All of my tank tops are striped the wrong way for a girl of my size. They are also too short. My belly bulges out from beneath the bottom like, "Hey, wanna play with me?" My corduroy pants are also striped, but in the fabric. That is how they are made. My hair hangs like greasy blanket fringe. I feel like a stripe. I am a stripe. A big bulging stripe painted down the middle of a highway by a drunk highway stripe painting guy—probably my dad.
My mom won't buy me new tank tops because she thinks forcing me to wear tops that are way too small for me is motivation for losing weight. I don't tell her that the only motivation it is giving me is to put on my shortest tank top, go out in the backyard to my old playhouse and kill myself with her sewing scissors.
"We can go shopping for some new clothes when your belly fits back inside, Tinker." She says this in a voice that I would like to punch. Also, it is hard to judge an infant, I know, but there should be laws against naming your baby daughter Tinkerbell if the baby's father's family has a history of obesity. Seven pounds, two ounces at birth turning into 160 at age thirteen on a 5'2" frame is a recipe for misery. "Bertha" would've been kinder.
The tank tops belong to last summer. My belly belongs to this summer. My mom won't buy me new tank tops because she is cheap and also poor so she is blaming it on me and my belly. I wear my cords because I won't wear shorts because of my thighs. They are too wide for the style of shorts they sell now. My thigh flab bulges out from the too tight leg holes. I tried on a pair of light brown ones once and my thighs looked like upside down ice cream cones. The flavor they looked like was a sort of watery peach strawberry swirl, like how if those two flavors melted out on a white kitchen floor in long thick strips that looked exactly like my legs.
There is no way I am going to wear boys shorts or my mom's shorts. She actually told me, "It's stupid to wear pants all summer, Tinker. Why don't you wear one of my old pairs?" Then she held up a pair of jean shorts that looked like a perfect light blue square. I walked out of the trailer and after the screen door slammed shut I heard her say, "What?" and then, to herself, "I like them." I could picture her through the side of the trailer, holding them in front of her, against her straight waist, a square on a square. I kicked a rock at the dog and then walked to the Shop N Save to get a Suzy Q.
Even in my cords my thighs rub together. My pants don't wear out in the knees first. Ever. And, if I ever ran—which I never do—smoke would wisp from the hot friction, especially in cords. Something about the raised stripes mixed with the valleys between them. Air flow mixed with fusion energy or something. I think we learned about it in science class but I sit in the back, in the corner, away from everything, not paying attention, so I could be wrong. There is a window in the back of that classroom that looks out towards the road. Across the road there is an old farm. Next to the farm there is a field. Behind the field there is a row of trees. Behind the row of trees there is another field and then another row of trees and then there is the mill pond. I go to the mill pond a lot and so when I sit in the back of class and Mr. Lewis is teaching about fusion energy and molecules and things, I stare out the window in the direction of the mill pond and his voice becomes cicadas.
I take the long way to the mill pond now. Last summer I would take the shortcut through Mister Dean's property because it cuts out almost a mile. I'd duck through the broken part in the fence that separates his property from the road and I'd follow the chicken wire alongside his east garden until it hit his cornfields and then I'd walk through the widest row until I came to the end of it and go through the fence and down to the dried riverbed before following that to where the field for the mill pond started. If you kept going straight on the riverbed, you'd get to the outside of town and that's where the Shop N Save was. Cutting through Mister Dean's property was the quickest way for me to get to both of my favorite places.
He'd always be out there in his garden. I'd hear him first. Whistling and humming, whistling and humming. He wore a ladies straw hat and it would bob above the tomato plants like a lady was there picking the ripe ones.
I never really paid attention to Mister Dean and I didn't think he paid much attention to me until one day he was just there leaning against a fence post like he was waiting for me.
"Your name's Tinkerbell, right?"
"Where you going all these times you walkin' 'cross my property?"
I didn't want to tell him the mill pond because I didn't want anyone to know about my secret place so I just told him I was going to the Shop N Save to get a drink.
"I got a drink," he said. "I got Kool-Aid. Why don't you come up? It's hot."
I looked at Mister Dean and then I looked at the fence post and then I looked at my feet and then the fence post and then Mister Dean again.
"You come up or you don't come 'cross my property no more."
And because I dreaded going the long way and because it was really hot and because I didn't know what else to say, I came up.
And that's how I started having Kool-Aids with Mister Dean.
He had a real house with a porch that only had one chair. He would make me sit on the chair and he would lean against the porch rail facing me or he would sometimes sit on the stairs, sideways, so he could look at me. Mister Dean was about as old as my mom, I guessed. I didn't like how I could always hear his breathing, this raspy gurgle. It never left him, even when he was speaking. It made me think of the cicadas at the mill pond and how their buzz never stopped, it just filled up the air like a jar. Mister Dean's breaths were like that but they never became part of the everything so that eventually you didn't hear it anymore. His shirts bunched funny in the back and I wondered if he hid black filmy cicada wings under them.
I found out later he did not.
I don't know why they call it a mill pond because there is no mill. Maybe there was one there back in the 1800's or something but now there is not. I sometimes walk around in the brush around the mill pond looking for, like, relics of a mill. Ruins, I guess; pieces of something that used to be whole. Like old concrete slabs or stones or a broken turny-wheel for energy making, like the ones on riverboats like they have on the Mississippi. Maybe some sort of old chutes that look like playground slides, but rusted. Big wooden beams with iron spikes sticking out of them. Big chunky things that look like they were put together with strong hands that knew how to make things that would last forever. They'd be broken but still strong. They would still look dignified, even though they were just old pieces of something bigger.
