Sarah Fawn Montgomery
We blast off to nowhere, launch as far as we can get from the dust and tumbleweeds, the old railroad rattling though our town in search of somewhere safer, before gravity takes control and we come crashing down.
My aunt makes her living selling escape. She paints on her smile and shows her teeth like the men can hear it over the phone. She purrs about airplanes and rocket ships, rail engines and submarines. Modeling is her trade, a world sold in miniature to anyone looking to pretend themselves plastic, wishing, like my aunt on her endless diets, they could shrink smaller.
She can sell almost anything, like a tiny motorboat even though our town is so barren the river between my house and hers is all dried up, just a crack down the center where gaunt cats chase after baby rabbits who don't know enough yet to simply give up, their innards left on our porches as if to say love requires surrender. She can sell toy army soldiers like they're collectibles even though her soldier husband was a safe choice like broccoli at dinner or coloring in the lines. He has a steady income from Vietnam and reminds her that Desert Storm is a real desert when she sleeps away long afternoons in her tiny pool, the plastic sides melting in the heat, her great breasts bobbing like buoys desperate to escape.
Once she sold a toy car to a car salesman, instructing me to watch how to convince a man you have something he wants in order to get what you need. She made her commission before denying his, and then she took me to a movie where a bride escapes just before the big day, putting on her veil before lacing up her shoes to run.
My aunt's cluttered house is full of possibilities—a sprawling Victorian dollhouse, a submarine, a NASA replica, army tanks her husband says aren't as good as the ones he rode in during the war. She spends her life following directions, gluing parts together, painting over the seams. She knows one mistake and the whole thing crumbles.
On weekends we wander into the dusty fields surrounding our town. They're full of yellow mustard dotting the land acidic, snake holes where rattlers seek the cool underground where they can rest coiled, ready to strike. The railroad slashing through town screams into the sky and smoke like sulphur streams out of houses with the shades drawn.
We make our ways to the center of the field, through shotgun shells and syringes, deep where no one can find us if we shout, where the danger shimmers like the heat. My aunt's perfume makes something beautiful here but also makes it hard to breathe. She sets up the rocket launch, pointing it straight to the sky.
Her husband is away this weekend at an army base—control burning the land, setting fire to the golden hillsides—which is why she is lonely but also why her smile is real. It's why my smile is too, because I don't like how he hugs me too long, waves his hands in my face when I don't laugh at his jokes without punchlines, miscorrects my aunt and me with a loud voice like we can't understand unless he talks real slow. He has a uniform like the model soldiers my aunt and I paint with tiny brushes, newspapers spread out to catch our mistakes, but his is dull, no stripes or patches, just dirty green like the old truck he is always fixing, splayed underneath like a dead body.
Out here my aunt uncoils. She makes her body as big as she can, strong enough to ignite. I don't like rockets like I don't like my uncle's spicy breath, the way his teenage son holds me down after he gets kicked out of the military, calls touching "tickling" and makes me feel like I want to run away.
My aunt insists I learn to explode. She instructs me to jump as high as I can, then fall hard. She shows me how far a rocket can escape if I stomp, use my whole body to send it soaring. Over and over we jump, ricocheting our weight onto the pump, the force of our determination shooting the rockets sharp as a slap. Sometimes they get so far away we can't see them at all, crane our heads at our power, breathless at the chance to witness a getaway.
All scorching summer we launch, sweat clinging to her heavy breasts and my growing ones, between our thighs where we bleed in secret. The heat is relentless, but so are we. Up and up they go, our eyes trained to the skies, the blazing hills and my uncle and the soldiers like him creeping slower, playing with fire.
Sometimes we lose a rocket in the tumbleweeds, scratch ourselves bloody trying to discover where it went, wondering how we could have lost sight.
Soon my uncle will be gone too, locked far enough away that we can finally breathe. The newspapers underneath our models and paint say that he ran over his ex-wife during a fight, crushed her body with his camouflage truck like a tank before coming home to correct and cuddle my aunt in the dark.
My aunt doesn't say much after he's locked away, simply smiles with her teeth to sell a story where she is fine, but she moves across the country, escapes before the fire is out.
After she is gone I will remember the way it felt in her house, surrounded by frozen replicas. I will remember how we jumped to nowhere, used every part of ourselves in that lonely field to launch away and come crashing down. How all around us was dead. How we had to tiptoe to escape the snakes.
"Stomp" is an essay that juxtaposes the violent power men exert over the female body with the quiet acceptance taught to young girls and enforced in women. The chaotic details of the family dynamic are presented in the seemingly-simple flash form because I wanted to showcase this dynamic, as well as the ways women share survival strategies with one another through sly subversions.