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Desiree This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category.

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Mere, she say, “Desiree, you just a girl and you not going nowhere with no boy. You stay right here and fix this rice while I see to Honey.”

“I ain't a girl no more,” I say back.

She looks at me like she does with her eyes all shiny black like one of them widow spiders living out in the hot, quiet dark behind the broken flower pot, the one that been cracked longer than I been alive, or so she say.

“You stay.”

“But-”

Still hurts real bad where she slapped me across the face, and it's no fair because fifteen ain't a girl no more. Besides, if it was Chloe had asked her to see somebody she'd have let her, just because she like her better. One time I told Chloe I think so and Chloe say as she combing her soft hair around her pretty face lighter than mine because her daddy not mine, “Shut up, Desiree, don't none of us need you mouthing off with Honey to worry about.”

Everybody always worry about Honey because she got some sickness in her blood that won't go away even when the bloody‑eyed lady come with her powders and bottles and chanting that make me run off behind the house so I won't hear none of it. I wait and hum the church songs and draw in the musk‑smelling dirt with my fingernails Mere won't let me paint, not even once.

Sometimes Honey cries quiet to herself and “it's because she hurting from her sick blood,” Chloe whisper sharp to answer me. But maybe I hurt too and she ought to know – she was there – and pretending not to see ain't the same as not knowing, but I don't say none of this to them. I just think it to the listening dark, and that way I can say things without saying, because the night don't tell nobody's secrets.

So I take the Secret with me and run.

I run all the way from the house up through the Quarter 'til I so tired I don't want to run no more. By now I'm hurting real bad on the inside from the running, and I can't see nothing because of the salty water. Then thunder booms high in the sky and suddenly He's crying too, and I'm soaked wet all through my clothes and my hair.

The blurry streets empty with the people running for cover inside rooms and under doorways where it's damp and dirty. But me, I walk on alone through the wet, nowhere to go because I can't go home no more.

Then I come to it, after turning one way down the street and then another, the Secret screaming so loud I can't even hear the rain.

Inside, it smells like jungle.

There's no walls. The vines hide bricks and cover windows as if they eyelids covering up eyes. Stone angel‑girls stand around quiet, smaller than even Honey, and she only four. There's every kind of plant, every color, reds and yellows and whites and green, green, green, all mixed together and wild, like them bright birds me and Chloe seen long time ago. Possessed, they writhe and move to the jerky beat of the raindrops, like some kind of dance that's meant to scare you or seduce you or steal your soul away. The scarlet flowers are blood‑red fingers, deadly claws that rake and stroke and beckon, dripping with sweet water smelling like the deep parts of the earth, from above the rooftops and below the tired flagstones where bodies rot and worms nibble at the old dead flesh. It's all flesh, it's all bone, all pulsing through itself and through me.

I taste the air, tasting it really for the first time and wondering what's in it that make it taste like rock and flesh and music and blood all on my tongue at once, like death and life together.

The flagstones are smooth and cold from the wet as I sit down, my legs tucked under me, arms hurting where the dark marks are, always are. They from her, always from her, always hurting, almost as bad as the pains on the inside you can't see nothing of but they still there though you try and say they not.

I'm shaking all over, letting the tears run down my face and mix with the rainwater, thinking of him and what might've been if she'd just have let me go out with that boy who I'll never see no more because why would he ever come by now? Never again will he be waiting as the day fades into night, hidden under the old arbor with the jasmine flowers smelling like the ladies' perfume and him just waiting for me me me, and me thinking all of him in my head and nothing else, feeling like somebody even though I ain't got nothing but an old dress used to be Chloe's. And my nails not even painted and my hair not even done up right and him saying I beautiful and maybe thinking it too.

But now it ain't his fault because how could he know. How could he know she grabbed me by the wrist digging her claw‑nails into me, me trying not to scream so he won't come inside to see because I'd never want nobody to see, not even somebody who might care.

But now he'll go and find somebody else, somebody prettier to go listen to the jazz show with and dance real slow with, out under the dark lit‑up sky that stretch on forever and ever and ever. Somebody he might even give a first kiss to.

My kiss.

