chapter six: sing praises
another excerpt from GIRLY, a novel by Elizabeth Merrick

With each episode, what grew in Ruth was Eve’s naughty grasp, the black juice just beneath the clean line of hemmed hedges, licking out from the dirt, catching your eye as you turn away, cringing your throat when you say the wrong thing, moving from state to state, penniless, dark, lips opening over a mouth, no consequences until the guillotine drops, masculine and feminine, irresistible—messy sweaty bloody and so necessary to the hard edges and the numbers and the banks and the marriages and the highways and the clocks but in certain ratios and in certain situations only allowed to go unpunished—in others, or with the least bit of bad luck, always punished, scorned with the hate that flows inside them all and keeps their above-ground edges so sharp, the pavement so smooth, the numbers so effusive and reliable.

So not Eve alone, but the speed of response in the very specific world Ruth landed in, I think, pushed Ruth’s chemistry from wild to dark, to knotted, to fog, curdled that rebellion to madness. Ruth knew that she had to steal her motion, her intensity, her voice before they could convince (or medicate) these things out of her. Cold winds rose at Ruth’s edges—quite like her sister’s Devil but without form, just a feeling.

But Ruth—Ruth, always, could grab the joy of her song as well, on its tail end—joy that left as quickly as it came, the lit, pale greenness of it pulsing warm, then shrinking against the sun, before the gray winds caught her.

* * *

To get past the vines Racinda had to dive low, smearing dirt across her knees and palms. Though she’d heard the splash she needed to see before she ran for help. Bloodied, but breathing, and Ruth’s head was not under or near the water.

Racinda tore her calves on prickers the way back through and ran to the house to find the speaking tongues still filling it with their buzz like an odor. Her mother’s eyes were closed in the living room, palms open near her face like she was waiting for God to beam something into them. Allelujah, Racinda could discern, allelujah, something rough coming through Amandine, something wet but without weeping, something dark and guilty. Racinda dialed the zero on the telephone in the kitchen and asked the operator to call an ambulance.


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