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ROLLING BACK STONES
You disappear just like that—blackbirds in the elm trees. It was your idea, after all, to get into shape, to start becoming the version of yourself you use in daydreams. We sisters navigate our unpaved road: erosion and dirt in the dark, spitting out bugs that flit into our mouths. You’d finished your first year of college at that Christian school in Ohio, your hair one shade darker, wearing comfort weight from making friends how you never did here. We fall into stride together, elbows low, breathing heavy. A layer of mosquitoes hovers over the pond as we pass, the smell of freshly mowed hay bales filling the dusk air.
Five minutes in you stop, say, Keep on without me. I relish my ability to do so. We agree to meet nowhere. I urge my legs to do what they’re meant to, ask the hills that raised me to make me small again. We play the same pretend with our bodies: the fat we try to burn a layer of protection our real selves can’t afford us. I inch towards the top of an incline, near the tiny house with the Trump sign. I think of last night, how we curled into your bed, watching others’ lives play out on the screen, silent. Candy wrappers littered the floor we share like all the secrets we never tell each other. How you measure my hips for worth. How I’m afraid you’re the daughter who goes furthest.
I wait for five minutes.Ten. Funny, how quickly light can turn on us. I keep jogging, hoping you surprise me, scare me, your footfalls quiet from behind. One truck drives past me slowly, then another. I stumble in the dark, serviceless, watching the reflective strips on my feet for guidance. I stopped believing in your God years ago. Still, I pray. I will be kinder to her. I will be good. Let her be good. I think of the foul-mouthed boys who’d driven up our neighborless hill while you were at work, asking for you by name. I think of the boys who’d chased me home, laughing as I ran.
I sprint home despite my burning limbs. I scream your name, wave my arms through black sky. I feed myself false promises. She’s at our truck. She got tired. I think, If she’s waiting for me, I’ll kill her. Miles off, a dog cries. I think of the man who grabbed my shoulders at the bar. How he looked when I pushed him off. I think of the man who held that door shut as I cried. You’re not going anywhere.
Before I reach the truck, I know you’re not there. Whippoorwills abandon their branches, afraid. I start to spin, half-blind when I hear you. I see the light of your phone before your face. You laugh, say, I’m right here. I think of Mary entering the tomb, looking for the child she never asked for. How I have nothing to do with miracles.
AMANDA GAINES is a PhD candidate in CNF in OSU’s creative writing program. She is the nonfiction editor of Into the Void. Her poetry, nonfiction, and fiction are published or awaiting publication in The Oyez Review, Gravel, Typehouse, The Meadow, Into the Void, Yemassee, Redivider, and Ninth Letter.
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