Something Like Drowning by Gaynor Jones
We always planned to take my Barbie, the one with the match-burned hair, and toss her into the silo. We bent her arms, shrimp-pink and puckered from the hiss-press-melt of our games, high above her head, a contorted synchronised swimmer. We wondered if she would go down slowly, feet en pointe, one hand up, like the dumb robot in the fire at the end of that movie my brother watched over and over that year.
We’d been warned about the silo. We knew how easy it would be to slip in, how it would be like drowning in sand. We knew the grain would fill our bodies, and we liked the sound of it, the obscene idea of things entering us.
We grew up with dangers we barely even registered. Mangled limbs, infected bites, chemical burns were part of our childhood the way others experienced scuffed knees and sore throats. But the silo scared the adults. And so it scared us too.
We taught ourselves to take other risks. We threw bricks onto frozen canals, watched cracks scitter-scatter the ice like arteries and dared our feet to follow. We waded welly-deep in rivers and cuddled baby frogs, only to blow them up later with thin metal straws.
We were told not to name the animals but we did. We were told to stay away from the sheds but we didn’t. We held each other tight as we listened to death and we crept in the sheds, after. We dipped our toes in the red stains soaping away underneath the hooks and we cried. When you showed me the red stains in your underwear, we wept again. We did not want to grow up.
You showed me how to slowly climb the hay bales so that our underwear flashed to anyone underneath for just long enough and you rolled our skirts at the waist to let nettles and wolf whistles lay claim to our legs and you compared our body hair to hay and the bumps on our chests to fallen apples and you were always in the lead. You taught me to make a kissing fist with a gap for my tongue and I wondered how much easier it would be to practise on you. You brought us cider from your father’s store and you lay down, your bare legs making a V patch in the grass where I wanted to dissolve and you pointed at aeroplanes and you talked about Spain and bikinis and boys becoming men.
You suggested the pact. You wanted it to happen. You wanted it to happen to us together.
I brought cinder toffee to the bonfire, watched old outhouses and faded fence panels burn under the Guy. I kept my sticky-sweet breath to myself and watched as the man put his arm around your shoulder. I watched him lead you away and I watched him lead you back. I watched the stilted way you walked across the grass and I watched your eyes, unwilling to focus on mine. I crossed my legs at the knee and batted away hands like summer flies.
I told my mother.
I did not know, I did not know, I did not know. I swear to you, I did not know she would tell yours.
I cried when your family moved away.
I got your letters. I read them and it was like a knife / hadn’t / sliced / something / between us.
Remember the frogs?
Remember the ice?
Remember the silo?
I turned the matches on myself and bathed and dressed the Barbie before removing her head.
I wrote you one reply.
I remember the grass between your legs, your fingers on my waistband, the shame and the bonfire burning in your eyes.
I tore the letter into pieces and shoved it down into the doll’s open neck. I carried it up the metal steps. As my father yelled my name, I let go of the Barbie. She took the last scraps of us to drown in the grain.
Gaynor Jones is an award winning fiction writer based in Manchester, UK. She won the 2018 Mairtín Crawford Short Story Award and was named Northern Writer of the Year at the Northern Soul Awards. In 2019 she won the 12th round of the Bath Flash Fiction Award. Her work has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best Small Fictions, and Best of the Net. She is currently developing her first novella-in-flash