Polka Dots

by Jodi Sh. Doff

The author circa 1972, five months prior to the events of the story.

The author circa 1972, five months prior to the events of the story.

A girl’s first time should be memorable.

I gave my virginity away one bright July afternoon in 1972, and I remember my white and black polka dot bikini, the sun looking for all it was worth more like an enormous hot pearl than a distant star, sands like tea-stained lace laid out to dry, and ocean breezes. Flat on my back, in the dunes behind the backstop of the softball field wedged between parking field two and parking field three, I could see part of the red brick building that housed the public bathrooms, the top five or six feet of the chain link backstop, and an endless expanse of white-blue sky. It was the kind of view one would have were one buried neck deep in sand.

I remember thinking, afterwards, that a towel wouldn’t have been a bad idea, what with the salted breezes getting the warm sand in places sand really oughtn’t be. And honestly, sunglasses would’ve been smart, with all this laying on one’s back staring directly into the blinding white sun. And maybe sun block for my parts that’d never actually seen the sun before. Or even a bit of Coppertone®, since—if one is to give any credence at all to their logo—it was made specifically for young girls who’re having their bottoms yanked off in public, albeit by playful dogs, not a teenaged boy from Corona, Queens whose face I will forget.

 

About the author:

Jodi Sh. Doff is a New York based writer and photographer. Her work has appeared in thefix.com, xoJane, Penthouse, Cosmopolitan, Bust Magazine, and The Olive Tree Review, and anthologized in Bearing Life;Best American Erotica; The Bust Guide To A New Girl Order; and Hos, Hookers, Callgirls & Rentboys. She received her MFA from Lesley University where she advises a graduate seminar in the art of memoir, and is a mentor with the PEN America Prison Writing Program.

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Social Services

by F.S. Symons

Image by AAK

Image by AAK

Before you go in there you should listen to what I have to say. Jessica has been one of my cases for two, going on three years.  I talked with her today and she told me what happened.   

She moved as little as possible in this mobile home where she lives; she felt heavy, very heavy, the child in her belly like a lead balloon. She preferred not to move. She just lay down.

Where could she go? For her everywhere is the same, the same dirt, the same sharp rocks, the same glaring sun.  The same trees. Same as the last trailer where she lived. “True,” she said, “the trees they don’t move. But the others, them people, they move around all the time and they know how to find me. I can’t escape them. I know they might come any minute and haul me off to their prisons.”  “They” are us, the doctors, the psychologists, the police officers, and the social workers.

It’s been so long since Jessica has seen anyone. The last time was four, maybe five days ago. Over the years she has alienated what remains of her family, and both parents are dead. She’s been alone here for months.  She’s hardly eaten anything since three nights ago; she’d get hungry and then it passed.  Every so often she got out of bed and walked the length of the mobile home, barefoot on the old knobby carpet marred with cigarette burns. She hasn’t gone out for so long now. Loneliness weighs down upon her like the heavy body of her dead soldier.

While she was still in high school Jessica was already manic depressive, and for long periods she wouldn’t sleep; she fell fast asleep at the wheel one time in a car she had stolen from a cousin, and crashed the car into a tree — almost killing herself. Then the depression would hit her like a bullet; when she was supposed to be in school she spent day after day, week after week lying on her bed, refusing to take her medication. She’d really try hard to uncurl herself from the fetal position and do something, anything, but this had proved too great a challenge.  Sometimes, walking to and from the bathroom, she’d felt that the air, through which she moved, was becoming substantive. Its weight would press in, and hurt terribly, yet when she tried to locate the source of the pain she could not.  It came, as she knew, only from herself. Lying on her bed, she’d feel crushed by the air itself.

Yesterday she let out her dog, Jake, her half-wolf only friend, and let herself down the front steps.  She teetered on the hot surface of the dirt. The light was blinding.

She raised her hand to screen her eyes, then she realized she was barefoot because the sharp stones were cutting her feet. She stood in front of the mobile home without moving.  The sun beat down, throbbing out in painful waves.  There were rings swimming before her eyes, and off in the distance she saw fleeting silhouettes, maybe children, or cars, or the supermarket; it was hard to tell.

Jessica wanted to take a few steps backward but she staggered and the flat surface of the earth began to turn, pulling in its path the trees and the elongated bodies of the mobile homes, even the buildings.  The earth spun slowly, as if there was music playing somewhere. Suddenly she felt she was falling; her body hit the ground like a piece of wood.  She heard a loud noise in her head, like a gunshot, then she didn’t hear anything.

When she woke up she tried to get to her feet but she was too heavy. She fell down again. A neighbor passing by said, “I’m going to get a doctor.”

