McKenzie Zalopany


“Binch, we are out front open up,” Matty yells in a fake cop voice, while pounding on my front door. My dog Samson makes a motion to get up and thinks better of it. Even he doesn’t approve of her and Seraphina, who I know is close behind Matty.

Last night, Seraphina texted me to say that Matty from two units over, the one who shaves her arms, found the Fountain of Youth but I’m calling bull. For one thing, both girls lie all the time. They’re always pretending to wear designer clothes, but I know for a fact it’s glitz from the flea market. Also, we just learned about the Fountain of Youth in class and two days later they find it? Matty says that because her dad’s name is Leon, she’s a descendant. His first name is Leon. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that’s not how that works. I don’t like them much in real life, but it’s nice to hang outside of school and not act like we’re anything more than Buena Vista Apartments bonded. I’ve got my clique and they have a gaggle of dudes who smoke them out.

I’ve got to give them props too, because they were hanging with me when fat was considered fat not thick. My weight hasn’t changed, but it’s very cool now to be curvy via social media. Plus, we play Barbies together on the D.L. and since we do it together, they can’t say shit.

“You get all your chores done Cinder-belly?” Matty asks letting herself into the apartment. Out of the two, she is the boldest and will probably fulfill my mom’s premonition of, “Being in a bad way come fourteen.” Seraphina acts like she’s grown because she’s the only sixth grader on the pill, but she doesn’t say it’s because of her back-ne. They both are mean like their moms.

I follow behind them because I really am done with my chores and have an hour before my mom comes home.

Shuffling through the parking lot we pass the pool boys who are men who always sit outside with no tee-shirts and no pool. Even though the Fall wind in Florida isn’t much to shiver about they sit there half naked and glistening, while we walk heads down, hands tucked in our hoodie pockets clutching our phones, ready. They don’t say a word, but you don’t need words when eyes are touching each part of our bodies.

I’m used to the hollers, sort of. At eight, a forty-year-old man whispered, “Nice thighs,” when my mom was in the bathroom. He said it all quick and quiet on his way by our table. He scared me and when my mom came back, I didn’t say anything, and she kept asking me what was wrong. After that, it seemed like some sort of switch went off or maybe I was just aware, because I got flagged down by all sorts of dudes who wanted not just my thighs.

I don’t even have my period yet, which scares me, a ticking tongue that’s yet to unhinge. I’ve had boobs since I was eight and an ass before that. What will I look like come my monthly?

They lead me to the little forest that conceals the parking lot to the Winn-Dixie lot. It’s small and gets smaller and smaller each year but if I squint when I’m in the middle I can pretend that I am lost and on some sort of adventure. Scattered around the pine needled flooring there’s old Coors cans, napkins, a milk crate. Mom told me to never go in here ever, never, ever, but I know these woods like the back of my hand, and I can’t imagine they found a fountain here. We head away from the path to the grocery store and toward the really, really, no-no area, which is the back part of the complex that kind of dilapidated into itself and turned into makeshift homes.

As I get older it’s easier to break the invisible boundary lines my mom has set for me.

We stop in front of one those run-off sewers that are scattered around Florida backgrounds. If you squint, it looks like a creek. Matty and Seraphina have never seen a creek, never been as far as Tampa. I wait for them to cross or go around, but they look at me with ta-da faces. Their hair in identical high messy buns, eye shadow in bright green and pink shades.

“Are you guys planning on murdering me here?”

“Don’t be dumb If I was going to kill someone I would like kill them in their home wearing shoes two sizes bigger and gloved the fuck up,” Matty says annoyed, “I’d be like smarter than that guy–what’s his name from that show?”

“O.J.?” I ask.

“Yeah, that dude.”

“I think I’d find some pigs, they eat anything,” Seraphina says without looking up from her phone.

“Well, I’ll kill you both right here, right now, if you’re messing with me. Nothing special about this water,” I tell them and give them my best withering look. The fountain of Youth sounded bougie. White marble, maybe some baby angels crafted on top of a three-tiered circular bowl situation. Not a sewer creek with a plastic bag with a little rose image over the words, Thank You Thank You Thank You.

“Binch, we aren’t messing with you. We found this place to smoke and thought it was gross as fuck, so we started throwing shit in it and well look,” Matty says, bending down and drops a dead branch that had been near her feet into the brackish water. We all stare at the branch and wait.

Nothing happens.

“It takes a second,” Seraphina reassures me. It felt earnest, so I waited.

I know I am in sixth grade, but I wish we were playing Barbies or just chilling in my room. Sometimes at night I cry, because I miss boys touching me from when I was in elementary school P.E. or crisscrossed in class. Their hands did not linger but slammed into my body and left it quick. Tag you’re it.

My phone rings making us all jump. The screen read, MOM.

“Shit, I got to go.”

