My brother and I climb into the hutch with the new turkey chicks. It’s our job to wipe the blood off their beaks, if there is any. If we don’t, Dad says, the other chicks will gang up and peck the bloody ones to death. They can’t stand the sight of blood against the white fluff.
We also name and cuddle the chicks, forgiving them when they poop in our hands.
I tell Teresa about the chicks at school. Teresa is probably my best friend, but I’m not hers. She said she didn’t celebrate her birthday this year, but I think she did. I tell her to have something to say, to be one of the girls talking before class, and Bella hears.
“Gross,” Bella says. “What are you, some farm girl?”
I blink at her. I like thinking of myself as a farm girl.
“What’s next? You going to chop off their heads? Get all bloody?”
There’s a weird sucking feeling under the ribs on my right side. Bella tosses her head, turning to watch the teacher enter.
“Bloody farmer girl,” Bella’s friend, Charity, whispers, without even turning her head.
Again, the whooshing sensation in my abdomen, this time right where my belly button is, as if the skin is being sucked in toward my spine. I feel hot and my palms are sweating.
“Ms. S, may I go to the bathroom?” I say, raising my hand.
“Wait to be called on, Grace,” Ms. S. says, annoyed. “But yes, go ahead.” Another little prick in my belly.
I glance at Teresa as I get up, but she’s staring at her notebook.
The bathroom is empty, thank God.
I shut the stall door and lift up my shirt. There are three holes in me, two about the size of golf balls, and one the size of a pencil. I use my phone to take a picture of myself. I can actually see the concrete wall and the flusher through the holes in my stomach.
My knees wobble, but I can’t sit here. I think about the nurse, but I don’t want to show her. I go back to class.
When the bell rings, Bella leans toward me, saying, “Where are your overalls?”
I gasp as I feel another hole shoot through me, right under my breasts. I hope I don’t lose those because they’re small enough already. I know I look about ten compared to girls like Bella and Charity.
I hurry through the hall, hunched forward, even though no one can see because my shirt covers the holes. I make it through the rest of the day with only two more: my right thigh and my left ankle.
At home, I’m hungry, but I’m afraid to eat with the holes in my stomach, so I just stare at the refrigerator. My brother pushes past me, opens the fridge door and grabs a soda, like I’m not even there. A hole erupts in my shoulder. This one, you can see — so I get a sweater.
At dinner, my hands shake. My half-sister, Juniper, is here tonight, telling a funny story about softball practice. Juniper is beautiful. Boys and girls like her, and she moves like a sexy queen in a movie.
“Where you going tonight?” I ask her as I load the dishes into the dishwasher.
She shrugs, waving a hand to sweep the inexplicable from my grasp. “Out with Timmy and some friends.”
Air knifes through my chest, right under my neck, and I drop the glass I’m holding. It smashes. What’s left of me reddens.
“What are you doing?” Dad asks.
“She didn’t mean to,” Mom says.
“Be more careful!” he says.
I know he grew up in a house that had almost nothing. I know. Tears are sliding down my face, and I manage to sweep up the glass before my arms disappear.
I go to my room feeling crumby, especially since my legs are gone now.
“Can you try to get along with your father?” my mother says through the door.
The air sucks away my heart, the rest of my chest, my neck, and my mouth. I can’t answer.
She walks away.
Only a face with ears and eyes, I drift out, past my parents sitting in armed silence, past my brother playing a video game, past Juniper, texting on the porch steps. I waft to the turkey coop and peer in at the chicks. I want to cuddle them, but I can’t now. My face is gone, and I’m only a strand of brown hair. A breeze catches me, and I float toward the tree branches. There’s so little left; it’s easy to lose sight of me altogether.
EMILY LIVINGSTONE is a writer, tutor, and stay-at-home mom living in Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and German Shepherd. Her work has appeared in Cleaver Magazine, Necessary Fiction, The Molotov Cocktail, and others, and was recently nominated for The Best of the Net 2017. She tweets @Emi_Livingstone.