by Cathy Ulrich
You were thirteen then and I was thirteen. We rode on one bicycle that summer, you perched on the handlebars, warning me of obstacles ahead. We went to the pond, where somebody said they’d once seen an alligator, dangling our feet over the water. You nearly lost your sandal.
You let me touch the bare skin of your belly when your shirt came untucked as we rolled on our sides along the bank, pretending the wind had blown us. You were soft there, like I thought you’d be, and you giggled when I put my lips to your flesh.
Don’t, you said, don’t, don’t, it tickles.
I showed you my bare belly in return, and you scratched your name onto it with a sharp twig while I pretended not to feel the sting.
Maybe it will scar, you said, but you would have had to cut much deeper to leave a lasting mark.
We never saw an alligator that summer, and your name gradually faded from my skin. You said you could put it there again, but my mother didn’t like me going round branded with your name, so you settled for tracing it with the tip of your finger all along my belly and my shoulders and my back.
Do you belong to me?
Sure, I said.
Liar, you called me, and we turned on our backs to look at the sky, which was the bluest sky that summer, the bluest it’s ever been.
We were thirteen then, and the sky was blue and your name was traced on my skin. Now I’ve become an adult and you never will, still caught in that summer, forever in that summer.
I skip rocks across your reflection in the pond and belong to you, the thirteen-year-old you that will always be, as surely as if you had managed to leave your mark on my skin.
Cathy Ulrich still has the scars from the last time she rode a bike. No one was on the handlebars; she just forgot how turning worked.