Steve Evans. Oteeyho Iro. Charles Haddox. Zama Madinana. Taylor Graham. Natalie Harris-Spencer. Jason Lobell. Maggie Yang. Aaron Weinzapfel. Meredith Wadley. Asma Al-Masyabi. Linda Neal. Shilo Niziolek. David A. Porter.
Sofie Harsha is a writer, musician, artist, screenwriter, editor and non-standup comedienne. She works for Capella University as a Faculty Development Specialist and Instructional Designer, and freelances in graphic and web design. Her fiction is found at The Adirondack Review, Carve, Cog, Hobart, Paper Darts, Terminus, and others. Her artwork, music, and other writing is hiding in her Internet lair: SofieWrites. Her newest project, Press Pause Press, is looking for love and submissions.
GENTLELADY NADIA CANNOT BE SPOOKED
I don’t really get scared at all anymore, Gentlelady Nadia said, and I believed her.
Her family’s cabin was lit up along the Minnesota lake like a diamond sparkling, hidden in a pile of cut grass. We sat squatted near the propane tank of the old grill, swatting mosquitos and drinking Tequila—little lemons on the hill looking down toward the silver lake, which magnified the beauty of the world by being so still we could barely see it. So blue-silver in the night. Untouchable slate, deep water unmoving at midnight.
I couldn’t stop saying the word Minnesota to myself in my head. I felt like a young carpenter building something out of nothing. Minnesota. Minisoda. Minnesohtah.
Shut up, Gentlelady Nadia said, even though I wasn’t saying anything. The lake beamed heavy under the moon and I felt sick from the weed brownie Gentlelady Nadia’s boyfriend had given me after he proposed to her earlier and I kept thinking of ancient dancing rituals, two by two, three by three, dresses skirting dirty floors.
You saying you’re not scared at all anymore makes me really scared, I said, and Gentlelady Nadia laughed like an actress, her red-brown hair embarrassing and sexy dark in the moonlight.
Dunno if I can help you there, Gentlelady Nadia said, shaking out her wet hair, running a hand through. Didn’t seem like you were scared when you were getting on that dude’s boat this morning, she continued. What happened with that anyway?
Nothing really, I said.
I didn’t want to talk about what happened on the boat. The event was still ringing in my ears and sitting on my chest, making my entire body a phantom limb. I wanted to ask Gentlelady Nadia if what had happened to me had ever happened to her too, but I couldn’t. Not when she’d just told me she never got scared anymore. What if it had happened to her and she’d gotten over it?
As a rule I don’t get over anything, not sure if I’ve ever gotten over anything, at least to the point fear leaves me.
Sitting next to Gentlelady Nadia drinking Tequila, body blinking internal pain so I feared I was lighting up the night like an anxious firefly, I felt superfluous and completely unnecessary in the world, in her fearless world, above the flat lake, high and scared.
You’re being weird, Gentlelady Nadia said, Don’t make me regret inviting you. What’s going on with you?
Sorry, I just miss my parents, I said, and it seemed like a good enough answer. I did miss my parents. Four years isn’t that long to grieve.
Yeah, Gentlelady Nadia said. Yeah. I’m sorry. The soft in her voice almost made me show her my left hip, or my thigh.
But then I saw Gentlelady Nadia’s boyfriend, now fiancé, roaming across the lawn for kindling. He was so happy, I could see his laughing face in the firelight. Gentlelady Nadia had said yes even though she didn’t believe in marriage.
How can I say no to your ridiculous face? she’d said and then pushed his kneeling body in the lake, jumping in after to kiss him.
And I’d taken a picture at the perfect time, hands still shaking after the boat.
I’m so happy for you, Nadia, I said. Look at him. He adores you.
He adores how I make him feel.
And how is that? I said.
Not actually sure, but I know I make him feel good, Gentlelady Nadia said. But farting makes him feel good too, so.
You’re so fucking full of shit, I said.
The wind picked up my words and held them in front of us. I don’t know why I said it. Probably the tequila in my throat was being the bitch, not me.
You’re fucking full of fucking shit, Gentlelady Nadia said without enthusiasm, her voice still lilting a bit, hovering above me like always. You’ve been weird all day and I keep asking you why and you don’t tell me, so whatever. I guess we’re both full of shit.
A shooting star fell in the sky and I said nothing, kept it as only mine.
I guess so, I said. But who’s worse? The person who pretends they don’t care or the person who does and doesn’t want to talk about it? We all fucking care. At least I’m not being fake.
Fuck this, Gentlelady Nadia said. I’m going down to the dock to jump in. Naked.
Skinny dipping, I said, How original. Don’t let me stop you.
Are you auditioning for Real World or something? Geez. Come and jump in the lake with me, idiot.
I probably shouldn’t have jumped naked in the lake with Gentlelady Nadia but there’s no going back.
The lake was wonderful actually. Cold but open to my bare body diving in, almost inviting me, holding its breath. It felt like it was just the lake and me, and everything else was watching us in awe, even Gentlelady Nadia, who kept staring at me as we treaded water—her eyes small craters in the deep lake dark.
What? I asked. Stop staring at me.
What happened on the boat. You’re covered in bruises.
Nothing, I said.
How could she even see the bruises at night? Were they that large and black and blue and purple?
Yeah right. He raped you. He saw how fragile and sweet you are and he took you out on his boat and he fucked you up.
I couldn’t breathe and the lake got colder. The moon was something too much, white like an empty page. Gentlelady Nadia’s words were reality but so honest and all-seeing they felt violent.
Shhhhhhh, I said. You’re echoing. And you’re wrong.
The sound of Gentlelady Nadia’s fiancé clamoring down the steps onto the dock was dull thunder.
Night swimming! he shouted and disrobed. His splash disturbed the entire lake. When he came above water again, he was snorting and smiling in the moonlight, teeth white, so happy. He swam to Gentlelady Nadia and grabbed her lovingly, sexy.
Gentlelady Nadia switched on. She laughed and cajoled and splashed him and who knows what they did underneath the water. I kept treading. They were whispering. My chest felt the pressure of the whole stretch of lake.
And soon the fiancé was called back to his friends at the fire. As he left, I went under the lake, held my breath for as long as I could, knowing Gentlelady Nadia would be gone after I reemerged.
When I had to breathe again, and only then, I came up. I’ll finally be alone I thought, and took a big watery breath under the moon.
Gentlelady Nadia was treading beside me, still, like a nightwatchman, staring at me again with her crater eyes.
I wrote down the make of the boat, Gentlelady Nadia said. Don’t care if you want me to or not, I’m going to turn him in. Did he give you a name?
I thought back and felt like I was falling into a well, though the moon stayed bright as ever over us, over the water.
No, I said. I don’t remember.
Let me touch you, Gentlelady Nadia said. On the bruises.
I laughed and my laugh echoed up toward the moon, broken-sounding and wiry.
Not like that. Geez. Just so you’re not scared to be touched anymore. It’s not worth going your entire life being scared. Trust me. Point them out for me.
And I let Gentlelady Nadia touch me on each of my bruises, under the water.