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Bones, Chronological

Hazel was born Catholic, a loud lawyer girl. She was number one at the end of that year and it prompted her to want a tattoo of the word “jurisdiction” on her wrist. But now, naked and in the forest, Hazel felt like an animal instead of a lawyer. She felt no numbers under her skin, only a cold electricity that widened her pupils and spread her fingers as wide as she could stretch them. Her blue-cold lips were pulled into a wild grin. She was evolving into a new machine, a warm-skinned device that could survive without paper. With her arms in the air and her spine arched she felt a new addicting jurisdiction, one that made her joints feel capable of cracking the life out of any lesser life form.



“Come on, all the way off,” she shouted to her friends. They were standing in a line, in chronological order: Saul, number two, then Silas, number three, then Mary, number four. The two boys were finally stripping hesitantly but Mary left on her bra and underwear. All of them were standing with bashful, folded shoulder blades like cold birds. Hazel walked down the line slowly—a sergeant—eying them disappointedly.




Pale, basic Saul was to be a business man. Long-fingered, long-haired Silas was to be a physicist. Soft, pink Mary was to be a doctor. But here, with their white shirts and leather shoes discarded, they were as nothing as the dead leaves they were all standing on, the twigs they’d broken while running through the trees. In their nakedness, they all realized this—Hazel could tell—but it angered her that she was the only one excited by their insignificance.



Violence collected in Hazel’s fingertips as she stopped and looked at Mary. She was just standing there in her white bra and panties, eating a red apple and looking at the ground. Her thighs were pressed together and she was clutching the apple with a pathetically strong grip.




“Mary, it’s not that cold,” shouted Hazel, even though her own jaw was shaking. “If you’re going to keep your bra on you can go wait in the car with Simon.”




“Lay off, Hazel,” said Saul. But he was also looking distastefully at Mary’s moist lips moving coquettishly over the apple. Apples like that didn’t grow here at this time of year. The red fruit looked fake and blinding in the gray-green haze that was the foggy forest.




Everyone watched Mary’s little shoulders rise defensively as she dropped the apple. It landed with the white bite marks facing up, on top of her discarded blouse and wool skirt. Her jacket, like everyone else’s, was left in the car with Simon. He was parked at the edge of the forest by the picnic table, guarding everyone’s disruptive human possessions. In his passenger seat was a bag full of coats, pencils, gloves and little flasks filled with whiskey. They all trusted that he wouldn’t drink the whiskey while they were off being naked. Simon was number nine or ten, something far below. He understood his place.




Hazel cocked her angular hips, still unsatisfied. “The bra, Mary?”




Silas looked down at his own chest and fingered his wooden crucifix necklace. He wondered why Hazel didn’t have a problem with him leaving it on. The cross necklace was twice as concealing as Mary’s little white bra, twice as protective.




“I don’t know, Hazel,” Mary said with sideways eyes. Bravely, she added “you’re the only one who feels any different."




Roughly, Hazel held Mary’s neck with one hand and unhooked the bra with the other. She threw it down on the bitten apple, leaving a little wet spot on the bra cup. Mary covered her exposed breasts with her numb hands. They felt warm and soft like rotting wood.




“Alright now, let’s begin,” Hazel said. She proceeded to pace up and down the line, patrolling. The jurisdiction tingled up and down her spine. “What are we doing here tonight?”




Saul began to slip his hands into his pockets and then remembered that he wasn’t wearing pants. “Why are you asking us, Hazel? This was your idea.”




“No it wasn’t. We all planned this the day rankings were posted.”




“But you initiated it. You brought us here.”




Hazel tossed back her red hair, proudly flaunting her sharp collar bone. “Of course I initiated it. I’m number one. I’m the smartest one in the entire school.”




“You mean you have the highest grades in the entire school,” Saul corrected. There had been a time in the summer when Hazel had drunkenly and messily kissed him and grabbed at him and since then he’d never been able to think of her as smart.




Hazel discarded his comment. Her entire bony torso was on display now, each pronounced rib. With her red hair behind her, all down her back, her edges were tinted orange. “What does life mean, boys? Why do we exist?"




Mary kept looking at the ground and squishing the dead leaves on the ground with her toes. She knew Hazel wasn’t addressing her. The bite marks on her apple were turning brown.




Silas played with a strand of his long, black hair. It was shoulder-length then, and it had been longer before his grandfather died early in summer. “We exist to die.”





“How simple of you,” said Hazel with raised eyebrows. “I expected better from a native American."




“I’m only half Blackfoot."




“Well, I’m disappointed in the Italian half too.” She abruptly turned on her heel and started pacing the other way. “Saul, you’re Polish, give me some emotion.”




Saul accused Silas with a pointed finger. “I’m just as Catholic as him.”




“The Jewish half counts for nothing? Your mother’s X chromosome gave you no inherited sadness? No Auschwitz?”




“Hazel, just stop it, that’s an awful thing to say,” said Mary. It hurt her teeth to speak out of turn. She was number four, after all.




