Flashes of girlhood in two new short works by Danny Powell.
The earth spun, couples had sex, and Molly twirled her hair until her finger reached the roots. Twenty years later, when nothing would grow in that patch just behind her right ear, she would come to regret this. But she was only three now, and wrapping those jet-black strands around and around felt good. Her sister sucked her thumb; Molly twirled her hair until there was nowhere else to go, then released and started again.
Five years later and the sun burned the blacktop blacker, the bullies licked their lips, and Molly knew what was coming. “What happened, your mom left the curling iron on too long?” and “No, wait, she slapped you so hard your hair fell out!” Only his sidekick let out a supporting chuckle.
“My mom’s dead.” It was the first time she ever fought back. “And she visited me last night to say she’s going to haunt you if you said another word to me.”
Bully Number Seven went numb, his voice box out of service. His pale skin got paler, and seconds later the crotch of his pants became a darker shade of green and sagged with the growing dampness. The laughter of the playground shook the trees free of birds and no one heard their flapping wings.
And Molly got to pick her team for tetherball.
She watched the moth plunge into the light bulb, once, twice, forever. This was certainly more fun than what she was reading for school, the book now face down and dangling words over her thigh, on the verge of never being looked at again if it wasn’t for the moth suddenly falling head first to the living room floor. A brown moth against brown carpet. Annie thought about leaving it camouflaged there and seeing how long it would take her mother to notice. Even if the young girl were in her bedroom and fading into the music in her ears when the noticing occurred, she would know the precise moment it took place. She smiled and lifted her book.
But the scream never came, and after three days Annie knew it was time to do something with the moth. The cruelty she suddenly felt for leaving it perished on the floor for so long surprised her, and an urge to give it a proper burial soon followed. She gently placed the moth onto a napkin, folding the corners over to keep the insect in place while she grabbed a plastic spoon from the utensil drawer, and headed outside.
A wall of hot stickiness smacked Annie as she stepped barefoot into the newly mowed grass of her backyard. She wanted it to be under one of the tall hemlocks that bordered the far end, but the sun was already scorching her ivory skin and the sweat beading in every crevice made her drop to her knees at the first patch of dirt. It was a perfect rectangle of brown, the grass once there now long dead, and Annie worried for a second if her younger brother was off somewhere throwing the brick through someone’s window. She shoved the spoon into the ground and it snapped as she tried to haul a teaspoon of earth from the tiny plot. She held the broken plastic handle for a moment before stabbing it into the dirt until the cupped part of the spoon flung up and out and a golf ball-sized hole remained. She carefully unfolded the napkin and slowly lowered the moth into the ragged opening. Her neck burned, and she pushed the free soil back into the hole with the edge of her hand and ran inside.
On a Saturday night two weeks later another moth ventured inside, discovered the light, and went crashing into it, once, twice, three times before Annie hit the switch and ate her yogurt in the darkness.
Photo by Mark Lehigh