by Natanya Ann Pulley
So, the last time I grew a horn, it stuck around for only like three days. My scalp totally dried out, and soon there was that familiar cracking, splitting, and Oh Shit of losing the thing onto my lunch tray. In front of the whole school. And James blushed, then pulled his lips into his mouth and nodded a lot and did that thing—that Okay, okay. This is happening thing. “Well. You’ll have to go back to just fitting in.”
And we both sorta chuckled, but also I swept away the horn dusts and shards and pushed the bone into my backpack, all while not looking at any of it. Pretending it was more antler than should-be permanent bone. As if it wasn’t a thing. As if fitting in was truly a possibility. But it was one thing to be the only person in the cafeteria—in this high school, in this world even, to grow a horn. It was another to be the only person that couldn’t keep a horn growing. Like everyone watching some scrawny, third-string basketball player shoot from the three-point line in the last few seconds of a homecoming game and that ball never ever ever making it. And if I had a horn that stayed solid and strong or elegant and gleaming or, hey, even gnarly and sharp, then I’d have any wonder of nicknames and reputations and not some never-gets-there girl. Someone would be like Hey, should we invite … that unicorn girl to the party? Or devil-girl. Or yeah, okay, I would settle for goat girl since there’s little majesty or magic or deity-ness—diety-om(?) … (whatever!) to these horns. Goats can be cool, right? Hey, goat girl, come on and hang … hang out … at this super cool party that you’d otherwise never even know about. Goat-girl. I could own that. Maybe even play it off somehow, you know, like, something like, don’t butt heads with me, sir—I don’t know, I don’t know. I’ll work on it. And I mean, Horny girl. It’s right there, but I guess no one thinks of me that way.
But this horn doesn’t stick. And to have yet another horn last a few days and fall off is all the types of embarrassing. Maybe if they came up easily and grew quietly. Instead there’s a lot of pain and soreness, sometimes waking me up at night. Sometimes I’d have to excuse myself from the room. And yeah, okay, you excuse yourself once from a room because you are growing a horn and people are like: “Whoa. That is a thing that is happening that I should tell someone about.” And the second time, they are still sort of fascinated, but it’s weird because they feel like they know what is going on—like they are in on it–and that makes them feel somehow like it’s their horn too because someone else in the world doesn’t know this kinda thing happens, but these guys do and they could say to other people, “Yeah, that happens.” All no big deal, you know? “Yeah, no big deal. Horns.”
But by the third, fourth, fifth time of my stupid horn falling off? Yeah, it’s just annoying for us all. And there’s no way for me to tell when it’s about to crack. You’d think the bone base of the horn would be growing out of my skull, like my skull was growing, and I’d feel my skull start to whistle or scrunch or something. But it doesn’t work like that. Or at least that is what the doctor told me. Okay, the vet. But whatever.
My biggest fear is that these things will find a new place to grow if somehow my head isn’t worthy enough. Durable enough? Magical enough? Whatever. But like, it could grow out of my elbow or foot or something so incredibly embarrassing that I couldn’t even hold onto the Freak or Goat title and I would just be like, gross. Or worse: pitiful. I think that was the thing about it. I mean, everyone is trying to hide something in high school, right? And then some kids are really good at kinda flaunting the thing to hide or making it a mark of something. Like Kirsty has eczema and it became a thing that other girls kinda wanted. Maybe because Kirsty could slather lotion up her arm and shoulder in front of everyone and show a lot of skin and the tangerine mint smell would be intoxicating and she’d kinda make a little Mmm noise because it must have felt good to not have that dry skin or something and sometimes you’d catch someone else kinda Mmm with her too or Mmm whenever they put lotion on themselves even though no one was there to watch them. And yeah, okay, maybe I kinda have a thing for Kirsty and it’s me Mmm’ing at the same time she does and it feels like my secret with her because maybe even I’m the only one who notices the eczema and I’m kinda grossly fetishizing it or something, but whatever. Everyone has a thing for Kirsty. Except Kirsty, I think. She once caught me pulling horn shards out of the side of my head, down below behind my ear and truthfully I was so thankful when that particular side horn fell off because it caught my mom in the chin once and I could not get my hair to do a single cute thing around it. Anyway, Kirsty once saw me piling up pieces of split horn and tapping off the dry scalp and hairs that came out with it. And she asked, like she didn’t even care really, if she could look. I thought she meant the shards, but she meant my head and her fingers were digging but somehow still very gentle and raking my hair around and god it felt good. Almost like a massage. And I made sure I didn’t say Mmm this time. And I didn’t tell her this was our secret—her hands in my hair and my sore spots showing. And she pulled my hair back over the balded spot and said, “I can’t see a thing. It doesn’t make sense.”
And I said, “Yeah, I know. It’s like … just … I grow horns.”
And she said, “Yeah. Yeah.”
“But they never last,” I said.
And she nodded and shrugged. And raised her hands to her scalp and began feeling around a little—at first like she was just jostling her hair a bit before heading out of the emptied classroom. But then she was like really pressing and shaking her head, like No. Nope. Nothing there.
And I couldn’t help suddenly wanting to confess anything and everything to her and be like: it’s so dumb to have horns that don’t even stick around and don’t even mean anything and don’t even make me this cool horned girl or something. They are just like … it’s like at some point in my life these things are supposed to stay and make me into something and then I’ll know, you know? I’ll know like what I am and what it’s like to be this amazing creature not like anything else. Like they’ll write stories about me or something. And I’ll save the world or I’ll leave this world to a cooler world inside or beside this world. Or I’ll be like caught by the government or a scientist and someone will break me out and then we can, I don’t know, totally make out. On-the-run making-out, the hottest kind.
But I didn’t say any of this. Instead, I pretended I could scoop up the shards of horn and inspect them later. As if I could really find out what the fuck is going on and like I was doing something important and powerful and maybe she could imagine that I had many piles of horn shards around my bedroom labeled and documented. I think she really thought that—thought I was living in this story of self-discovery and scientific inquiry. And like on top of my shit. That is, until I accidentally bumped into the door frame and some of the shards fell—but close enough to the trashcan for me to just pretend I was putting them there in the first place. And I even brushed my hands together as if this was also just something else I do all the time… on the reg—regular. Whatever. Horn shard and dust disposal, no big deal. I’m not attached. Could take it or leave it.
The point is, well, I guess the point really is … that I don’t have one. My points come and go and at first it’s really captivating for someone, but then it gets annoying and then they crack and fall off. And someone is always like: What does it mean? What does it say about our tiny existence in this giant unknown and mysterious space? Why oh why can’t she just be the thing that magic or nature or cosmic interference or biological chaos has created of her and for us to learn about our preconceived notions of species and humans and horn-dom? Instead, I’m just like growing horns and they fall off and nothing ever comes of it. It’s embarrassing as hell and I can’t wait to graduate. And then maybe I can ground up my broken horns and make some money selling it as an aphrodisiac on the dark web. If that’s really a thing. Maybe not. And this place would be long gone as if it never matters who or what you were in high school and how much you wished, really prayed and hoped, one day those little freak things about you added up to something great. Like you never even really cared because why would you?
Natanya Ann Pulley is a Diné writer and her clans are Kinyaa’áani (Towering House People) and Táchii’nii (Red Running into the Water People). She’s published in numerous journals and is the founding editor of Hairstreak Butterfly Review. She teaches fiction writing, experimental forms, and texts by Native American writers at Colorado College. Her story collection WITH TEETHwill be published in Fall 2019 by New Rivers Press. Her writing can be found a natanyapulley.com. Follow her on Twitter at @msnattyann.