• Maggie Levine

ArtWrite 9/9: Catherine Howe

Updated: Sep 15, 2020

If she hadn’t been so young. If it hadn’t hurt so much. If her logic hadn’t been so mixed up.

Joely only saw Miles at family events. This time was at her mother’s cousin’s wedding at a church in a town outside Springfield where her mom’s aunt’s daughter lived.

Every time she and Miles saw each other, her mother would explain how the two of them were related, but it never stayed in Joely’s head because the chain of relatives that linked them was really long. And they really weren’t related anyway because Miles’ mother was actually his step-mom. (But she really loved him. Joely could tell).

He was older now. So was she, but not like him. 15 was a lot older than 12. His hair was still in his face in that cute way, and he was weirdly tall. Like a man but in a boy’s body.

Miles snuck them rum and Cokes, and she was sure she wouldn’t like it, but she couldn’t even taste the rum. After they finished them, he said, “Let’s get out of here “ and didn’t wait for her to answer because he knew she’d follow.

They headed downstairs to where the bathrooms were, but Miles walked past them, then turned down a long corridor lined with rooms.

“Have you been here before?”

“Nope. But those rooms upstairs are big, so I figured there had to be something going on down here.”

He kept turning the handles on doors until he found one that was unlocked. The door had a window, and when they stepped inside the room, there was enough light coming from the hallway for them to make out that it was a little kids’ classroom.

“So cute,” Joely said as she took in the tiny chairs tucked into low round tables. Miles went straight for the gleaming blackboard and started drawing cartoons of people in their family, making everyone fat with big teeth and crazy hair. They were kind of funny, but Joely worried about how the teacher would feel when she saw her nice board all messed up.

One corner of the room had been turned into a cozy reading nook with giant cushions and buckets filled with early readers. She would definitely make a little reading area like this if she were a teacher. Joely thought about telling Miles that that’s what she wanted to be one day but was too embarrassed.

Her body sank into the mushy pillows when she sat down. She wasn’t really drunk, not in that sloppy, slurry-words way people got on TV. Just a little loose-limbed, so it felt good to be on the ground instead of standing.

A few minutes later, when Miles sat down next to her and started to kiss her, Joely was and wasn’t surprised. She’d always felt something, maybe not a crush, but something special because she liked how Miles never treated her like she was younger than he was. He seemed to get that because looking out for Robbie somehow made her more grown up.

The thing that worried her was that he’d stick his tongue in her mouth and she’d gag, but he didn’t. He just pressed lightly against her lips with his. And it was kind of nice.

It was when she felt little wiry pieces of hair on his chin brushing against hers that she pulled away. Not because it hurt. It was the idea that he’d be shaving. Or maybe he already was. He suddenly seemed too old.

“We should get back,” she said.

“No one is paying attention to where we are. They’re all wasted and partying.”

This time, when Miles kissed her, he leaned his chest against hers so they both fell back onto the cushions. He was on top of her, and Joely felt it immediately, something poking below her belly button, and the sharpness of it, the way it had happened so quickly, and the idea that she was somehow responsible for making it do that made her heart beat faster. And the way she heard things changed too. She had noticed before that the long icecube tray lights seemed to be buzzing, like they were still on but not giving off any light.

It would be another two years before girls began to talk at sleepovers, and Joely would realize that Miles had skipped all the bases. She’d wonder if he would have gone to second if he could have. But her dress was long-sleeved, velvet with a high collar. And even if it hadn’t been, she doubted he would have tried.

All he seemed interested in doing was putting it in her. He wasn’t frantic like a dog, but he was determined like it was something he absolutely had to do. Of course, it was his first time, but she didn’t think about that then because all she could think about was Robbie and how Miles had asked about him earlier.

They’d been sitting at the big round table. #23 was written in fancy letters on a folded card and also next to her name on the little card that went in a little envelope that she’d put in her purse. They’d started out at opposite sides of the table, but the flowers in the middle were coming out of this giant vase that looked like a champagne glass, and they were laughing because they couldn’t see each other. Finally, Miles came around and sat next to her.

After they talked about school and the weird way the groom kept sniffing from crying but no one thought to give him a tissue, Miles asked “So, how’s your brother doing?” and he said it in a way that sounded so normal. So nice. Not like he was afraid of what she might say or because he knew it was the right thing to ask because they were related. And it reminded her of the time a few Thanksgivings ago, how Miles had talked to Robbie for hours about Star Wars and he never looked bored. And then when he left, he high-fived Robbie like he would anyone.

So maybe that’s why she didn’t fight back. She wasn’t sure. She just knew as Miles pushed down her underwear and pushed himself inside her that she wasn’t resisting because of Robbie, even though that made no sense at all, and the pushing hurt because there was no room, and Miles didn’t stop until he was in, and then she felt a sharp pain like she’d been stabbed with a penknife.

That’s when she thought of science, because they had been studying plants, looking at daisies under microscopes. The middle part of the daisy, the furry part, was called the floral head, and that’s all Joely thought about until Miles finished, that velvety part of the daisy and how soft it was when you brushed it with the tip of her finger.


--Maggie Levine


instagram.com/catherineahowe/

@goldscopophilia

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