence? Will you show up to work on time? Don’t ask for a raise. Don’t even think about it.
You like this place. The CEO graduated college only four years before you. You like his attitude, his olive skin and dark, shaggy hair, his big brown eyes and his toned body from years of parkour and skateboarding. He asks you to go kayaking. To dinner. Hiking. His place. Never your shitty studio. More dinners. Friends’ houses for football Sunday. Chili cook-offs and Cards Against Humanity. Then a trip to Italy.
In Pisa you ask him to marry you. He says yes.
Your mother tells you she’s proud of you, as if you finally earned a raise. You forget to tell your father. You haven’t talked to him in two years.
Chair Twist to the Left
Sunday night. KY jelly.
Chair Twist to the Right
At the lake house for your son’s fourth-birthday party, your twin daughters help pass out pieces of a Hulk birthday cake, chocolate inside and out, and smile wide for grandparents and friends who made the three-hour trek from Charlotte to be here for this special day while your husband skis in Lake Tahoe for business. Your daughters look like the nine-year-old girl you were but with your husband’s smooth skin and charming eyes. Too charming for their own good.
The caterers leave the kitchen as clean as you found it, not a single crumb on the marble countertops. You don’t clean anymore. You were never much good at it anyway.
After prayers and before he falls asleep, your son tells you that today was the bestest day of his life. He holds your hand. He asks if your father sent him a birthday card. I’m sure he’ll remember next year, bud-ro. Now it’s time to go to sleep.
Your mother tells you to immediately stop texting the man you met at your husband’s black-tie fundraiser gala. That’ll go nowhere good fast, she says. You text him more. You delete his texts as soon as you read them. No one notices your attention drifting. When he’s home, your husband loves you. When he’s home, your husband is a model father. When he’s home, your husband barbecues. When he’s home, you love him like nobody else in this world.
To brush your teeth, turn off the light and don’t look up. To brush your hair, step away from the mirror. Tilt the rearview mirror up so you see only road, not puffy eyes or skin or lines or dark circles or fat. So much fat.
Become a certified yoga teacher. Sync your cycles with your nutrition. In the follicular stage, create new projects. In the ovulation phase, eat sweet potatoes three days a week. You will be a moody bitch in the luteal phase and that’s okay. Don’t go out. Decline social engagements. Pleasure yourself once a week. Reflect when you menstruate. Admit how much you’ve resented being a woman. How your body has always felt like a project to manage, not something for you to fulfill.
Plant a garden. Wonder how your father was able to grow such good-looking tomatoes. Tell yourself to call your father.
A robber left the door open, the police officer tells you over the phone, and the neighbor to the right noticed the smell. Three sleeping bags on the recliner and a space heater on the floor was all he had to keep warm. Died two weeks ago of pneumonia. The house was filled with empty wine bottles. When was the last time you spoke to him, anyway?
Sarah Creech has published two novels with William Morrow. Her short fiction and essays have appeared in various publications, including Lit Hub, The Cortland Review, Writer’s Digest, StorySouth, and The Washington Independent Review of Books. Currently, she’s an Assistant Professor of English and Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte. Find her on Twitter at @sarahecreech.