Issue #1: Nonfiction
The peel of a rotting lime is in my pocket like the arc of a thumbnail. A perfectly intact spiral and I cannot stop touching, cannot for the life of me stop squeezing, rubbing it from end to end like a pipe cleaner. Oil traces my fingerprints. I touch them to my lips and breathe this scent, this thing you’ve left me.
I hated honey and once you tricked me, swept me up and kissed me, and while I gagged you wiped the honey from your mouth with the cuff of your last good shirt. “Just so sweet, aren’t I?” Laughing, hours. You had never seen yourself so funny.
You told me the vases in your garage had been left by previous owners, and that each contained the cremated remains of their relatives. One was so tiny, it fit into my palm like a toy teapot. You told me it was a child and caught the boy when I gasped and let go.
You were sick of suburbia and I was worldly, or wordlier than you, at least; this was enough. On slick days in April we’d find a neighbor’s grass to claim. My dog would sleep on your chest while you asked about London, Ireland, one night in Wales I can’t remember. So much liquor and snow.
I was bored and you were available. You had a car and you had money and I was not going dateless to the Prom if it was the last thing I did. I was eighteen and you, a year younger, you were suffering the thirst. I’d reached the threshold of that thing they call Adulthood and you wanted in with me.
In the arboretum one night you jolted yourself towards the edge of the parking deck. I screamed for you, reached into the air for you. You were never falling. It was a joke. When I realized this and saw you laughing, balanced with one heel on your bumper, I slid down from the hood and cried. “No, no,” you said. You didn’t mean for it to scare me so much.
It was that night I told you what my father had done. That I could still see him, his face swollen and his eyes protruding like grapes. His mouth was open and some nights I can count the flies inside. His skin was not like wax, the way I’ve heard death is. It felt the same as he always had. He was not even cold, because it was May and the sun was always out.
It was a night in May when I told you this. Three years, I said, and showed you the tallies on my arm where I used to count my worst days of the illness.
You asked if I still got that way sometimes. I said yes. It comes back in its own seasons, sometimes a day, sometimes a month, varying in intensity. I handle it accordingly.
You told me maybe I needed medicine and I said go fuck yourself.
Once I was on Prozac. For two weeks I felt like I could do anything; I was a well of energy, of pep, of feeling. Then one night after a game where I had screamed the loudest, had clapped the most, had shared cotton candy with my best friend and reveled in a teenage autumn, I took all of my Prozac at once with vodka and Nyquil. I made it through the night and my mother never knew.
Later, in a relapse, they gave me Zoloft. I put a rent in my leg via box cutter, three inches wide and nearly one deep. My then-boyfriend poured my pills into a drain and watched me bandage the wound. He didn’t offer help. He didn’t say a word, except “move” when he needed to throw up into the toilet I’d been sitting on.
You asked to see the scar. When your fingers went into it, rubbing the smooth surface like pressing on a decal, you asked if it hurt. I felt nothing at the surface, and only pressure beneath. You kissed it and told me you would not have been like him.
Once, you were on top of me on my bedroom floor and my shirt came down. You asked if you could leave it. I pulled down your zipper and said, “Only if you let me leave this down.” And it was good that way, touching where we hadn’t touched, on each other, on anyone. It was my last day of high school until graduation. My robe hung on the wall above us. A countdown for college was taped beside it.
I had not planned for you. You were supposed to be Prom and nothing else, or maybe just something else, a hobby for the summer.
We touched more and I realized I didn’t like you as much as you liked me. I didn’t like you much at all, really. You couldn’t kiss well. You touched me like you were afraid. When I touched you, you made noises in your throat but tensed up in your stomach.
When you were eight a homeless man molested you in the men’s room of the downtown theatre. Since then you’ve grown to fear sex. You feared me. You feared the way you wanted me and the way I wanted you. You feared how easily fear could be ignored.
One night in your Lincoln with the windows down halfway and our pants undone, you said, “Make me go through with it. Just—just help me get over what happened. I don’t want to be afraid forever.”
