A New Bathing Suit

I was fourteen when I ran away for the first time. I walked out of the kitchen, through the backdoor, into the quaking sunlight. I left the oven on, with grilled cheese sinking through the grates. I waited until the Craft cheddar was oozing out of the sides, slipping between the crusts. My baby sister laughed from the high chair as I spun her around. I faced her towards the window. I was supposed to be watching her while my mom ran into town to cover a shift at the restaurant.

In my mind I heard a dog bark in the distance as I headed down the gravel path. The rocks dug into the holes in my shoes, snapping at my feet. They felt like teeth.

A car rocketed down the highway that ran parallel to our farmhouse.

I walked to the mailbox and placed my hand on it. It was painted blue. Little flakes peeled away as I slid my palm across it. Whenever a breeze wafted by, chips scrapped off and took flight in the wind. They looked like dandruff. I arched my finger and scraped a skinny ribbon of dried paint loose.

A truck drove by and right before it passed me the window rolled down and a face with dark brown eyes appeared.

“You’refuckinghot.”

The words tore at my skin and made me feel naked. I took a step back. I shook my head. I was doing this.

I pulled down my hood so that my hair sprung loose and concealed my face a little. Strands of it got caught in the whites of my eyes. I glanced at my watch. Half past two. I had about five minutes before Mom drove up.

I made a bargain with myself.

I stuck out a thumb. A red line spilled out from the tip, lining the underside of my nail with dark thread. I cut my thumb with a butter knife trying to slice white bread, making grilled cheese that tasted like cardboard.

If someone stopped before my mother’s maroon Honda drove up it was a sign from God. Meant to be. I wasn’t what the other kids called me at school. I had something better in store than the eighth grade in the fall and babysitting my sister for free while my mom worked herself into a depression.

The cut on my thumb stung every time a car whisked by and threw wind into the wound. It was when I had my thumb in my mouth, sucking in all the blood, that he stopped and popped open his window.

“Where to?”

With my thumb in my mouth like a baby, I mumbled, “anywhere up north?”

The man had frayed graying hair that clung to his forehead. A sweet face. Reminded me of a basset hound.

“You got a suit on you?”

“No, sir.”

“I’ll buy you one from K-mart. Up north’s all ocean.”

I climbed into the passenger side of his car. I kept my eyes glued ahead as he took off. The forestry on both sides of the highway blurred and grew fuzzy in my peripherals. It was like I was looking at the world through the wrong prescription glasses.

I bit my lip. The needle jiggled on the speedometer. I focused my eyes on the hand as it hovered indecisively just over 50 mph.

“I don’t know how to swim.”

I didn’t think he heard me. He kept on driving.

A pinprick of blood balanced in a crease stitched into my lip.