Note: If you haven’t seen my surplus of posts about this lately, Rachel’s Challenge is a weekly challenge where you all– students, faculty, friends, etc.– pick a strange, rarely-used word for me to write about. I pick the best suggestions I receive, and create a poll for you to vote on your favorite. (You can find the poll for next week here). Below is my first step into this project. For those of you who don’t know– can you spot the winning word?
By Rachel Hoge
Silvia asks me why I don’t eat dinner, why I wear long sleeves… why I shake. It’s the flesh. They’re crawling in it. All these colors— white, black, brown— they think it makes them different. But pared back, skinned, I know they’re all the same: the shade of rust, the tunnels. The sounds of life jarring, like biting into an apple. Or being ate alive.
I was seven the first time I saw it. My older, Denny, made a ramp out of wood, scrounging nails from a broken toolbox. He had an old skateboard Mom bought in a yard sale, but was trying to buy his own.
“Imagine it,” he said, “a Stacey Peralta Warp Tail with fiberglass laminates.” He smiled. “Perfect for an empty swimming pool.”
“Where’s one of those?”
“Don’t worry about it.” He ruffled my hair. “This is big kid stuff.”
He walked through the garage and back inside. I grabbed his skateboard, the uneven plank scratching my skin. I took a step ladder and lined it behind the ramp, launching the skateboard off the top. The wheels fell instantly, the board flying from my feet. I rolled off the wood and landed on the gravel, my hands covered in rocks. It wasn’t until Denny came outside that blood stained my jeans, the scratches dirty from corroded nails.
Denny grabbed a rag from the garage and propped my leg up. “You okay?”
“That’s a lot of blood. You could’ve really hurt yourself, you know.”
“What were you thinking?”
I looked down at my leg. “Blood is… cool.”
He stifled a laugh, and pressed the cloth in tighter.
People here like to play board games. Silvia tells me Yahtzee is her favorite. It disappoints her that I don’t know these things, don’t think to ask. Her friends stare. I hear them say, “Is that the guy?” I pull at my sleeves. It’s May, everyone’s wearing shorts. Silvia’s in a dress, short and flowered. Legs crossed, collarbones protruding. She offers me a bowl of chips. I tell her I’m going to be sick.
When I open the bathroom door she’s standing in the doorframe, her bare arms crossed.
“It wasn’t bad this time,” I say. She’s used to my excuses— used to seeing my head hung, my face pale.
“Your mom said it was getting better.”
“She doesn’t know everything.”
“Nobody does. Not about you.”
I lean against the wall, my temples throbbing. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means that no one knows anything about you anymore.” Her words taste cold, like ice on a wound: slow, numbed pain. “You don’t even tell me anything. You’ve been home for three months, but you’re… not the same person.”
“What do you expect?” My face flames, my words burn. “Nobody was there. Nobody went through what I’ve gone through, what I’ve done.”
“I know, I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” She puts her hand on my shoulder. “But I’m still here.” Blood rushes, her heart beats faster. She leans in to kiss me, desperate to make me feel again. I taste her lips, pink and oily— and then, I’m on the mountain shivering in snow, corpses circling me like vultures, my stomach burning. Scott lies beside me, our bodies close for heat. We both know he has frostbitten fingers and shallow breaths, signs of hypothermia. But like all the others, we don’t talk about it.
“You know one thing I forgot?”
I look at him, my eyes strained. We haven’t spoken in hours. “What?”
“To get a doodle sack.”
I look at his body, his arms shivering. “We have to take off your wet clothes.”
“I’m not going crazy,” he says, his eyes drooping. “My grandpa is Scottish, he… he told me to find a doodle sack while we’re here. Know what that is?”
My eyes are heavy and swollen. “What?”
“Bagpipes. Just before— before we left for the trip. He asked me to bring him back some bagpipes.” He voice breaks. “I really wanted to.”
“You can, Scott.” My limbs are shaking. “We’ll make it. You’ll see.”
Hours later, Scott stopped shivering and I laid in the snow, no longer caring if I cried, if I lived or died. A few weeks after I was rescued I drove to Mississippi and saw Scott’s family. His mother wanted every detail, every word. The more they knew about the crash and the snow and the desperate hunger the more they hated me. The bagpipes weren’t from Scotland but Scott’s grandpa cried all the same, the only good thing I’ve done since leaving that mountain.
Silvia’s quiet on the drive home. She doesn’t try to hold my hand, doesn’t force small talk. Fluorescent signs and street lights glare against the windshield.
“Mind if I stop?” Her eyes squint, surveying rows of restaurants. “I haven’t eaten in hours… I’m starving.”
I laugh, the taste empty and bitter.