There is a girl who talks to birds and anchors. This girl is trapped in a hole so deep she has to draw her way out to see. She lives in a basement, and every time she climbs out she hears Donald and his receiver. Everyone thinks she is a boy, and wars have been fought, forever—in the history of all of the little girls—to get to her girl. Donald has trapped her. He is her caretaker, and he lives upstairs with his paints and television. He pretends to be a painter, but she is not pretending to be a girl. She is a girl on one side, her side. And on the other side it is dark.
Sophia does not have clear memories of her parents. She was raised apart from them; they were taken by the clergy. Her mother’s smile made her feel even more like Sophia, and that smile made her a mirror of her mother. That was a good mirror. But that was a long time ago.
Sophia is ten-years-old. Her red Scorpio hair is just long enough to curl, and Sophia does a good job of getting all the funny strangers to tell her “he’s so pretty he should’ve been a girl”, which makes Donald look at her to put the boy back. Sophia draws girls and gendered monsters in her sketch-book-of-life, and every time Donald catches one of Sophia’s drawings he tells her what it says and she doesn’t believe him until he looks at her enough. Then she hates that drawing.
The Shortwave receiver invaded the space above Sophia’s inner ear. “Get that one, he’s a nasty little pirate. Nasty little pirate.”
Sophia ignored the messages. She focused on all her friends.
CAST OF FRIENDS:
MISS GOODNESS GRACIOUS: She was the prettiest. She wore a mesh dress and boy did she love her thread children. Miss was a black-haired barbie that Sophia found on the side of the road. The bastard child of plastic molds, she fought in the trenches, was ripped from bird’s beaks, and had been stomped on by the flighty feet of artless walkers. Sophia saw her and said “oh me oh my miss goodness gracious”. She cleaned her off with her shirt and stole her away. Miss Goodness Gracious was born a trash princess. She was the glue that didn’t smell.
DREARY ME: Her problem child. Dreary always complained, but, even though she ripped all the scabs off her dreams, the gang still loved her. She was an expanding stuffed cat.
THE BEAR: He played hide and seek with cement feelings. He was a feeling stomper. Bear was big and tough with the vacuum cleaner.
THE BAD MIRROR: The center of the badlands. It thought that everyone should rotate round it’s gravity grave. The bad mirror only saw Paul and his dead toys. This mirror is all there is to see on the Paul side. It eats Sophia’s reflection.
Paul was the dark side of the coin.
Sophia arranged Miss and the animals in a line. Butterfly lipped, the curvier-than-an-hourglass-on-the-black-widow (herself), Miss Goodness Gracious stood primping behind the bad mirror. Sophia moved herself away from her Paul vision. She was afraid she would see him and they would switch places, and then he’d be Paul looking at her.
“If you pointed that reflection at the sun it would cast the stars as liars! Sophia, do feel arisen. I do miss your clouds.” Miss Goodness Gracious buttered her ears with affirmations. The other animals applauded.
Dreary Me, the bleeding eyed kitten, with her chest of unwound threads, stared sad and asked “Will I ever be loved?” Sophia held her, but eventually she pulled out Dreary Me’s colorful stuffing. “Miss Goodness Gracious fed you to the dog!” Sophia said to Dreary. Dreary Me sighed. “I’m always falling out on other people”. She purred cute and sad. The bear just squashed, guilt-filled. This big fat bear was like a trash compactor.
Bear said out loud, “When will he go away? His shadows have a way of detaching themselves.” Sophia sighed. “Paul’s shadows go inside me and fill me.”
The bear sighed and squashed some more. “They have a way of detaching themselves.”
Gravity upset everyone, and Sophia danced as if she were asleep, waltzing over to the window. As she came into view, the light’s dust flew like spaceships. Sophia looked at the buddy flag that was supposed to be a country. She liked watching the flag contort in the wind. Like a wrinkly fish.
Sophia heard a kettle boil on the old gas burner in her hole. The tea party began when the china was distributed.
Sophia said, “all I am is a freak of fabric. Oh, Miss Goodness Gracious how ever do we brew the tea when we just absorb?”
Sophia felt that she was just as much stuffing as any of her friends.
Miss Goodness Gracious sat in her doll chair, and raised a cup to her petrified mouth. Sophia got dressed, but she didn’t like it. She didn’t want to wear the cloak that made the old man tell her all that she was.
And Donald, the old man, was upstairs cleaning his gun right now. The gun sweated alloy onto the confederate rag. It made the rag almost gilded. Solvent angels found the rag more pleasing when it was dirty, but that made Sophia disgusted. And Sophia recalled Donald dousing the rag with gun polish and breathing it while she watched the quickening of certainty form.
