Brenda Yates

Starting Fresh

My knee sock sags; I bend, tug. Behind me in the cafeteria line, Alice frowns, twists her calf between us, and pushes down her sock, revealing welts. My daddy beats me too, she offers. Worse, I blurt . . . I mean . . . mine’s just a rash, scratching as if that were so. She laughs, loud. Heads turn. I redden. She laughs until she’s done, then leans in, I say hives ’cause it gets me out of gym class. Smiling despite myself and noticing the smudge under her bangs, I ask what she’d given up for Lent. Meat . . . and yeah, wishing my father was dead. I laugh, ignore the stares and envy her brashness, her certainty, her religion. She’d confess. Get blessed. And absolved. Protestants talk directly to God, have to know their hearts are pure before they ask forgiveness. I’m never sure. 

Lent passed; we talked about everything but marks that appeared on our arms and legs. And except for that time Alice’s dad just barreled out to us playing jacks on the porch and taped her mouth shut, each of us would leave when trouble started, as if we had somewhere to go.

***

She cries: boxcars, flatbeds, Angela waved at the caboose . . . didn’t see . . . couldn’t hear . . . on the next track . . . coming the other way . . . I got thrown clear . . . out the window . . . over and over, adding pieces, hardening every detail into stones that she can pick up and re-examine. They’re all dead . . . how can I know what’s real? Sobbing, she tries to curl up but the body cast splays her out, white and open to the world. 

Doctors say she’ll heal. When her cast comes off, she walks the corridor, moving slowly between her aunt, who beams, encouraging every step, and the priest, who is smiling down, holding her unmarked arm. An orphan, thin and pale as new snow, she’s blessed.

Brenda Yates is a Los Angeles resident and the prize-winning author of Bodily Knowledge (Tebot Bach) with poems, reviews, interviews, and hybrids published in journals and anthologies based in Australia, Canada, China, England, India, Ireland, Israel, Japan, the Netherlands and Portugal, as well as the United States.