Summer 2017 - Fiction

Jessica Berger

 

King Kylie

 

This girl is an emperor. Not another survivor, a thriver, a doll-faced tyrant though her skin is cracked and her nose is broken and she’s held together, ticky and tacky, with dried sludge in grape, in pink; a bubblegum zombie who spits blood and teeth into the bathroom sink once she shimmies up scaffolding and trees and climbs in through a bedroom window. Always lost teeth, too many for a human mouth, too many to not wonder whose they are or if she could open her jaws to reveal rows behind them, new protrusions calcifying and filling in spaces like a shark, like an alien presence, like an undiscovered predator. This girl spits teeth into the sink and smiles a proud, crooked grin through bleeding gums. She hisses bloody saliva through the gaps so it rushes, bubbling and foamy, over her split velvet lips. This girl picks dead molars from the drain using ringed fingers tattooed with symbols, a sacred geometry in black ink that dances to her broken nails, to layer upon layer of coagulated glitter that sparkles, renders her most jagged movements fluid, hypnotic. She is King in this town, in this house. King, not queen, because she’s even bigger than that, because the way the word forms in your mouth, it needs to be spit. She is King in every room she climbs into, every bed and floor and chair she haunts. She is King even when her mother calls her darlin’ and grounds her ‘til time immemorial, ‘til some weird distant past mistaken for the future. She floats like a butterfly, like a cloud of candy floss. She sucker punches like a true teenage dirtbag, closes her inked fist and delivers upper cuts near basement lockers, blows to the neck, the flashing threat of a switchblade knife when shit gets too real. She doesn’t care if she breaks a nail, she knows how to fix it and she knows that shit was worth it. This girl grabs back and squeezes where it hurts, twists what she can hold on to. The skin of your cheek, an ear, your arm, your dick, your words. She’ll give you a tutorial on anything you ask, teach you how to make your eyelids cut, to fill in your eyebrows and give your brows sharp edges, how to snap a selfie that comes out perfect every time and what to say to convince everyone who looks that that’s the case. She’ll show you how to stare like it’s a threat, how to identify a fuckboi, how to trim your bangs into a blunt, hard line and pull away your split ends and smoke a cigarette like a man and walk like you mean it. She sneaks into your bedroom and says look, this is how you make your hair glossy, look, this is how to skin a dead thing, how to remove an ink tag or make them think you’ve got it made. Look, here is the word you say at the flash of a camera, here is the song you play to make someone like you, here is how you tell off your father, your mother, the neighbor who looks at you the wrong way, here is what your brother thinks is truth, here is what you need to pass down to your sister, what you need to take from your other sister, what you need to accept from the world and where you draw the line.

We believe her. We fall down at her scuffed up combat boots, at her ink-stained soles and kiss, metaphorically, the solid ground she walks on, the earth she is connected to. We re-tie her laces. We keep pencil cases under our beds like makeshift first aid kits, fill them with stolen drug store gauze and Band-Aids of every color, with tubes of lipstick and emergency adhesives. We clean her bruises with Bactine and rubbing alcohol, cover them and tell her, each one of us, that we love her in our way, that we appreciate the fights she starts for us, the messy business she finishes. We cut our own bruises to match hers, scrape ourselves to feel part of something we will never experience, that which we cannot bring ourselves to run toward. We sleep next to her and never touch. We feel her presence, feel her radiate, grow stronger when she is near, feel something like fear, like reverence, like a longing but not that. We tell her the visions that we have, where we will go when we gather the courage to sneak from our own windows, when we steal the keys to our parents’ cars and let her drive us on trips up the coast, to the desert, Indio, Vegas, the Grand Canyon and a house on the cliffs. We whisper visions pulled from spy movies, because she is that girl, that girl who grows up to seduce a killer, a double agent in ski lodges and rented city apartments with pristine glassware and rooms with a view. We take our turns next to her, telling her our fairy tales, offering her all that we can before we listen to her conquests, to tales of drained out swimming pools and skateboards and smuggled beers by the beach, to the back of pickup trucks we’ll never climb into and passenger seats that scare us even as they make us feel brave. She holds an unlit joint to our lips and tells us to breathe in the lingering scent, to imagine coughing through burning lungs like we’ve just run blocks in the freezing cold, to imagine we cough and feel a happy dizziness, a punch drunk lightheadedness, to imagine we breathe in and know what love is with Dylan and Damien and Jeremy and Kelsey and Miguel and Sam and others, so many others, whoever it is we want, whoever it is we cannot have, whoever it is we need to hear the name of. We know which of them—the boys, the girls—have disappointed her, which ones have lied, which ones she had to hold down by the ear, which ones might still feel some pain. She is King to them, too.

We share her, our girl king, for we don’t know just where she’ll go and we don’t know for how long. For us the night falls too slowly and for her it comes on too fast; for her it is always falling. We are voracious for her attentions, jealous and petty when we receive them and when we don’t. Each one of us has our good luck charms, rabbits’ feet and tokens she has brought us that we place in little altars, that we treat as fetishes in hopes she will return, that she will regale us with her stories, that we may hear of her victories, her failures, that we may learn from her and better her and devour her with our attentions. We are hungry, but so is she. She is always feeding, always being fed, and yet it is so strange that she is the one who nourishes us. We collect like driftwood awash on the school steps each morning, half asleep, miserable creatures with rumbling stomachs and unfinished thoughts, all skinny legs and acne scars, all unwashed hair and shirts pulled from our bedroom floors. We wait to hear whom she has visited, we wait and we prepare our offerings, we wait and we hope that tonight it will be us.

 


 

Jessica Berger is a Chicago-based writer and fiction editor of Grimoire Magazine. Her work has been featured in Pank, Trnsfr, Maudlin House, Gamut, Moonsick, The Spectacle, Midwestern Gothic, and elsewhere.

 

 

  © Ninth Letter, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.