You wear your hair down and your brother’s jeans the day the only boy you date freshman year staples himself in the chest. You are still sticky from gym because you can never bring yourself to shower in front of people, but you hope the perfume you stole masks it enough. You blot your cheeks, nose, and chin before you see him on the path to yearbook.
When you try to speak to the boy, to tell him you want to take his boots home to your room to eat, to put your forefinger on his eyelids and absorb the image you know can’t be unseen, the one of his friend hanging by a chain from a dogwood, how the gravel sound of his voice makes something in your hipbones crack, how the pain in your chest at night after he finally hangs up must make you the youngest person in the world who suffers heart attacks. But all you can do is touch his skull earring, ask where he got it.
As he leans you up against the locker, you notice the dust mop smell of the hallway, doors clicking closed, and a few straggling runners trying to make it to class. You are late. You squirm away and dig a knuckle into your sternum. He pulls his own hair.
Fine. Whatever. I thought you loved me.
You try to give him the love letter you folded into a star, but he flicks your arm away, sending it sailing to the floor—a failed paper love weapon you lift off the linoleum by two of its five points. In yearbook, you cut pictures and wax them onto mock-up pages. Candid shots of Emily and Allison and Farrah all branded up like race car drivers and lording over each other. No one’s permission ever given or granted to separate. An image of the math nerds lined up eating bag lunches on the floor at the back of the cafeteria. The full page memorium for his friend’s suicide his parents said was an accident. You snip your open palm and watch as your own blood beads. When you see him again after school, he is halfway to his car. You run, your backpack thumping so hard it hurts your shoulders.
Wait for me, the girl who knows how it feels to bruise herself.
He turns after he unlocks his car door. On the white lettering of his Black Flag t-shirt, red spots soak through, spaced the width of staples. Seventeen staples equal thirty-four holes. You ask what’s wrong. He tells you you don’t love him. You touch his knee and take a cigarette from the dash. Before he drops you home, he pulls off into an adjacent field. Amid swaying weeds and broken bottles, you kiss all thirty-four of his wounds, wishing he were the first or the last violent man in your life.
Beth Gilstrap's fiction and essays have appeared in the minnesota review, Literary Orphans, WhiskeyPaper, Synaesthesia Magazine, and Bull, among others. Her work has been nominated for Best of the Net, storySouth's Million Writers Award, and The Pushcart Prize. She is the author of I AM BARBARELLA (Twelve Winters Press, 2015) and NO MAN'S WILD LAURA (forthcoming in 2016 from Hyacinth Girl Press. She thinks she's crazy lucky to be Fiction Editor of Little Fiction | Big Truths. When she's not writing or editing, you might find her on her porch swing, with a book in one hand and a drink in the other. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and enough rescue pets to make life interesting.