Before I go to bed I’m gonna have some Jiffy Pop, Emma tells me. Me and my brothers. She explains that they’re going to have the kind all packed into a fake skillet, going to roast it on the fireplace, which isn’t as good as the fire pit in the yard but better than nothing. Her oldest brother brought home liquid butter-product from the movie theater and it made everything taste delicious. I want to ask her if it even makes paper taste good (Emma likes to eat paper when she thinks no one’s looking) but decide not to.
Just then, Mom puts a hand on my shoulder, and when I feel the sweat transfer from her fingertips to my skin I realize my thighs are all but glued to the kitchen counter. The creases behind my knees are so sweaty they aren’t sticky, just wet, and probably red also, which I’m glad I can’t see.
Well, I’m gonnahavetaletchago, I say to Emma. (This was the first part of how Mom ended every phone call. The second part was to giggle and say Okay, okay, alright! And then laugh politely and say ba-bye!) Then Emma just said bye and hung up.
Mom takes her hand off my shoulder. She asks: Aren’t you tired? I tell her I’m sweaty. I unstick my thighs from the counter like massive band-aids. I never got to tell Emma my new weight. It is three pounds more than last time, but if Grammy’s books are true, that might just be because of water.
How’s Emma? Mom asks. Her brothers are making popcorn in the fireplace because they can’t use the fire pit, I say, and realize with some satisfaction that a lack of electricity means that their silver, two-doored refrigerator, whose ice-maker has three different settings, will also be out of commission. Once at her house I nearly died of thirst, longing for icewater but too scared to ask her for it. Another time she pushed me down a big dirty hill, a hill made entirely of dirt, some workers left when they were building the new pool deck. It’s because you’re too young, she said. You’re in the second grade but you’re only six. This is the seven-year-old dirt pile. Now I was seven and she was eight and the dirt was gone, but she still got plenty of things I didn’t, like special ice. Like a pool where I was too scared to be seen.
Emma is fat like me, but less afraid. She is a little bit afraid of Mario Kart, but only because I (Princess Peach) almost always beat her (Toad), even though I don’t even have a GameCube at home. We sometimes decide that we are going to diet together, usually while playing with her Bratz dolls, not because we want to look like the Bratz dolls but because playing dolls is when we talked about important things. After dolls, we would always go downstairs at exactly six p.m. and her mom would bring out Pillsbury crescent rolls, which I had never heard of until I met Emma, and real butter from a dish with its own small knife. I would eat them until I felt her mother looking at me.
(Emma told me once I made her mom uncomfortable because I talked about how fancy the rolls and the pool and the house were. But I just have a gross above-ground pool and grilled cheese at home, I had explained.)
The above-ground pool at my house is now covered by a tarp that shakes with the rain and makes muffled flapping sounds in the wind. After I got off the phone with Emma, Mom called Dad and he said the storm was passing by us now, so any extra noises or wind were all bark no bite, just like Emma’s chocolate lab, which I am even more afraid of than my bathing suit. Out the window, I see the tarp blowing free, half-unlatched by wind. The pool will be full of frogs tomorrow, I think.
Now that it’s mostly over, we should really go to bed, Mom says. When she says this, my stomach hurts. The fear is back and I’m not sure how to say it in words. Sometimes I feel like this, like my inside-body is going to pop out of my outside-body, because the inside is too sour to keep in. Like I’m about to turn inside-out. I don’t know how to say I’m feeling sour to Mom, so I don’t say anything.
I feel this same sour feeling when Emma talks about how young I am. And when I read to her from my scale and she says you need to stop eating at my house. I want to tell her I’m afraid to ask for a glass of water, but saying so is sour too. Every time I ask for something, I feel like I’m the wind and rain, hitting the tarp overandoverandover again. I am a Little Much. I am afraid to sleep because I think the Much will creep up on me, I think it creeps at night, I think it eats my insides and replaces them with something worse.
Come on, says Mom. Can you get Innocents Abroad, I ask, because that is the book we have been reading together for the last few weeks, Mom in a kitchen chair beside my bed. I wonder how someone from so long ago can still be funny. Mark Twain also read by candlelight, Mom says. She starts reading in her radio voice. My body is covered in sweat and I imagine the little salt grains glowing like the stars stuck to Emma’s ceiling. She keeps the spares with the Halloween candy under her bed.
Emma’s parents don’t read to her, and I don’t know how she lives that way, and I don’t know how she’ll sleep with all the dark up and lapping at the windows. I bet the stars will glow hard tonight.
[sarah] Cavar is a PhD candidate and transMad writer-about-town. Their debut novel, Failure to Comply, is forthcoming with featherproof books (2024). Cavar is editor-in-chief of manywor(l)ds.place and associate editor at Frontier Poetry, and has had work published in CRAFT Literary, Split Lip Magazine, Electric Lit, and elsewhere. More at www.cavar.club, @cavar on BlueSky, and @cavarsarah on twitter.
Other stars in the Crescent asterism:
Wingspread (Letter to Yanyi)
How mysterious and almost divine it feels to be capable of sending through words the understanding of emotions across space and time.
The Gentrification of Rocket Falls
Our houses didn't like this man either. We knew the signs of repulsion and fear, the way their siding shivered and shutters clanged shut.
The Sound of a Door Opening in the Forest
There was something calming about the totality of the fog, its constant movement appearing as unchanging stillness. It looked like the landscape of a dream.
The Unicorn in Captivity
Now the trumpets of battle blare; the castle is under siege. The young queen thinks: the unicorn is me; treasured, trapped but able to see beyond its flimsy cage.
At the school, kids would sometimes sneak looks inside each other's cavities, carefully cracking the little doors open just a sliver, not wanting the animals to escape before full gestation.