The Mouths that Breathe, The Air that Catches

Two trailer park girls run round the outside of the tin-roofed storage shed at the front of the court. One is named Sherry and the other is named Simone but let's not think about that now. Sherry's a good eleven-year-old girl in knee-sprung jeans and a spaghetti-strap blouse stained at the front a little from the spaghetti sauce her mother made for dinner before they sat down to watch Wheel of Fortune, Simone's the same age, a dark little thing in a sharp skirt with tiny calf muscles that tense when she jumps the dog-rope stretched between the posts of the clothesline and the corner of the shed. Her pop-beads jounce around her neck, pink and light blue and yellow, jaunty green pendant suspended in the center. Sherry jumps with her sometimes, over puddles of muddy water doing the trick-like snaky slide across into the grass where Sherry's dad leaves spare car parts and empty pop bottles, the empty lot where he fixes his car and the girls skip rope when they have a third girl, which isn't often, and even then they have to skip over the rainbow-slicked oil spills. Then the boys, the boys come by in their cut-off smart-mouth jeans and nut-brown bare chests with cigarettes to spare and jerk-ass attitudes, and how Simone responds and leaves the games behind, twists her hair in her hand and looks at the ground, speaks in stutters of vulgarity and takes the cigarette in her hand and puffs it once while Sherry tries not to stare and wishes she could be like Simone the brave as their lunch-bucket days and Britney Spears posters disappear in the trail of cigarette smoke from these boys, the boys of late-spring heat and tumbled-dry hair coiffed like and hung rock stars. Now Sherry sits on the crick-bank and watches Simone dips her feet ankle-deep in the water, the stones rusted orange from acid run-off, the water where no fish will live, the water that splashes her blouse like sweat where the boys try to make her wet, and Sherry has her shoes off now, tiny pink-tipped toes dipping into the water and her jeans rolled up and the boys all round like worker bees around the queens, the queens of playground and trash-heap who spot the rats at the edge of the water and shout, the boys the boys who throw rocks and the girls who watch them and together they watch each other and trade stories till they're circled around a stick and newspaper fire in the safe rocks at the edge, the very edge, the only edge, where the boys suggest truth or dare and the girls, smart girls, understand and Simone steals a glance at the boys and they bid their goodbyes and make bus-stop and lunchroom assignations. Simone and Sherry wet-foot in the dew, now sitting on a flattened cardboard box together again smoking a single cigarette and Simone lifts her face to the sky, blows out smoke like a beacon, Sherry takes it from her and coughs up her new life, but the important thing to remember when they open their smoking mouths to the air, when they open their mouths and try to speak, to say what it is they mean, they look at each other, they shrug, they feel their lives running away into the distance. They taste stars.

(Apologies to Eminem and Rick Moody and whomever else I stole this story from; thanks)

  -Rusty Barnes