“if we’re going to have to do this, it can’t be done.” – Leslie Scalapino
A girl, she’s Tiny. She is beautiful and she knows it, not from arrogance or magazines but because she trusts herself. This is hard, not cute. Tiny knows her body is meant to be here. It can occupy space. She’s known this since she was little and liked climbing trees, liked burying her face in leaves and hooking toenails into the bark. At the top Tiny’s body wanted to jump, but her head said no. Nope. Afterwards she had nightmares of her body on its face in the grass. If you jump you’ll crumple up. Don’t do it. So sometimes instead Tiny sits on the rose-print sofa, hands on her knees. She watches the light stretch across the carpet, and stays inside her body like it is a blanket. A shelter. Like her heart is a small fire.
This knowing, this refusal to ghost too soon, is a gift from Tiny’s mother. She died from a cancer that ate her brain, and maybe Tiny wants to stay alive as long as possible so she can take notes on what her mom is missing, in death. Tiny believes she talks to mother at night, sees her in dreams, but in daytime Tiny is alone. If she never slept and never died, she’d never see her mom again. This doesn’t make it any easier to sleep. It hurts, missing someone with your body not your mind. Tiny doesn’t like nighttime. She doesn’t really remember her mother, and she doesn’t believe in mystery, just loss. When the sun rises it’s a relief.
Tiny imagines the cancer. It is the color of white corn and old spiderwebs, all sequined with bugs, and it vibrates badness into the air. It lumps it clean through. Tiny misses her mother but doesn’t have any memories of her face, which feels like carrying around a hole. She doesn’t recognize the pictures. In them she sees a good woman she doesn’t know. Tiny’s mom died when Tiny was three. That woman’s arms look moon-smooth and freckled, and nice, so sometimes Tiny squeezes hers to imagine her mother’s. It is not the same she thinks, though she doesn’t know for sure. If you came from someone then why isn’t touching your arms touching theirs too? Tiny eats bowls of fruit when she misses her mom. She doesn’t know why.
Tiny’s hair is too short to tangle. After showering she can comb it with her fingers, and it’s dry by the time she puts on pants. Her hair makes people pay attention to her eyes or, if they are standing behind her, they think Tiny is a boy. She doesn’t correct them, in fact sometimes she thinks they are right. But really, her body just feels like a boat. She identifies as a boat. When Tiny stands in space she is all lines and angles, a geometry of elbows. Turn sideways and disappear. No softness no bloodbloom. She doesn’t want it anyway. Why bleed. It seems annoying. Tiny understands herself as a person with many arms, not someone who grows to hold. Who buds. Buds make her think of potatoes, unearthed but growing new arms in the dark. They sprout and the sprouts mold. Tiny does not like babies, but she likes making faces at them. Making them laugh. Sometimes she dreams one morning she will stand up and walk off towards the sea. A cowboy headed marine West. She could jump then. She would dive off the cliff and her body would water away.
Tiny likes walking in the mornings. In the very early mornings she feels like she’s walking on a faraway misty planet, though she is still Tiny. She doesn’t like clocks so wakes up because of birds, who she sees only in flashes and wings, letter Ms in the air. Tiny would like to be the kind of person who knows their names, but she isn’t yet. Maybe her mother was. Tiny hates not knowing this the most. Meanwhile she imagines the birds in chroma, then takes away purple to blue to green as other people wake up, until at noon everything is red. It is a power, making rules from observations not books. On the walk Tiny’s eyes have crusts in them, and her body feels blue-white until the sun coats it warm. She keeps her shoes by the bed so she can just go. Instead of brushing her teeth Tiny walks through fields, pretending they are ocean.
It is spring now so the forests are full of spring oats and cereal rye. Tiny walks through them, through the green ideas, imagining hands pulling her down into water. Imagining her body letting them think they have her. She doesn’t know who they are, but she’s always been afraid of them. Imagined walking through anyway. Kept her thumb outside her fist in case she needs to punch. Tiny looks down as she walks and the back of her neck gets burned. Her father never says use aloe. He wants her to be a girl but he is all edges too. There is nothing soft anywhere. Tiny is a boat. She loves him but she can’t let him turn her into a monster.
Tiny’s dad has the kind of job where you don’t have to wear a uniform, but if you do anyway people think you are smart and powerful. His uniform is an egg-bald head, perfectly circular glasses, and night-sky-colored ties: midnight, silver, bruise-purple. He still wears his wedding ring, because death is not the end. When Tiny gets mad at him for letting grief and work take over his life, she looks at that ring. It is an ouroboros with one ruby eye, and realistic-looking dents near where its teeth clap into the tail. Tiny imagines her father younger, her mother in love with him. She imagines her self not existing at all.
Tiny is building a little altar in the woods, in the crook of a bald hip rose, which she likes because it has fruit and thorns and lives bright through the winter. There is a pink candle with glitter pressed into it in pentagrams, and a necklace from her boyfriend that looks better on branches than necks. Tiny’s boyfriend’s name is Hank. There is one of Izzy’s baby shoes, a soft blue with stubbed toes, a zirconium stud found in the frozen aisle of Arrow Foods, purple beads from a pianist-poet who’d had too much to drink, a hamburger wrapper, and a phial of lavendar. An eggshell, a pop-plastic from the twenty-five cent machine at the laundromat, a post-it Tiny found in a book with her mother’s handwriting on it, probably. The altar gets bigger and bigger and some mornings she can tell squirrels slept inside. Sometimes she leaves out bread and popcorn. All altars should be plates too, and beds. The space makes Tiny’s mornings into a pilgrimage. When she sees the candle’s pink through the trees she knows it’s almost time to turn around home.
