A hand deep in a pocket touches what it means to touch.
On Old Glenview road, past the Presbyterian church and the rust-red barn, past the field with the cows and the field with the Halloween pumpkins, past the disordered houses which are brick and wood and melancholic and which are overgrown with prickly green shrubs and which are constantly smelling of water-logged books and which were imposing, but are not anymore, and which are half-invisible, half-solid, half-important, there is a girl walking and bleeding, bleeding and walking, gliding like a box-cutter through soundless air.
A hand deep in a pocket touches what it means to touch; a switched-off handle stays cold despite used fingers. Mary thinks about her goal, situated so carefully on the narrow road of her mind and the wide road of her neighborhood, and she smiles, further cracking her lip. Wet blood, all taste, cover teeth that she is still losing. How many have fallen out? Mary wiggles her tongue and counts the holes, then does a little jump. Three. Three teeth. Three teeth all in different parts of her mouth. She continues moving, still poking her tongue there and there and there. There and there and there. Here is the inside of me. Here are fleshy, puffy gums underneath my very fragile teeth.
Mary had not considered, before this walk on this road, that there were parts of herself she did not know existed, parts of herself she had never felt. Now, she is feeling them. Now, she is rubbing her thumb against the side of tough leather. Now, she is thinking about today. Now, she is speeding up, recklessly moving her feet, kicking loose pebbles on pavement, pretending they are herself. She is hearing these pebbles, which in her mind are her teeth, and they are pittering on the ground, a weak, awful sound—the glass jars in Mary’s kitchen make this noise, too. Stomp, rattle, stomp, rattle.
Soon after the teeth numbering, the sun starts lowering, and the wind comes. The space in front of Mary, which was previously empty except for her peripheral view of sidewalks and grass, is now orange with cracked leaves, darkening gradually. Mary continues forward, still far from a destination. It will happen inside his home or outside his door; she doesn’t mind much either way.
Mary hates the leaves, though. They brush against her invasively, not meant to crumble against little girl skin, raw from autumn cold. A nice jacket would fix this, Mary thinks, one that swooshes while I move. Right now, her arms are naked and red and tucked close to the sides of her body, and they are seeking warmth, slippery warmth, warmth that will belong to Mary’s hands once she passes the bend in the road and the fields that precede it. She jumps hard on the collection of leaves in her way, very satisfied at the thought.
Except for those leaves, there is no sound. The trees are bare, and the wind rushes through them as if they are nothing. Not even a whistle, which Mary can admire. She will be like that today: quick and efficient and unrelenting.
A pothole catches Mary’s attention. She steps inside of it, and as she does, raises her left hand to her mouth, opens wide, and now, more blood. Knuckles scrub the palate above her tongue. There and there and there. There and there and there. It hurts this time; the pain is pulsing, rooted deep in the soft parts of her jaw. Mary removes her fingers and stares hard at their new sticky color, wipes them on stiff jeans. Bodies have so much blood, she thinks, leaving the hole. It just comes and comes.
She doesn’t have to wonder much about the blood in her own body, Mary knows it very well. Almost every day, she knows it intimately. Her blood collects in her mouth, and it collects under her skin, and it collects in the pit of her stomach, and, on linoleum kitchen floor, it collects as pools, right in front of her eyes. Even if she doesn’t feel blood, Mary tastes it constantly, a phantom sting. There is nothing like that taste, over and over again, in her own mouth.
Another smile: the wind has carried a smell, old and damp, into Mary’s path. Wood. Water sucking wood, from trees ahead of her, that indicates nearness to the bend. Again, her pace quickens. She skips and skips, flexing her fingers around the stolen object in her pocket. There is nothing she won’t do—that is something Mary is sure of. Some people really deserve it. Some people, like her dad, other people are better without.
The bend begins. Mary steps on a yellow line in the middle of the road and holds both arms out; she is balancing on a beam, tipping left and right, spinning as she follows the curve, completely unworried about cars. Most people have come back from work, and those who haven’t can’t stop her. Noise drifts when the street is this empty—she’ll hear what’s coming from a mile away, and Mary doesn’t need a mile. Already, she is anticipating the sound the corn stalks will make when she walks through them. They are coming soon, piled thick in rows.
A black bird caws. Another flaps its wings. Mary, with arms still raised, pushes her thumb against a small, metal button. She sees the blade release, and thinks, I’m so happy. I’m so happy with this.
Her entire body feels complete, so Mary twirls around and around, watching how quickly the knife moves, watching how quickly she can blur the world into motion; how easy it is to focus on herself when she has a knife in hand, a knife that she will name, eventually, because she has heard that, sometimes, people do that. She wonders if her dad has already named the knife and decides it does not matter, because it is her little girl knife now. It is her knife. Mary’s knife. Tiny, shiny Mary, because the waning light from the sun is glinting against its blade, reflecting the threat it is cutting. Tiny shiny.