I zipped up my pants and said no. I would not be the one to make you unafraid, to heal what that homeless man had done, to unravel the things your preacher daddy taught you. Your hardwire told you sex was wrong. Touching was wrong. We were wrong and going to hell one day for using what God gave us; I wouldn’t be the one to reprogram you.
I ended us two days before I graduated. You gave back your ticket and I gave back your shirt.
Things in this place are said to repeat. Once a nation’s capital, we now claim nothing but the past, a faded grandeur that dribbles down bricks. I’ve had my feet bare on the cobblestones, a street as cold as the river when the sun’s down. I’ve been naked in the river. I’ve been naked in the river with naked boys. I’ve seen their privates through the water, floating, glowing like eels when the moonbeams hit.
My sister snuck into the river after senior prom; our mother would skip school to press her toes into the sand, testing for broken bottles. Both of them, pregnant by twenty-one. This is in my blood: corruption through naiveté, a belief in love, a closely guarded virginity of the mind. A girl who frees herself, nude, into the river, and is only happy this way, baring herself to the Mother instead of a male. A solo baptismal.
But then we find him and our girlhood is taken to pieces. Spiritual connections, we say, born again; we go from sweet to spicy. My mother met my father and started wearing leather, racing Harleys, sneaking weed from the velvet pouch in her car. My sister found boys with one-syllable names and I remember the tiny bottles of vodka and extra-thin condoms in her coat pockets, the scent of clove cigarettes and Brut pressed firmly into the collar.
Innocent till flooded guilty: these are the women I grew up watching, fiery women doused by men, tamed. And you, thinking you know me, you can’t tell me I’m different. I had never touched more than a boy’s hand, maybe his neck, before touching you—this inexperience I will not deny. But my lineage points a clear path, regardless of how late I was in following it. What you thought was attraction was actually addiction. It was not you I could not stop touching. It was your species.
I wrote you a letter when it was over. Later, from a friend of a friend, etc., I learned that you had never read a letter so sweet, so poignant. Never had anything made you cry so much yet feel so peaceful.
Repetition. I wrote nearly the same letter to my first boyfriend, and the one after you as well. God forbid any of you ever meet. I’m turning into history.
My mother still forgets my father is dead from time to time. This is the saddest.
My sister hates me because I’m thinner than she is, and smarter; I’m going to college and I drive a stick, both just like Daddy wanted. I can do everything she can and better. And more. Except maybe flip a cig inside my mouth. The ashes flake onto the backs of my teeth.
The ashes in your garage upset your mother. She wants them gone, scattered, hidden, something. You father, rumor has it, wants to put them in the herb garden. Revert them to soil the way God intended.
Last night I dreamt I was pregnant with a baby, an immaculate conception, Christ’s Second Coming. I did not take care of myself the way the angel instructed, or the way anyone instructed. Vodka and fast food and fast cars. You begged me to stop—for the sake of the Rapture—but I wouldn’t. So much concentrated holiness had made the rest of me evil. In the end I miscarried. Our baby fell into the toilet and did not rise again; you flushed him down and spit on me because I had ruined our chances at heaven.
This morning I went to see you at work. I wanted to tell you about the dream, but the woman in line behind me had problems with her order, and she needed you more.
I’m sorry that I was different from your others. I’m sorry you weren’t different from mine.
You used to leave things in my pockets—coupons, candy, Post-Its with hearts and couplets. In the lot, I saw your car. Broken locks. Jacket in the back. I searched its pockets and found this peel. The oil stings the creases in my lips. Your favorite song is on the radio now, and some piece of me wants to cry, or wants to want to, but nothing happens, even when I chew an open sore into my mouth and rub the peel against the wound.
Taylor Hodge is an undergraduate at Hollins University in Roanoke, Virginia, currently working on her degree in English and Studio Art. While "Peel," her first published piece, is nonfiction, her main focus is on poetry and fiction.