Elizabeth Burkhead is a college student from Dallas, Texas. She eats turkey sandwiches for breakfast. This story was originally written in Spanish.
My name is Sheila Biggs. I am 12-and-a-half-years old. My favorite things are 1. the smell of crayons and 2. the wipers when you go through the carwash and 3. peeing in the shower. I’d like to get that done and put away with because these days, it’s hard to tell what people really enjoy. My friend Shane, for instance, is always going on about the things he hates, but he never really tells me what he likes (I can tell, of course, that he really loves playing with his sister’s Barbie dolls).
Today we are sitting on the playground, the clouds like clowns in the sky, and Shane says to me, “There are these people that, like, want to do sex with stuffed animals. Like, giant stuffed animals. So they dress up as bears and bunnies and stuff and do sex on each other.”
I look at him like he’s full of shit. Shane is always full of shit. His Dad’s the pastor, so he always has to know everything, but I can tell he’s jealous of me—because I’m becoming a woman, and he’s still a little boy. I can feel my breasts, like fig seeds, rubbing against my t-shirt.
But still Shane goes on, “You know what they’re called? Furries.”
“Furries?” I say. “Sounds like what your Dad calls your Mom in bed.”
“My mom is dead,” he says, and goddamn it, Shane is always reminding me about his stupid dead mom. Sometimes I wish my mom were dead just so I could rub it in everyone’s face like Shane does.
I come home and the house smells like rotting teddy bears. It’s always Christmas in my house: thousands of Santa Clauses—Santa in the form of a teddy bear, Santa in the form of a human—all of them with their inexhaustible eyes watching me. My Mom’s been collecting them for years, and now she doesn’t have the energy to put them in the attic.
Right now she’s on the sofa, same as always, with her empty eyes on the television, turtle-like, her fat and wrinkled neck extended.
“With God’s light,” says the television.
“Mom,” I say.
“Look, the strength of the Lord,” the T.V. responds.
“Mom!” I yell.
But she doesn’t say anything to me—she’s like the Virgin Mary in the nativity scene, watching over baby Jesus. Quiet, passive, resigned to her fate.
Today—Sunday. I like Sundays because it’s Church, and I get to see Shane. In Church, though, I can’t say anything about Shane’s dead mom—she killed herself. She killed herself. I don’t know why we can’t say anything about her because her fortune seems a lot better than Mom’s, in her house of eternal Christmas.
I look at PastorShane’sDad. The pastor, with a cleft in his chin, talks with fire in hi
“Lift up your mats! Lift up your mats and go on living!”
I look at the pastor, and I feel something strange inside my dress. Like I want to keep looking and looking at him forever. Looking.
And now it’s time for communion. I open my mouth. I open my mouth, and I feel the pastor’s fingers on my lips—in the name of the father and the son and the Holy Spirit—something strange in my dress.
After church, I go to Shane’s house, his motherless house. Smells like communion wine. An empty house. Shane is sucking on a pencil, pretending to smoke a cigarette.
“Cigarettes are real bad for your health, dumby,” I say, “You’re gonna get cancer.”
“Shut up!” Shane says. “My mom died of cancer!”
He looks at me, his brown eyes offended. Always the same thing. Always the dead mom. The pencil falls from his mouth.
“Your mom killed herself, Shane!” I say, “She—she killed herself because she was ashamed to have the ugliest, stupidest kid in the world.”
I don’t have time for this shit-for-brains, I think and run out into the hallway. But I run head first into the Pastor’s belly. I run head first into the Pastor and I feel something strange in my dress.
“Ah, Miss Sheila. What’s wrong? Come into my office.”
Something in his voice just rumbles in my tummy, and I keep on following him. A crucifix on the wall. I look at Jesus on this cross, with his body all distorted like he’s feeling a deep pleasure, an ecstasy.
But PastorShane’sDad hands me a teddy bear and says, “I just want to see you hold this.”
I hold the bear like it’s a baby, like it’s the baby Jesus. I feel the Pastor’s eyes on my body, I feel him looking at me looking at the bear. Something strange in my dress, like lots of picnic ants on my skin. Pleasure and pain at the same time.
And I feel the Pastor’s hand lifting up my dress, his hot hands between my cold legs, his finger on my panties, my hands on the bear’s fur.
My vagina like an empty church, I go back in my house, that now smells like a stable, a stable full of Santas, men and bears, all with eyes watching me. And my mother over their on the couch, watching over the T.V. My fat mother, passive. And now I’m a woman, I think. Resigned, I sit down to the right of her on the couch.
“And the women wept,” says the television.