She stops when she feels like stopping, pockets the knife, and keeps walking forwards. There is the corn field, yellow brown, with tall, rustling husks that hide a small house Mary knows exists past the field. Her mom has driven her by it before, dark sunglasses on, a hand pointed out the window: You see that? It’s your father’s workshop. Mary remembers watching her fingers shake on the steering wheel from the back seat, remembers her own fingers shaking, and how she crossed them tight in her lap to stop—the knife is in her hand again. The air has gotten colder and sharper and now there is the field, with bending corn, because the wind is so powerful, and Mary knows it’ll be time soon, so she holds the knife tighter, and she smiles so so so wide, the smile she knows her mom loves.
Shoes sink into dirt in front of the stalks, and Mary tries comparing herself to their height. She leans forward slowly, rolls her feet so that she’s on her tippy toes, and reaches up—an attempt to rip an ear off—but Mary’s too small. Which is fine, she thinks, because it’s much more fun to push through things than it is to hurt them. Tiny Shiny drops back in her pocket, ready, but still. Mary’s left arm glides through the first row of the field, and her body glides within its motion, bringing with it a sweeping right. The stalks part like water, and Mary is deep inside an ocean of corn—husks and silk and green covering her view of the sky.
There is rhythm and overwhelming sound; there is the smell of dry dirt and the crisp snapping of her own feet; there and there and there, is the ache of her mouth; there and there and there, is the blood inside of it; there and there and there, is the blood on her jeans, on her fingers, on her face. What Mary knows is this: she is not the one who stomps. She is not the one who breaks cabinets. She is the one who is shoved into counters face first, the little girl who knows what it is like to feel granite penetrate a nose and watch as teeth fall onto a floor, the little girl who has heard her own self bounce all over, who has never been a stranger to the constant, open vulnerability of a body.
It’s like there is TV static in her brain, now. That is the noise of the field, TV static and sniffing nostrils. Mary considers how she must look, crazy, and finds she doesn’t mind much. She swims through the last bit of stalk and sees her dad’s house. A wood workshop. A lonely, small wood workshop that he runs to every morning after his episodes.
Mary moves faster, reaches a path lined with rocks, perfect in their placement, walks up a handmade porch, stained brown, and before she knocks, flips out her knife, puts it behind her back.
He answers the door wearing a red, puffy vest—which complicates things, a little, for Mary. Originally, she was going to gut her dad the moment the door opened. Before he could say a word, Mary was going to take Tiny Shiny and stab him right in the stomach, an overhead swing. But seeing him now, his size, and his thick clothing, brings Mary back to her goal. Any movement she makes will only injure him, and that is not what Mary is here to do.
“Well,” says her dad, the slightest Southern drawl, “are you going to say something, or just stand there looking stupid?” He stomps the toe of his boot on the hardwood behind him, and Mary doesn’t flinch. Her knife remains steady as she waits for him to bend down, to unzip his jacket, to close his eyes and yawn, to do anything that gives her the chance she needs.
But her dad does nothing—he just stares, and after a moment, starts closing the door.
“Can’t I come in?” Mary says quickly, moving her left hand to keep it from shutting.
“Hell no,” her dad says, “I’m working on stuff, and you look filthy.” He gestures to Mary’s face and jeans with his unoccupied hand, unbothered by the fact that he was the cause of the filth. There’s nothing quick to his movements, every inch of him is deliberate and mean. Mary wishes he was already dead, that she had already killed him. She thinks: It’s my turn. It’s my turn.
“Well,” says Mary, “I still want to come in.” She shifts her head to look inside the house, stops once her dad turns his chest to block her eyeline.
“Well, I’m still not going to let you.”
Her dad slams the door hard, and Mary just barely removes her hand in time to keep it from getting caught and smashed.
“Then I need a ride home,” yells Mary, squeaky-voiced, pounding flat-palmed on wood. Thud, thud, thud, and the pain reverberates there and there and there, in the parts of herself that he has tried to ruin, there and there and there, in the flesh of her mouth.
No response, so Mary pounds harder, and when that doesn’t work, she starts kicking. Tiny Shiny is still behind her back, razor sharp and big as ever, and Mary realizes that it doesn’t matter if she wants to kill her dad, because the bastard won’t even look at her long enough to let her try.
“I’m your daughter!” Mary screams, pounding and kicking, kicking and pounding. “I am your daughter!”
“You’re not getting a ride from me, sweetheart,” her dad responds back suddenly, twice as loud despite the separating wall, “so get to fucking walking!”
