I love the girls who smell like sweat. You know, the ones with dirt caught in their eyelashes? I met one with moss growing on her forearms. “See?” she said, and turned her wrists over. Up and down that breathing vein, pale like a storm. “In the spring little flowers come out,” she said, but it wasn’t spring, so I didn’t get to see them.
I love those girls though, the ones that have lived through millenniums. I met one so covered in dirt that I lost my tongue in the process. “How ancient,” I let slip, and immediately apologized.
She smiled at me, crescent moon lips gleaming. “Age is only time,” she said, and proceeded to tell me about the dinosaurs. I begged her to tell me how it all ended, but she only showed me her shoulder, scales beneath the blood, peaking through the skin with blue and silver. “You wouldn’t want to know anyway,” she said. Her breath smelled like soil after rain. “It’s all very anti-climatic.”
They’re not all rich earth and stained fingernails, though. Some are rock-toed and knee-deep in ash. “Volcanic ash,” one reminded me. “Don’t get it confused.”
“No, God no,” I said, and put my hands up, palms starfished to the sky that she had met firsthand. She smiled shortly after that. When was the last time she had not been mistaken for death?
“I was born a tremor,” she said, “from the tectonic plates of the Pacific.”
I stared, awestruck and waiting for more, but that’s all she would give me.
“We can’t all be grandmothers,” she said, and turned away, ashes falling off her spine, then rebuilding, just like that.
They all sweat. All of them. One was so soaked that the dry earth turned to mud beneath her feet. The birds were especially fond of her. She’d raise her arms up to the sky, turn out her palms, and there, the hummingbirds. So many hummingbirds. “Nothing sweeter,” she said proudly. “Not even nectar.”
But the one I remember most had not yet befriended time. She was new. Young. Still a little pink on the ears. I found her in the forest on one of my walks, the one with oak trees for houses, little woodlands crawling on the branches, on the inside, at the base. She sat with her willow hair and her great big acorn tears. “What’s wrong?” I asked, and her heart split open like a cactus, water pouring and pouring and pouring.
“H-he said . . . he said . . .”
My heart ached. She could barely speak. A buck stared at us from a distance. I could tell he wanted her salt. “He said what, baby?”
“He said I don’t sweat,” she finally choked out. “He said I . . . he said I glisten.” The forest held its breath, hurt for her. Hurt with her. I bent down. My knees, cursed with the forever-kind-of-pink, sank to the forest floor. I grabbed her, rocked her back and forth like the newborn she was and the newborn she wasn’t. “You sweat, sweetheart. I promise.”
The sun peaked through the tall oaks. Her willow hair had a few visitors, baby blue moths that she didn’t even notice. Sweat gathered behind her ears. I smiled. “I promise,” I repeated. “I promise you sweat.”
In time, her hair will be more vine than willow. The pink on her ears will turn cedar, and she will know her blue moth friends by name.
Diana Clark is an elephant enthusiast and a first-year fiction writer at UNCW, with special love for LGBTQIA+ literature, magical realism, and sci-fi. You can find her work over at The St. Sebastian Review, Broad! – (a gentleperson’s magazine), and Persephone’s Daughters. Her piece “Singed” was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2015.
Lead image: “Wood Nymph” (via Flickr user Rachel James)