Hazel pressed her lips together, bunching up her freckles. “You have something to say, Mary?”




“Well, you and I are both pure Irish and that certainly makes us Catholic. Why do you get to pick on everyone else when you’re the simplest one here?”




“You think Bloody Sunday is simple?”




“I don’t know what that is.”




“Are you sure you’re Irish, Mary? Your hair’s awfully dark.”




Mary was trying to shrink. “We’re black Irish, from the South. People down there are dark.”




“Which county?”




“Kerry, I think.”




“Ah, way south. Of course you’re so dark. The Catholic’s really concentrated in you.”




Saul had been clenching and unclenching his hands, watching the whites and blues come and go. “So what’s your answer, Hazel? Why the hell are you here?”




The trees were rough and dense, a perfect backdrop for Hazel’s sapling body. The heat was rising out of her swelling wildness and she performed with liquid, graceful legs as she spoke.




“Well, as a Belfast Catholic I’m far more jagged than County Kerry over here. I’m here on earth to be loud and make money and manipulate people. I’m Bloody Friday, I’m the Troubles.”




“So you think you inherited importance from Belfast?” asked Silas. “You aren’t either of those things; you were born in Massachusetts.”




Hazel liked Silas so his attack didn’t stiffen her at all. She rested her shoulder on a tree, experimenting with her stage. “All I inherited was the loudness. Bombs killing civilians, garbage can lids banged on the ground, all those loud sounds. No pain, just loudness.”




“You know what’s loud?” Saul said. Everyone looked at him. “Death. Death is loud.”

Hazel turned around, facing away from the line. She wondered who was interpreting her spine and who was interpreting her butt and who was interpreting her thighs. She wondered if anyone was interpreting interesting things like her knees or ankles. When she turned back around she pointed at Saul.




“You know,” she said, “I think you’re right. I think death is the loudest thing. Especially young death. That’s just earsplitting.” She was still thinking of the film footage of Belfast her dad had, all the bloodied IRA boys in the streets.




Saul itched his pale head. “I was just thinking of how my mother wailed when my great grandmother died. And how it was all over the TV and radio, how she was a Holocaust survivor who had passed away. And all the calls from strangers who told us they were sorry. It was so loud."




Mary took a step out of line to say something. Hazel sent her back to her place with a cold eyebrow drop. “I wish I was loud,” she said sadly.




“I think we all want to be loud,” said Silas. “That’s why we’re the top four, right? We’ve got the loudest numbers.”




Hazel shook her head. “Numbers can’t be loud.”




“But the numbers were what made my great grandma’s death so loud,” said Saul, “The number of times people said her name after she died made me want to cover my ears.”




“I’m with Mary,” Silas said, “I just want to be loud. Loud is existing. Maybe the point is to be loud.”




Hazel leaned on her tree again, fingering its rugged bark with tender strokes. She was thinking of Simon back in the car, number nine, how quiet he was. “So if we’re already loud because of our numbers and if we’re young, would our deaths be extra loud?” she asked.




Mary quickly jumped in first this time. “Your death would be the loudest, Hazel. You’re number one.” She hoped that would earn her a smile, an eye movement of approval.




“Hmm I disagree,” said Hazel, “You’re so quiet that your death would be a shock, Mary. People would jump, maybe bite their tongues. It would be like a gunshot.”




“So what if we all died?” Silas said it but it opened everyone’s mouths. Silence started to crescendo into grinning.




“If we graduated top four and then all died, that would be atomic loud. No one would forget that,” said Saul. His heartbeat was quickening, bringing the color back to his freezing torso. He stepped out of line, joining Hazel at the tree and feeling the metallic wildness on his tongue.




Silas stepped out of line next. He was grinning and his pupils were so big that his dark eyes looked like deep holes. He was thinking about mushroom clouds, tinnitus. Finally Mary even ran to the tree and gripped it hard with her light-pink painted nails. Loudness would erase all her light pink and give her real color.




Hazel put her little arms around the cold shoulders of her friends. “One, two, three, four,” she counted slowly, “Four gunshots and a perpetual loudness afterwards. What do you think? I say we’ll be immortal.”




“Who makes the shots?” asked Mary. Her face was close enough to Hazel’s to see how complicated Hazel’s eyes were, full of random yellow and gold lines. Maybe she was the more jagged Catholic.




“Whoever ends up being number one, obviously,” said Hazel. “Number one shoots in reverse numerical order the night of graduation, ending with herself or himself.”

As the four of them reinforced the plan with a blood promise—knife in thumb then thumb to thumb—Hazel thought of how the word “jurisdiction” had four syllables. They had one whole year, she could lose number one, but when she pictured it all playing out she saw herself as the one holding the gun, her red hair long and loose, spelling “jurisdiction” with four quick shots to four very intelligent heads.



******





Saul tried to pass the flask to Helena but she frowned and pushed it away. The whiskey spilled across the mattress. He was tempted to suck the sheets before it absorbed too deeply.




