Bailey Cunningham | Crazyshorts!
What happened was we found a photo. No one knows where it came from, but now it’s on all of our phones and we are being sent to the principal’s office one by one. In the photo Ms. E is wearing bikini bottoms and nothing else. She is standing on a beach with her hands on her hips and her face turned upwards. She is smiling so wide it looks like a tear in her face that will continue ripping through until she is two halves of one topless teacher. She is the most beautiful woman we have ever seen.
Our mothers say Ms. E has gone viral. This means she is famous. This means there are news reports about Ms. E and cameramen who stand out on her lawn shouting for the “sexy teacher” to appear. Some of the boys start saying Ms. E is dirty. It feels as if they are trying to tell us something that has nothing to do with her.
Ms. E doesn’t say goodbye to us.
When the movers finish removing the contents of her house, it seems smaller, as if what was inside did some of the work of holding it up. We don’t want to think about the empty house. Instead we paint our nails “pink satin” and try on our sisters’ homecoming gowns with the sequins that show our faces back at us. We strategize ways to make ourselves safe. This might mean dressing modestly and never trusting boyfriends. This might mean finding acceptable types of women to hide in. There must be more. It is cold in October, even in our bedrooms. We burrow ourselves into blankets and wonder what is so wrong with Ms. E’s boobs. Or maybe it has to do with how happy she looks in the photo, how pleased she seems with herself, her body, her life.
At night we dream Ms. E’s mailbox breaks open like a scab. Letters rush out. Envelopes peel away, revealing words that tell us to be careful but give no instructions how. We dig through the whores, and the you-should-be-ashameds. There are the drawings that got the police involved, the candid photos of poor Ms. E taken from cameras of passing cars. She left because it wasn’t safe to stay. That is what the newspapers say. It’s not safe when they know where you work, we have learned, or where your kids go to school, or where you sleep. It’s not safe for them to know a woman’s name. In our dreams we are hollow as jack-o’-lanterns and our bodies make no sound.
We are learning how a woman leaves her home. We wonder if someday we will have to leave too. We picture sunny beaches. We picture forests with trees that stretch out into the sky, or lush valleys dotted with golden cows. We practice turning corners. We practice awaiting the worst. We practice spinning stories into comfort. Soon we will know the words by heart.
Bailey Cunningham’s fiction appears or is forthcoming in places such as Lunch Ticket, Contrary Magazine, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and The Sandy River Review. She has been awarded a residency from the Millay Colony for the Arts, and her work has been nominated for the Best of the Net. She lives and writes in Bellingham, Washington, where she previously served as managing editor of the Bellingham Review.Featured Image by Sharon McCutcheon