Me & KR in the Last Glorious Days of Her Boyhood
It’s August, hot as anything, and I’m standing in the kitchen wringing blood out of KR’s tank top when Mom walks in and sees me and sees what I’m doing and then looks over my shoulder through the window to the lawn and sees KR standing in a sports bra and running shorts, her head tilted back, and says, “What’s that girl gotten herself into now?”
“She didn’t throw the first punch,” I say, which is what KR said when I opened the gate to let her into the backyard.
“Uh-huh,” Mom says. “One day she’s gonna have to start cleaning up her own messes.”
I don’t say that she didn’t come into the house because she’s still bleeding and she didn’t want to make an even bigger mess on the kitchen floor. It wouldn’t make a difference. Mom has made up her mind about KR, and she’s not going to change her opinion for anything short of KR showing up to church in a pair of pretty pumps and a sundress on Sunday morning.
Mom says, “That child worries me.”
It’s something she says a lot, sometimes in KR’s hearing. That’s probably what KR was thinking about when she slept over on the night of my 17th birthday. We were lying on my bed, a bit or maybe a lot closer than we needed to be given that it’s a queen size mattress. Mom won it in a raffle and then realized we couldn’t afford box springs or a frame and so I got it, because I’m the youngest and the least likely to wake up complaining about my back. Now it sits like a raft on the wide ocean of the attic floor where I’ve got my bedroom and that night KR was lying next to me, watching me.
She said, “How old do you think you are when grownups stop saying she worries me and start saying she troubles me?”
Watching as pink water drips down into the sink, I wrap the twisted fabric of KR’s tank top around my fist. When I look up, KR is lifting a hand to her face and then pulling it away, looking at the blood on her fingertips. I remember once, when we were kids, how I put the key to my diary into my mouth, slipped it under my tongue and tried to convince KR that I’d swallowed it. I think that’s how it would taste if I kissed her right now. I spread the tank top out over the sink and swallow the thought down. You can only see the faintest spots where the blood was. I got it before it set, and now when she washes it, it’ll look good as new.
I’m about to step outside when Mom says, “Be careful of her.”
It’s the sort of thing she’s been saying more and more over the past few years. I nod, like there’s any version of tomorrow or the day after that where I’m not hanging out with KR, like there’s any version of tomorrow or the day after where KR gets careful, or where I get careful around her. Maybe if I’d been there, she wouldn’t have gotten punched, but probably I would just have told her not to get punched so I’d be able to say I told you so afterwards. That’s how things usually go with me and KR. I tell her not to get on the roof of the car to see how far the traffic is jammed on the interstate, she does it anyway, she falls, she twists her ankle. I tell her not to hang onto the bottle while she’s setting off bottle rockets, she does it anyway, she shreds her hand. I tell her not to get too close to that pretty girl in the school choir, she does it anyway, she breaks her heart. I told you so, I told you so, I told you so. I say it smiling, though, so she knows I’m not mad. Not really.
I step out into the backyard and KR turns her eyes toward me, head still tilted up. Carefully, she moves her head back down to a normal position and lifts her hand to her face again. It comes away with only some of the dried blood that’s crusted along the edge of her upper lip. She licks her thumb and wipes some of that away. When I hand her her wet shirt, she pulls it on. I can see all the skin of her stomach and chest through it, the bright green of her bra.
That night, when she asked me when I thought grownups would stop using as generous a verb as worry to describe how they felt about her, what I said was, “I don’t know.” I said it softly, because KR sounded like she was trying to make a joke, and I wasn’t going to let her. If she asked me again on this dead hot August afternoon and I pulled up enough courage to tell the truth, I’d say, “Any day now, KR.”
Lee Hittner-Cunningham is a recent graduate of Harvard University who is currently living and working in New York State. Lee is a writer of fiction, poetry, and plays.
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