At thirteen, we learned what whiskey feels like
when it sets your throat on fire.
You stole a bottle of Jack Daniels from
your father’s liquor cabinet downstairs.
We shared swigs, passing the bottle back and
forth on your bed, the door shut and locked.
My mother didn’t like me sleeping at
your house so often. She said your parents
lacked responsibility, which meant she
knew about the liquor cabinet and
the medicine cabinet, too, which your
mother reached for in times of need,
which were often that year.
Your father always greeted me, “Hey, kid,”
when I showed up at your door at odd hours.
He told me he liked my overalls and
combat boots and the way I made you laugh.
With the medicine smell of liquor
seeped into his clothes and hair, he told me
how much he loved you–slurring, mushing words.
It was your idea to hang out at the
abandoned elementary school. When I told you
it gave me the creeps, you shoved both my shoulders
chanting, “Pussy,” with each push.
I can’t help thinking we grew up too fast.
At fourteen, I learned what smoke feels like
when it strangles bronchioles.
You taught me how to flick a lighter, showed
me when to inhale, how long to hold the
smoke inside the caves in my chest, showed me
how to exhale rings with “O” parted lips.
You dyed my hair in your sink. “Auburn Blush.”
It turned out more maraschino cherry,
but you assured it brought out my eyes.
Your hands massaged the chemicals into
my scalp. I liked how your fingers felt rough
against my skull, kneading them through
strands of hair. We stained the porcelain bright red.
I woke to pebbles against my window,
something I’d seen in films. My room
was on the ground floor, but you couldn’t keep
things simple. You climbed into bed with me,
and I scratched your hair with rough fingers while
hot tears wet my shoulder. “Why do they have
to mess you up?” I’d never seen you cry.
“Can you teach me how to kiss?”
Whispers after your parents went to
sleep. You didn’t waste time with words, you
gripped my face and pressed against me, melting
your experience into my mouth.
Our lessons stayed hidden in a cloud of liquor.
My mother smelled you on my clothes, howled
about lung cancer and liver failure
and high school dropouts turned homeless hookers.
You kept appearing at my window, an
apparition. Every time, I touched you
to make sure you were real.
I found myself missing the cigarettes.
I tried to match your swigs like we used to.
That night, I wavered in my doorway and
promptly retched my insides on the polished
floor. My mother dragged me to the toilet,
watched me heave. I remembered:
“You are not to go there again.”
I smoked cigarettes for your smell.
No substance could replace your body next
to mine. I pictured you and your dad in
separate rooms, drinking Jack Daniels and
mumbling favorite songs. I pictured whiskey
burning your organs, throat ablaze, screaming.
I pictured your body defeated.
Your ghost came to my window afterwards
and dashed out like a nymph while I slept.
Your family moved away. I wonder
where you went. Probably to a hovel
covered in leaves and the guts of the earth.
There, with no rules or parents, you can be
an ageless sprite with unblemished lungs and
romp and rove among your kind.
You’ll never have to share a bed with me.
And cigarettes: I can’t kick you or your
tar that sticks to my hair. I hate your
taste, I hate that I can’t quit. I hate that
you hover between the threads of my clothes.
You can’t breathe on my neck or scratch my hair.
You tarnish my lungs and strangle the
bronchioles. But you don’t burn like whiskey.
Anna Szilagyi is a sophomore at Binghamton University, where she studies Creative Writing and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She is native to Farmingdale, on (not in) Long Island, New York. Anna is a proud member of Binghamton’s Slam Poetry Team and loves to craft her days away in piles of yarn, thread, and origami paper. She has been published in Binghamton University’s Ellipsis Literary Magazine and Glass Mountain Literary Magazine.