DIVERGENCE, Mackenzie Bush

by Mackenzie Bush

Georgia has peaches like Michigan has lakes, like pounds have pit bulls that will never find “forever homes,” like girls with cold hands have abandonment issues. Peaches are everywhere: leering from every license plate, drenched in neon in gas station windows, in the cobbler her grandmother serves them the moment they step foot in her condo in Florida.A girl from Michigan uses her family’s Netflix account to watch The L Word on her phone, her body angled towards the car’s window. She hopes that her eldest brother in the seat beside her can’t see the reflection of the lesbians fucking in the glass.

The tennis-playing lesbian dies of cancer, but not before she has time to don a bald cap and cry a lot. Her friends throw her ashes into a waterfall and they fly back into their faces because the production crew didn’t plan for wind during that day of shooting.

She misses a boy who she loves but will soon stop loving her. She sees his green irises in the sea as it laps at her toes.

Road trips lose all of their wonder when taken with family, or maybe just with her family. Everything is logistics—how to stack the bags so they form a perfect Jenga tower that will withstand pot holes and requests for juice boxes from its bottom, when someone’s bladder will rupture if a rest stop doesn’t pop up soon, how many orders of fries to get at Wendy’s. There is no time to stop and look, no scenery, only blinking white lines on the road. There is only time to drive and drive and hide beneath earbuds.

Billboards pass about fetus’ beating heartbeats, and she remembers that she almost held signs in Washington with the same phrases. Now she can’t help groaning audibly and starting a debate from the backseat.

She remembers the first crush she had on a girl, her best friend until she was fourteen. The girl’s mother makes them crepes and they sing karaoke at a campsite to some Avril Lavigne song that isn’t actually a love song but feels like it is and they share tins of sour Altoids because their Catholic school forbids gum, thinks they will stick it to the desks or in each other’s hair. She watches the girl float around the room, applying eye shadow and rolling her skirt. She is a plebeian watching The Oscars in tennis shoes, with untweezed eyebrows.

But this girl doesn’t know to love herself yet. This girl stuffs her bra and covers her freckles with concealer. It reminds her of the old woman who painted over the Jesus fresco in Spain, making his face look like a waxworm’s.

It is Christmas Eve, and there are flickering bulbs and butter cookies and new pajamas to dream of sugar plums in. But there is no snow. She’d forgotten what her legs looked like, hidden under jeans and unshaven. She swims in the outdoor pool, and is able to shake the frostbite that she is used to, for a while.

She checks out the ass of a girl wearing yoga pants who is a few pews in front of her at the service. Her lips wrap around the hymns in muscle memory.

She puts brandy in eggnog and drinks it with her father while her brothers watch America’s Funniest Home Videos in the background. The concoction feels greasy and foreign, plugs her sinuses.

Her grandmother fills in a crossword puzzle while conservative talk radio plays in the background, and it seeps through the storm windows she thought she had finally managed to shut completely. The man on the radio is shaking his head at her, his eyes black and full of sadness. She moves out to the balcony.

The Nicene Creed still lives in a crevice of her brain; she holds her baptismal candle. Sometimes when she talks about Christianity, she says “we believe” on accident, even though she was never truly present there, was wearing a vinyl mask that covered everything but her eyes.

She writes a note to the boy she likes, sticks it under his car’s windshield wiper. She cries into a North Dakota payphone when a boy tells her he loves someone else. She sings a song she wrote for her gangly friend while he listens from the audience.

The wall behind her parents’ kitchen table has vines stenciled around its edges. The previous owner added them, along with the hummingbirds that orbit the basement, the butterflies frozen in the halls. Sometimes she feels like she’s in one of those museums that have drawers of dead things that the tour guide opens one after the other after the other.

Her suitemate writes poems about boys who won’t hold her hand while walking down the street. A dark-haired girl compliments her winter jacket, and it suddenly feels too heavy. A girl in a club wears black overalls and a beanie on her head, and when the girl meets her eyes, she smiles tentatively, guilt in her dimples.

Her father calls her an “Obama supporter,” playful heckling in his voice. It is Easter, and all of her father’s relatives turn to bore a hole in her skull with their scowls. Her uncle’s biceps flex through his grey dress shirt, and Fox News gushes from between his teeth. He screams until her hands are numb from sitting on them.

Deleting should be easier than creating, but it is not. There is a rhetoric in her tastebuds that required too many fifths of vodka and Richard Dawkins books to sear off.

She tentatively purchases a flannel shirt from Goodwill. It is too big, and she has to tie it in the front so that it doesn’t consume her.

She stares at the vines and the birds as she has This Debate with her father, again. She does not yet know that she is fighting for herself. She asks him what he would do if she liked girls, and he says he would ask whether she wanted to be that way, whether it would be okay to use kitchen scissors to try to cut those feelings out of her. Hypothetically, of course.

She is on the way to Florida again, less than three months later. This time, there are two friends awkwardly sleeping on the same pillow in the back seat, another keeping her awake as they chug Java Monsters and refuse to reduce the cruise control. A trash bag of open alcohol bottles hisses from the trunk, and a box of Pop Tarts hides four grams of weed that they will be too paranoid to actually smoke in the condo bathroom because it faces the swimming pool and the old people who live there are too nice to them. They stop at the same service plazas; the construction congests traffic on the same stretches, but it feels less like an obligation, and more like a coming of age novel, a respite from tedium.

Her friends heckle the signs about fetus fingernails without any encouragement. Ash Wednesday passes and they spend most of it on the beach with mango smoothies; they only remember it because they see a man in Starbucks with a black smudge on his face.

Around her are gyrating bodies; their auras sparkle with rhinestones. The bass pounds in her cheekbones. A girl with a carnation in her hair slow dances with a girl wearing a suit; they are oblivious to the hands raised and feet slapping the tile around them. A boy grabs his boyfriend’s hand and leads them further into the mass. She is not ready to attend a club like this in her own city, but anonymity breeds courage.

She dances, strobe lights obscuring her perception. She can tell these people something about herself by merely standing in the same place as them. She is light enough to jump in the air.

Her friend asks her if she likes boys and girls after seeing her reblog one too many photo of Emma Watson and tagging it ‘i like your face’ on her Tumblr. He asks with a tone of earnest curiosity, a floating balloon whose string she is not obligated to grab. When she tells him yes, he nods, and they leave to go to Jamba Juice.

Never have I ever had feelings for someone of the same gender; it rings in the air and, for the first time, she is honest, takes a sip of her kahlúa and root beer. The moment passes unacknowledged, and weights fall from her pockets.

Mackenzie Bush lives in Chicago, IL. She likes blue nail polish, podcasts, and haunted locations. You can follow her on Twitter @mackenzierbush.

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About barkingsycamores 183 Articles
Barking Sycamores is a literary journal entirely edited and operated by queer neurodivergent people of color. We publish poetry, artwork, short fiction (beginning with Issue 3), creative nonfiction (beginning with Issue 8), and hybrid genre work (beginning with Issue 9) by emerging and established neurodivergent writers as well as essays on neurodiversity and literature and book reviews (beginning with Issue 10).

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