Knife Girls Grow Up

Our mother named us after our aunts, but Dad was the one who picked our nicknames. He gave us all the names of knives, so my older sister was Steak and my little sister was Bowie and I was Cleaver. By the time I was five nobody ever called us anything else. Early on, the other kids on our block thought maybe I was a big Leave It to Beaver fan, but pretty soon they knew the score. When we came out to play on a Saturday morning, everyone fell in line behind us.

In our hearts we wished we could be something other than tough. Oh, we learned how to be girly — it wasn’t that. We bought lipstick and red shoes and miniskirts slit up the side. Boys came to the door, stammering, to take us to the movies. In tents and parking lots we bit their lips and put their hands between our legs. But wasn’t there something you were supposed to feel, when his body ground into yours?

Bowie was the youngest but she figured it out first. She was shoplifting from the drugstore when the bottles of nail polish turned bright white before her eyes. In the hospital, while they told our parents about seizure medication, she whispered to us the secret of death: that already, daily, it was stalking us. That night Steak and I relived all the dangerous things we’d done — unmarked bottles we’d guzzled from, older men we’d followed into darkened cars. The day before we would have told those stories in voices wry and ironical — now our voices cracked like sparks. We huddled together in my bed, unmoving, sheltering our little flame of fear.


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