C.A. Schaefer

Loire Valley

There is a prize, twenty dollars for the student who can recite the most of pi. She has two-hundred-twenty-seven digits down, so far. She knows more than the banner on the classroom wall, but still she likes to look at it. She memorizes on her downtime in the classroom, one elbow propped against the skew of the desk, eyes and mouth unblinking before the banner that wraps itself around the wall.

three point one point four over her tongue and under and through, she trails numbers against her teeth and the fleshy pink palate. The parts of her mouth are somehow more mysterious to her than the slick, crepey portions of her lower anatomy.

This is an easier problem than others. The money, the glimmer of the prize, is almost an embarrassment.

one five nine

At this age, she feels like she should begin to understand her parents.

But her father and mother seem to operate in such different spheres; ones that occasionally intersect and glow. Hovering planes of stardust, because she does think they love each other. Their children practically amount to space flotsam: inevitable results of such collisions that are loved, perhaps even desired, but still superfluous.

(and yet if you asked her, she would know she was everything)

On her father’s desk: her graduation photograph. Middle school. A graduation that didn’t count.

two

As a teenager, she has the same qualities as glass: the thinness, the translucence, cut so that you might think to look through her, but you intercept the contours of her body, the unlikely sex, and you are surprised to find you might desire her after all.

six five three five she stores up these digits, carefully piling them alongside other portions of memory.

Pi feels safe. She is a cataloguer. In her room, she catalogues things. A turquoise bedspread, the conch shell on the shelf. She both likes and refuses its vaginal pink lining. And the watercolor of the French castle. Loire Valley, a trip two years ago.

eight:

She practices falling. Off the bed, into her best friend’s arms. A tumble, backwards, slip the couch. Into a pile of leaves. At the age of six, she cracked the back of her head open and blood stained her matching twin braids.

nine seven nine: When people say “you are your father’s daughter” no one thinks to disagree. But what can she do with the other mitochondrial assault, the legacy of her mother that has left her with a sort of wobbling of the chin, her hair color, the bony rises of her elbows and hips, skin coasting their planes but not fully enveloping them, always giving the sense that she is about to escape.

seven eight nine

Her mother aligned the bottles side by side before she began to break them. She threw them across the room and they exploded into a spray of movement and light, and she flinched, but her mother simply stood there and threw them again and again.

An art project, her mother said, but her eyes were cold and angry, and the bottles were supernovas on the wall, crisp as ice underneath their boots.

Her father, inside, said nothing, but later helped to sweep up the glass.

three two three

Lesbian is a word that coats her lips, thick and sticky. She can barely say it. She kisses her best friend in a coat closet. They are muffled by the thick shells around them, and she buries her face in the quilted sleeve of a ski jacket. Believes without knowing she could stay here forever.

eight

Sitting on her mother’s bed, cocooned in the feverish pink blanket, her mother’s witchy fingers stroking her forehead. “you’ve never been so sick,” her mother says. She sits on the bed imagining all the bodies that have been beneath her. She is sitting on catacombs, she tells her mother, who worries, runs a shower, helps her into it. She washes and brushes her daughter’s hair. Braids and unbraids it over the next few days. Dutch, French, fishtail.

four. six. two.

At school she stands in a group of girls who smell of cigarettes and sweet pea. If she could, if it were not so weird, she would like to press her nose against one of their necks and inhale it all. Getting high off the scent of girl. But she presses her chemistry textbook to her chest and instead practices lighting the bunsen burner, the smooth click of the flame. On, and off. Later, she and her science partner inhale chloroform to anesthetize fruit flies and count them. They prove Mendel wrong in their results.

High on the chloroform she holds her arms out and falls back onto the turquoise bedspread, dotted with a white dandelion print, exploding into seedy fragments of thread.

six (four) (three)

Her mother, strangely pregnant again. There is some kind of new, explosive peace, a negotiation of sorts that she is not privy to. She hovers outside doors, listening for some kind of key, ticking off the numbers on her fingers.

three, then. She cradles the number — she has never really liked babies but, as with most things in her life, maintains a cheerful state of neither not liking or liking.

eight.

three, two, seven, nine, five, (oh).

A boy kisses her on her front porch, but she knows the other girl is watching and so she turns her head away. She stares at the sticky, glow-in-the-dark stars, arranged in Orion over her head, and she does not fall asleep.

C.A. Schaefer is a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where she studies fiction, book arts and innovative writing. Her work has most recently appeared in Western Humanities Review and Tidal Basin Review.