Maggie has clouds for eyes. Also, she barely talks. Other kids have asked her how those clouds got stuck there, but she just blinks back, clouds churning. My best friend, Bernice Wallers, heard Maggie used to have eyes like ours, that fire ants devoured them while she slept. “All that was left were two smoking holes,” Bernie said, “so the clouds moved in to cool them.”
Mrs. E paired me with Maggie for our 6th grade presentations on World War II. We got Japanese Internment Camps. Maggie hasn’t opened a book even though we’ve been studying for twenty minutes. She says, “They’re American internment camps. Americans interned Americans, Japanese-Americans.”
“No one likes a know-it-all,” I say, and I slam a book down on her fingers. “Open it and read.” Then I wonder if she can read, with eyes like hers.
I’m not the only one who hits her. My mom told me once, “Maggie makes her own weather,” which was basically my point: she makes us want to hit her. Yesterday, when I saw tears on her face, I willed my hands to stop. I said, “Look, don’t cry. Maybe you could try talking more?”
She said, “It’s rain; I can’t help it.” She didn’t think twice about my advice.
I ask Bernie to jump her with me after school because I’m ready to know what her clouds feel like, if they will cool me too. We grab her by her arms and pull her behind the 7-Eleven, and she doesn’t even fight when we push her down next to the empty boxes of beef jerky. I straddle her chest and push the tip of my finger into her right eye. It shifts like smoke. I poke deeper, slowly, until my whole finger is in, but I still don’t feel anything. Bernie says, “Let me try,” but I can’t stop. I slip in more fingers, then my whole hand. Her eye socket stretches until I’m up to my elbow in her cloud eye. “Bernie,” I say, “All I feel in there is my own fist.”
“Let’s get out of here,” Bernie says.
Over the summer Bernie and I spend a lot of time at the pool because she wants to start junior high with a tan. We hear from our friend Juniper that Maggie moved to Albuquerque to attend a school for genius kids. “We did get an A on our presentation,” I say. Between jumps off the low dive, Bernie talks about every little thing: how to convince her mom to let her pierce her nose, roll-on vs. stick deodorant, next year’s boys and how they will try to feel us up. She talks and talks, but I can’t find much to say. I’m lying on a lounge chair studying the cracks in the concrete beneath, waiting for the bloom of ants that will seep out when it rains.
Originally published in Gigantic Sequins 6.1
Kara Vernor’s fiction and essays have appeared in Ninth Letter, The Normal School, The Los Angeles Review, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and elsewhere. She was the recipient of an Elizabeth George Foundation scholarship, and her writing has been included in Wigleaf’s Top 50 Very Short Fictions, The Best Small Fictions 2019, and Golden State 2017: Best New Writing from California. Her fiction chapbook, Because I Wanted to Write You a Pop Song, is available from Split Lip Press.
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