Tiny has a half-brother too. Her mother gave birth to him. His name is Mike, and he resisted being a monster already, using cigarettes and sex, and needles lit with a match then dipped in ink. Mike’s arm says NO GODS in stutter-text and there is an X on his wrist. Tiny does not know what it means but she imagines some kind of treasure is buried underneath. Like slicing open Mike’s arm reveals rubies not blood. When she was little he’d say do you want to play hide and go seek? And she’d say yes, and he’d hide her in the dryer then come back in ten minutes, open the door, and say I found you! Later, in third grade Tiny realized this wasn’t how everyone played, but she never got angry about it. She felt really special whenever Mike found her again.
There is a girl named Meryl who is in love with Mike. She’s never said so, but Tiny knows because of the look in her eyes. When Meryl looks at Mike you could ask her what color is the sky and she’d say wait, what? Meryl has fine, slinky-tight brown hair, kept off her face with a pearl-and-indigo scarf, and teeny wrists and acne scars on her cheeks. Mike does not love her back but he likes her a lot. He does not love anyone yet, and maybe never will. Meryl thinks this is because Mike and Tiny and Izzy don’t have a mother, which nobody argues because cancer is hard enough already. In fact Mike can’t talk about it at all, which is why he doesn’t live with Izzy and Tiny anymore. Cancer is like a metal band nobody knows how to hear yet.
For a couple weekends, before she really understood how Mike turns into a ghost sometimes, Meryl taught Tiny to ride a bike. At first Tiny was so scared she gripped the handlebars too tight and opened little red mouths on her knuckles. Eventually she got all the way to the corner, and the next corner, and then the corner store where they celebrated with strawberry cream bars. Tiny still likes walking better but bikes are good to know in case you need to run. She does not need to run, yet, but she needs to keep moving. It feels good to remember that there are muscles and blood in her body. Four limbs and a head. She hasn’t crystallized. After her morning walks sometimes Tiny sees her heart her blood in her wrists like hummingbird wings. She sees her hands flying away. They do not belong to her they are on a mission.
This morning is loud and bright, with corkscrew hazel interrupting Tiny’s peripheral vision in gold, and blue-purple lungwort in bloom. She walks with her eyes closed for part of the way. As she walks Tiny makes good intentions for everyone in her family. She includes Meryl and Hank, and her father because without him Tiny is not here at all.
When Tiny and Izzy were babies they played games all day in the yard. They were shorter so the grass seemed wide as a yawn. They would pretend color fairies, which means everything you say has to be about color, somehow. Once Izzy was blue and all she said was berry berry berry. Once they played pirates and children, only the neighbors didn’t understand. They called Auntie and said the girls are tying each other to the telephone pole with jump rope. Later Auntie explained how some games need to be private, like when Tiny took off her clothes to read in the sunshine. It is a private thing. Tiny and Izzy spent weeks not really talking to anyone but each other. The first step was always pretend our mother is dead. Theirs was, so they taught themselves to mourn.
Tiny’s boyfriend Hank made her that necklace, the one in the tree. This is one of the things she loves about him. How Hank isn’t afraid of fire. He thinks fire is a way to change. He smokes too, chocolate-colored cigarettes long as long index fingers. Tiny doesn’t smoke but she likes kissing Hank when he is, imagining the cloves and glass floating into her lungs too. Tiny is afraid of dying at different times than the people she loves. How will she ever find them again. To make her less afraid she tastes a little bit of the death other people gulp, so if she lives a little longer at least it won’t be forever. Tiny never really wanted a body so she doesn’t really care about death, personally. She is not afraid of it. Maybe it is her fire.
This is another thing Tiny loves about Hank. If the world did come to an end, if their bodies somehow survived the flames and dust and the insects scuttling, he would know how to make a roof. He would tell her it was okay to swim. He could build things from old wood and tin, machines she couldn’t imagine until she used them or they carried her. This is how Hank knows to be in love. He imagines the worst thing, then making a life in it. Tiny knows Hank will never leave her, and she will never leave him unless something else is bigger. She knows the something will not be a person, which makes being with Hank like preparing for war.
The necklace Hank made started with a meteorite. It fell somewhere else, then he ordered it and someone put it in a package with tissue paper and tape, and next it arrived. Tiny is amazed Hank paid for stars. It is not something she would do. She would not pay for something from the sky, but he did and that makes him a cowboy. He lassoed it for her. He heated it to stick to four little loops of silver, which he knows Tiny likes because four makes a field, not a binary. Instead of going right or left you can lie down in the dirt a while.
When Hank gave her the necklace Tiny imagined throwing up the star, letting it go again. She believes dead cold things still have heat, have movement, even though she could never draw the map. She could draw a guess, but it would be wrong. Tiny hung the star in the tree. She hasn’t shown it to Hank yet. If Tiny does she knows it will be right before before she leaves. ###
Featured Image by by Jacek Tylicki