fiction by Jamie Etheridge

The marks are high up on the inside of her left arm where no one is likely to see them. I see them. Pink striations. They are jagged and furrow across pale, tender skin. She sits in detention with Julia or Kim or both of the North boys, neither of whom will ever graduate, and laughs and jokes and when no one’s looking, rakes the sharp edge of an unkinked paper clip hard through the soft tissue, etching time and impatience, a tally of what we can’t escape. At the back of the school courtyard where the smokers hotbox and the stoners disappear in hazes of blaze, there is a blackberry bush climbing up the granite mountainside. Our town is a canyon of need and want, of people fleeing. Her mom, my sister both disappeared. Our innocence lost to a valley hidden behind red mountains and people who never return. I wait for her. I call her. She doesn’t answer. I text her. No response. So I hide behind the blackberry bush, leaning against the rock face of the stripped hillside. Shade here and cool. I close my eyes and inhale the scent of sweet berries mixed with the sweat from my forehead and weed from the stoners.

I wait for her even after she misses two weeks in a row and even after her locker is cleared out and no one answers the front door of her house.

I run my hands over the grooved rock. Dig my fingernails into the spaces, noting the empty creases, collecting grit and dust and then lift my finger to my mouth so that I taste the hard solidity of the mountain beside me. On my arms and inner thighs now are my own striations, scratches from the Swiss Army my dad gave me last Christmas.

She scratched. I watched. She’s gone. I scratch. Taste the rusty blood. Scratch some more.

She told me she would never leave me here, alone. That we would graduate together, go to college and be roommates. I believed her even though—like the fluffy pink pillows on her bed, the magic books and dragon’s teeth on the dresser—I knew she was prone to fantasy. Escape. I know she wanted it. To escape the bruises, the beatings, the boredom. She planned to follow her mother. To disappear rather than drown in her father’s brackish anger.

I hide. I push further into the rock until I cannot hear the other kids laughing and talking, their voices scratching the sides of the canyon, abrading round boulders. I listen for her voice light as a cloud, bouncy, summiting the flat plane of the peak, red rock, iron and oxide, grooved and stubbled and ghostlike.

I want to tell her it is ok. That I too know granite and glaciers; that the ice once rubbed raw the soles of the rock, dragging it across shards of sediment, silt and sludge—accumulations of hurt. We were sandpapered and furrowed, the two of us.

I close my eyes again and meld into the warm granite, burrowing like a rain drop attenuated, swallowed, etching out a path between the hemalite, digging into the layers of the earth.

I hunger. She’s left me starving. So finally, I nubble through the rock, eating it, smushing it with my lips the way you’d pop a blackberry between your teeth. The juice of the rocks flow rust red and dusty over my raw, riddled tongue.

<strong>Jamie Etheridge</strong>
Jamie Etheridge

Jamie Etheridge has writing in X-R-A-Y Lit, Essay Daily, JMWW Journal, Identity Theory, and Bending Genres among other publications. Contest wins include Fractured Lit Anthology II Prize 2022 – winner; Kenyon Review Developmental Edit Fellowship (CNF, 2021) – finalist; and Versification Zine’s Mosh Pit CNF Contest 2021 – 2nd place winner. Jamie serves as CNF editorial assistant for CRAFT Literary magazine and tweets at LeScribbler.