The first mall
was built in 1956 in a suburb of Minneapolis. Its inventor imagined a place modeled after European arcades with an aviary and hospital, post office and supermarket, where a mother sips cappuccino before a doctor pokes needles into her children’s arms, a place for birds and best friends and the clean hope of brotherhood in America. Lucy spends each Friday at Mellet Mall. Mall slides are when you find an unpeopled hall and run before dropping to your knees, the combination of speed and slick floors letting you slide a long few feet. An orange Julius is when you sip citrus cream till ice shocks your temples, peace and goodness sugaring your insides. When a boy says, “That girl has bee stings covering her face” while pointing in your direction, something formless and like blades secrets beneath skin. Frank Lloyd Wright went to the opening ceremony of the first mall in America and said, “This place is evil.” When every desire feels like need, and snows tangle in each teen’s eyelashes as they huddle around a joint in the parking lot’s farthest corner that borders the forest, flakes turning to tears down their cheeks, it is nature’s way of saying sadness will bring us together. Lucy’s mother asks, “What did you do at the mall?” Ate Cinnabons and plotted the apocalypse. “Nothing much.” “Who’d you hang out with?” I called Stephanie from the payphone by the bathroom, reassuring her in my softest voice that I kill cheerleaders, bitch. “Stephanie and I had a nice talk.” “Did you have fun?” A feeling like fungus spored my insides, not pain but its stupid runt sister, like when blood stickies my thighs and I realize it’s not sweat but I left my Tampax at home so I fold toilet paper squares thickly and neatly in a stall and walk the halls of Taft Middle School praying that no one smells how dirty I am. “Yes.”
The Milk Bells Inside Her
Lucy finds a musty box of objects in her basement — plastic unicorn with a once-pink mane, Christmas ornaments, sister’s St. Joan of Arc cheerleading skirt, a headband with two horns curving from each side. Lucy slips on the band and feels the worm in her belly unsour slightly, that coil of terror and anger loosen; she feels less girl, more bumpy.
At dinner that evening she wears her new head and her mother’s glare burrows into her horns, though her father’s stare never settles there. They chew their creamed spinach in silence. As her mother clears the plates, she grabs Lucy’s horns and says, “These are ridiculous.”
That night, Lucy tiptoes into the kitchen and pulls the horns from the drawer where her mother had stowed them. She puts them back on, curls into bed, and sleeps a dreamless sleep as if a bell of milk were cooling her insides. In the morning, her mother comes in the room and scoffs. At school, The Girls knock the horns from Lucy’s head, call her names that could only be thought original by 12-year-olds who subsist on a diet of Twizzlers and Saved by the Bell re-runs.
Lucy’s mother removes the horns at dinner again, slips them in the drawer. Again, Lucy’s father doesn’t seem to notice as he chews the leftover spinach with the new side of grilled chicken. Again, Lucy tiptoes to the kitchen drawer and again milks bell her insides as she sleeps. Lucy wakes before her mother because the horns must stay. She pulls scissors and Krazy Glue from the drawer, cuts the knobs off the band, drips glue across her forehead and muscles the horns into her head.
After the screams and slap, the “What were you thinking? You disgust me!,” her mother drives Lucy to the doctor who gives her anesthesia and shears the horns off. Lucy wakes in her bed wearing two gauze squares. A guttural growl aches from deep behind her throat but stops almost as soon as it begins: the bell is still cooling her belly, the worm continues to unsour — that coil of anger and terror has dissolved to a few flecks she can barely feel.
She knows she must not remove the bandages until it’s too late. She brushes her teeth with the bandages on, walks to school with the bandages on, jogs the track in gym class with the bandages on, watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer at 8:00 on Tuesday with the bandages on.
To say the horns carry to the surface the scumgirl monster Lucy feels herself to be is too easy because of course Lucy feels unlovable the most unlucky a girl more skincrawl ugly than a pimply-raw chicken hung from a clothesline to flap in the cool suburban wind. All I can say is that once the scars harden to two nubs beneath the gauze — once Lucy has her forever horns — a calm bell of milk chimes through Lucy’s body.