“No! No!” replied Jessica sharply. “I’m fine; I’m going inside.”  She limped over to the steps of the mobile home.

“Are you sure you don’t want to see a doctor?” the neighbor asked.

In a sort of rage Jessica screamed, “No!  Leave me alone!”

“What if you get dizzy again?”

Jessica said coldly, almost cruelly, “I don’t have dizzy spells.  My dog knocked me down.” To prove the truth of the dog she called out two or three times, “Jake! Jake!  Jake!…”  Of course the dog didn’t come. Looking over his shoulder repeatedly, the neighbor moved off towards the supermarket.

Jessica crawled back to the mobile home, putting her arms and legs forward with great care. All around her the light was blistering hot; she saw sparks burst forth from the leaves, the sharp stones, everything, even at the end of each of her nails. She felt like there was a sort of electrical storm passing over the trailer camp, making a strange kind of music, a low humming sound, a grating sound that was getting inside her ears and body. Jessica felt her throat tighten with nausea. A cold chill made the palms of her hands sweat, and her heart started to race in her arteries.

In slow motion she crawled to the mobile home steps, stopping to rest a couple of times. She saw two beetles, and a spider that looked like a scorpion. They had also stopped moving, and they seemed to her to be watching her, the four of them frozen in their motion, as if waiting, all of us uneasy, she mused.

Once inside she lay down and soon felt her waters seeping out into the bed beneath her. When she got to her feet to clean the bed she was suddenly overcome with strong contractions. She fell to the carpet, whimpering, unable to walk.  Waves of pain coursed through her body. The loneliness was filling up the mobile home, spreading its terrifying silence. She didn’t want to scream, she couldn’t.  She mustn’t, no matter what happened.  Her opened knees allowed her arms to hug her watermelon-like belly, holding it in like a belt. It was like her mind was having a conversation with her body. Slowly, instinctively, her arms began kneading, doing their work of expulsion, forcing long, feverish chills through her limbs. Suddenly she was no longer alone—the baby was at her breast.

Now you can go in there and get her and the baby and take them away.

 About the author

After a career with the UN and the federal government, F.S. Symons  turned to writing, and his poetry and short fiction has been published in literary journals such as Gloom Cupboard, Mused, New Verse News and Dark Matter. Last year he was nominated for a Pushcart Prize (Small Presses/poetry).

That Easter

field

by Leonore Wilson

I remember how cold it was that Easter, a bitter cold that kept us in as if it were winter, but the sun was out; the sun was a big deception in the sky. We were all at dinner — picture the ham, mashed potatoes, dyed eggs, the jelly beans. Then the phone rang. My mother answered. The dispatcher said people saw a naked woman running through traffic, she was running like a scared doe in headlights. They couldn’t shout her down or weave her in. They asked us if we had seen her, that she was last spotted running into the open field in back of the house. The police wanted to know if they could come up to the ranch and find her. A naked girl? Or was it a woman? My mother said it didn’t matter, no we hadn’t seen her. Then my husband left the table as if he were a doctor and this was his call. He ran out of the house and so did our boys. I was left with my mother at the table. We were the women. The food like a big accident before us. We ate the ham, the salad, drank our milk in silence to the sirens.

My husband came back. He said something about her wearing only underwear, big panties, nothing fancy, and that she had lived in the field for three days. He said she was nothing to look at really. In fact she looked like a dog, dog-ugly. He asked if I would give her a sweatshirt, some pants. I went to the laundry room, picked out the pink ones I hated, the color of peonies. Later I saw her at a distance. They had her handcuffed. They were taking her down the mountain. It was starting to rain. She had her head down, the way Jesus had his head hung, ready for the crucifixion; she was that scrawny. I put my body in her body. She was wearing my clothes. My husband told me she kept telling the cops that she was a mother, that no mother should be treated with handcuffs, that she was no danger. The cop said she was covered with bruises, that her husband had beaten her and left her on the highway, that she wanted to die in the field where she first met him, her lover. The cop said she was on drugs and loony. He said she’d probably go back to her husband. That they always do. These strays, these losers.

