Aunt Cheryl lives alone on a corner lot, where she raises a huge garden. She mows her own lawn and cleans her own rain gutters. She never married but she has a few lovers; that’s what I say, anyway. When he thinks I’m out of earshot, Dad says she’s a whore. Grandpa says she’s loose, although grandpa hasn’t spoken to Aunt Cheryl since before I was born, so I don’t know why he still concerns himself with her.
I like to help Aunt Cheryl in her garden. It’s my job to turn the compost pile once a week. I also help till the soil in the spring and weed through the hot summer months. Aunt Cheryl says a weed is just a word for something growing where you don’t want it so if the dill overtakes the carrots, or the onions threaten the tomatoes, we pull them. She says that’s just how it goes.
The boys at school don’t say much to me during class but they say plenty online. They message me and ask if I’m like my Aunt Cheryl. They use the words whore or slut. They ask if I like dick too. I don’t answer anymore, not since the time I told one of them to leave me alone and he answered in one word: cunt.
Even though those boys don’t look at me in school, I can’t help sweating every time I pass one of them, remembering the invasive words they send me. How big those boys swell when they type those things, I think. Why else would they bother? Unless they only mean to shrink me.
I can’t help the ringing in my ears when those boys are near, a ringing so loud that I have to say what? what? when I don’t hear my chemistry teacher ask me a question.
Aunt Cheryl plants two rows of carrots. At the start of each row, she plants a single bean plant. When the bean plant sprouts, she knows that the carrots are only a week behind. When this happens, she trudges out to the garden after dinner to remove the weeds from the rows meant for carrots. She stands before the bean sprouts and lights a blowtorch with a flick and a click. Crouching down, she burns all the weeds growing in those rows. She torches every single one: whores, sluts, cunts and all.
Kristin Kozlowski lives and works in the Midwest US. Some of her work is available online at Lost Balloon, Longleaf Review, Pidgeonholes, Cease Cows, and Nightingale and Sparrow, among others. In 2019, she was awarded Editor’s Choice from Arkana for her CNF piece, A POCKET OF AIR. She was also named a finalist in Forge Literary Magazine’s Forge Flash Competition 2019 for her CNF piece, RELATIONSTASIS. If you tweet: @kriskozlowski.