We played croquet in the yard, cartwheeling when we felt it. When her mom called us in for lunch, we’d save the game for later, or the next day, or the next one. Her mother smoked those minted cigarettes, her father smoked cigars, and I would cover my mouth every time I slept there. Her grandparents lived in the next house, sharing the yard and barn: the only homes on that part of the road, next to the fields wild with wheat and corn and violet. The road had the same name as her surname, just like mine, my road perpendicular to hers, my home not quite a mile further. Her mom sang us ice cream songs, like you scream, we scream, I scream, and she had a smile that left her face the day she lost her toddler: a girl I watched my friend talk into drinking vodka, inhaling half a smoke. My friend and I were supposed to be protectors. I remembered going home, my mom asking what was wrong now. The sister had a heart condition, slept with one eye open, had a half smile, and could never quite stand upright.

There were days we’d play on the swing set made for four, pushing it higher than her father said we were supposed to until one day we watched the poles break. I felt the rock and rumble. Days of swimming in her willowed pond, her grandmother trying to swim with us, helping us burn off leeches with her California lighter. Days before boys, before she kissed Rolando, a boy who the next day invited me for a ride in his Camaro, a boy I never cared about, though I cared about the ride, those places in my body I never knew could feel that.

After that, I only saw her once, her mom inviting me over for the theme of the night. I remember her mother’s red scarf, the way it wrapped around her. She steamed veggies, stirring stew, while us girls went to her room where we used to play Barbie’s. She asked about my body. She wanted to see it. Please, she said. She seemed desperate.

I started with my shirt, giving her a shoulder. Then I started with the other. I left her sitting on her twin and I went out to her mother, who fed me soup and bread and grits, singing with her pretty bright lips.

Kim Chinquee
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