I'm more alone now than on any of them long, hot nights laying on the straw‑quilt pallet beside Chloe and Honey after they fallen asleep, with the humid air covering my bare legs and wishing somebody come for me, take me far off, maybe someplace where there's quiet shade under trees and soft white sand between my toes, and nobody to say we can't walk off together in the twilight. Someplace where there's no rice or greens to cook, no garden to weed and pick from, no little sister might die any day now, nobody to hit me and remind me of everything I ought to be.

I want to scream so loud I wake up the corpses in the stone rooms, scare off all the birds from the rooftops of the cathedral where I ain't allowed to go but I went anyways once and I looked Him in the face. Right in the face and asked why.

I want to wring the necks of the stone angels, slap their sad sad moss‑grown faces 'til I can't see the silent streaks the rain left down their cheeks. I know they crying and I hate them for it because they don't got reason for it. Not when nobody tell them what to do, how to wear their hair or dresses, to never love nobody because of something that snarls inside her.

“I hate her! I hate all them!”

There. I ain't going to tell that to the priest next confession‑time, because it's my Secret and nobody else's not even God's. There! I breathe so heavy I think my lungs going to give out but I don't care no more about anything except I hate them and I never want to go back there.

I could do it if I wanted. It be so easy because she don't know that I know how it's done. She don't know I saw my daddy out back of the house so still and silent, before anyone else found him, and I was scared and ran ran ran but still remembered how it's done. All it takes is an old sheet and then it comes quick and easy plus I hear you don't feel nothing, though how could anybody know that. But I don't care even if it does hurt because nothing's worse than when she beat me. And if I did it would show her, show her real good. It would be real easy, so easy ….

“So easy.”

I lift my streaming wet face to the leaves and vines above me, finding it with my eyes, feeling its soul and its voice from deep inside me. It's smooth‑looking and strong as it slides slowly slowly down through the greenness, every inch closer to me. It's like the ones from jungles far away that you hear about in stories and see in dreams and night‑scares, and it's colored like bayou water and moves like it too.

I never seen it before.

“Though I seen you,” it hisses. If it could laugh it would've.

It come to kill me … kill me ….

“Why you? You guilty, Desiree?”

My eyes and its great amber‑black ones are locked together like I couldn't ever get away even if I wanted to.

I don't think so ….

“But they is.”

That's not a question so I don't answer, couldn't answer.

It's closer now, just inches above me, so close I can smell the musky smells of the whole world on its scales, smells of where it's been and what it's done. What it's seen, tasted, its tongues flickering in the thick air.

“You know what freedom taste like?”

Its voice comes from behind my head now, and I see up close the moving patterns of its skin. From down the walls and up from deep below, others come to watch and listen, to taste for themselves, their colored bodies like strong ribbons.

“Tastes like the earth,” it continues in its slow whisper, “like the salty breeze from the ocean, like sunlight, like moonbeams and stardust. It's the bittersweet red‑mango sunset, promising everything, beckoning from down the open roads. And,” its voice lowers, “it taste like love … like dancing under the night sky, always in somebody's arms.”

In somebody's arms … But I could never get it, not ever.

“Yes, you can.”

But how?

“It's easy. You already know the Secret.”

The Secret ….

It's tightening, little by little, scale by scale. The others sway like smoke, their eyes all staring and staring.

“It would show them good. You know it's easy, Desiree. You said so.”

And I think of him again, of my daddy, of the way he looked that night, how I'll never ever forget the way he looked ….

“But he free now, free from her and from them, from always having to work for people who don't care if he live or die. Don't you want to escape, leave it all for something better? It's easy, so easy.”

Too easy.

“I could help, you know.”

It's around my waist now. I can feel its smooth body tightening and tightening, my lungs getting harder to breathe with. Its eyes look into mine, trying to hypnotize me like the water does when it laps the bank slowly, and like the wind sometimes blow the Spanish moss hanging from the oaks like heirloom lace, like woman's hair, like lost wishes hung out to dry.

“Your wishes is mine, Desiree. I only want you to be happy ….”

