Stories

Portrait of a Daughter (In Between) – Lily Sperry

“FYI, I’m sick,” she says out loud.

FYI, I’m sick, she says in a text message to her friend in her head.

Next to her head is a round metal mixing bowl, a bottle of goat colostrum capsules, a beeswax candle, five to ten books that changed her life. Night stands are the secular person’s altar, though she also had one of those — framed picture of mother and child, hood colored Sepia. On her head is a blend of rosemary and castor oils, intended to promote hair growth and luster, though she only recently started using them and can’t yet tell. Some days she dreams of applying the mixture to a boy but today she’s applied it to herself, because hair stores memory and this month is all about fresh starts.

An account she follows on Twitter writes that accepting one’s male pattern baldness as a fact of nature is learned helplessness, a denial of the connection between one’s vitality and one’s hair. With the help of subtle-to-moderate lifestyle adjustments like increased sunlight exposure and incorporating the right oils and supplements, one can restore one’s hair without the use of minoxidil, finasteride, or other chemical interventions. She promises her future boyfriend that his male pattern baldness isn’t his future, merely his fault, and that night she has a dream about her gym crush, who has a full head of hair and a clear sense of vitality, per his bench presses and the quality of his grunts.

In the dream they are at a party and sitting in a booth — him, her, her friend, and his — and he announces that he has taken one of his friend’s Wellbutrin tablets recreationally, because it was there and he was bored. He is the only man at the party not wearing a wool military cap, signaling his lack of involvement in something, though no one seems to know what. After an hour or so, he decides that the drug has helped him achieve nothing but a dry mouth, and that “Instagram is the true antidepressant, anyway.” She imagines him falling asleep to Reels of body checks and smoothie recipes, 6-7-8-9 unopened DMs. A military-capped man next to them stands up and clinks his glass.

*

On a walk to the train she notices a man with sour apple skin,

waxed and muted by the late January light,

and she remembers that her favorite color used to be green.

In bed his skin is sticky and sweet and he tells her of a dog named Dolly,

“a Border Collie with a stub for a tail,”

whom his family recently brought into their colonial Massachusetts home.

“Dolly the Collie?” she asks, amused,

and he shakes his head, confused.

“Not like that.”

She feels like a child for even bringing it up.

She has a feeling he wants to fuck the dog.

Now she is high and staring at the sea:

temperature scalding, steam salty-sweet.

She doesn't consider it a proper swim until she submerges herself fully,

fetus in utero, nose plugged pussy-tight,

And it is here, at 16 inches deep, when she starts to feel something,

or perhaps nothing at all,

tap water placenta feeding her heavy-metals and micro-plastics;

dissolved ethinylestradiol, bupropion, oxys, PFAs.[1]

She likes the idea of a forever chemical sending her an email,

“Please Find Attached,”

and also of a chemical being forever.

Perhaps by consuming it she can become forever, too.


[1] A Google search for “PFA” reveals it to be an abbreviation for:

            1. "Please Find Attached," or "Please Find the Attachment”

            2. “Protection From Abuse [Order]”

            3. “Psychological First Aid”

            4. Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly referred to as “forever chemicals.”