Sophia had to put her eyes back inside.
Was she trapped in a retelling or was she there, listening to the other wordly? She was who Donald told her she was when he caught her with his voice.
Donald huffed the rag like a malevolent octopus, his matted hair twisting and writhing at Sophia. Donald squinted at her and just grunted. Sophia didn’t remember walking up the stairs. She didn’t know if she was recollecting this or if she moved onto Donald without her armor.
Sophia must be invisible sometimes. She liked people not being able to see her. But if she was invisible, then she couldn’t see herself either. She didn’t know where Sophia was and that made her sad. After all, she was Sophia. Donning a towel tight around her head like a snow princess, she thought about how she’d look with angel hair. But, where was she?
Donald stopped sniffing. “Go back to your hole Paul Piglet.”
Donald had a gavel in his voice, and the law was knocked on wood with his yell. Sophia cried. And just like that Sophia was told right where it hurt. Right in the Paul. Sophia was invisible no more. She could see Paul, the demon child, in the bad-mirror-of-his-eyes.
But Donald opened the door to let light in, and he escaped into the light to go shoot squirrels.
The VHS player played the Ronald show, a warble with bad tracking. Ronald was the leader of Church, and was Donald’s favorite. Sophia had not, in fact, descended into her basement hole. She was still on the surface, trying not to watch the TV in the paisley couch room, and that scared her.
Ronald promised untold wealth if she would just call him. Then he talked about the abominations.
And how would you like that. Dreary-Me-the-bleeding-eye was in Sophia’s hollow, boy pocket. Dreary ogled while Sophia tried to put all her stuffing back inside.
The radio argued with the tv. “Abominations are our booty in the world of representatives. Own your sin and cast it in the receptacles of return.”
Mixed with, “sinners, bleed your profits into me. Let me direct your incoming veins to the lord. There are two gods for every trinity. Six in all. Do not trust the well-lit god. Rise up to the shadow god’s orders. Ordered revulsion is how you will become familiar. Praise Jesus, soon you will lose control, close your eyes and see.”
Amongst the preachy cacophony, Sophia tried to only hear Dreary. “I can see you and you’re pretty.” Sophia smiled. “Let’s go down.”
Nancy came over without warning and made noises at night. She was Donald’s girlfriend and she had just ascended. Nancy had an astral head that floated downstream, and sometimes she blinked her dying eyes open, which disturbed Sophia.
Sophia believed Nancy arranged voice armies like Legos and dismantled her own thoughts with them. Nancy never really had any dialog.
Nancy descended to the hole, and clacked all the way to the closet.
“You’ve been stealing away my clothes again!” Nancy pulled out all of her underwear. Anything Sophia could wear under her shell made her feel more like herself.
“You’re going to your cousin’s funeral tomorrow and you ain’t taking those dolls.” Sophia cried. Nancy arranged the military toys Sophia never played with. Front and center.
Then she crept off her head and stared into Sophie, but she didn’t look at her the same way as Donald. Nancy stared at her like a homework inspector. Looks can grade. And Sophia dreaded the assignment mailed to her at birth. He kept being born.
I am a [boy]. I play with [boy] toys.
Sophia had to fill in the blanks with Nancy’s assumptions.
Sophia was scared of both of them because they were going to send her to Saint Burial of the Blessed Handshake. The school was held in an imagination that Sophie felt when she wasn’t Sophie. Little Army men broke their arrangement and jumped off the ashy table. She cried. She dreaded shaking the hands of the boys at her new school.
Shortwave broke through, “If you are not an army man you are the foot that falls on us.”
Just then, Donald yelled at the radio and closed the front door. “Paul, I caught one.” Nancy laughed like a hissing snake and put the fear in Sophia’s eyes. And what did Donald catch this time?
Nancy and Sophie walked up the stairs and wiped their feet on the carpet. Donald had caught a fat squirrel. Donald led the squirrels astray, right off the forbidden birdhouse, then he assassinated them. Sophia didn’t understand these rituals.
Donald opened the oven. “Mostly lean meat.”
Sophia walked to the end of the table where Donald couldn’t reach.
“I’m not hungry, sir.”
“Boy, don’t make me force feed you.”
Sophia submitted and ate the squirrel meat, in one big dry heave. She looked under Donald’s eyes. Nancy came in-between. She closed Sophia’s eyes just enough till she saw diamond veils in her dark eyelids. Donald hobbled up like a rejected clown, his face caked with the house paint he huffed.
“Mind your brain!”
Just then the VCR un-paused itself. “Ladies and gentleman we are taking your investments for our spaceship. We are going to mars.”
