Today, we’re pleased to present an excerpt from Karin Cecile Davidson’s new book The Geography of First Kisses, winner of the 2022 Acacia Fiction Prize. Davidson’s fiction abounds with a sense of place, whether it’s Oklahoma or New Orleans, and the stories contained within this book trace haunted lives grappling with alienation. Reif Larsen called this book “a dreamy map of love, longing, and lust.” For a glimpse inside, read on…
From “WE ARE HERE BECAUSE OF A HORSE”
The last time Meli locked herself in, she was twelve. She hid from her dad in the closet. She hid from her uncle in her father’s room. She hid from her brothers in the den with the shotguns. She considered her sisters lucky they’d never been born. And then she found the drawer where all the keys were hidden and locked herself into her own bedroom. Before anyone could find her, she broke the nailed-shut window, and clambered and scraped her way out.
Down the road, several pastures away, we were the neighbors who kept to ourselves. Thirteen and unsure, I didn’t know there was any other way to be. Until that night, when Meli climbed through my window. She made it seem her privilege, as if hiding in the room of a boy she hardly knew was normal. Every detail that evening stood out to me, even long after. Once Meli arrived, everything changed. My days of being a loner ended. Long afternoons reading Steinbeck and Salinger, my parents’ big book of American poets, were soon traded for wondering what girls were all about. Especially this girl.
The late September sky was a flat blue. The dim autumn evenings came earlier now, with a coolness that lingered. After chores, I’d kick off my boots and walk through the grass, already damp, and search for the rising moon or the first planet beyond a five-fingered reach. That night my father had taken over my chores and told me to study. Instead, I stared over my desk out the window.
The wind had died down and you could hear the cows lowing. Wildflowers trimmed the fields and the roadside with yellow and black and cream. Not swaying and tipping as they had that afternoon, but stock still: outlines of wild carrot and coneflowers and thistle. Eventually, they became silhouettes, and I could hear my mother whistling a Dale Evans tune and washing dishes. The sound of the spigot turning on and off.
And then there was a glimpse of dark hair, dungarees, a slip of something at the roadside. She moved inside the shadows and brushed through the ditch weed, her place marked only by the way the tall grasses waved and quieted. I’d seen her before, but not off on her own.
Most times it was from the bus in the afternoon, when we’d round the bend and the boys around me called mean things out the windows, me quiet and staring through the dusty glass. Meli sat on her father’s porch, its railings crowded on one side by skinny trees that gave hardly any shade, the naked yard home to three dogs, tied up and seldom barking. She always looked dirty, like she didn’t have a mother to comb her hair. I wondered why she wasn’t in school with me.
Now she squatted in my yard. The tangled green grass buried her sneakers, and she scratched the inside of an ankle. “Because we’ll meet again,” my mother sang from the kitchen, and the day became night, a bruised sky turning the roadside flowers black and the girl blue.
“Indigo,” she said later. “Not blue, an old indigo.”
“Faded,” I had to agree.
But that was after she came up to the window, after her face slammed into the sill as she pushed herself into the room. My pencils and pens spilled from their mason jar and fell to the floor. She climbed over my desk and stepped on my open math book, kicking a ruler and sending a compass spinning. I sat sideways in my chair, not moving, and stared at her eyes, only inches from my own. They were dark brown, with streaks of violet at the edges. A color I’d only seen in twilight. Never in anyone’s gaze.
She was slight and thin and breathed short stiff breaths. I thought of horses, the way they exhale in heavy sighs after a good lope. Her hair was long and knotted with straw and twigs, but what I noticed most of all were the cuts and bruises. Across one cheek, a jagged, mean-looking mark where the blood had already begun to cake, and more nicks and scratches on her knuckles and arms. She looked like a stray who’d only recently become stray, soiled and wild and lost, but not smelly.
“I’m Sam,” I said.
“I know,” she answered. “I hear your mother call you sometimes.”
“This is my room,” I said. I tried to look the boss, the owner of my room.
“It’s nice,” she said.
“Why are you in it?”
“I was looking for my horse.” She looked around.
“You don’t have a horse, and even if you did, he’s not in here.”
“I’m Meli.” She looked down at her feet now. Her sneakers were grey and had no laces.
“All right,” I said. “But my mom will probably just take you back home.”
“I don’t live there anymore.” Her voice seemed to crack. “I live here now. With you.”
“Some times are happy, and some are just blue,” my mother sang, starting the song again. Her voice floated into the darkening night.
“My dad will definitely take you back home.”
But Meli stayed.
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