I want to be happy. I want it so bad but I don't want to die like daddy because dead means gone and I don't care what they say happens after because up there Jesus ain't got the kind of things we got down here … ain't got the music, the smells of pralines and how they cook slow and delicious, ain't got the feeling of night when the whole city a lit up, magic palace, and he ain't got the pain that make the beautiful things sweeter than all heaven together.

So tight now the breath hardly comes, the rain pouring harder than I ever seen my whole life, and I can't see nothing but blur and the amber‑black eyes shining at me like demons.

“All you got to do is let go.”

No.

“Don't struggle, let go ….”

NO.

“Desiree!”

I struggle to my feet, writhing in the ropes of its body that bind me like an animal to be slaughtered and ate up every last bit. I can't scream because my voice run off with the rainwater trickled into the earth to join the other lost things.

The others hissing so loud.

I can't breathe, can't breathe at all … it's gone, it's over, because I tried to fight and I lost.

I shut my eyes tight to not see its eyes for the last thing I see, but my fingers brush against something smooth and it's the head of it and my fingers touch the neck and hold, because once when I was little I got bit by a dog and I was crying and Daddy he say, “Hold my hand tight as you can, Desiree, and it make the pain go away,” so I squeeze that snake's neck so hard like I'm wringing out every bad thing … tighter and tighter, breath gone from it going into me … and then, suddenly everything fall away and I'm standing alone and fall down blind to the flagstones as the rain come down softer now, softer now from the way‑up clouds, down to me, where it run through me and down me, washing me up and out.

My eyes stay blind 'til the rain stop, and then from somewhere in the dark I hear it, the music.

The rain chased it off but it came back, back to play long into the night 'til morning, when the sunrise will shine golden on the saxophones and the people's faces, people who got so much to live for they don't want to miss a single minute. And I can see again, like the blind man who got the miracle, and suddenly all the lost things come back to me and I feel again, smell again, taste again.

I walk out from the jungle‑garden, through the iron gates like the gates of heaven or hell or both, with me not looking back to see what I'm leaving behind.

The moon out, a full one tonight. My lungs fill with the fresh moist after‑rain air, and I taste all the sweet spices of love and life within it, all mine, all tonight. The pavement's running black with rainwater, but it's a beautiful thing.

Don't know where I going, but I know it's anywhere but back. I can want everything now without needing nothing at all, nothing to hold me up because I got my own self. The Secret's become the Strength for Pulling Through, the Guts for Holding On, the Eyes for Waking Up, the Pride of Knowing that I Am.

For the first time, it's like the world's waiting for me.

And even if it ain't quite a woman, fifteen sure ain't a girl no more.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.

This work has won the Teen Ink contest in its category. This piece won the February 2010 Teen Ink Fiction Contest.




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bookthief This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Feb. 22, 2012 at 4:41 pm:
Absolutely gorgeous. The diction is natural and flowing, but you manage to fit in beautiful stream-of-consciousness descriptive passages as well. The plot is simple but not hackneyed and the progression was perfect. A real treat to read. Thank you.
 
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LastChapter said...
Feb. 7, 2011 at 5:59 pm:
this.was.AMAZING! seriously. you have such a beautiful way of phrasing things. i especially loved "and he ain't got the pain that make the beautiful things sweeter than all heaven together." pure, grammatically incorrect genius. i love the slangy accent, the harsh and poetic way this was written, and basically everything else. i loved how you didn't spell everything out. like, we actually had to think and piece the story together to understand what was happening. INCREDIBLE JOB! <--cou... (more »)
 
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AaronLawrenceThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Feb. 2, 2011 at 4:08 pm:
this was amazing, at first I was like what? but as i became used to the creative writing i began to see how beautiful it sounded, and was amazed at even though it was almost all grammatically incorrect it made such clear sense. 
 
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reenay_95 said...
Feb. 1, 2011 at 10:48 pm:
This was so good. I loved her voice, a smart, wise girl without much formal education, but real education about real life. I love how she defeated this beast.
 
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audeosperoidare2hope said...
Jan. 31, 2011 at 10:24 am:

Wow. This was amazing. I loved the descriptive language and the accent. :)

Good job! 

 
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