Donald pushed his plate over to Nancy and hurried to the paisley couch.
“For one-hundred-dollars-a-week, you can claim your seat on that great arc which will populate a red paradise. And now we’ll take a break. Please become intimate with our sponsors.”
Donald spat, cleared his throat and slammed the television off.
Donald walked to his new wall painting of Sophia.
Sophia stood at her kitchen table position, looking at the painting. A boy she didn’t remember stood at the feet of Jesus, the Angel of Death. Jesus was balancing a cross on one shoulder and a scythe on the other. She looked at the boy again. It was Paul.
Paul tried to talk to her but she learned not to talk back. The more she heard Paul, the more she lost herself. He was Donald’s gimpy prisoner. Donald huffed his confederate rag. He dipped it in gold paint this time.
The Shortwave receiver came on again. “Grab the words from inside. The regulator is after your paper trails and redemption receipts.”
Sophia just pretended the shortwave-speak was a drive through window. A Saint Vitus dance between the edges of static and orders. Yet, these orders fed multitudes their lunch.
When Sophia felt good, she felt like all her sounds and eyes were flooded with anointing oil, and that eucharist would have gone down so much easier. She had a bad taste in her mouth because of that sacrificial squirrel.
Sophia tasted hidden licorice in her cheeks. She realized she had descended into her basement and found her candy stash.
She drew hawks that fell inside the holy ghost on her tattered envelopes. There’d be this giant hawk that swoops down for a mouse, and that mouse would be protected from the word of god. The hawk thinks it has its bed made, but right when hawk swoops for the snack, the ghost would get it.
The holy ghost would roam like sea fog and it took what it wanted from the bowels of the Earth. A reverse feeding. Sophia drew them all.
Sophia wished that she had a hole she could throw at Donald and Nancy. Just a rudimentary black holy ghost that would bid them bye, and leave nothing in reverse but Sophia’s soul.
Sophia kept drawing. If Donald caught it out of her, he would probably say her drawing was Batman, or maybe a football he tied up in the yard that Sophia never played with. And then Sophia would think about her drawing and curse her hands.
The day of Sophia’s cousin’s funeral started with a car parade. Long black streams of door reflections and windshield suns crept by. Cyprus trees watched and judged the military pretenses.
Sophia was caught in a cyclone of hugs and handshakes, but she looked forward to the sandwiches. Her other cousin, Mikey, threw a hackey sack around.
“Yo dude sad about Fats.” Mikey called Jimmy “Fats.”
Sophia attempted to close her eyes to try and see herself, but she was in a state of Paul.
“Paul?” Mikey snapped his fingers.
Sophia wanted to draw but there were many more handshakes. Mikey was unaware of her world. He stopped talking to her. He probably hated her. She squeezed Miss Goodness Gracious, who was in her pocket, to feel her soul.
Sophia looked down at Jimmy. She dreamed his corpse was larva and his coffin was an ornate cocoon. There were more handshakes.
Deacon bounced as he walked up to Sophia. The smell of his hair grease mingled with the funeral air, making everything extra old.
“Don’t fret, Paul. His soul is at rest.” Deacon said.
Deacon made a secret wink. Sophia didn’t like his eyes.
“Oh, and Paul, the red tape has been cleared up about our school. Our Church all came together. You will start immediately. Congratulations.”
Sophia sighed where no one could hear her. This school would change her. Maybe she’d turn into Paul forever and ever. Maybe she’d wind up huffing paint in a Judge’s house.
Sophia heard the shortwave coming out of a muffled room. Or was it a television? She didn’t know where her voices came from, or where they went. Just like she didn’t know where humans went after we died. Nancy’s astral head floated to Sophia, eating her flighty faith. Sophia ate a whale bite of ham sandwich that she gathered with chips. Nancy didn’t say anything. Not here. She was just there.
The Burial of the Blessed Handshake was held in the funeral home. There were many urns. In his oak office, the funeral director sat in his swivel chair below the ashes of his gay, but divinely converted son. He looked at Sophia. It was her first day. He collected urns.
“This is Scott.” He handed Sophia the urn.
Sophia opened the lid and looked inside. She smelled him.
He continued. “Scott had a problem, but with Donald’s Judgement, he became a man of god. That was shortly before his faith suicide. You don’t know how proud I am to know that my own son sits at the feet of Jesus. He may be dead, but he is better in heaven than he was on Earth, theoretically speaking.”
