Fourteen by Jessica Lindsley
The table is a door with a handle, brass plating worn away with the patience of hands — hands create an erosion of leaving, I am done in this room, give me another — and the recessed panels create bowls to cradle the pulsing guts and the summer warm blood of the fish as I clean them, stripping rainbow scales away swiftly with the edge of the fillet knife, gouging out intestines with a hooked finger, harvesting pearly sacs of roe. This is the summer I turn 14.
I keep a pink locking diary written in purple ink and tiny letters, a present from my maternal grandmother. She tries to give me something practical for gifts but I long to get toys like the other kids. We catch hundreds of fish from the run-off lake from the coal plant. All day until dusk, collecting blue gills or perch, then all night cleaning them by battery-operated trouble light, the sleeves of blood stain my arms, my face like a young surgeon. The fish bones are everywhere. We try to feed them to the dogs, throw them into the fire.
Last year it was a heather gray sports bra, which I wear now. My dad does not believe that I should wear any bra, but also yells at me about “The Sins of Eve,” the intrinsic evilness of women, if he notices my fleshy bumps touching my shirt, so I wear it anyway and walk with hunched shoulders. It’s still 2 years before it will be replaced. It will be the bra I am wearing when I am raped. The ink is bubblegum cheap translucent and incongruous to life at the lake. There is a freedom in the diary in the early mornings before Dad wakes up out of his stupor, a fuchsia infusion of hopefulness.
We are evolving into feral creatures. We are getting into fights with high school kids who come to the lake to party or to swim naked. We sabotage their bonfires with fireworks. We follow them when a drunk couple goes to the woods to neck, howling and giggling and throwing rocks. Our hair is long and matted and sun-bleached like a lion mane. My skin is darkest and freckled and looks darker for a summer of washing without soap in the algae-covered lake, for walking barefoot in dirt. My hands are filthy, fingerprint ridges stand out in high relief. I can put needles then nails then screwdrivers into my calluses, which I do to scare off the bullies when I get to back to school.
For Christmas, Grandma sends me a nailbrush and some deodorant for teenagers. My dad collects the Teen Spirit, enamored with the floral smell, and yells at me for being vain. Neither of us are aware of Kurt Cobain writing a song. On Mondays, we turn over garbage barrels and sift through fire pits for aluminum. Blackened hands, glass shards in the feet. We debate about eating the food we find in the garbage. I am eldest, I know it is wrong. In the end, we all eat from the box of Bugles, brushing aside the maggots, not touching or eating them, drink from the warming open beer and finally eat the potato chips broken in the bag and tasting like gasoline.
Jessica Lindsley grew up in North Dakota before the oil boom. Her work has been published in the Thirteen Myna Birds, DEAD SNAKES, cryopoetry, and forthcoming in Walking is Still Honest and Madhat Review. Find her online at jessicalindsley.com.