Nice little girls in pinafore dresses and shiny Mary Janes don’t go around giving last rites to roadkill. They don’t scoop water from the ditch with their bare hands, anoint the matted fur with a practiced flick of their fingers and whisper of salvation to inside-out foxes.
When next door’s cat is hit by a car and drags itself up the twitten to writhe and cry, bug-eyed with terror and pain, nice little girls do not fetch a brick from behind the coal shed.
They do not watch when the gulls tear apart a pigeon, spreading it across the garage roofs while the nasty little boys in dirty socks cheer and holler. They do not climb up there, after, to gather the feathers; press their fingerprints into the spots of blood on the corrugated tile, still warm from unbeating heart or midsummer sun or both. They do not carry around the two-clawed foot in their school bag, running their thumb over the scaled toes for luck; for protection. They do not cry when someone tells, and they are forced to wash their hands until the skin scalds.
Nice girls from good stock have no business touching dead things. Even if the stillness speaks to them in words that don’t exist on human tongue—of before, of after, of neverness and always—more religion in the clouded eye of a mouse than gilded Sunday bricks and glass.
Nice little girls know better than to say this aloud. They learn that some will never see the other side of the coin until it’s laid upon closed eyes. They know, the same way a string of bulbs shares the same strand of light, that those who came before were burned for less. Nice little girls know to wait quietly beside holes in the ground until they are needed.
And when they call for her, it is not for cross or confession or absolution but for a steady hand; a guide across murky water. Not for a promise that it won’t hurt but a reminder that it will end. Not for a girl, and no more use for niceties. Only the turn and till of the earth, ever patient for a return.
Jo Gatford writes flash disguised as poetry, poetry disguised as flash, and mostly can’t tell the difference. Her work has most recently been published by The Lumiere Review, Full House Lit, Flash Frog, and The Woolf, as well as winning the Molotov Cocktail Flash City competition. She is the co-founder of Writers’ HQ and occasionally tweets about weird 17th-century mermaid tiles at @jmgatford.
Lead image: “wing and a prayer #1” (via Flickr user Euan)