In Which Sophie and I Clear a Forest
The crab apples had disappeared from Sophie’s grove across the street last week, but I didn’t notice until Sophie got lice. They were easy to spot because she pulled her braids so tight, scalp bright and taut in the hairline, a barren main street that the tiny crawlers crossed after looking both ways. Like we always did when her mom came home smelling of motel soap or when my mom nervously warned me not to get too close to her kind of family, we climbed into the throng of reddening trees to strategize.
I already know who did it, she said, biting at the ends of her hair. It’s Mom’s new boyfriend Nikolai, who only showers once a week.
Ugh, I said, secretly imagining what it would be like to be so close to someone that a tiny insect could crawl from their crown to yours.
The only solution, she continued, is to cut it all down. By the time I realized that she was talking about the apples she was halfway down the trunk. We found the ax in the garage too heavy to swing, making only a shallow gash in the barklike a notch in a flute.
Sophie said we would think of something else.
The next week when I saw her she was very unevenly bald. She explained that Nikolai had suggested suffocating the lice with mayonnaise and clingfilm. That night, egg-haired and crinkly, Sophie had stolen into her mom’s bedroom and shaved herself with Nikolai’s razor.
We went outside with the crosscut saw I had reluctantly borrowed from my parents. The blade quickly stuck and I fell backward pulling it out of the tree’s stubborn new mouth.
Actually, Sophie, I don’t think you should do this, I said the next week, as she repeatedly scratched the matchstick across a rock. She knelt in the slimy October leaves while I stood yards away, running my fingers over the ax-gash in our first tree.
But it’s so perfect, she said. They’re Nikolai’s matches.
I just think you could get hurt.
Fine, she said, staring at me. You can just watch from your house.
I hesitated and then I ran. From my bedroom window that day and the days after I watched the sunset behind the inky boughs of the rain-wet grove, and Sophie squatting small and solid under her umbrella waiting for something to catch.
Anita Lo was raised in Seattle and now works in New York City. Her writing has appeared in The Harvard Crimson, matchbook, and Expose Magazine.
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