The recurring phrase “milk bell” alludes to a line from Cynthia Cruz’s Ruin (Alice James Books, 2006):
“Anesthesia of medicine and me, / Beneath its warm bell of milk. My girlhood was / Microscopic”
At eight years old, Lucy began carrying caterpillars on sticks to a big rock in the garden. She sliced them — one wriggly half dangling from her mouth, the other writhing on the rock. She took her mother’s Schick to the tub, scraped it up her shins till water bloomed gauzy red. She told Stephanie, her best friend, that they should rub their bottom parts together and when Stephanie shook her head, Lucy smacked her. Lucy acted this way because:
A) Lucy’s uncle drives her to Cleveland Indians games every Sunday, lets her eat as many bags of Pop Rocks as she wants from the Costco mega pack in the backseat. He plays cassettes not of Winnie the Pooh’s Don’t Talk to Strangers songs but of Wilson Phillips and Nelson and Debbie Gibson. He lets Lucy pick the cassingle and they listen to it over and over again. “Uncle Jack is the coolest,” Lucy says to Stephanie after their first trip to the Indians.
B) Lucy watches the scene where Stormy jumps up and down on a cloud, makes raindrops fall as Bright tosses a rainbow beneath the cloud to plug the rain. A chase ensues — Stormy riding her Skydancer, Bright atop her Starlight — while Lucy downs Kit Kats and Pizza Hut personal pan pizzas and glass after glass of Mott’s apple juice. At school, The Girls say, “Miss Lucy Lard, Lucy Fat Face, Tub o’ Lucy Lard.”
C) Lucy reaches her arms up for a hug, and her mother pats her on the head. Lucy tells her father that she made it to the final round of the school-wide spelling bee, and he mumbles something she can’t hear. When she asks her mother for more apple juice, her mother hands her a glass of milk. When she asks her father to play Legos with her on the living room rug, he nods and leaves the room.
D) Lucy feels a worm sour her belly, its wiry acids churn to her throat. The burn cools when she smacks Milo in the head. It cools when she tells Stephanie the story of two bunnies that the starving family ate without skinning or frying, their mouths furred in red pulp. It cools when she moves Miss Johnstone’s chair, the class erupting in glee when she falls. The worm wasn’t placed there; it arrived with her on the day of her dry birth. The story goes: her mother’s water never broke. Watching Wheel of Fortune, a bowl of popcorn on her lap, she suddenly felt her vagina widen. She went to the bathroom, held a hand-mirror between her legs, and saw the crown of a Lucy head.
E) All of the Above
F) None of the above.
Answer Key for Origin Story
Your choosing or not choosing letter A may depend on your preference for aesthetics or statistics. In the name of the poem, I hate A — its cassettes and car, the typical uncle and his typical girl, how the Pop Rocks crackled Lucy’s tongue purple, how so many hard penises zipped behind so many khaki polo pants ironed straight and without stains over-fill our poems — the violences both candied and familial. In the name of what I know, I honor A. Over lattes at Starbucks, one friend told me about her uncle; during a slumber party, another friend told me about her uncle; over Blue Moons at Tierney’s Pub, another friend told me about his uncle.
Your choosing or not choosing letter B may depend on your story. Was Rainbow Bright and the Star Stealer your favorite film. Did you forget your shorts for gym class each day, sit on the floor humming as the others tossed balls into nets. Did you feel fat, monstrous, so you refused to take off your clothes. The phrase “you feel” may make this answer the most common as I ask how you felt not what you actually were.
Your choosing or not choosing letter C may depend on how inescapably white you are.
Your choosing or not choosing letter D may depend on your theories on the origins of pathology.
Your choosing or not choosing letter E may depend on how you see the circle of action and consequence. Did she disappear into food and cartoons because she no longer wanted a body. Did she cultivate flesh rolls and soggy breasts to make herself untouchable. Did her parents not look at her because they couldn’t face what had happened to her.
Your choosing or not choosing letter F may depend on the fictions that you love. Do you prefer your imagination or mine. Do you want a girl for your private hurt — her actions your own. Is Lucy your daughter. Is she you.