The water was thick with earth, and alive. It moved with unseen creatures. Small ones with legs that scattered, or ones with out legs that slithered. It never mattered to the girl that she wasn’t one of them, that she moved on two feet and was covered in skin, she let her body sink into the muddy pond anyway, and pretended.
She practiced moving like an insect, contorting her limbs into angles and moving fast. Her skin grew soft from the minerals and her muscles strong from all the crawling and burrowing in dirt. Soon she secretly referred to herself as Queen of the Insects.
One day Imma’s mom called her home early, the sun still high, and Imma was confused. Her mom grabbed her by the shoulders and said, “Look at you, you’re filthy! Your aunt is here to see you,” and rushed her to the tub where she was scrubbed red. Imma’s hair was combed and braided, skin oiled. A dress pulled on and ribbons tied.
Cabbage and potatoes and onions were spooned into wooden bowls and the three– Imma, mother, and aunt– ate the meal in silence. Imma wondered what her dead father’s sister was doing at the small house in the woods, eating food Imma and her mom pulled from the ground, food the woman wrinkled her nose at. The rings on her aunt’s fingers were the same hue as the mead made of dark berries they drank at every meal, but worth far more as as she pointed out. “One of my fingers is worth more than this whole forest,” said Imma’s aunt.
“Come on, Imma! Pound it!” The girls sat around a table topped with plastic bottles of cheap tequila and vodka, paper cups, and countless cigarette ends stubbed into ashtrays. Music rose and fell with their pulse and laughter. Imma took a bottle and tipped it into her open mouth, bent her neck back and spilled the rest of it down her throat. It burned her sick and sweet in the stomach, and lay a hazy blanket over eyes, face. Some of the liquor spilled down her legs and she felt someone lick it off, it tickled and she laughed. Everyone else laughed. She said she was hot, her voice echoed in her head. Hot, hot, hot. Hands touched her. Sweat, sweat, sweat. She let the hands take her shirt off, and fell back laughing.
Sun fought its way through the closed blinds and Imma groaned and rolled over into a pile of clothes. Shit, she thought. It was past noon, her aunt would be waiting for her at the salon. Grabbing a black halter top and stepping over sleeping bodies, she found a bathroom. Imma looked in the mirror, her hair a mess of black curls. Like her mom, that much she remembered. She splashed water on her face and pulled the halter over her head and forced it over her breasts. The maxi skirt she wore touched to the floor and hid her sticky legs, and that much she was grateful for. Her aunt would be mad enough.
Imma burst into the salon where her aunt sat waiting at the front desk flipping through magazines. “You’re a mess,” she said, “They’re waiting.”