That was ten years ago, but I still think of her. This woman, not the only inconsolable stray I’ve found on my rural road, in this paradise called Napa, this manna of land fluted by canyons, sharpened by cliffs. Wappo territory where wild irises bloom their white flags from the portholes of meadows. There’s been others. Other women. The woman with purple welts around her neck, scourged neck of the black and blue, weeping near her stalled U-Haul and the oversized drunken tattoo of a man. Or the woman whose husband drove his black sedan behind her as she walked the dotted line, the mean bumper of his souped-up car butting up against her like a bull. But it was she, the woman discovered on Easter, who remains in my center like the blue throat of the owl in the center of moonlight. She the vixen’s red breath coming out of the garden and into the pitch. She emerging from the earth-bed like Persephone released from Hades, but returning to Hades. She, the matted camellia, the numbed apostrophe of the killdeer stirred from the cinders. Who is she, whose handiwork? Whose heat did she trigger? What ownership? Who was she, that threadbare girl of skin and ribs, feeling invisible, that field witch? Did anyone ask her; what are you feeling, do you feel anything, as they cuffed her bare feet, stuffed her in back of that cop car? Was she bound and flogged before he, her lover, her spouse, tossed her out like rotten trash? Is there any way to explain her naked body? Her naked fingers? Her fallen legs collapsing under her like unplayed cards?

I think of her, of all the women I have found in my country, their shadows writhe within me. I who have stayed silent. They with their loosened hair, stained with soil and blood, drugged eyes glazed forever on the black chart of amnesia. There have been many in these hills, this valley. Wild, hard women. Endangered sisters. Their heaped colors suddenly gone ashen like the cloudiness that forms over winter blacktop. They who scratch themselves, who urinate, who stay in unspeakable loneliness, their feminine power routed backward like miles of barbwire. They are homeless cursed women, naughty women, the words stolen out of their teeth like bread. They who would rather choke than be vulgar.

How can I wrap my house in sleep thinking of them, thinking of her making a fire of wet wood, telling stories to herself, singing lullabies, nursing the tragedy of her sex. I pace the floor thinking of her. I poke my spade into the dry loam and think of her. I find her everywhere. I have learned her by heart. I have worn her close to my body. For she is my body. She is the foundling of the woods, the one slip of tongue, the liquid mist that burns off the highway as the new day forms.

I want to know who touched the match to her flesh, who left her blanketless in the frost as I stoked and blazed my stove. I know she was there in the twilight and thorns. I’ve felt her mouth on mine like a lump of bitter jelly all those times alcohol was fire on my breath. The times I starved myself with pills in my pocket, wanting love, wanting the brisk taste of airports and ferries, I’ve been her. The times I wanted the impermissible. I’ve been her. Discontent as a cormorant that pokes around the corpses of roses, wanting to be fractured, exiled under the floss of many petals, I’ve been her. Wanting to be seduced by that floral nard. Me, in the snowstorm of unimaginable longing while the hangman’s noose rose inside my chest, taunting, taunting. I too tried on death too many times. I who wore my own bruises like badges around my jaw. I of steely posture.

Why?

I lowered myself in the chaparral, afraid, my breasts full of milk, my hair disheveled. I thought I could stand betrayal, that I could spill myself like purple vetch, like legend down the lush gametrails into drink. What soothed me? Sometimes mint in the mouth, sometimes the pearl-gray mist. I wanted to be like my ancestors. I wanted to be strong as shattered rock, as basalt mortars. I didn’t think it right that a woman go off like a kettle full boil. But I was proud and half-blind. I was a stuttering tadpole. A spectacle. An odd empty thing.

I was a master of nothing. I wrestled with the serpent inside me, the female totem of melancholy. Me with my teacups and miniature cakes. I sucked in my midnights, my howls and my whelps. Why? How many dead girls like me smelled of old lunatic lies?

My sentence was mine: my well-piped breeding, my pilgrim dreams. Guardian of chandeliers, when my heart was always squawking like an interior swan.

Be damned the well-scrubbed house, the family snapshots. Be damned the flowers of Hell, the ostracized penance, the lowermost regions, Lethe’s spell where Eurydice wastes away with Persephone. Be damned if the dark snake of Eden flew out of my mouth. I want the Easter woman at my table, I want her story. I want to take her groggy hand, lead her away from the fettered ring, the life of sacrifice, of thick-scented curses. My tongue dips into the chewed meat of thistled honey when I say this. Mothering is the dilation of feathers. Forget the flower-pressed face concealing its failures, bleeding its kindness like a parasite. Inside our smile is the knife-grind, the winged lion. What abscesses in our flesh — not our humiliation, nor our quarrel, but our rising.

grain

About the author

Leonore Wilson is the mother of three sons in their early twenties. Her husband is a scientist. She lives in the wilds of Northern California. Like it or not, she comes from generations of rugged females keeping nature both fertile and sacred. She has won awards as well as fellowships for her work and has published in Poets Against the War, Madison Review, Sing Heavenly Muse, Rattle, Quarterly West, Third Coast, Pedestal, Laurel Review, Pif, DMQ Review, and Unlikely Stories.