“Jemma, it will be like two more seconds!” Seraphina beckons after me.

“I’m not waiting around to get grounded for this,” I yell back, fast walking away. When I turn around, they are following me back to our separate doors and the brown branch is a brown branch in the brown water.

My mom isn’t home when I get back, thankfully. Samson greets me at the door, just like my dad would do every day after school. “Tell me three good parts and one bad part of your day,” he would always prompt. My mom named our dog even though I found him. I wanted to name him Costco because we found him at the Costco parking lot, but mom thought Samson was a better name, plus he’s shaggy. I love him mostly because he reminds me a lot of my dad even though my dad died before we found Samson. But they have the same hair and Samson hates loud things and sneezes a lot. I don’t know how much longer I have with him, because like I said, I found him, and he was fully grown when I was seven.

My mom is a talented seamstress and does private bookkeeping on the side. She is obviously tired a lot so when I get home from school, I like to have everything cleaned for her, so she knows I love her. I also feel guilty because she works so hard for me and I don’t really like school, or believe in god, or hang out with girls she approves of. I don’t really want to be anything when I get older except maybe like a social media influencer, which my mom doesn’t really understand but I’ve got around five thousand followers. If I get over 100K I could take my mom around the world, to sponsored hotels and meals and drive around a nice ass car. My mom would wear nice clothes that she wouldn’t have to mend, and she could take my pictures.

If the Fountain of Youth really existed, I’d throw my mom in it. She was pretty, like model pretty, and we could be an internet duo. Samson nips at my hand that’s texting while I’m pretending to pay attention to my mom during dinner. It’s such a thing my dad would’ve done, who always poked at me when I wasn’t giving my full attention.

In the morning, there is a tree branch that is with leaves so green and lush it looked like Spring itself had knocked on the door. The trees above are all brown and dead.

“I fuckin hate this place,” mom says and kicks the branch aside, “can you believe this? We have maintenance guys and yet there’s trash everywhere. Hurry up Jemma, what you are waiting for?”

I take a picture of the branch and send it to Matty and Seraphina:

J: H a h a V funny.

M: u still don’t believe us

S: Lewk like ny trees 2 u???? That was sum green lushness

J: not fallin 4 it

M: girl bye

Seraphina just sends me the middle finger emoji four times.

Reasons my dad also reminds me of Samson: They both sleep a lot. They both aren’t helpful around the house or able to financially contribute. They love every and all types of food. Gets super hyper whenever I get excited about something. Guilts mom into walking around outside. Loves me and mom equally, more than anything.

Matty and Seraphina must not have been too mad because they are playing dolls at my place. Every day I have two hours before my mom comes home. She doesn’t care that I do kid stuff, but I hide my dolls as if I were watching porn or something. We play house with Barbies or fashion show or sometimes make them fuck. When we get bored of that we talk shit about the people in our class or just sit around and take cute pictures of each other, but never of the three of us together. Neither of them has a following but I still try and craft a cute photo. I’m glad they’re no longer trying to talk me into believing in the sewer creek but then Matty asks me if I want to go try again and see for myself.

“Come on you still have forever until your mom gets back and you’ve cleaned the house to the point of hospital grade sanitation.”

“Why are you even still trying with her we should call like Bay News 10 or something? Let everyone know it was us who discovered it.”

“You can’t tell people shit like that,” Matty says, “This is something people will like take too far, watch a movie.”

I consider this, even though I know the fountain isn’t real, Matty has a point.

“If we went what would we put in the water? I know you two want to be older so you aren’t going in yourselves.”

“I just got boobs are you kidding me,” Seraphina asks, “What about Sam.” She points to Samson who has been laying in the corner with one eye open, watching us judgingly as we made Barbie hump another Barbie. Stop being a weirdo, dad.

“Fuck you, I’m not throwing my dog in there.”

“The worst that could happen is he’d get a little dirty and you’d have to give him a bath, no biggie,” Matty says.

“Don’t you want Sam to live longer?” Seraphina asks.

“I don’t even know why we agreed to tell her about it,” Matty says and gets up, “Let’s go.”

They both head for the door and Samson gives me this face my dad gave me, not before he was going to die, or even when he was sick but before we knew about it. He gave me this look when we were at a traffic stop and a car almost hit us and I screamed, Fuck. I was six and my dad turned around not in anger or shock, but he looked like he loved me more than anything else in the world. Like twin souls who had found each other. He laughed and said my thoughts exactly. Samson could be three or could be eighteen for all I knew.

“Okay, okay,” I shout after them, “Samson, come.”

