The Girl Who Drank Lye

Fans of Whores on the Hill might like “The Girl Who Drank Lye.”  It appeared in Mid-American Review.  Check out this excerpt.

The Girl Who Drank Lye
Mid-American Review

Mary’s left arm was shorter than the right one, Stephanie had asthma, Alyssa’s mom was straight from Korea, I wore corrective glasses, but Shawna was the girl everybody remembered.  Shawna was the girl who drank lye.  

Shawna’s picture was in the McGraw-Hill Health Science book, page sixty-five, down on the right.  Shawna’s dirty blond hair was feathered back and sprayed in wings flanking her face.  She smiled gap-toothed for the camera.  The picture didn’t make much of the black circle scar around her neck.  It was just there, as it was in real life, like a necklace of thin, black twine around Shawna’s sloping throat.  Being the girl who drank lye was like having “BADASS” tattooed across your front gums.  Everybody knew.    

“Do you think I give a shit?”  Shawna asked.  “I drank lye.  Now pony up and hand over your lunch money, bitches.”  

We handed over our lunch money, thinking ugly thoughts about Shawna.  

“I bet her mom’s a total whore, leaving that lye around.”  

“What do you use lye for anyway?  This is 1982.”  

“Shawna’s remedial.  A certified slow learner.”  

“Yeah, but guys think she’s hot.”  


All of us, we were thirteen, eighth grade at St. Catherine’s, but it was like Shawna skipped ahead, sailed right past us into sixteen.  Boys from the high school swung by after class, picking up Shawna before peeling out of town.  Shawna went to parties at the quarry where the high school kids drank beer from cans and shared marijuana cigarettes.  She hung out at the George Webb late nights, crammed into a pink leather booth with her high school friends, laughing so hard her feathered-back hair flapped like wings over her ears.  On Friday nights, at Skateland, Shawna slipped into a pair of white roller skates with green pom’s-pom’s on them and went flying across the waxy, blond floor.     

“Bet those skates were a gift from her mom.  Trying to make up for almost killing her,” Mary said, hiding her short arm by sticking the tips of her fingers in her left pocket.  We all laughed.  But we were constantly watching Shawna, picking up signs from the corner of our eyes.  Even I did in my dimly lit, corrective glasses.  We watched how Shawna wore her scar like a necklace, a piece of twine around her neck, how she chewed watermelon-scented bubble gum all the time, how she painted her nails glitter pink, how she wore tiny baby tees with iron-on decals printed across them like rainbows and sparkly sneakers, how she leaned back against the wall behind the Skateland Snack Bar, making out with some guy, slipping one hand neatly in his back pocket, the other fast down the front of his jeans.  

“Bitchin,” Mary said and we all rolled our eyes, groaning.  

“Who are you, some Valley Girl?  This is Wisconsin,” Stephanie said.  She stuck her inhaler in her mouth and took three quick hits.  It made a metallic sound like tires hissing.  “Hurry up,” she said, tucking her inhaler into a pocket attached to her belt.  “My mom’s waiting.”  

At school, during recess, we stood around the playground, making eyes at Corey Torch who ran across the field for flag football.  We grew up on the same stretch of asphalt since we were six years old, playing four-square, Chinese jump rope, hanging upside down from the monkey bars.  But now, we were in eighth grade.  We ruled the school.  Our job was to stand around and try to look cool, despite our impediments.  

But mostly, we found ourselves warily regarding Marquette High School across the valley.  Past the swings and the monkey bars, past the cinder track and the football field, Marquette rose high on the hill behind our school, all blond bricks and tinted Energysafe windows.  It was huge, a behemoth, rising like a beast on the hill before us.    

The high school kids got out of school early.  They hopped into low-riding cars, revved their engines, and blew past us in a haze of cigarette smoke and Metallica.  In less than six months, that’s where we’d be.  The omega to the alpha, in the claws of the beast.

To read the rest of “The Girl Who Drank Lye,” order the issue from Mid-American Review.

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