Two girls take to the dunes, sit amongst the grasses and the wind, as the sky grows dark with storm. The elder of the two, Elena, pulls her brother’s knife from her pocket.
A few days prior, they watched as her brother, Finn, shook bloody hands with Neal, the boy next door. When asked, Finn said, it’s the only way to solidify a friendship, a way to see what’s in you and what’s in the other guy. Dad used to do it too. You can’t cry when you get cut like Neal did though, that ruins it.
The girls exchanged a glance that Finn caught midair.
You can’t do it—it’s a boy’s thing, he said. You wouldn’t understand what I’m talking about. This is brotherhood.
But the girls hatched their plan in the kitchen, snuck into Finn’s room while he wasn’t looking, promised themselves and each other that their friendship was worth the risk.
Elena, the elder, cradles Poppy’s hand above the sand. You ready? Elena asks. Poppy hesitates. Mama says girls can handle more pain than boys, Elena assures her, says so in the Bible. Poppy closes her eyes, lifts her hand higher.
As blood pools in her palm and adrenaline warms her body to the chill wind, Poppy becomes aware of her heartbeat as a new kind of breath; overtaking, essential. She thinks of star-colored sunflowers, and navy flecks of paint on her grandmother’s apron, and the red bags that hung from poles beside her mother’s bed before she passed.
Elena stares at the red in her best friend’s palm, and slides the knife into Poppy’s hand, her heartbeat racing as Poppy’s eyes fill with tears from the pain. With a gash along her life line, Elena gasps, regrets thinking about the hurt before it arrived. But with her racing heart and widening eyes she thinks of the last yellow tie she saw her father in before he left, the aqua sleeping bag beneath Poppy’s bed, and the mauve spines of her favorite books.
Their wounds sting as they bring their palms together. Despite Finn’s warning, tears fall from their eyelashes onto their cheeks. The blood between their hands, stained on their clothes, glows vibrant beneath the clouds. This, the color of life, of feeling, the color connecting body to experience, they share to elevate their bond to sisterhood.
Poppy sits beside Elena as the doctor sews four stitches into her palm a couple hours later. Elena’s Mama stands before them, says, what were you thinking? We expect this from your brothers, but you?
As she drives the girls home, Mama says, I hope you two learned from this.
And they will. They will grow in age, in height, get their hearts broken by those they never expect. They will line up their blue-veined wrists, lay pulse against pulse, let their rhythms harmonize until calm settles in once again. They will point to the gulls, and say “doves,” take all that is dirty and weak and make it pure and strong. They will grow apart and then together, cut themselves into pieces and sew each other up, run their fingers over the scar in the other’s hand, and say, remember when we thought this gave our bond something it didn’t already have?
Hannah McSorley is about to graduate from SUNY Geneseo in upstate NY with a degree in English literature. Her writing has previously been published in Crabfat Magazine and Gandy Dancer, and she has one story forthcoming from Likely Red Press.