Sympathy for Wild Girls

Between the slurred lisp of her words, Daisy’s mother starts to whisper to her about dead girls. It starts off as a trickle of information, gossipy fascination over the feral, invited by a story on the news or something that her mother heard on the radio while driving. But before Daisy can stop it, her mother bombards her with the stories every time she sees her, as if the presence of Daisy incites death. Normally, Daisy can forget her mother’s words. They’re usually able to fall between her fingers and dry off in the light of day like water, but these words stick to her like sweet gum barbs, becoming more entangled in her hair and clothes as she struggles to pull them out.

There are girls whose bodies fit in the trunks of cars. There are girls whose limbs get cut up and stuffed in freezers. Girls whose bodies are eyed up by men even when they’re cold. Girls whose final words are branded onto their forehead like they’re the only words they’ve ever spoken, used to rationalize their death, used to give reason to a killer. But Daisy cannot find any reason in bloated limbs that float down rivers or in the men who seek girls’ bodies like flowers to yank from the ground, leaving behind crumbling dirt and mangled pale roots.

Her mother sees that she’s worried. “You’re pretty, so you’ll be more of a target.”

Daisy’s mother tells her ways to stay safe, but they all come off as futile superstitions. Put your keys between your sweaty fingers, look over your shoulder, speak softly, move quietly, don’t look men in the eye. Keep pepper spray in your backpack. Always tell friends where you’re going. Stay where people can see you. Don’t talk to strangers. Don’t talk to men you’ve met. Be kind. Be cautious.

“When things happen to black girls, they don’t end up on the news.”

The most important thing, her mother tells her, is to kick and scream. Don’t go anywhere silent and gentle; leave marks—bite marks, claw marks, anything that can be evidence later.

At night, Daisy stares at the ceiling and shudders at the feeling of the sheets against her chest. Even through her pajamas, the feeling of her skin touching itself—her tongue dry in her mouth, her arm across her belly, her thighs pressing together—it makes her stomach roil. She clambers out of bed, tripping against the sheets tangled around her feet, and breaks off into the bathroom.

On her knees, she thinks of every pair of eyes that could have ever possibly raked across her body. They appear to her in her dark bedroom and she has no choice but to look back at them. She sees what they see, a small thing ready to be plucked.

Don’t go anywhere silent and gentle; leave marks—bite marks, claw marks, anything that can be evidence later.

She is trapped in her own body with no escape, no safety, no place to hide—not even the cover of her mother or her own good intentions. Her body no longer feels like hers. She is fat bright bait pierced against a hook, bobbing in the water waiting for the inevitable. The sweat drips into the toilet bowl as she tries to heave out whatever it is inside her that turns men feral, makes them want to swallow her whole.

Then, in between her gasping, she hears the howling. The coyotes laugh loudly. Chattering and cackling grow until it feels as though they could be right behind her.

It fades away.

Daisy gets up and presses her sweaty forehead against her bedroom window, to see if she can spot them. The only thing she sees is the sidewalk through the trees, and her hot breath fogging up the glass.

*     *     *

Daisy doesn’t comb her hair for weeks. She lets her nails grow long, but because she is only thirteen, they bend and break. They grow back jagged and uneven, but she likes it that way. She showers as little as she can, only rubbing car air fresheners on her clothes when her mother complains about the smell. The stench of stale sweat rolls off her body when she moves, so the other children push their desks away from her, cross the street when they see her walking ahead of them. In part because of her smell and in part because of how she glares over her shoulder every few seconds whenever she’s outside. At lunch, she stays huddled in the middle of the quad, all her weight to the ground where everyone can see her. She stops speaking, instead choosing to communicate in settling looks, grunts, and on one occasion, with a boy who tugged at her matted hair, biting.

When she overhears the teachers entertaining the idea of calling her mother, Daisy knows it’s time to leave.

On a clear warm night, she takes her mother’s coat from her closet and walks right out the front door. The flickering lights from the television and her mother’s snoring from the couch are the only witnesses to her escape.

She walks out past the rows of identical houses, green preened fields, plastic play structures. Her bare feet slapping against the sidewalk is one of the only sounds at night. The other is the coyotes. She follows their laughing out into the edge of the hills, where her feet walk on top of wildflowers and tall grass growing from underneath rocks and pebbles, tumbleweeds and brush scratching against the coat. She slides down crumbling dirt and climbs up foothills, until their yipping is close enough to make the hair on her neck stand on end.

They emerge, slipping from the cracks and brush like shadows, their eyes flashing in the moonlight. There’s six of them, edging closer until Daisy can see the full outline of their slender bodies, teeth bared. She swallows. While trying to calm her breath, she shakily drops her coat to reveal her body to the warm night air. The experience is thrilling at first, knowing there are no human eyes to watch her, to ogle at her, but the bliss is quickly quelled by the swipe of a coyote’s claws against her thigh. Daisy buckles but refuses to fall. She whines and turns to try and frantically look at the coyotes around her. They circle her, lunging to nip at her arms and legs before dodging out and rejoining their silky turning carousel. They’re beautiful, she thinks. And frightening. She is thrown back and forth between the two moments of enchantment before a coyote, the largest one there, digs into her ribs. The pain shoots through her body and she screams, the side of her torso throbbing and her ribs straining with every labored breath. As she cries out, the coyotes’ swarming circle seems to falter, and so Daisy screams again, high pitched croaking to guttural moans. It echoes off the hills, splits the warm air into something blood curdling and cold. The coyotes back up, inky bodies moving back into the ledges and cracks in the hills, until the biggest one’s eyes gleam yellow at her, and flicker out.

Their howls echo from their burrow and Daisy lays back on the grass. She presses her tossed coat into her side and falls asleep to her fading breath.

*     *     *

Daisy dreams of herself, seeping out into dry brush. The coyotes form around her, twisting around her heavy body, but instead of shadows they are light. Stars with cloudy tails spinning around her until they press their bodies into hers. Warm, soft, pulsing life covering her from all angles. They lap up the blood that blooms at her ankles and ribs. Tears well up in her eyes, and she realizes that she’s found her place to exist. Here amongst fur and teeth and the dazzling moonlight: she will never be left to bleed out alone. There will never be any words used against her to try and explain why it made sense for her to die, why it was meant for her to die. She was meant for this, to stretch to the full extent of her limbs when she ran, to holler until her throat went raw, to lay down at night.

Demree McGhee is an English student from San Diego. She has work featured or forthcoming in Lucky Jefferson, San Diego Poetry Annual, Free State Review, Sweet Tree Review, and more.