Kayla makes sure she says it as soon as she wakes up on the first day of every month. Before her feet hit the carpet. Before turning off the alarm. Nana always told her that starting a new month this way brings you luck. Nanas don't lie. Kayla knows this because she is lucky. She makes the honor roll. She doesn't wear braces. She does wear glasses for reading, but they call attention to her big blue eyes and thick dark lashes. She is thin and blonde with legs that have earned her a wall full of cross country ribbons even though she hates practicing.
She is not part of the popular crowd, but her friends are regarded by parents and teachers alike as Very Nice Girls.
At thirteen, this is what counts.
Her brother Danny is in high school. He says he is too old to believe in rabbit rabbit. Kayla says another one for him just in case. No one is too old for good luck.
Over breakfast, Kayla wonders if Danny is a fag. He has never gone on a date. He only brings girls to the house to work on projects. She wonders if people in high school wonder about him this way.
She crunches her cereal – Rab. Bit. Rab. Bit. – until the Os become an oaty paste in her teeth.
When she washes her bowl, the feeling creeps in. She doesn’t really want to run today. But she packs her sneakers, shorts, CD player, and an extra turkey and cheese sandwich anyway. She also packs a barely-smoked cigarette she plucked from her mother's bedside trash can. She's been trying to quit. Only allows herself a few puffs after dinner. She doesn't say anything about the cigarettes missing from the trash, but would notice if a fresh one went missing from the pack in her purse.
Danny drives now. He pats the keys in his front pocket, the soft jingling through denim an affirmation of his progress toward adulthood. When she buckles herself into the passenger seat, Kayla tells herself that she is lucky to have an older brother who can drive, but is not handsome enough for her friends to develop crushes on.
Also in Danny’s pocket, crumpled next to his keys, is a $10 bill for him and Kayla to split at the drive-thru after their extracurriculars. Today is Tuesday. Everyone will be home late. Drama club, cross country, a late shift at the hospital.
On the days Kayla doesn't have to run, she walks home through the woods behind the middle school. She stops in a quiet clearing, a spot she is certain is actually someone's back yard. Sometimes a dog lumbers through the brush, presumably a pet - his fur is clean and he wears a collar. Kayla gives him half the turkey sandwich. She eats the other half, smokes her pilfered cigarette, and plays a CD of old songs Danny found online.
“This sounds a lot like stealing,” she had said over his shoulder the day he showed her how to use Napster. How to search for songs, where the files went when they finished downloading. How to get people with massive collections to send you something directly so you knew it was a real song and not a virus.
“Yeah,” he said. “But $15 for a CD that only has a few good songs sounds a lot like stealing, too.”
Kayla likes to sit in the middle of the classroom, between the suck ups in the front and troublemakers in the back. None of her friends are in this class. When schedules were handed out at the beginning of the year, she was disappointed. She tells them at lunch and in the hall how lonely social studies is without them. But there are days when she thinks that it’s better this way. That maybe she likes social studies because she actually likes social studies. She doodles on the back of her hand with a gel pen she traded for a whole pack of mechanical pencils. It’s an expensive one, with silvery flashes over smooth blue ink. The silver will come off as soon as she washes her hands - it smears so easily on paper - but the blue will take some scrubbing.
She doesn’t get a good look at her handiwork until the end of class. It’s a bubbly, absentminded shape. When she turns her hand just so, the way she would look at a watch if she wore one, the shape becomes recognizable. A cloudlike rabbit emerging from her subconscious.
She stops in the bathroom on the way to the cafeteria. Girls from the seventh grade lunch crowd the mirror before they go to class, swiping on lipgloss, running damp fingers through their hair, hooking clean new rubber bands to their orthodontia. Kayla sits in her stall and stares at the graffiti on the door, etchings and marker scribbles declaring new crushes, who’s a slore, and which teachers suck ass.
