On their second date, he will wear a shirt half tucked in, un-ironed, rolled up to the elbows. She’ll see the various tattoos on his arms but the one of a peony will be the one that confirms where she goes that night. “I went home w/ W,” she will text a friend, but the message will not go through, and so the next morning, she will imagine she might have imagined the whole thing. He will take them back to his house on J Street. He will still smell of saffron and garlic. Her family will still not want her around. There will be a judgmental cat on the windowsill, staring through her like it knows her biggest baddest secret, and she will say, trying to hide fear, Is that thing yours? I’m allergic. He will reply, No, dear, it’s the neighbors, and he will give her a look like she’s the only item in the pantry, the human equivalent of a half-eaten saltine sleeve, and she will squint her eyes at him and think, oh no, and become embarrassed for the both of them. She will have already been there too long, shown too much, promised the incorrect amount. But she will have been taught no way out other than through. So when Will unbuttons the top of his shirt she will scoot closer, keep an iron hand on her trembling thighs to quell them, lick her lips in that way she learned, reach for his belt, take a deep breath and—wait. Never mind. He will only want to watch a movie.
A city nestled against the water’s edge, the American River, God’s River, some call it. Not her, though. She hates the river because it connects her new neighborhood to her old. In her new neighborhood, there’s a pool. For weeks she has spent every day at the pool, her body a sponge of chlorine, other people’s urine, small black hairs, water to drown tiny ears. Three boys are at the opposite end of the pool. One of the boys, turned up-nose, patchy neck, lies all the way down on the ground, while the others count how long his stomach can make contact with the hot pavement before he pussies out. The word pussy echoes, sits behinds her on the plastic chase lounge—
—bending in the middle.
Hey, aren’t you that one girl? She turns around to see a fourth boy, Scout Nelson, son of Jerry, known for being the youngest person in her previous town to stay the night at a mental institution because he refused to stop wearing a racist Halloween costume to school. It was only a matter of time before someone recognized her. The past is the present is the past just pretending to be something it’s not. Pussy pussy pussy.
She lost her mind when, at age seven, she ran over her cat’s tail in a radio flyer wagon three times. First as an accident, second on purpose, and third as an accident no one believed was an accident. She was not much of a people person or an animal person or a defendable person and she had within her, a delicate flower wilting at an alarming rate and a penchant for laughing at violent images on television. When the cat was hit its third and final time, she placed it’s then severed tail in an egg-yolk yellow pillowcase and ran out to the river in a panic. She jumped in feet first, even though she had sensitive feet and was not a good swimmer. As she struggled, the current began to ruin her brand new shoes and her nicely plaited hair. Paradoxically, the deeper she went into the river, the shallower she got. She could not go back, tried to not go back, but three policemen found her while fishing off duty, and returned her home, safely. Weeks later, the pillowcase bubbled to the surface of the river like a young coconut and a man, Benjamin Weaver, father of Samuel, was getting in his daily dip when he came across a strange object in the middle of the water. When he opened the pillowcase he found nothing in it, and so, somewhere in the American river, there remains a floating tail. And elsewhere, an imbalanced cat on someone else’s windowsill, cocking its head, forever waiting, just waiting for you.