WINNER of the prize for LGBTQ+ WRITER (THE WELKIN WRITING PRIZE 2023)
A Girl Again
by Brianna Barnes
I was told I was Satan, so I was, which is how that sort of thing goes. I was not permitted to eat with the family. My mother would not look into my eyes; she was afraid. I exited and entered the home primarily through windows. I wandered in exile, into graveyards, to rest among the ever-relatable dead. I ate manzanita leaves, plucked from red-bark skeletons, popped into the night of my mouth, knowing, as I did, where the tree hides its water. I plodded along highways, neverminding the men, who were vocal about my body and what could be done with it, who repeated these things verbatim, one after another, like colluding clones.
I was relieved to be not of this world, deeply satisfied with myself, proud of my betrayal as the once-best angel, the ex-sparkly one. My power made me bored, listless with the anythings I could do. Standing in the river, I whispered to the anxious salmon loitering near the falls that it was safe, and watched as they flew in mute arcs into the waiting jaws of bears: the incisors snapping shut, slick fish skin, blood, and sliding-out organs. The bears feasted on the dumb hope of a lesser organism; I splashed in the current and did not feel cold.
Some weeks passed, and it was decided that I would again be allowed to be a girl. I could be looked upon without fear of evil jumping from my body into another’s. The quarantine ended. I was reintroduced to the front door. My mother could touch items I had touched. I ate food from the refrigerator like a person, like anybody. I smoothed my dress, combed my hair, pinned it back with a rhinestone butterfly. Later, when the men told me to smile, I did, sucking against the slight residue of slaughter in my mouth, contorting my face for them so they could think they had won.
Brianna Barnes has an MFA from Indiana University. She is a former attendee of the Tin House Summer Workshop and an author fellow at the Martha's Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing. She's been published in 300 Days of Sun, Anthropocene, and Channel Magazine.
The depth of emotion in this piece sets itself up so clearly from that opening sentence, a reader asked to ponder exactly why this girl might have been told she is Satan; I love how trusting the story is of its reader to answer that question. One of the things that drew me to this piece was the contrast between the sense of wilderness that builds towards the brilliant image of the bears feasting on the salmon and the domesticity waiting back at home where food is found in the refrigerator and hair is pinned back with a rhinestone butterfly. It is a story, for me, that resonates on so many different levels.