A Girl Needs Something of Her Own
1. The Birth of A GirlFull Grown was born a baby like the rest of us, but got her name because the corn around her reached maturity just the second she slid into the dirt. No one knows how a baby this dark came to be born here. They dragged her mother off before she could explain, cutting the cord to keep Full Grown from being dragged away too.
I was there, the child no one noticed.
This time when I visit Full Grown, she shows me her stomach. "I'm not pregnant," she says, "just growing in sympathy for my mother." In her room, books float at eye-level for easy reading. Plants hang before windows without hooks or wire. Full Grown has learned to make objects stay where she puts them. She never loses things.
Full Grown shows me a list she's started. She wants to rename herself and she needs my help. She wants to know what her mother said before the booted men dragged her away. I don't think her mother said anything, but I take my mind back, put myself in the corn, scratchy in the heat. The woman wants to scream, but only peeps quietly like an angry bird. Men are coming, but she can't move. All at once, Full Grown appears in the dirt next to all the boots.
The men will drag her mother away, but first she sits up.
"Wait," I tell her. "Your mother sat up and said, 'a girl'."
Full Grown has made her decision. "My name will be A Girl," she says, and everything floating in her room falls to the floor.
2. A Girl's SearchA Girl wants to find her mother, to know what happened after she was dragged away. At the courthouse, a paper floats before her. "They say I was abandoned. They say I was dropped by a bird." A Girl trembles and the paper gently wafts to the table.
"I was there," I tell her. "You were born in the dirt. Your mother sat up and looked at you and said 'A Girl' in a voice like running water."
"Before the booted men took her away?"
"Before the booted men took her away."
We check the police records next. A Girl reads to me; I can tell she reads between the lines. She tells me, "My mother grew smaller and smaller after giving birth. In the cell with barred windows, blood dried black on her legs. She turned in on herself. Her hands curved into claws and her bird legs grew weak. After the change, she floated up to the window, squeezed between bars, and flew away. They found only her shell."
"Are you sure she didn't die?"
A Girl is certain. I don't question her again. I can see how A Girl, reading about her mother trapped and dying, would transform her into a shiny, black-winged bird.
A Girl needs something of her own.
3. A Girl Uses Her PowerA Girl dances in my head. She sends willow leaves to circle my face and feathers to stroke me until I awaken.
A Girl won't let me sleep. She pushes the hair away from my ears and whispers promises she won't keep. She holds my eyes open with visions of birds the color of absolute night, birds with hands and feet, birds with babies.
A Girl will have her own baby. Her belly sticks out, taut and firm. Her breasts are tender, but she makes me take them into my mouth anyway. She says it's good for me. She says it's good for her.
A Girl searches through all my hairs, looking for the one that would betray her. She pulls several in case her methods aren't exact. She counts my freckles and seems excited by the final number. She makes intricate diagrams of my eye's iris. The shade of green is hard to match. She has to blend several colors together. This is the hardest part of the process so far.
A Girl comes to me during the day and makes me leave my job, my friends, my reading. She makes me leave everything but her. Back in her room, she dances around me, smiling.
"Doesn't it feel good?" she asks.
"Doesn't it feel good," she states.
I haven't slept. I won't be ready when her time comes. She tells me she's preparing me in the best way, in the way she's divined. She makes me lie perfectly still and places flexible reeds over my body. She weaves a basket in my shape. I tell her the baby will be smaller, but she doesn't hear.
A Girl floats a layer of red and orange silks around me. She doesn't see that they clash. She murmurs as she moves. She recites. This trick of hers draws me out of myself. I give up and am swallowed by silk, sucked through a hole. At one end is A Girl. At the other end is A Girl.
4. The Smell of A GirlA lone smell follows me through my days and sits on my chest at night. It is the smell of A Girl. That celery, dirt, and mold smell. The perfume on my fingers after I crush garlic or take apart an onion layer by layer. The mustiness in piled wet leaves.
The scent she gets when she looks at me out of the corner of her eye and her whole body is a finger motioning: "Come here. Come here. Come on now."
Her smell could not really linger this long. She imprints it upon me. She puts herself between me and everything else like a veil. I can't touch anything without touching her first.
I smell her in the coffee, the shampoo, the mailbox. Grass runs through my fingers like her hair. Flocks of crows follow me silently, watching with her eyes. All my dreams involve her. Every walk I take is towards her. Even my tea is infused with her. I take it.
5. A Girl Must Be Ready to FlyLike all people born in the dirt, she keeps a satchel near the door. It holds her essential feathers, the dried leaves, her papers and books, the favorite funky clothes. Someday she will leave. Until then, I stay with her.
She wants everything she needs in a bag she can easily carry. She says she'll get her food from the ground and find shelter in knotholes of trees. She only worries about what she can't create alone. A Girl refuses to barter. She says she needs everything she carries. "That is the whole point," she tells me.
"I want to live like a small bird," she says, "surviving on the niblets of grass found between bricks, or in corners only I am small enough to get into. Even if surrounded, I'd be small enough to curl in on myself and find the air I need to breathe."
6. Life Without A GirlA Girl uses her ears like secret agents, telescopes, open channels. She can decipher any sound that floats up to her propped-open windows. She tells me what she hears. "That is the sound of a cat sharpening its claws on the catalpa tree in the yard. That is the sound of a glass bowl out of balance in the cupboard, vibrating when you walk across the room. Sit down."
"What do you listen for?" I ask. "How will you know when it's time?" She doesn't answer, or she answers in a riddle. "I hear a man cupping his head," she says, "sighing outside of a house where the door has been bolted against him. I hear a rope that's about to break. I hear boots in the dirt and birds in my head.
"I hear an old woman in town stop in the middle of cleaning strawberries to cry again for the child she lost. I hear one woman say to another: 'A Girl will have her baby soon.'"
She rises, heads for the satchel. "I can hear them in the village planning, the chalky voices of the booted men. They see how big I've gotten."
She picks up the satchel. I walk behind her down the hallway, down the steep steps of the fire escape. "That is the sound of you following me," she whispers. "I hear you coming with me. I hear you saying you can't live without me."