Over the backyard fire, the girl’s marshmallow sagged at the end of the stick like a runaway’s bindle. She let the flames have their way with it, devouring it in a quick hush of inky black rot. Her father arrived from somewhere beyond the fire’s halo. He sat beside her, his breath and sweat cidery. He called her Red Delicious. He bared his teeth, white like a promise that he’d bite. He said it was time to press. Tomorrow, he said, and sat too close.
Everyone knew windfall apples were untrustworthy, but he sent her after them nonetheless.
Her fingers found their way around the fallen fruit. The skins yielded, and her fingertips sunk into mealy innards. There was, too, the arhythmic thudding of the vulnerable things against rough barrel wood, rambling around like a broken carnival ride. It was a music of unkind hearts applauding a girl’s guts into something soft and easy to digest. She could not stomach it, but she did.
At dinner her skin loosened and crawled, and her father noticed. “Aren’t you American?” He put the plate down for her. Sour steam of hot fruit kissed her face wetly. Across the table his mouth was stuffed with the hot mash. He swallowed it with a splash of sharp stinking “daddy cider.”
The first spring she was a woman, her stomach swelled. People in town assumed things. Women droopy with make-up hauled their eyes up from their shoes when she passed. The cashier rang up the blooming woman’s milk and eggs. “When’re you due?” Everyone knew her father. The cashier snapped her gum in answer to her own question. The sound was like a branch snapping and the round woman hurried out on swollen ankles.
The apple blossoms swooned from the branches to the dirt and rotted. By cider season, the woman’s belly bulged in the familiar way. Crouching for windfalls got to be too cumbersome, so she stuck to the press, soaking in the perfume of old sugar, swatting bees.
She polished the tight skin of her firm belly until it squeaked beneath her thumb. Through the dusty window, she watched a neighbor woman, stumbling the dirt road to the house, nervous as a hungry chicken. Through the screen door the neighbor woman squinted at her own hands, and then at the round woman’s roundness, and said her father should take her to see someone.
A ruddy-faced nurse stuck a needle into the young woman unapologetically. She squirted the golden liquid into her hand and, without a word, she licked it and frowned. She squirted some into the open palms of the father and the daughter. No one in the room was a doctor, so no one could say who was to blame. The tests would come. Everyone agreed that it was best not to name any names, but the nurse thought someone should really do something. She wiped her hand on her cotton pants, leaving a sticky golden stain on the bleached and starched cotton.
Polly Duff Bresnick is the author of two chapbooks: Old Gus Eats and most recently Mirror Poems. Her writing has appeared in the The Fiddleback, The Brooklyn Rail, elimae, and elsewhere. She is also the founder and curator of a monthly writing series: Writers Reading to Writers Listening to Writers Reading to Writers. Find her at www.pollybresnick.com
Artwork courtesy of Kayelen