Shelled Locusts

My new story “Shelled Locusts” found a home at Spirit’s Tincture!

 

Shelled Locusts

The kitchen floor lined with cracked linoleum, bubbled with the smell of garlic-laced handprints. Rena stood closely to the counter and peeled away cornhusks, the soft strands of silk piling on the floor and her feet. She put the rough husks to the side—later, they would roll tamales, as they had every week for as many years as Rena could remember.

Her father sat in the corner on a rusted folding chair. He was whistle-thin with a mean curve to his back. Shells gathered in small piles on his lap, the floor, and a reed basket as he hulled speckled peas and wrapped his hands around the slender neck of his eighth bottle. With her sleeves rolled up, Rena studied the bruise that colored the length of her forearm as she pulled a toothbrush among the kernels. Forgetting herself, she knocked her arm against the counter, and her head rushed quickly. Dizzy, she stepped backward.

Rena’s father glanced upward and shifted in his seat. “Take care to keep the corn husks full, girl. Won’t do any good if they’re broken to bits” he said. Rena ran her arm under cold water in the sink and hoped her chest would quieten before the day ended, when she could curl and let her body repair itself. She felt a small tapping that began to tickle the surface of her skin, across her back, her thighs, her earlobe.

Her father grunted as he stood. “A real shame,” he said, dropping his beer bottle into the sink with the clean corn. His body was sick with sweat. “Light’s fading. I don’t know if we’ll have time to roll tamales tonight. Maybe tomorrow.” He dipped another beer from the cold box and fell onto his old cot, not bothering to change out of the clothes he’d worn for three days.

Rena washed the dirt from one more corn husk and dried her hands. Her father was softly snoring. Pulling in a quick breath, Rena shook her father’s arm. “Wake up, Papa,” she said. “If we don’t sell good tomorrow, we won’t make rent.” He mumbled a low “go on, now” and rolled away. The rumbling grew in Rena’s stomach, just beneath the skin.

Rena pulled at his arm again. He opened his eyes slowly. Jagged, red lines interspersed the white. “Go away, Rena,” he said. She touched his shoulder, ready to give him another shake. With a quickness that surprised Rena, he jutted his arm forward and grabbed her wrist. Her father sat up, still holding tightly. “I said not today, girl. Go on and let me sleep.” He threw her wrist away and lay back down on his cot. Rena rubbed her wrist and backed away toward the door. She chewed on her tongue nervously.

Outside, the wind held the crisp smell of May, hot but windy. The thick summer would creep into the ground soon, and they would have a steadier crop—more crops and more money.

Rena walked into the corn rows and wandered in the pale crescent moonlight. After a few moments or hours, she dug her toes into the soft dirt and sat down. The leaves on the corn stalks caressed her cheeks and arms like satin against her skin, but her fingernails felt heavy and thick, like sinkers on a fishing line.

The smallest wind grew the rustles around her into dark, thin monsters. Rena pulled away her soft green shirt, shucking it away like the corn husks. A thin white scar started beneath her left breast and slid across her stomach to the right of her pelvic bone. When she touched it, she shuddered, a small shaking that wouldn’t stop.

Her forehead blistered with heat as a hollow thrumming warmed her body against the night air. Rena bit at one of her fingernails until it was sharply needled and tugged it along the slivery scar. Weeping darkly, a cavity bloomed open in her torso.

The locusts climbed out, red and shining. Rena’s body stilled as they crawled over her body, covering her skin with prickly feet. They whispered that a seventeen-year-old body is not a fragile thing. When they scrambled back into her, Rena sewed herself shut with the sharp prickles of pine needle and stood to walk back the way she had come, where she would find her father and her home. On the way, she gathered ripe corn from the stalks, her skin tan and smooth and without bruises.

 

 

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