You slump, shrink, curl down in your seat, never stand up straight. As if an arrow might pick you off. Not an arrow, a bullet. Not a bullet, a blow. Not a blow, words. Not words, looks.
You’re a freak. Four inches in one year? Your father’s colleague says he keeps looking for the stool you’re standing on. Oh, and too bad about that limp. Too bad you’re pigeon-toed.
You hunger to be a little girl, petite, with tiny hands, and a snappable bone. Those girls are legion. You want to absorb them, eat them up, until you become them. Only some want to become you. I wish I could see over! Can you lift me up? Your clumsiness attempts, and fumbles. The little girl has some heft to her after all. You clomp off, away. She finds another friend. You don’t.
You dance with the tallest boy in the sixth grade class because he’s the only one you can look up to, some sad soul in a plaid shirt who can’t tell right from left.
Your big sister hates you, because she’s only five foot four. On those three inches – the ones you have and she lacks – is written the twisted history of your relationship.
You cry in a closet, the closet in your father’s house, the house he has with his new wife. What are you doing in the closet? Looking for something to wear. The brown and black shirt strangles you. The panty hose in the top dresser drawer only make it thigh-high. She’s a tiny little thing, as your father loves to say.
Your self-esteem never improves. Even after physical attributes no longer rule. Even though your intellect blossoms, your talents refine, your artistic vision expands. You can’t let go of having been the giraffe in the room.
You hate bullies. The ones who make fun of a child’s teeth, or nose, or scruffy hair. You’re a mother now. You show up at your daughter’s school from time to time to help out. You’ve told more than one irksome little beast to lay off, though your words are more politic. Do unto others, you say. You command attention because your voice is clear, your hands are gentle and dispense, brilliantly – joyously – a small delicious chocolate chip cookie as both a reward and bribe.
They must crane their necks so far back, and squint against the sunlight. Because you’re tall.
A THING OF BEAUTY
They had to get out of the heat. It was the reason they came, yet after only a day its strength overwhelmed. Home was dark and wet. Here was bright and dry. The shaded walkway in Old Town was made of wood that creaked. They were the youngest people around. Arizona was full of retirees, yet there must be plenty of folks under seventy, right?
Nina didn’t know. Tom’s question made her head hurt a little more. It was the dry air, she thought. The blazing sun. She’d get used to it if she lived there, right? Didn’t one always adapt?
You’ll get used to it, her mother said. At the time, Nina assumed she meant the act of sex, with which she was already quite familiar. Later she knew her mother had meant the married state in general. Living with someone day in, day out.
The store was on a corner. The entrance was guarded by a wooden Indian in a feather headdress. The eyes were painted blue. A blue-eyed Indian? What could be more fake than that? Tom asked.
A wooden one, Nina said.
The chill from the air conditioning shocked. Nina’s breathing slowed. Native goods were everywhere. Moccasins, blankets. Also a horse skull tacked to the wall, cochina dolls, glass cases full of pottery and fetishes. Turquoise jewelry dominated. Large squash blossom necklaces drew her gaze.
A case further along held more modern silver pieces. One, a cuff bracelet, stopped her, pulled her in for a closer look. Against a background of oxidized silver was a pattern of circles, all touching, all linked, none the same size. The other half of the cuff, hinged and held with a tight silver spring, was a mirror image.
Nina asked to see it. She tried it on. It suited her perfectly. Tom said it was too heavy, not right for her. Something smaller, maybe. More delicate.
Nina ignored him. The weight of the bracelet made her feel like a warrior. The girl who opened the case had hair dyed white. Her black eyebrows gave that away. Nina had taken to dying her own hair black. Tom missed her natural red, and wanted it back.
Nina paid for the bracelet without considering the impact its cost would have on their budget. Tom would remind her in no time, she was sure. He was good with money, because he never spent it. Except when he wanted something, like this vacation. He needed to get away. Work had piled up, a woman in his office kept calling him at home. His voice changed when he heard hers. His face did, too. Nina knew the nature of this change, what lay behind it.
They braved the heat once more, but not for long. Tom was hungry. He wanted to sit in the shade with a Margarita. He hoped a really good brand of tequila would be on hand. They found a Mexican place, staffed by young men and women with Hispanic features. The man in the open kitchen, which they passed on their way to the cool, lusciously floral back patio, was white.
They sat. A bird with shiny breast feathers stood on the metal rail a few feet away. Nina couldn’t fathom its obvious joy. When she brought her glass of white wine to her lips, the new bracelet slid down her arm. She wondered if her joy were obvious, too.
Tom had his margarita. The rim of the glass was salted. Nina had never cared for the taste of salt, but when it wasn’t there, she could tell and missed it. How can miss you something you don’t really care for? Unless to miss was simply to notice something was gone, something you didn’t necessarily want back.
You like? Tom asked. She thought he meant the thing of beauty on her wrist. He referred to her wine.
Yes. The bracelet, too.
Let me see it.
She extended her arm.
No, I mean take it off.
She took it off and gave it to him.
In his hand it looked small, but no less lovely.
Rather clever, isn’t it? he asked.
She asked to have the bracelet back. He was still looking at it. He pulled the two halves apart, and examined the spring they were welded to. He spread the bracelet further and further open. Nina asked him to stop. She was sure he’d break it. He continued to pull until the pieces could go no further.
Then he released them. They snapped closed. Nina grabbed the bracelet and examined it for damage. There was a tiny nick on one edge, barely visible. It didn’t worry her. Silver was a soft metal, and even if Tom hadn’t played with it, soon enough there would be small scratches and dents.
See? Everything comes back together, in the end, Tom said.
Nina opened the halves slowly, and slipped her narrow wrist into the opening. The halves closed gently. It was beautiful, she thought. A gorgeous handcuff.
Anne Leigh Parrish is the author of three books of fiction: All The Roads That Lead From Home, stories (Press 53, 2011); Our Love Could Light The World, linked stories (She Writes Press, 2013); and her debut novel, What Is Found, What Is Lost (She Writes Press, 2014) a Finalist in the Literary Fiction category of the 2015 International Book Awards. She has published over 40 short stories, and numerous articles on the art and craft of writing. Visit her at www.anneleighparrish.com, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/AnneLParrish, and on her Facebook author page at www.facebook.com/AnneLeighParrish.