Hunter and Pray

I don’t know why I’m here with Emery, other than I am drunkish and sad. She’s ignoring my questions, hiding behind a screen. I ask her, “What are we?” She looks at me and says, “I’d tell you if I knew.”

She’s tumbled in bed sheets, hair reaching over the plateau of pillow. The tendrils look like little fingers, grabbing rock instead of falling to their deaths. Her eyes shift from her phone to me. “What are you staring at?”

Nothing, I tell her, which is mostly the truth, because there is nothing to be found between us now. Nothing but sweltering heat, the sad tuft of air coming from her fan.

I sat on the lip of her mattress, my feet not quite reaching the floor. Her arm fell to her side, the wrist skin brushing against my hip. “So… are we back together or not?”

She groaned. “It’s eight in the goddamn morning.” Her chest puffed like a pillow. “I don’t want to talk about this now.”

“Why not?”

Her warmth slips down like a carcass sliding to the ground. She tosses her body from the bed—stretches, reveals her tummy—and lumbers into the bathroom to wipe me from her lips.

She has nothing to say to that. We sit in silence for a while, the only noise coming from the wild birds in the backyard who I wished to god would pull me away on their wings. When Emery called me yesterday, I thought it was to talk after our public breakup in the upper school courtyard. We’d had the whole night together but didn’t do more than kiss. Well, kiss and drink since her aunt was working overnight and wasn’t a big fan of liquor locks.

I reach for the bottle now, whose bottom only offered me a small bit of liquid with backwash. More booze could cure a hangover, so I’d been told, probably by Emery. I slosh the last of it down, my back hunching into the burn as it slid down my throat.

Emery reaches her hand upright, presses it into the line of my spine. “You shouldn’t be drinking.”

“I shouldn’t do lots of things.”

Her warmth slips down like a carcass sliding to the ground. She tosses her body from the bed—stretches, reveals her tummy—and lumbers into the bathroom to wipe me from her lips. It takes a while before I can stand up, stomach the sight of the toothbrush in her mouth. When I walk to the bathroom, she’s changed out of her…nothing, and into comfortable clothes, angling her hair, taking a selfie in the mirror. I imagine the view from inside the fish eye, getting to see her with a closeness not fueled by booze—in her father’s Marines t-shirt, flanked by curling irons and hair brushes, the bedroom revealing itself like a blue thigh between the doorway’s slit. At the center, she is still there. Behind the picture, there is a girl. She glitters and she glows, whether or not she knows.

She snaps the picture and turns around. “Goddamn it, stop staring at me!”

I avert my eyes and stare at the carpet and, damn the booze, I know I’m about to cry. Her feet stomp across the carpet, hands aggressively cup my cheeks. She stares but says nothing, even when the tears start to slip. She kisses them into place, like I’m a target and her spit is the bullseye.

Her hand slides up my ribs, handling my torso like a sack of flour. She marinates me in affection and damn it, I give in. Of course I do. I love this girl.

I wait for her to say it back. She does not.

The front door opens and shuts across the house, a loud pair of keys makes contact with a table. “Emery,” a voice calls. “Emery Meroche, I brought breakfast.”

She walks out of the room. I follow before she tells me to stop.

I take inventory of her house like a prey would its hunter, taking in the familiar scenes of Emery: the school portraits hastily hung up; two folded American flags by pictures of her parents; the couch, an ugly plaid, where she sits to watch TV or get yelled at. My shoes by the door next to her knapsack and flip flops.

As we round to the kitchen, I know her aunt knows I’m there because the first thing she does is chide me for not leaving my sneakers on the porch.

“I’m sorry, Ms. Meroche.”

She lets me off with a disinterested, “Hm.” Handing Emery a bag dripping in grease, they share a look. The kind that says “what is that girl doing in my house,” and is met with a regretful, “I don’t know.”

I linger by the front door while Emery fixes her plate and Ms. Meroche stares. Eventually, she asks, “Tell me, how is your mother doing?”

