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January 18, 2021

Eden, Idaho

May Hathaway

When we first move here, there are no people, just skeleton houses and picket fences like box cutters lined up one after the other. There is so much here to make us happy: sloping roofs, well-mowed grass, pastel trimmings. Our yards come with swimming pools, the water bright and noxious each summer. And then we build a church, and a grocery store, and a school, and it becomes hard to tell us apart, all of us in starched white shirts with collars pressed flat. My mother confuses me with her other daughter and she apologizes with ice cream and a credit card; I tug at the cross around my neck until the chain cuts my skin, building my prayers.

My sister’s skirts grow shorter and I grow up at the gas station, gum in my mouth and packs of Twizzlers tucked in my waistband. I say, I hate this town, I’m moving to New York to no one in particular and I mean it. I get my permit. I flirt with the boys at the pump for a discount. I slide tips from waitressing under my mattress. A boy from Sunday school becomes a boy at the grocery store register becomes a boy putting a corsage on my wrist and I still mean it, I think.

My sister’s stomach swells. My mother hits her head on linoleum. The boy gives me a ride home from Mass and asks me to dinner. When I fall asleep at the movies, he shakes me awake and I take large swallows of his Pepsi; by the time I climb out of the car, it’s too late to tell him I only want to be friends. I buy a dress and the tailor’s needle pricks my ribs, crushed white tulle between us like a lawn hedge. Seasons pass with sandwiches—ham in the spring, turkey in the fall—and I weather my hands in the toaster. And so another generation grows old on Lucky Charms, breaks their teeth on blue marshmallows and communion wafers, all of our children pretty and empty.