Mary gives the door one last kick and looks to her right. She switches Tiny Shiny over to her left hand, brings down the blade, and pockets it. She grins, thinks about how she will act like the wind, steps off her dad’s porch, bends down, and grabs a medium-sized rock from the collection in front of the stairs. My hand is like a mouth, Mary thinks, feeling the rock’s weight. Then, she winds up and throws it into a window.
Glass shatters immediately, but Mary keeps throwing. Her dad is screaming and screaming and it doesn’t matter, because he is screaming and opening the door, screaming and running towards Mary, screaming and grabbing her by the collar, screaming and dragging her inside.
As he drags her, Mary’s knees scrub the ground and hit every foot of the steps. She falls hard on them when her dad finally pitches her to the floor, a sharp welcomed pain. If he crouches down to hit her, the whole thing will be easier.
“You bitch,” he yells, slamming the door again. “You god damn bitch!”
The picture in the entrance hall rattles and falls, more glass breaks, and Mary, with a hand in a pocket, crawls towards the middle of the room, away from the wall of knives and tools next to the door. Like Tiny Shiny, her dad’s workshop is built to cut wood, and Mary’s not going to let herself die because of it. Opposite her position, she spots a transparent door leading to the backyard, so she forces herself upright and does her best to run, knowing her dad will eventually follow.
But he is still screaming. He is raging against the walls, distracted, even though Mary caused the mess, because he secretly loves to be angry, because there is no part of her dad that doesn’t relish in his own ability to create violence, and Mary, who needs him to die, will take advantage of this indulgence. She hears him again, “Crazy bitch, stupid cunt,” and runs faster.
Outside now, Mary sprints to the oak tree ahead of her, collides with the ladder built into its side. Climbs. Each rung is un-sanded, and Mary feels its splinters enter into the webbing between her fingers, into the underneaths of her nails, into the smoothness of her red palms, but she keeps pushing upwards. There is a half-built treehouse above Mary, she could see it from inside, and all she needs is to get to the top. This isn’t hurt, Mary thinks, this isn’t half of what I can take.
“Mary!” The backdoor swings open. Mary hears it crash.
Her dad runs out, and Mary climbs faster, heaving herself onto the lonely piece of wood resting level on branches. She breathes deeply, blinks, readies herself. And as her dad steps his first foot onto the tree’s third rung, Mary takes out Tiny Shiny, screams like she’s never screamed before in her life, and jumps.
A mess of limbs—gangly knees and elbows—hits her dad in the face. They both fall to the ground, Mary on top, breathing heavy, but ready. She flips out the blade and just goes.
Tiny Shiny enters her dad’s neck like it is nothing. And again. And again, like it is nothing, and again, like it is nothing, because it is. And there is so much blood spraying from him. Blood coating Mary’s hands and cheeks. Her dad flails his arms, knocks Mary off his body, but she knows he won’t be able to move for much longer, and Mary hopes he is in pain.
Then, instead of dragging his body away from her, her dad takes his last bits of strength to claw his way through grass towards Mary. But she is ready. And when he gets close, Mary just stabs him again. This time in his shoulder. She pulls out Tiny Shiny, pushes herself to stand, and then, because she can, Mary kicks him right in the nose.
She sees, for once, her dad’s blood, she smells, for once, her dad’s blood, and for once, his blood is the one that covers her fingers, and it is warm like she thought—the only warm thing in the backyard. Next is his stomach.
My hand with the knife is like a mouth, Mary thinks. A mouth. A mouth, mouth, mouth, missing zero teeth. A sharp mouth, with piranha jaws, that bites very cleanly. A mouth that does not have to chew much. Chomp chomp. In and out. A quick, never full, mouth.
And she stabs him again, and she is able to smell blood. And she stabs him again, and remembers her mom, who she could not think of much today, because it was too painful. And she stabs him again, and relives that walk down the road, down the bend, through the field. And she stabs him again, and the blood is just coating her, and she is happy because he deserves it. And she stabs him again, and wishes she was strong enough to kick out his teeth, to make her dad feel one little bit of what she has felt her entire life.
And then she hears nothing, because her dad is not moaning or breathing. Mary relaxes onto the backs of her thighs. She looks at her little girl hands that are more mangled than she’s ever seen them, and she looks at Tiny Shiny, the knife she stole from her dad’s collection at home, and she isn’t sure whether she wants to cry or wipe blood into her hair, so she moves towards the ladder and climbs again.
Lying on the flat of the treehouse, Mary wonders why her dad ever built it. She keeps her eyes on the sky, which is dark now, and knows that there is no part of herself that she doesn’t know, swirls her tongue inside her mouth there and there and there, there and there and there.