Maybe the cheeriness of the balloons attracted me to it. The estate sale sign, written with rain-blurred ink, was stuck into the loose dirt of a mole hill on the shoulder of a country road just past the pioneer cemetery.
The place was packed.
Church ladies bustled about, straightening piles, redirecting people into sale areas, tugging on rolls of masking tape, pulling untagged items from boxes. They marched around with an aura of purpose and duty—as if their men had gone off to war.
Breathing through my mouth, I looked around, a feeling of sadness growing. It was like standing in the desert, watching black-winged birds scatter their bones.
Would someone really buy one of those old-fashioned bras? I shuddered, imagining my breasts slipping into the cold shock of the old woman’s lace.
I spent seventy cents for seven wooden hangers, each marked with the dead woman’s name. “Now that’s a find,” the shrunken lady at the money box chirped. “You can’t have too many of those.”
What to do? What to leave undone?
I left only understanding this: grief and fear can pile up like clothing.
When Mrs. Brown bends over to help the boy at the desk in front of me, I want to poke her huge butt with a pin and watch her fly around the room.
I pinch my eyes shut and can see her ass flying above her small balloon head, girls in the class screaming, can imagine finding her deflated and shriveled rubber body in the corner of the room, mouth twisted and silent, in a pile of dust behind the piano. My fingertips tingle like they’ve gone to sleep and are waking back up when I think about holding the pin between them.
When Mrs. Brown tells us that leeches have thirty-two brains, I have to sit on my hand to keep it from whipping into the air.
“Well, guess what?” I want to say. “My Daddy has fifty-two fists. I counted them all last night.”
The counselor has crooked eyes and his beard looks greasy. When I tell everyone in class I won a swimming contest, Mrs. Brown sends me to his office. Mr. Ford’s socks don’t match. He takes a puppet with red hair and freckles out of a closet and tells me to listen to it and not him. He calls the puppet Jerry. I know it’s a trick. I see Mr. Ford’s lips moving. Then I know he tells lies, too.
“Why did you lie?” he asks, pretending Jerry is talking and not him. Sunshine is lighting up a Snoopy decal on the window behind him. I keep looking down at his socks, one with blue stripes, the other plain white. I shrug my shoulders but don’t speak as tears brim against my eyelids.
When Mrs. Brown writes on the chalkboard, her hand slips sometimes. The other kids cover their ears, but I don’t. I like the sound it makes. Mrs. Brown bends over my desk now, smelling of baby powder and coffee. She has hair on her chin. Her lipstick is crooked. She bends over and looks at my paper. She tells me that I write like a boy.
I twist a braid in my fingers and tell her, without moving my lips at all, “Guess what? Someday I’ll hit like one, too.”
Gina Williams lives and creates near Portland, Oregon. Her writing and visual art have been featured most recently by Okey-Panky, Carve, The Sun, Fugue, Palooka, Black Box Gallery, Great Weather for Media, and theNewerYork, among others. Learn more about her and her work at GinaMarieWilliams.com.