When I told my best friend from school, Alex, that I hadn’t gotten my period, she told everyone. By seventh period everyone knew. I almost slammed her into a locker I was so mad, but then she was all casual and told me that all the boys said that it was hot. My anger turned into fear. Boys thought that was hot. I felt like there was a target on my back. I started getting nudes on the daily. Girls wrote my number in the bathrooms. I was known for fucking even though I’d only been fingered once in a movie theater. And I really didn’t get anything out of the experience except for sheer panic. I kept worrying that he had masturbated earlier and had gotten semen on his finger, the one inside me, and that I would be pregnant even though I couldn’t be pregnant, but I could get my period any day so who knew when I was ovulating.

How can I stop something so inevitable and yet how can I start something that I don’t want to come so boys won’t find it hot?

I left the house so fast I didn’t change into anything less comfortable. In soffe’s, a tank top, and slides my body bounced: belly, boobs, ass, thighs.

I hear the pool boys before I see them.

“This one’s going to break hearts between her thighs.”

“You even realize that mama’?”

“Shut up, she ain’t old enough chill.”

“Why her mouth look like that then?”

My mouth was open, trembling. All my life I walked by the pool boys. It’s me, Jemma? I used to drive my pink motorized car by them. They once cheered me when I rode my bike with no trainers.

“Shut the fuck up,” Matty calls, “Is your mom still washing your shirts or something?” We left them calling us bitches and teases, but they never left their chairs. Seraphina and Matty are calling them little dicked pervs. Samson happily zig zags in front of me. My dad would do the same thing too. Like, he could never be taken anywhere, because he was a big kid who wanted to touch everything. Flea markets were annoying. Fun too. It didn’t make any sense to me when the doctors said he was sick, because he looked like dad or a movie ticket guy who is good at sports. If anyone, I thought it would be my mom who would eat it first. After the diagnosis and even a few months after my dad still zig zagged around. He looked fine, handsome and all touchy kissy with mom. I watch Samson oaf-ing around the parking lot and sometimes licking my hand like, Jemma baby where too?

When we get to the Fountain Sewer, I consider my options, my hands still trembling. The worst that could happen, like Matty had said, was that Samson would be dirty and I’d have to bathe him. What if I went in instead? Each year I’d go in it again and again hitting the reset button. I would really be a social media influencer then. I would never have to worry about my period or worry about getting it. Never in my life had I felt bad for being overweight or full figured. Never in my life have I felt so out of control or unable to grasp the power of womanhood. We all do it though, but maybe I wouldn’t have to.

“What are you weirdly staring?” Seraphina asks.

“She looks like she’s thinking about banging one of the pool boys,” Matty jokes, “Let’s move, mommy will need you home soon.”

The water is a puce brown. There are weeds entwined with Dorito bags and napkins at the edge. The only movement from the water is the little mosquitoes that skim the surface. Samson is still, my dad never liked swimming much. But I did.

I could age back and never have to deal with shit. I could be famous, The Girl Who Doesn’t Age. Does Not Die. But then my mom would have to take care of me forever.

The water gurgles, the smell of pork starch wafts upwards.

Maybe I’ll test Samson first.

I release Samson from his leash, “Sit,” I command. From my bra I take out a dog treat and wave it in front of his face. Matty and Seraphina stop texting and watch us, whispering something but I could care less. Samson is staring at my hand, his hind legs scooching slightly toward me. Dad always gave me his utmost attention. I throw the treat and Samson is in the air for half a second and smacks into the water spraying us in his plight.

“Shit!” Matty yells looking down at her dirt water flaked shirt, “I didn’t think you’d actually do it dumbass.”

Seraphina is laughing, but it is forced and cruel, “Holy fuck, I thought this would be funnier but, aw, look at poor Samson.”

Out from the water he shakes his shaggy mane, more water gets on us. Matty and Seraphina are still playing the game. They pretend to run away from us as if I’m going to chase them, run after them embarrassed and slapping their backs, calling them names but softer names than the pool boys. They can and I can hear their would be giggles in the chase, tag you’re it. In their heads, they see me shamefully presenting Samson to my mom but never explaining what had happened, because we are bonded, and we keep that shit on the D.L.

“Come on Jemma, come on girl we were just playing,” Seraphina said to me.

Samson proudly presents his treat at my feet. Matty and Seraphina bodies are somewhere in this pathetic wood that hides nothing. My phone rings, which gets me on my feet. I know they didn’t film me because we aren’t friends in the real world. They will not post my captured naivety or stupidity. I can see the Winn Dixie and my apartment door and theirs. I can hear the pool boys whooping at them as they emerge out from the trees. But the pool boys had never lost track of our bodies.

My phone rings and rings and rings.

McKenzie Zalopany is a queer writer based out of the Tampa Bay area. She is a MFA student at the University of South Florida. Her work has appeared in Cut Bank, Tulane Review, Superstition Review, and has been nominated for a 2018 Pushcart Prize. Her work revolves around representing sexuality, disability, and the LGBT+ community.