devastation baby


horse girl

by Olivia Piper

When it got warm enough outside to stand it
my parents decided to have a yard sale,
a chance to fill the driveway with silk blouses and old books,
the pierced leather chair from the office, the hair scarf that wasn't my Mother's.

Being seven, almost an adult, I wanted to participate.
I took stock of my possessions -
three bare-breasted Barbies who wore only pepto bismol high heels
on their permanent tip toes,
a plastic pearl necklace,
the ring from the coin machine at Walmart that stained my finger emerald,
and the thirteen Snapple caps that still smelled like lemon and peaches,
still tasted sweet when you licked their insides.

I could part with one Barbie, the necklace and 12 of the bottle caps -
I'd keep the one that promised Chincoteague ponies had been swimming the channel since 1925,
to then be auctioned off to anyone with the money.
If I made the case to my parents they would have to let me save just one pony -
without me, I cried, they'll be turned into pet food -
(an unfortunate fact I had learned from a heartless neighbor boy)
I would point at our dog accusingly, and he would bow his head appropriately.
The sacrifices I made for the yard sale would be a good start
towards pony-rescuing-money.

That Sunday, I laid a butter yellow kitchen towel over our beach cooler
and spread my treasures across it.
The Snapple caps glinted in the afternoon sun, the naked Barbie smiling, smooth and perfect -
I tried to find her dress the night before but hadn't been able to,
the girl who bought her would have to promise that she had a box full of tiny coats and matching
purses, that she would find her the perfect outfit as soon as she ran home.

The neighbors walked past me and waved,
they laughed and nudged their husbands in the ribs with practiced elbows for a quarter or two
which they presented to me with an open palm before moving along empty-handed.
I looked at the painstakingly crafted sign advertising my pony-rescuing-plans -
don't they understand, I thought,
I'm trying to save a life.

After hours in the heat had baked my damp hair into its braids a man moved towards me,
tall enough to block the sun, too old to be childless in our neighborhood.
He smiled down at me, his teeth square and overcrowded, his lips wet.

What's this?

He grabbed my Barbie,
ran his knife-thin fingers over her Hershey kiss knees,
through her yellow hair.

I hated him in a second with more anger than I had ever felt in my body before.
The feeling scared me with how quickly it took over,
a damp heat in my stomach that wouldn't leave.

He pulled a five dollar bill from his jeans pocket, wrapping it around the doll's leg like a fist
before tossing her back on the cooler,
face down.

That's for you, because you're so cute.

As soon as he left, I threw everything into the skirt of my dress, picked up the edges and ran
inside, my bare feet pounding up the stairs to my room.

I put the necklace on my dresser,
the Snapple caps in my pencil case,
The ring on my finger,
and the Barbie back with her friends in the chest at the foot of my bed.
As I slammed the lid shut an apology spilled uncontrolled from my mouth,
like a cough full of salt water.

I would use the $5.75 I had made to buy her a new dress,
something soft and pink that swept her ankles.

The pony would just have to die.

Olivia Piper is a writer, an educator and a native New Englander. She is currently an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Hollins University, where she is also an Assistant Poetry Editor for The Hollins Critic. Her poetry has been previously published in HerHeart Poetry, Funicular Magazine, The Connecticut River Review, and Black Fox Literary Magazine.