s t o r y l i s a  k a v c h a k 


What a torture the jasmine was that day, Caroline – caressing the undersides of our bellies and parching the lining of our throats as we crouched in the Rhodes’ garden hoping to see with our eyes what our ears had been telling us for weeks: Randy had a new girlfriend and was sneaking her up to his room by way of his mother’s rose trellis. But what they were doing up there – Jesus, the sounds we heard! What lushness, what ecstasy of the senses we imagined him playing upon her as her warbling tongue shivered the stamens of the tea roses’ and yes, even their erect thorny spines, for we saw everything with such excruciating intensity that summer – the hummingbirds’ nectar-frenzied stasis at the lip of the petunia, the swooning of your just-delivered barn cats as their first milk came down and, the most devastating of all, the drugged eyes of the boys at the lake as Susie Martin, obliviously lost in a book, drew the flat of her palm from rounded hip to golden thigh.

How we took it all in, gluttonous fistful after fistful, and as one, Caroline, as one. (For wasn’t that our pact, the seal of secret blood we mingled with the dirt of our fort after we’d fooled our mothers for three months straight – menstruating! Oh, no, not us, never! we’d shriek and giggle and then duck out of range of their prying eyes for yet another month of the child’s freedom we knew would be knocked out from under us with such severity we’d turn overnight into the bilious, bleating – and worst of all – tethered goats our older sisters had so tragically become.)

But something went wrong that day, a tenseness in your fingertips as I attempted to guide you up from the jasmine and onto the trellis, a subtle then vehement resistance that forced me to prod and yank you up the rungs as the girl’s sonorous sighs were steadily muffled, overcome, and then utterly ravished by the most murderous cacophony of human guttering just as we reached Randy’s window and we saw . . .well, whatever we’d imagined he’d been doing to her, whatever we’d imagined she’d been allowing him to do to her, it certainly wasn’t that. How could she – how could any girl – ever submit to such convulsive ugliness?

And of course I was as shattered as you – no matter how bitterly I later denied it – of course I would have followed your sprinting feet first to your mother’s kitchen and then my own, would have spat out with the same ferocity the enormity of our lie had you not raked your nails down my calf in our flight and, at the very moment we’d regained the garden, pinioned me to that trellis with your eyes, because it wasn’t until then, Caroline – no matter how bitterly you still deny it – that I knew the true meaning of shame.




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