I might have avoided much heartache if I'd listened to Neetie as we glued stars to the walls of the house we'd built from scratch for our trolls. "If you'd only," she began. She was as kind as a twelve year-old girl could be. "If you'd only pluck them," she said. "They should be shaped. Like teardrops."
If I'd only listened to my sister, who stowed her Maybelline in what had been our shared jewelry box with a ballerina inside, which spiraled, before we broke it, on a spring hidden in the box's innards. "Slob," my sister said. Her beauty required an effort as intense as coal mining or dying so she was always irritable. "Your eyebrows look like centipedes. Wear a bra, Tit Poker."
I looked in the bathroom mirror, looked long and hard, but I couldn't see it. All I saw was a face. I opened my shirt to the same bologna-colored dimes that had been with me since birth, though maybe a bit more pooched-out from the Velveeta on soda crackers my sister said would make me fatter than Jan, who lived up a wrought iron spiral staircase in her parents' fieldstone house, whom no man would marry, and who died of brain cancer. I slid open the door of the medicine chest to feel the edge of the slot labeled razor blades where my father, who'd been dead for a few years, had shoved his spent Gillettes. I tried to picture them there behind the wall, scattered like minnows over the cement slab our pre-fab was positioned upon. I missed him, my father. I thought about sending a little gold fishing hook down there on some nylon line to see if I could snag a blade and pull it back through.
My father hadn't seemed to care about my eyebrows. "She's three," he told his buddies, "and she can read the newspaper." My mother was too busy to know I had eyes let alone eyebrows once everything was on her shoulders. She didn't even shave her own pits anymore. I knew because I heard two women whispering about it one summer at the fruit stand. "Look at her armpit hair," one of them hissed, tilting her head in my mother's direction. She drew out the r in hair like pulling on an earthworm until it snapped. I never felt ashamed of my mother. Never. But I felt something come alive in the gulch inside my belly; some muddy rodent woke up and licked its paws and slid its tail against the floor of me, the walls of me. There where the fruit stand owner barked at my mother to quit squeezing the tomatoes I saw that since she was now a widow, which I'd learned from the World Book was a kind of spider, things would happen to her that hadn't happened before. Neighborhood men would peak in her bedroom window or call her in the middle of the night saying dirty things into the telephone. Women would sneer at her. Fear her.
My mother read books and wrote about them, now that we were scraping by on Social Security and she was in college. Books about whales without illustrations, one called As I Lay Dying, which scared me, and a volume named Modern Poetry in which words looked to have been tossed like dice over a naked page. She wrote in the margins of all of her books, something we'd been ordered in school never to do, at the risk of a fine, or expulsion. I tried to read her slanted cursive but she seemed to be writing in a language only she could understand. I followed her into that outpost; I shadowed her there. It was us and the milkweeds and Hazel, who wore her black clothes and veil even in summer; it was us and the cornflowers and the sparrows, and finally, my sister, once beauty had done its number on her.
Diane Seuss's most recent collection, Four-Legged Girl, is forthcoming in October 2015 from Graywolf Press. Her second book, Wolf Lake, White Gown Blown Open, won the Juniper Prize and was published by the University of Massachusetts Press in 2010. Her first collection, It Blows You Hollow, was published by New Issues Poetry and Prose in 1998. She has received a Pushcart Prize, and a poem originally published in The Missouri Review appeared in The Best American Poetry 2014. Her poetry and brief prose have received awards from Indiana Review, Quarter After Eight, Mid-American Review, and the Summer Literary Seminars contest. Seuss is Writer in Residence at Kalamazoo College.