by Grace Campbell
The town roller rink is always scaled in the grime of hopeful, hormone wrapped anxieties, drugstore perfume, the offal of viscous nacho cheese, and the immanent potential of a fistfight. All of these things come free or five-finger discounted, and you never leave without reeking like the entire combination.
My older brother's fifteenth birthday consists of a long streamer-laden table flanked with burled knots of boys too big for their behavior and a sheet cake squiggled over in gooey, rushed cursive by some bakery employee in his own age bracket but with a verifiable income.
We are poor, and it is the first party we've hosted anywhere but our own home, so it's the big time. The Stoketon Roller Rink, where Whitney Houston's love-pumped ballads make the place bounce like a restless leg over an active fault. I wear my velour baseball-style top with some gold flowers printed across the front because velour is fancy and it makes me look what I suppose is rich. I even brush my hair, something no one notices and something cast in culpability once I see the photos, days later, where my brother's friends crouch behind me, all making the finger-down-the-throat vomit gesture toward the back of my gleaming, snarl-free head. Was the hair brushed too much or not enough? Was the shirt too tight or not enough? Was the smile too broad or not enough?
Maybe not velour, next time. Maybe never velour, in the interest of no Next Time. Maybe no smiles or only those at half-mast so they fall on the indifferent side of the anger/shame blade. Maybe no more roller rink, where, no matter how fast on my feet, I still fail.
Maybe no more gleaming eyes toward the flat-white of the cake that tasted like nothing real and distracted me, eyes affixed to the sliceless perfection of it, from the stinging clutch of older boys. Behind me, they chant words that will later pivot the blade into other, sharper words, all the way from the hilt to the point, many times, no matter how baggy or snarl free.
Eventually no one will be able to read what the whole glistening length spelled out or remember that I wore my last unfettered smile on the ride to the rink, wondering if they would play Whitney, please play Whitney, both my legs restless for some damn Whitney. I will skate away from the business of girlhood with my grin atrophied as a torn streamer, reeking like the whole combination caught in the photograph taken at exactly the moment I was lacing up my twelfth year.
My mother sees the whole scene happen, captures the shot anyway.
About the Author:
Grace Campbell is a co-founding editor and writer at Black River Press and Fiction editor at 5x5 Literary Magazine. She is the author of the flash chapbook Girlie Shorts (2018). She was awarded a June Dodge fellowship at the Mineral School in 2018. Her work has been chosen for inclusion in Best Small Fictions 2019 (Sonder Press) as well as earning finalist status in competitions at Split Lip and Atticus Review. You can find her work in Brevity, Joyland, Gravel, Foliate Oak, New Flash Fiction Review and elsewhere. She's got a soft spot for tinted lip balm and corgis.
About Weekly Flash Prose and Prose Poetry:
CutBank Online features one work of flash prose or prose poetry every Monday. Submissions are free and open year-round. Send us your best work of 750 words or less at https://cutbank.submittable.com/submit.