by Nini Berndt
All the good girls died. We scrunched up their tender little faces and shoved them into boxes. We were careful not to break their noses, only bend the cartilage if they didn’t fit quite right. We left the boxes under a tree. It was like Christmas, only the smells weren’t the same. It was like Christmas, only no one wanted to sing. Now, it is late August and we drink hot chocolate, watch the boxes. We play long, drowsy games of Scrabble. No one ever wins. Remember Jenny? someone says. She was a real sweetheart. We mean it, but no one really remembers Jenny. All their squashed noses bleed together. Good girls, I say. Real good.
It’s harder and harder to know what we mean by good. Everyday it’s something different. We say, You’re good at Scrabble. You make a good ham sandwich. That is a good joke. This feels good, your hands. But we aren’t sure what we mean by that. It’s all just a hunch. We shave our legs, because we think it’s what good girls would do. We tell sloppy truths about the things we used to do with them—date rape and spaghetti, Nintendo, bathing suits, promise rings. We wash the girl’s skin from our nail beds. Someone’s mother calls. We lie about the whereabouts of the good girls. The mother sends us a pie.
On Tuesday we watch a crow try to open one of the boxes. Shoo, we say. Be quiet. We wait. Shuffle, scratch, yawn, shave. Jenny, we chant. It is the only name we know. We think about the way the girls opened their doughy mouths to speak or to kiss and we feel ourselves heave. What now? we say. Will it ever be like it was? We assume a sign will come. Either a tomato will grow or the tree will die or a river will run through here and all of this may take more lifetimes than we are willing to give. Patience, I tell them. Jenny, they say. Our mouths feel loose, same with our skin. It’s as if we’ve aged very quickly, all the muscle is going bad. We aren’t hungry, we say, slack-jawed. Another pie comes, in a similar size box to those the girls are kept in.
Nothing grows and nothing dies. There is no smell anymore. We forget Jenny’s name but begin remembering this thing she did, how she dragged her finger down her nose till it flattened. A nervous habit, it’s called. And then us, we stuffed that head and that flat little nose in the box, sealed it. Sorry, we think, sorry girls. We eat the whole pie, big bites with our hands, swallow before we have time to chew. We mean to call our mothers, but don’t.
It’s been a month or more since the good girls died. Lifetimes. Isn’t there something else we could be doing? someone asks. So we skin a collection of raccoons, turn their tails into scarves. The air is still as thick and molten as August, and we pray for the cold, wrap our skin scarves tighter. Bored, we ask, Anything else? Nothing anyone can think of. Everything we brought with us is buried. Everything we built has fallen down.
Desperate, we get up to leave, but there is stirring. One of us is on their knees in front of the boxes. Christmas morning. And then the rest of us. It’s killing us, the anticipation. How we’ve missed you, we say. We shove our greedy, sunburnt fingers into the corners of the boxes, busying ourselves with braiding the good girls’ hair. We grunt out sounds like Jenny. We bend, tug, grunt and braid, grunt and braid. Their eyes open. Their lungs pulse. We fit our hands over their snapping mouths. They are hungrier than us.
Good girls, I say. Good girls.