It’s hard to think about the whitest of white girl names. It’s hard to think of playing post office with you in the hall of our great grandmother’s house. Dirty planked floors. Biscuit dough in our hair—yours tied up in tiger orange bows, mine cut short because I’d used pinking shears to give myself a trim. My monstrous teeth. All those times I fought kids because they called me boy, which was the worst thing back then, second only to Bugs Bunny. Grandpa said I might as well get used to it. I’d never be the delicate lace of your hem. But you and me, we wrote letters on butterfly-shaped notepaper and summoned cowboys to our rescue. Both of us were still olive-skinned from summer, but sweater-wrapped and giddy about stealing lipstick from the dollar store. I stood six inches taller and my Lord, though we were only a year apart, how the contrast knocked me winded that day as you frosted your lips pink and mine turned out to be a nothing kind of beige. Your parents were still together, all of you living swanky in a glass-heavy, high pitched 1980s something, honey. We played house and watched Singing In the Rain. You swung on your canopy bed like Gene Kelly and showed off your mirror, oval and bright in its stand. If someone had told me then, in between name-brand cheese crackers and Neapolitan ice cream you would watch your daddy die on that same shag carpet, breathing your air into his lungs to no avail and some years later how you’d show up at Christmas with a baby you’d later abandon, how I’d write you a letter in prison about God and hope and playing, how I’d lose my faith not long after, I would’ve turned my jealousy into the shape of my hands on your cheeks, telling you I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. You were so fine in your patent leather and pageant gowns and all those backwards tumbles, the way your body flung itself and twisted, flung itself and pointed, flung itself—blooming tulle—and landed with high, sharp hands.
Beth Gilstrap is the author of I Am Barbarella: Stories (2015) from Twelve Winters Press and No Man’s Wild Laura (2016) from Hyacinth Girl Press. She serves as fiction editor over at Little Fiction | Big Truths. Her work has been selected as Longform.org’s Fiction Pick of the Week, nominated for storySouth’s Million Writers Award, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. She was a finalist for both The Doris Betts Fiction Prize and Best Small Fictions 2018. Her work has appeared in Re:AL, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, The Minnesota Review, Hot Metal Bridge, and Little Patuxent Review, among others. She lives in Charlotte with her husband and enough rescue pets to make life interesting.