How to be still

       Mahogany's skin is white white, as light as the ash that rises
from my grandmother's fire pit when I burn my marshmallows all the way
to nothing. Mahogany had a day pass yesterday, and today in group,
she tells us about her new kittens. "My mother found them abandoned
by the side of the highway," she says. "The boy is taking it
hardest." She laughs once, a breathy palpitation, and then makes the
crackly noise she makes from the back of her throat. "He keeps
suckling his sister," she says.

       "Liar!" I say. I hate Mahogany. She's such a contradiction.
There probably aren't even any fucking kittens. Claire, her voice
low and even, tells me about language and respect. "What's really
going on here?" she wants to know. With my toes I spell L-I-A-R
inside my tennis shoes. The tendons in my ankles strain and relax.
I know Claire will notice and I will have to be still.

       At dinner I freak out. The pasta on my tray is thick and curly
and overcooked. Claire doesn't understand. "You chose the pasta,"
she says.

       "No," I say, "the menu said spaghetti. I didn't choose this."
Mahogany says she doesn't see the difference and I tell her to mind
her own fucking business. "You aren't supposed to lie," I say to
Claire. She says she didn't know, that the kitchen made the
substitution. She wants to know what's really going on. I can't eat
food that grows in my mouth, but I don't tell her this because I don't
want her to think that the lie doesn't matter.

       Mahogany doesn't eat her pasta either, so we sit together with
our supplements. "I thought you couldn't see the difference," I say.
Mahogany sips her shake slowly while I give her the evil eye. My
fingers drum against the table; Claire walks by and puts her right
hand over mine to stop the movement. As Claire walks away, Mahogany
finishes her supplement. When she is done, she leans over quickly,
takes a drink of mine.

       "You're right," she says. "There aren't any kittens."

       "I don't care," I say.

       In the morning, I sneak a few sit-ups and then dress in my paper
gown while Mahogany watches from her bed. I lift my mattress and grab
the batteries I stole from my father's workbench on my last day pass.
"It won't work," Mahogany says. "They caught Jessa. No more
ponytails. No more underwear." I tell Mahogany to mind her own
business. There are other places to hide weight besides in ponytails
and underwear. She looks at me with big eyes.

       "Fuck, Mahogany, you better not tell." I throw her gown at her.
She kicks back her sheets and throws her legs over the side of the
bed. Her breath catches short. "What?" I ask. She points to her
bed, to the red spot blooming in the center of her sheets. She looks
down between her legs and whimpers.

       "It's just your period," I say. "It had to come back sometime."
I sit down on the edge of my bed. Mahogany, head down, slinks to my
side. I want to shove her away, to yell at her not to bleed all over
my sheets, too. Instead I'm silent; I clench my fists and then hold
still as Mahogany rubs her head against my shoulder, up to my neck,
and crackles from the back of her throat.

Jenny lives in Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she works in a bookstore.
Her work can be found online at Johnny America, The Angler, and Long
Story Short.

2007 Underground Voices