by C. Kubasta
We called her “Contagious” in the way of children: casual and cruel. She was new to our school, our district; she didn’t have any friends – nor would she easily make any. She had a name; of course she did. I knew it then, I know it now.
Her hair was straw that would ice into white-blonde in the summer. Her skin was pale, thin, and nearly clear and would blue with bruises from the slightest touch. Her lips looked like she’d just finished an orange Popsicle, always. This was when we were young enough that the promise of a Popsicle, even an orange one, was enough to make us sidle up, hoping it was one of the doubles meant to be split and shared.
But our voices would ring out over the playground: “Contagious! Contagious!” We jumped off the metal of the monkey bars where the paint, once a yellow or a blue, had worn away to burnished nickel. We would stretch our arms racing across the slats, or hang upside down even in skirts until some playground-minder reminded us of the modesty we should own. “Contagious! Contagious!”
I went to her birthday party – we were all invited, but only her brothers, sisters, and I were there. How Contagious smiled when her mother put her favorite dish in the middle of the folding table: elbow macaroni with big pats of butter. No sauce, no shaker cheese, just butter melting into the steaming noodles; all of it contained in one of those dark brown-yellow plastic bowls that had come as part of a set but had since lost its counterparts and lid so it was deemed the “good” bowl for parties. And Contagious smiled, those lips looking sticky and no Popsicles in sight.
Is a girl looking at another girl any different than a boy looking at a girl, any different than a man looking at a girl, any different than a man looking at a girl and claiming the girl is not a girl but “Art”: metaphor, not real at all? Does the girl’s looking feel different, to anyone? Contagious wasn’t changed by my gaze; her subjectivity jangled in her bones, like jumping on concrete instead of the give of asphalt. It was there in her hair and her skin and her lips that I thought about Popsicles touching and the little beauty mark that gave her her name, a shade too pink to be brown.
I’d make butter noodles in the afternoons before my parents got home, boiling the macaroni and drowning them them in butter, spooning big spoons into my mouth and never sharing. I never explained the newly acquired taste to anyone. I would carefully wash and put away the dishes so no one would know I was full of starches and fat that ruined my appetite for dinner, for the careful meals prepared, balanced and full of vitamins. Contagious knew all too well about strange tastes; it was our secret.
C. Kubasta writes poetry, prose, and hybrid forms. Her favorite rejection (so far) noted that one editor loved her work, and the other hated it. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks, the full-length collections: All Beautiful & Useless (BlazeVOX) and Of Covenants (Whitepoint Press), and she authored the novella Girling (Brain Mill Press). Her novel This Business of the Flesh is newly out from Apprentice House. She teaches literature, writing, and cultural studies at Marian University where she is active with the Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets, and works with Brain Mill Press. Find her at ckubasta.com. Follow her @CKubastathePoet.