Helena Bales was new to him, yet quite familiar. They were similar people, with very beige skin and very beige hair that was almost the same shade. They both had grey eyes and slow heartbeats. They were both beautiful in a plain, monotone way and he felt much safer with her than he had with Hazel during their brief collisions earlier that summer.




Helena laid quite still for him and spoke simply and had a number that was surprisingly low. A name like Helena should’ve been single digits. She was meant for high numbers; though unmarried she was already a wife. She dressed well and had good handwriting and new a lot about flowers and furniture brands. He was number two, already wealthy, and he had big shoulders. It made sense for her to be sitting in his lap, refusing the whiskey. She did like champagne, he knew, but whiskey was too sharp for her. That made sense too. He liked the whole thing, the pictures of them together taped on her bedroom mirror in perfect, childlike rows. They looked American and correct.





And yet he still wanted to suck the whiskey out of the sheets, even though it would interrupt the normality of her room. He wanted to show her his sliced thumb, tickle her with his new secret. She would nod and make her mouth into a straight line if he mentioned it to her. Helena didn’t like Hazel. Helena didn’t like bright colors. The blood on his thumb would’ve frightened her.



******








At home, Mary took off her white bra again, carefully and willingly this time. She folded her white underwear on the bed and placed the bra atop it. She didn’t look down at herself as she quickly shut herself in her bathroom. It was purposefully without a mirror. Occasionally, she’d catch a bent reflection of her breasts in the silver faucet or the shower glass and blush. The heat would spread down her neck and across her chest, turning them red as well. When this occurred, she sat still and closed her eyes until the redness was gone and she was white again.




Red was a color that came from the other type of women, the women like Hazel. Mary was determined not be a red woman. There was no such thing as a red halo.




That night, she kept her eyes fixed on the white walls as she vigorously scrubbed herself with a bar of Ivory soap. She lathered her face first and then moved all the way down to her feet. At the end she went back and scrubbed her breasts and between her legs. She liked to do the sinful parts last so they wouldn’t soil the soap. The only part she didn’t wash was her sliced left thumb. The soap would only sting it; there was no way to make it clean.




The pink notebook on her bedside table was filled with carefully written prayers that night. She filled up three pages, one for each who ranked higher than her. Bless Silas for that wooden cross necklace. Bless Saul and help to keep him warm as winter approaches. Bless Hazel and watch over her constantly, just in case she decides to jump off the edge of anything. Bleach Hazel, God, bleach her until she is unable to frighten and tempt me anymore.



*****

“Where’s that skinny girl tonight, the one with the witch eyes?” Silas’ grandmother loved the nights when Hazel followed him home. She would braid Hazel’s long hair and serve her strong herbal teas with extra cinnamon. Silas would sit with his legs crossed and watched them. He’d often thought about mapping women, how they interacted and moved and sounded. How beautiful the lines describing Hazel and Grandma would be, dark teal tangled with burnt orange.





When Silas arrived at home alone that night, his grandmother was in her chair looking grumpy. “Where’s that girl?” she asked him. “I was looking forward to seeing her all day.”





“She had to go somewhere else, Grandma.”





“Someone else’s house? Another boy’s house?”





“I don’t know, Grandma, I can’t keep track of where she goes.”





Grandma clenched her toes in her sandals. “You should try harder. I want that girl to stay here forever. I had a secret to tell her tonight, in fact.”





Silas sat on the ground next to Grandma’s chair. “What was it?”





“Nothing you need to know. It was for her, just for her.”





Grandma Nine Trees had been living in Silas’ house since Grandpa Nine Trees died in June. Silas had been the one to fly to the West Coast and drive to Seattle to pick her up. They’d talked throughout the entire plane ride and now he was convinced that his grandmother was the smartest person he’d ever know. Since she’d lived in the house the texture of the family had changed. She was fat and dark and horribly sarcastic. She said things that shocked everyone but Silas. He just laughed and she laughed with him while the rest of the family looked down at their dinner plates and picked at their tomatoes.





Grandma told Silas that Hazel was the only friend she’d made on the East Coast so far. She’s the only person I’ve met who’s interesting enough to be my friend, she’d said.





“I’ll see if she can stop by tomorrow morning,” Silas told Grandma, “she usually wakes up early on weekends.”





Grandma tucked Silas’ hair behind his ear. “You should hold on to her a little tighter, you know. Girls like that burn under your skin for years if you let them get away.”





“Nobody can hold onto Hazel, Grandma. It would be like trying to hold onto a lit firework.”





Before he went to bed, Silas walked down the hall to say goodnight to the other grandma, the Italian one. She was already asleep and her small mouth was moist and red. She looked like a Barbie doll next to Grandma Nine Trees. Grandma Vitale would probably fan herself with one of her magazines and ask for a glass of water if she ever met Hazel.



******

Naked and sweating, Hazel dreamt shamelessly about sex.

She needed a concubine, a male mistress. All powerful people had affairs like that. There was no such thing as a powerful virgin. She dreamt of becoming filthy and ruthless atop a man. She dreamt of owning someone. Warm-fleshed property.




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