Sophia didn’t want to end up like Scott, although it must be nice to finally be dust. But to be dust that people keep in fine china and name? Not so much. She got sad because she knew what name everyone would use for her when she was dust. Sophia imagined each flake of Scott as an individual person. Why should fathers have to know anything about their spawn, anyway? They can make anything up about them they want. Is this what happens to boys who are too soft?
The director’s feet sounded on the floor, and echoes skipped while he paced. “I hope you will grow into a strapping young man. With the lords help you are bound to. You can’t escape or hide from your destiny. Our institute is small, but we are all chipping in, here and there, and soon we can all bathe in that godly radiation through obedience to the manly order. We will have our salvation, god damned the rest of humanity.”
Nancy cried all military when she grabbed Sophia’s hand and drug her to the doorway. Sophia did not want to listen to her destiny anymore. Nancy bred destiny into her until Sophia was bloated, while Nancy’s helmet hair resisted the wind outside the school which was run from a converted funeral home.
“You go to this place and you do not come out until you are a young man.” Nancy had a way of talking that sounded like convulsive cackling. Sophia opened the door.
There were four of them in one classroom. All boys but Sophie, yet Sophie was called a boy. And the teacher, who wore gym shorts, walked in.
“Hello boys and welcome to this holy opportunity. We are going to the gym every morning because your skins are too thinned out. My name is Bobo McDaniel, but you can call me Bo. Follow me and we’ll talk more in the man cave.”
The children looked like ducks in a row, but Sophie felt like the crazy bird. Sidney gave a military ok sign.
“Sidney, what does it say in Leviticus about. . . The holy bible calls it laying with other men?” Bobo’s mouth gaped at the clinical mortuary lights. The lights made Sophia feel naked.
Sidney’s ears bent. It’s “abominable.”
“That’s right gang. God made you just as he is. And he made you to have his way with you. You may think you know you better than god knows himself, but You are lost.”
Bobo dropped a red ball.
“Today we’re gonna learn dodgeball. Guys, you have to find the boy in the room that needs saving the most, and then whack him with this ball.”
Bobo threw the ball to Sidney. Spiders hid in the creases of the red ball and Sophia felt an affinity, but she got scared because she didn’t know if they were good spiders or bad spiders. She got whacked with the ball.
The boys laughed at how surprised Sophia was. She was thrown out of her skin at the impact. The ball bounced back to Sidney. Sidney smiled. Whack! Her skin got redder after the second whack. The spiders pace grew.
“Paul, you grab that ball and whack the weakest one. Man-up, child”
Sophia picked up the ball and looked around at the consumptive faces. Smiling, Sidney dared her to throw it at the teacher.
So, Sophia stood like a swan and bounced the ball at bug-eyed Bobo, who gave her a look. And she didn’t even feel that look.
“His name is lady Paul.” (Laugh track.) Sidney was on a roll.
Sophia started to cry like a one-armed fountain. The boys were taught to laugh at her feelings. This was caustic training. She had to alter herself to take it all in. And “no” did not exist for her. But the more she took her tears away the more she didn’t feel and that is what everyone wanted. Sophia realized that her feeling-stomper-bear was in her heart.
“Well just don’t stand there like a little teapot, throw the dang ball boy.”
Paul smiled at Sidney. Gear shifts in Paul’s neurons unlocked and he “threw the dang ball” at Sidney. At it hit him hard, right on his forehead. The kids parted like crows.
Bobo sang like a famous tenor.
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about. Praise the lord.”
Applause grew and Paul felt like he was on a late show.
After the faith lesson, the intelligent designed history, and the counter evolution, the boys had food. After lunch, Sophia was back. She snuck in to the library which had every translation of the bible. There were a few dating guides for church teens. A magazine with an article against legalizing drugs. But hidden behind the thin synopsizes of pagan religions and why to stay away from them, she found Songs of Innocence and Experience. Sophia was mystified when she dropped the book while shuffling the spines, and the page that lay up flat on the ground was the poem Little Girl Lost.
In the poem, Lyca follows wild birds into a desert, and it is slowly tended until it becomes a garden. Lyca’s parents look for her too. And she is protected from predators by wild animals. The kingly lion.
Sophie wished she could find a nice lion like that. She also wished her environment could change into a garden. Sophie believed Lyca’s wilderness to be like her own dark secrets. Secrets like Sophia plucking out her eyebrows. She had been caught crying, once, in Nancy’s clothes, but no one had noticed her arched eyebrows she had been wearing for weeks before then.
When Sophia put on her girl clothes, she figured it out finally. That’s who Jesus is. He’s like a snake that sheds his clothes. And then he sheds his Jesus. Russian dolls of Jesus. Jesus is a growing garden to be tended, and also Jesus is wild animals that are tamed by little girls. And then Sophia understood that Jesus was like Paul. And Jesus was like Sophia too. He was big and fat with his horizon, and Jesus was watching her at her Burger King birthday, when, queenly, she proudly wore a paper crown. She missed her parents, who were unclean.
