Light as a Feather, Stiff as a Board

Sarah Fawn Montgomery

The trick to feeling alive is to pretend you’re already dead. Everyone knows this, but no one says.

Pizza is for ranch like Leo is for Kate, even though you mostly like him because his long hair makes him look like a girl kissing a girl, but the real kind, not Brittany kissing Marie just to make the boys watch.

Dr. Pepper tastes like the Lip Smackers you slather around your mouth after gym class, slick like Crayola, red like a wound. When you swallow soda, you are drinking your own kiss, sorry, help. 

Jelly bracelets are out and candy necklaces are in, a chalk-flavored noose around your neck, except tonight is for glow bracelets, the ones you crack like a body, like a secret, like a love me to light fluorescent under the false starry sky plastered on the ceiling of whoever is hosting the sleepover.

Orion is for losers, like science, like math, but everyone knows the Big Dipper is an empty bowl like your stomach exhaled when you dance, when you pose for pictures, when you play “Spice up Your Life,” even songs about food no one eats.

Dancing is for the dark, girl bodies a thing best shrouded, so off go the lights except for strings of purple flashings, the strobe making everyone ghoulish and disjointed. Exist between beat and breath. Feel a disappearance of your own making. Bump and grind like MTV, except with hipbones, tailbone, knobby knees. Sometimes someone gets an elbow to the face, braces-bloody reminder that girl bodies are a liability, metal cage mouth a warning, a protection. 

When the caffeine and sugar are sickly in your veins, smeared crystalline across your best impression of a smile, circle up to spill your guts. Who do you like, what about yourself do you hate, what is the truth you will dare to admit? Someone kissed a boy, someone called a sex line, someone gained five pounds, someone leaves to throw up in the bathroom again. 

We form a circle around our hunger, another empty bowl. We are full of want and longing, the swell of desperation. We fool ourselves into thinking this is magic.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board, we chant, another command in unison. As always, we reach for the smallest girl, long to hold her, though we are only permitted tentative fingertips. The trick to power is to pretend you don’t want any.

This one has tiny bruises along her spine where the wooden floor proved too much. That one knocks soda on her pizza every time. This one will learn to smoke and forget how to aim the flame, singe her smile. That one will run off with our principal.

You are praised for disappearing. For the way your stomach collapses on itself, simply gives up, or the way your ribs create a bowl around your hollowness. Sometimes you hide pennies in your clavicle, stones in the hollows at the small of your back to constellate, storytell your empty. 

Earlier, in the hot tub, everyone sighed over the way your hipbones held out your bathing suit like a siren. They touched your hip, your stomach, hands sticky with heat and chlorine, with shimmer body spray leaving you smeared and glittering with their want. But no one wants you, just your not-a-body. You are only something because you are nothing.

Your sister has a doll that exists to eat. Her mouth moves by motor to chew plastic food that falls through a tube to her backpack. Take it out to feed her again, an endless cycle. Sometimes you put a finger between her rubbery lips to feel her pull at your heart, take you in. The hurt feels good. You like to tease her hunger, but really you are mocking yourself.

Hold fingers to one another’s mouths to add glitter lip-gloss, to taste whipped body butter before it is smeared across thighs. Take turns tasting the ring pops on one another’s hands—marriage tastes like cherry but also Heather’s mouth before yours. Feed one another sour ropes and the nectar you make from dissolving hard candy in Sprite, bubbles eating them away. Hold your fingers up to each other’s hungry mouths like a kiss, like sorry, like help.

Exhale to become a question mark to the sky—will you have me? Your head bobs on a body caving in on itself. Flat on your back, become an emptier bowl, hard as porcelain and brittle, hoping to rise to the occasion where wooden is reward. Light as a feather, stiff as a board, they chant fast, faster, frenzied, breath hot across your body.

At school you carry clear backpacks to show you have nothing to hide. You wear clear braces, shoes, belts as if to say there is nothing to contain. You write notes to one another with milky pens, love letters you slip between the slits in your lockers, hold breathless to your heart at recess. You live for one another’s affirmation. But the pens are clear to show how much ink is left, so soon it becomes best to write nothing.

In history you are tasked with creating a presentation about the greatest invention in history. You choose refrigeration, spend long afternoons together collaging magazine cutouts of food onto an old box. You make shelves, an ice maker, spell your names in magnets across the front. When you win a pizza party, no one eats. You take turns seeing who is the smallest, who can fit inside, close the doors like a tomb.

Light as a feather, stiff as a board, chanted in the strobing dark, stars zooming closer as you float, sway, hungry hands at your back, your waist, between your thighs. 

Now your disappearance comes into view, along with your devotion. You will deliver each vanishing body throughout the night—death the only reward for little girls seeking magic.

Sarah Fawn Montgomery is the author of Quite Mad: An American Pharma Memoir (The Ohio State University Press, 2018) and three poetry chapbooks. Her work has been listed as notable several times in Best American Essays, and her poetry and prose have appeared or are forthcoming in various magazines including Bellingham Review, Brevity, Cincinnati Review, DIAGRAM, Electric Literature, Lit Hub, The Poetry Foundation, The Rumpus, Southeast Review, Split Lip Magazine, and others. She is an Assistant Professor at Bridgewater State University. Follow her on Twitter at @SF_Montgomery.

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