Dani Sandal


My sister Maggie says she has walnuts growing under her skin. I stop my scab picking, slide off the bottom bunk, climb up the forbidden ladder to switch on our flashlight. Where? I ask. Right here, she says. Look. We sit facing each other, knees to bony knees. She in her cotton underwear, all butterflies and clovers, bare-chested, straight backed and cross-legged. Me in my days of the week underwear, Monday on a Sunday, and Pop's oiled-stained undershirt. Hair on our long legs is fine as the string that threads the old storybook stuffed under our bed and forgotten. I don't see anything, I say. She says, Feel, and takes my hand. I poke like she is a doorbell and beneath the twin circles of cinnamon-brown they are there, solid as a shell, yet yielding to my touch like a five-minute egg. It's so gross, I say and scoot away to see her in whole. She says, Remember Mom? I do and shrug, So? Just wait, she says -- they're going to be gargantuan.

The next day and all that spring into summer Maggie wears cut-offs, a thin tight T-shirt and the pink flip-flops with a cork heel she bought at Penney's with money from bailing hay. She shaves her legs and throws her shoulders back when she walks. She stands on the peddles of her Huffy when she rides way ahead of me toward the river. That brown ponytail and rainbow streamers wave goodbye in the wake of her. From my bike I lob acorns at her head and notice thin slices of white in the crease where ass cheek meets tan leg like pretty crescent moons. One night that summer a thief raps on our window in the guise of a boy and Maggie has to tell him to go away. Her voice is breathy and quick and makes my stomach ache. I decide right then to duct-tape my own chest like the leaking copper pipes our father mends to hold in the flood. Three days later it takes rubbing alcohol to break the bind and after Pop peels me free I can't look at him in the eye for hours. Until he tells me a fart-joke and I forget about nuts for awhile.

My sister says, You don't even know what an orgasm is, and I say I do. I do, Mrs. Blastar taught me. I aced that test. Through the trailer walls we hear a lot of banging around and Claudette, Pop's new girlfriend, whispers some urgent plea. Something about Jesus. She's a Baptist and wears a gold chain and crucifix round her brown smooth belly that glints in the morning sun as she reaches above our sink for his clay coffee mug. The one I made in first grade. I tell my sister an organism is an individual form of life. I tell her it's a body made up of organs or other stuff that work together to carry on the various processes of life. I feel smug now, even though they make me sweat. Organisms. They're in you, I say. And they can turn on you like that Retriever on my paper route. They can lay in wait and plot, I say -- but are you. Remember Mom. Maggie thinks about that, her eyes narrowing down on something far away over my shoulder. In the glow of our flashlight crazy moths flutter up its beam like drunken spirits to an altar. There was an organism coup, I whisper. And they ate her breasts. Then her liver and stomach (and saved the hollow dregs for us).

Dani Sandal is a past recipient of The Heritage Award in Fiction. She's been published in small college lit mags and won a few awards for short stories while in George Mason University's MFA program. She is just beginning to be brave and send some words out "there."

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