The brush is high in places and where there is no brush, there are weeds. I have looked as much as I can even though I might get bit by ticks or snakes. I just feel like I want to find proof of something that I feel is true.
But I never do.
We drank the Kool-Aid out of jelly jars that were always dirty but I never said anything. We'd sit on his porch and drink the Kool-Aid until it was gone. We would talk about things that people talk about when they don't really have much to say to each other; water-treading things. I looked at my Kool-Aid a lot; some days pink, some days red, some days purple or blue. Sometimes he'd ask me how old I was even though I had already told him before. Sometimes he'd look at me for a long while and then say, "Tinkerbell . . . " like he was rolling my name around in his mouth and then he'd shake his head and laugh a little. He mostly looked at me and did little nods. And breathe.
I must've said something about Suzy Q's once and one day he brought me one with my Kool-Aid. I told him, "No, that's all right." And he said, "No girl, you go on. Eat it." And I said, "No, I'd better not. My mom . . . " and he said, "Your mom, what?" And I didn't want to tell him about how my mom won't let me eat sweets and how she hides all her cookies even though I always find them and how I heard her on the phone telling her best friend Avery how "Tinker's just gettin' so goddamn big." And, so, I just set that Suzy Q down on my thigh for as long as I could, like it wasn't delicious, like it was a turd or a dead thing like I wasn't sitting there wanting with every part of me to shove it right into my mouth. But after a while, I did. I ate it. I ate the Suzy Q. I couldn't help it.
Mister Dean watched me eat the Suzy Q. How I unwrapped it and shook it out into my fist like it was a squeezed out pup. How I let the wrapper fall. How it blew across the dirty porch wood and fell off the side. He watched how I took it with both my hands and pulled it apart, slowly. How I listened to the quiet wet split of the cream pulling away. How I smelled at it, the sweet chocolate scent erasing the faint cherry smell of Kool-Aid and the wet dirt smell from his just watered garden. He watched as I placed one half down on my thigh, cream side up and ate the other half with my eyes partly closed like when I was alone. Shoving and chewing and swallowing until its length was gone and then licking each of my fingers clean of its guts. Mister Dean watched me eat each half like he'd never seen anyone eat anything before.
"You really like them things, don't you?" His breath, for once, sounded gone.
And I didn't answer because he already knew the answer.
"You want another one?" He asked me this in a voice meant for church.
And I didn't answer that question either and he didn't wait for it. He got up from the stairs and disappeared into the house. When he came out he had the box. He leaned himself against the porch railing, opened the box, got one of the little chocolate cream cakes, and reached it out to me, just far enough to where I'd have to reach.
"Say please," he said.
I didn't want to, but then I did.
Mister Dean watched and then Mister Dean made me say please two more times.
Later on the only please I would say would be followed by the word, 'stop'.
On the Kool-Aid days, I'd never make it to the mill pond.
There is a little dock on the mill pond. There is a little row boat tied to the dock. I guess it belongs to the farmer, but nobody uses it. It never moves. I know this because I put a rock on it once. I put it in a wobbly place so if someone were to use it, it would surely fall. The rock is still there. The rope that ties it has moss growing on it and a spider web that always stays the same. The oars sit like an X in the belly of it. It might as well be on land.
After I am done looking for ruins, I lie on the dock, on my back, and pull my tank top up to my boobies. I rub my belly in the sun. I pray nobody comes but I also hope they do. Nobody ever does. Dragonflies land on the rowboat rope and then they fly away and then they come back and then they fly away again. Sometimes they land on my knees. It's quiet there. The water never moves. It doesn't really have a shore. Its outsides are mostly cattails, and by the dock, lily pads. Every so often there are clear plops that break the hum of the cicadas that like to do their buzz when it's so hot outside. Their buzz sounds like how the sun feels hot. The wet frog plops are the only cool sound out there. The middle of the mill pond is a perfect circle. The water is black like it refuses to reflect the sky or can't. From the sky, looking down on the mill pond, I'm sure it looks like a big green eye-ball, the cattail heads brown flecks in the green, its middle the shiny black pupil, staring up at the clouds. Like me.
I think about falling into that black pupil sometimes. Untying the rope, disturbing the spider web, falling the wobbly rock, and climbing into the belly of the boat. I have never rowed anything, but I would figure it out and paddle through the iris of green cattails and lily pads until I got to the pupil. I could lie on the boat for a while, there in the middle of the pupil. Stare up into the sky with it; just me and the mill pond's pupil. The dragonflies would find my knees and I would rub my belly in the sun. When I felt ready, I would stand up in the boat. I'd stand there in my too short, too small striped tank top and my striped in the fabric pants and my blanket fringe hair and I'd think about the ruins I could never find. I'd think about how I knew what it was like to be a ruin. The cattails would watch and the cicadas would hum their buzzy heat song and when I jumped into the pupil's shiny black it would make a cool plop sound like the frogs' do. On my way down I'd wonder if I would ever be found and how nice it would feel to be looked for.