Sophia was forced into the next class by three-boobed Virginia, but then it was bible study break so she drew her pictures and pretended to care about swing-low-sweet-church-Jesus. Finally after, she had a dehydrated snack break that didn’t count heads.
Sophia found the room that held the beautified dead. Sophia didn’t mind dead bodies, but she’d rather draw Lyca, and for a magical minute Sophia felt like she was Lyca. The Lion she drew looked like a raggedy sun flare, her sunflower wilderness cradled Lyca sleeping.
She heard two boys roughhousing just outside the door.
“I’m telling you, this is where they shoot you up with formaldehyde.” The boy had a certain tone.
“No way. They lock away the bodies. They don’t let you mingle”
Sophia drew Lyca as a black Jesus who rode the lion into the paper so hard it tore. She forgot all about the boys, until she heard them force their way to where she was hiding, grabbing her sketch book.
Sidney looked at her drawings. “Who’s that?”
Sophia remained calm. “That’s Jesus.”
Zack and Sidney couldn’t believe it.
“You tryin to say Jesus was a black girl? That’s blasphemy.” Zack said.
“I talk to her.” Sophia was trying to make friends.
Sidney and Zack both looked at each other and sang, “You’re so crazy.”
Then three-boobed Virginia stormed in shouting.
“No one is supposed to be in here.”
Zack and Sidney ran and got away. But Virginia grabbed Sophie and pulled her sketchbook from her.
“What’s this halo around this black girl mean? Why are her palms bleeding? Boy you don’t want to lie to me. Answer me.”
“That’s not my lord. You are in so much trouble for breaking and entering. Your heavenly father will hear of this.”
Once Sophia was home, she descended to the basement. She thought she got lucky, because Donald didn’t say anything to her the whole ride home. But when she opened her sock drawer, no Bear, no Dreary Me, and no Miss Goodness Gracious. All that remained was the bad mirror.
And then Donald came down.
“We heard what you did at school.”
The shortwave radio said in between static, “To ascend we must fight.”
Sophia felt her heart. Donald grabbed Sophia and climbed up the stairs. The wall facing the tv had a new painting. It was covered with the guts of Dreary Me, the eyes of bear, and shards of melted plastic that once was benevolent Miss Goodness Gracious.
“I call it after-born-again. Enjoy your school, sissy?”
Sophia didn’t know she was running to the attic. She didn’t feel her feet when they almost slipped on the stair, teasing her with falling. She didn’t feel Donald trying to grab her and pull her down. A moth bid her to run to the giant window. An eye to the house like a cyclops, the window oversaw the beer cans in the yard, but it kept the secrets inside.
The television downstairs was at full blast.
“We have our spaceship. We will fly this god ordained ark on election day. Rapture the blessed and rupture the queer.”
Donald ran to grab her, and they switched places. Sophia saw Donald’s fury. But she felt god’s rage. And Donald looked in Sophia’s eyes. Something else was in her eyes. Sophia could feel Donald unknowing her. It felt validating. Donald saw a mirror of himself for the first time.
“The spaceship accommodates pets. You can bring two dogs, three cats, and multitudes of birds. We will migrate and only the righteous will be allowed inside.”
Just then a voice growled inside Sophia.
“Jesus died for your sins. You die for mine.”
Gasping, Donald backed up until his back pressed against the window. He saw his lies fly away to mars. Hierarchies of bible wildfires burned their way inside him.
“Jesus died for your sins. You die for mine.”
“Don’t show me that anymore. Get away from me.” Donald’s voice revolted against himself—"Spaceship rides are one hundred dollars a week, friends. And a certificate signed by Jesus. Only white, straight and god-loving-men or man-loving-women need apply. This is our beauty. Homogeny is the same in every language.”—There’s no way out. Donald hit the window-glass with his pawnshop wedding ring, breaking it.
“Jesus drew for my sins. I am in her arms.”
Donald screamed, “Take me spaceship. Take me. Hide me from her.”
Sophia’s eyes pushed Donald out of the third story window. A few of the neighbors gathered to talk about Donald’s leap. His unconscious body was positioned resembling The Hanged Man.
HLY is a birth-Taurus and a trans-Capricorn. She lives in a very boring town. Hope has been published in EOAGH. She has been diagnosed OCD with Schizoaffective disorder. Writing, recording, planning, and photography are all ways to work through her trauma. It takes courage for her to submit work to publications.
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