I know what she’s really asking, but don’t take the bait. “My mother’s fine.”

She raises a brow. “Really?”

“Would she have any reason not to be?”

Emery tenses in the corner, neck stiff like teeth biting into gum. I’ve laid a trap of my own, one that won’t be taken, and I’ll be chewed out for. It’s worth it, just a little, to see such a grown woman squirm.

Ms. Meroche eventually lets me off with a wave. “I just don’t want you bringing all that in my house.”

I know she knows, somehow. She’s talking about me like I’m drugs or murder, but the hate in her voice is dismissive because she can’t decide what matters more, love for her niece or hate for people like me.

With a crooked finger, Emery leads me away before I can prod. She leads me to the back porch, past their broken barbecue grill and towards the woods.

“What the fuck was that?” she asks.

I sit beside her. “What was what?”

“Cut it out, you know exactly what I mean.”

“She started it.”

Emery grunts, takes an aggressive bite out of an egg sandwich. “She doesn’t understand these things. I barely do and—”

I picked at a half blown out dandelion. “Why do you always defend her?”

“Not everyone’s family is like yours.” Her face was red now, from the heat or her frustration, maybe both. “She’s all I have left now. I don’t want you to do anything to make her mad.”

I gnaw on the stem, let the fuzz consume my tongue. “How would she feel if she knew you were the one who kissed me first?”

Ms. Meroche looks at me and sees the bad stuff, but I notice that she won’t look back at Emery, even when she’s loading a gun and letting testing shots loose in the woods.

Emery doesn’t talk to me after that, and I take in her backyard with its endless grass leading into trees, the skeleton of a wooden play set, and the shed that I know is full of guns. Emery hunts for sport sometimes. I hate it, taking innocent lives. She says it’s her cooldown activity and besides, it’s not hurting anybody.

She hastily hands me her plate when she’s done, tells me to take it back into the house. As we stand up, I try to tell her I love her again.

“Alright,” she says. “I know.”

She shoos me away.

When I go back inside, her aunt is leaning on the sink. She was watching us out the window, while we were sitting and talking. I’m heard before I’m seen, and I’m told, “I’m not stupid, you know.”

I set the plate on the counter. “I never said you were, ma’am.”

Her words were curt and short. “This isn’t a game.”

I couldn’t tell her I felt like game, another carcass in their stupid little shed.

Ms. Meroche looks at me and sees the bad stuff, but I notice that she won’t look back at Emery, even when she’s loading a gun and letting testing shots loose in the woods.

Suddenly, I feel brave. “I love Emery, you know.”

Her brows raise together. “I’m sure you do.”

She doesn’t mean it. She thinks this is a joke, but to be fair, I know Emery thinks so too.

I leave the kitchen and the house, follow Emery into the woods, trying not to tremble at the weight of the rifle in her hands. Placing my hand on her shoulder, I try to give her cheek a kiss.

She shoves me away. “My aunt’s watching us, you know.”

“Yeah, so.”

“Cecily, if you think she’ll take kindly to two girls kissing, you’ve got another thing coming.”

I stumbled backwards again as she cocks the gun at a bird, taking more steps away from me until I can barely see her. She weaponized my intimacy, loaded its barrel with bullets—thick, fat tubes of metal-like little lipstick bottles. But we both know, there was nothing red on the inside. On the outside, maybe, when she was done with the likes of me.

It takes three shots for the bird to fall, and another to be sure it’s dead. My thighs quiver as I walk to help her, but she doesn’t know if she wants to eat the bird or leave it. My lips have nothing else to say to her as she hands me the gun.

I hold it, catch my breath, and pray.

She decides to leave the bird and walks away.

 

Anastasia Jill (Anna Keeler) is a queer poet and fiction writer living in the Southern United States. She is a current editor for the Smaeralit Anthology. Her work has been published or is upcoming with Poets.org, FIVE:2:ONE, Ambit Magazine, apt, Into the Void Magazine, 2River, and more.