There it is. In her underwear, on the wad of toilet paper in her hand. Not bright like what that dribbles out of a paper cut. Not dark and glimmering like a nosebleed. This is browner and thicker and a surprise.
Her mother had given her a book about bodies that she put on a shelf and never read. She knew her mother was hiding a velvet bag in her dresser, with a bracelet made of red glass beads. It had been a gift from Nana, back when she was a teenager, and someday it would be Kayla’s.
Even though she hadn’t read that book, she knew this would happen. It always does. Womanhood is a when, not an if.
So maybe Danny is right and you can outgrow rabbit rabbit.
“Nana, you lying old bitch.”
Kayla folds some toilet paper and pulls her underwear and jeans up slowly. She washes her hands, her silvery-blue tattoo now a streaky memory. She bypasses the cafeteria and heads to the nurse’s office. She feels the paper bunch up. If it falls down my pants leg, I’ll just have to kill myself. She pictures a bloody wad in the hallway just in time for the eighth graders to leave lunch.
The office is closed. It’s Tuesday. The nurse is at the elementary school all day. Kayla kicks the door and curses the school for being too cheap to hire their own nurse.
By the time the dismissal bell rings and the cross country team files into the locker rooms, Kayla’s makeshift pad has disintegrated. The one-ply paper worn to soft pills. But for a moment, it occurs to her that there could be a larger clump travelling through her body, absorbed by the gaping maw and making a home in her stomach or lungs or veins. Kayla looks around the locker room, tries to figure out which of her teammates might have a spare they can give her. She feels guilty trying to guess who has been bloody. What if I’m the first? Or the last? And now they all know.
There is a machine by the toilets that dispenses diaper-thick pads. They’re so old the adhesive barely sticks, but it’s better than toilet paper or embarrassment.
The coach blows his whistle. The girls head out of the locker room, some bouncing their steps, others stretching their legs. She slips last year’s team hoodie over her head and fills the pocket with the sandwiches, her CD player, and her cigarette. She runs the first lap around the baseball field with the team. Her legs feel rubbery and precarious at first, but soon her feet fall into a steady pace. One. Two. One. Two. Rab. Bit. Rab. Bit. Halfway through the second lap, she drifts into the trees. The dog is already waiting for her, tongue out, tail thumping. She tosses him both sandwiches. He gobbles them and sniffs at the plastic baggies in hopes of more.
She puts on her earphones. Danny gave her something new/old this morning. He said he picked the first song especially for her, especially for the first of the month.
And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall...
She looks at the back of her hand. The blue ink has mostly rubbed off, but she can still see a faint outline. She has always pressed hard with her pencils and pens, whether on paper or skin.
She will have to ask Danny to stop at the drugstore on the way home. She has been saving her babysitting money and itching to buy something special. Grown-up. Her mother wants her to put it in the bank, maybe save it for college. Instead, as a limp compromise, it is stuffed in her wallet at the bottom of her backpack. And soon, it will be in the drugstore cash register, payment for one of the thousands of pillowy packages from the Feminine Hygiene aisle.
Kayla clutches the cigarette in her sweatshirt pocket and treks back to the locker room. She forgot to pack a match this morning. Danny is waiting for her in the parking lot, his drama club script open on the passenger seat.
There is a line at the drive-thru. All she wants is fries and a milkshake. She likes how they clash in her mouth - hot and cold and salty and sweet and crispy and creamy. Danny always asks why she doesn’t put ketchup on her fries like a normal person. He doesn’t ask her today, but she hears it in her head. And I’m not a normal person anymore, am I? she thinks as she plunges the first fry into her vanilla shake. She leans against the window and watches herself chew in the passenger side mirror. I don’t look any different, but I am. I’m a freakshow. Just like every other girl.
About the author:
Gillian Ramos lives and writes in Rhode Island. She earned her MFA from Sarah Lawrence College. Her work has previously appeared in Wyvern Lit, Specter Magazine, and The Lit Pub.