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How We Forget

by Amanda Swenson

How We Forget

Mary Anne pulled the bologna and off brand butter from the fridge, wielding the squeaking refrigerator door with the heel of her foot. She licked her finger, spread the butter over the dollar store bread, tore through it mindlessly before she tossed the sandwich onto the pan. She didn’t really know how to cook apart from bologna sandwiches, spaghetti, and canned soup. She would make a terrible wife someday, she humorously thought to herself, flipped the sandwich with a fork and her fingers.

She churned up cat litter debris in the ragged seventies style carpet, catching some of the litter between her toes before she sat down on the sofa. She didn’t turn on the television set that day, but instead browsed through her mom’s magazines, which were dated from years prior and dilapidated with watermarks and other unknown stains. The women looked elegant, stylized, desired in ways she couldn’t comprehend. She tore through the sandwich, transfixed by the images presented before her. She had looked through these magazines dozens of times, always unable to fathom their faces, apprehend their gazes. Mary Anne stopped when she saw one woman, her eyes looking directly at Mary Anne. Maybe she looked content, Mary Anne wasn’t really sure, but she put her sandwich down directly on the filthy sofa and tore out the page. She stuffed it into her jeans pocket.

It was snowing outside again; Mary Anne walked down the street, her hands in her coat pockets. She forgot her gloves and her hands were stiff, red, and cold. She didn’t have to work that afternoon, so she was traipsing through the neighborhood, looking for something to do.

“What are you up to, Mary Anne?” called one onlooker, but Mary Anne told him to fuck off until he asked her if she wanted to smoke.

They always smoked at the top of the slide near the jungle gym. It was cold up there, their clothed asses touching metal, which seeped through underwear and jeans and any other layers of fabric. Mary Anne’s hands shivered as she touched cigarette to mouth, looking at the graffiti adorning the slide. Love letters to the past.

` “Are you up here?” The boy asked, touching the incantation of names, decorations of devotions. “No.” “Why not?”

Mary Anne shrugged. She might have been, years ago, but she forgot now. Too many boys, too many memories. She asked him if he was and he said he wasn’t, but he wanted to be. He implied he wanted to fall in love. He put his arm around her shoulder, and she brushed it away. She just wanted to smoke her cigarette and to pass the time.

He touched her thigh, so thin that when she looked in the mirror she saw a scrawny animal. Not a girl. Not a woman. Some type of animal creature. One unrecognizable to her visage.

She moved away from him, grasped the bar, and pushed herself down the slide.

He followed.

He grabbed her arm. Then reached for her hand.

In that frigid moment, Mary Anne wanted to run away, to run away all the way to Canada or Montana and to change her name, to shave her head, to forget where she was from and where she was going, but when he pushed his grimy, dry lips against hers and grabbed her hair she didn’t know what else to do. Or how to say no to a boy that was feral.

She thought a lot about Montana then, a lot about mountains. She thought about seclusion.

She made a sound, like a squeak.

Maybe he thought she was moaning, so he pressed his knobby boy body against hers and licked her cheek like she would like it.

Hands were pressing in on Mary Anne’s heart, and she wanted to cry like she had wanted to cry out for ages, but she felt the bologna sandwich in her gut and she felt her stomach turn..

“My parents aren’t home,” this feral boy said.

She stared off into the distance, smelling the sweet, tangy North Dakota wintry air that crackled the lungs. Her heart, her lungs had been cracking for awhile, maybe, she wondered, for a long time.

“I…” she began, an invocation of what she wanted to be, but what she also couldn’t say.

“We have ice cream.”

“What kind of ice cream?” she asked eventually.

“Chocolate, I think, maybe another kind.”

She liked chocolate, but her favorite was mint chocolate, too exotic for this tiny town. She wanted to like so many different types of things that were beyond her grasp and knowledge. Things she didn’t know how to articulate.

This boy was like so many other boys attempting to fumble and grapple toward his own knowledge and understanding of the world, but like so many boys she had already encountered in her youth, he could gesticulate toward her own gestures. A nod, a no. One day she would realize how she had come to bear the unbearable, but for now as he reached toward her and took her hand, she didn’t give another signal, another arcane no. This was her own zeitgeist, she realized, a heralding of the end.

They had already put out their cigarettes, and she walked slowly down 5th avenue, wayward and fearful of peering eyes. She knew who she was and how people viewed her.


Trailer trash, to be more precise.

In the cold, forlorn winters in Cherry, North Dakota, whispers and gossip ghosted down those white, salted streets until nary a person didn’t know a name, formed an opinion, and leaned over and said with bated breath, “Did you know…?” Over quiet dinners, in gentle homes, across roads with sweet, serene smiles those harsh words drove stakes and deaths into realities. People like Mary Anne felt interminably fucked from the beginning.

“Do you wanna watch some TV?,” the boy asked as they awkwardly stood in the entryway to his house.

It was a beautiful home with white carpets, a piano, and a fridge full of quality food that rich people eat and which Mary Anne had never seen before. Food like avocados and mangoes and quinoa. Words like “organic.” Words she was afraid to mispronounce. She knew what this boy wanted. He wanted to fuck her. He wanted her pussy and her tits. Inside her stomach, the bologna was churning, twisting inside her, and she feared she would have to sneak away to the bathroom to puke its remnants and leave behind a betrayal of her shame. Instead, she grabbed his wrist, pulled him to her, and forcefully ran her fingers through his hair. He swallowed hard, discomfort washing over his face, and then he grinned.

Whenever she fumbled with a boy, allowed him to touch her or kiss her, Mary Anne imagined a different life for herself where her mother died, and she would live with a different mother. This mother, she liked to imagine, was rich, beautiful, and cared for her. This mother loved her wholeheartedly and didn’t make abject promises only to smirk as if to say, “Fooled you.” As the boy tried to grasp her breasts and attempted to fuck her, she imagined her life and her life looked so different and not so bleak.

In her fantasies, her life was colorful and beautiful and not tainted by the gray landscape she just couldn’t run away from.

Mary Anne turned her face from the boy and closed her eyes and dreamed. How hard it was becoming each time with each different boy, the world pressing harder upon her.

The boy finished, rolled over, and sighed. She looked over at him and he was smiling from ear to ear, apparently pleased with himself.

“Oh,” he said, looking at her, “Um, I think my parents are gonna be home soon.”

It was a signal and she knew what to do. She grabbed her underwear and jeans, extracting her clothing that was intimately intertwined, and dressed quickly in the darkness as the boy went into the bathroom. Maybe, she thought, he didn’t want to look at her. She had read in one of her mom’s magazines that boys don’t like cuddling after sex. Either way, she ruminated, she had given him what he wanted.

Outside the house, the sky was dismally ashen gray, the forecast always calling for snow.



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