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The Queen Leech

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She swirled in the water; wisps of white linen fingering out from the hem like a thin trail of spider’s silk or caterpillar milk, curling, coiling, and the crooking up in a delicate gesture- processed sugar crisp against the red-murk blackwater pane of earth and water perfectly mixed. The hair on her arms lay flat and gold against her skin. There is nothing pale about her, though the shadows beneath the surface soak into her skin, cool and lavender. Scropping along in the mud below were a pair of brown feet, an inch deep in river garbage or as Mamma politely urged her to say, “Silt.” They made an unheard groggle as she readjusted her weight; feet unseen far down below with the catfish and sharp, dangerous black mussels that cut and dug and require Neosporin. Finding one with a toe, she slid her bare heel safely across the part of the shell that is smooth like a rounded back.
Then the linen across her chest and belly turned transparent as she slipped below the surface at a perfected thirty-degree angle with a slight, parabolic arc in her spine so that she could go low without dirtying her dress on the lake bottom. She pushed her bright head back through the wavering, Technicolor surface membrane without sputtering (or otherwise making a fuss). In slow motion, her long arms seized the thin rough fabric of her dress and drew it away from her very feminine and lovely knees. Hannah loved her knees. They seemed to her the only delicate or graceful thing about herself.
She noticed that, under the water, her hands looked papery and white like her feet looked white in the violet shadows except where the mud was ground into the heel.
“If there is any part of MeeMaw G.G. running through these veins, it must be runnin’ through these particular veins here, above the meta-carpals,” she said. She loved naming her bones.
“what the hell are you talking about, hannah?” (Va’l doesn’t capitalize.)
“My hands. They look like Grandma G.’s from right before she died- creepy and white and like you could take off about an inch of skin if you got pruny enough.” It was true. Under the soft purple shadows, her hands looked a thousand years old; the light blue veins puckering up the flesh around them like long smooth mountain chains comprised completely of ice. The water skeeters and debris floating up from her sludgy feet made brown spots on her skin like melanin, and her fingernails looked thin and sharp.
Nanna G.’s real name had been Gretl, which she had hated. Hannah hated it, too, though she was unusually (she thought for herself) fond of her own name, since it was a palindrome. “Hannah, hannaH. Hannah, hannaH,” she thought to herself. The gentle current wafted Va’l into her arms like the most delicate scent of rain on the wind of a dry, hot Rincon afternoon; anticipation.
Va’l’s parents were goddamn hippies. They had allowed her to choose her own name when she came of age. Until she turned thirteen, they called her pet names she secretly feared she would never outgrow. When it came time, she wisely picked out the moniker Va’mafaal Mutuumbu Windstar. It was chosen at the height of her obsession with Afrikaan mysticism when she was still wearing traditional African dress to school. Va’l was white, but emigrated from South Africa when she was three months old, so she told everybody that she was an African-American. She got beat to shit twice a week for years until her brothers got old enough to go to school. She was proud of her heritage- descended from the cruelest bloodlines, the deepest pockets and the firmest hearts of the thieves and murderers that originally colonized the most victimized and raped continent in the world. (That is why they hated her.)
Her dark hair curled on her shoulder like a fat leech- the queen leech, glistening and plump and squirming. She was like that.
“hold me like a princess,” she smiled. Hannah scooped her up and walked out deeper into the water with her delicate and snuggling cargo, feeling with her toes and carefully setting down her weight from toe to heel with a relaxed foot. The wet cloth between them grew hot with the air and their body heat, like wet suits. Hannah gently kissed the glassy curl on her shoulder, to which Va’l pouted and replied, “don’t tease,” flashing the most perfect of razor-toothed grins to her friend, and then rolled out of her arms into the water.
While Va’l kicked toward the diving platform floating in the center of the lake, Hannah’s hazel/gold eyes watched her quietly. She craved her friend always, and found that no demand was too great when confronted by her wide brown eyes and that great head of hair as dark as the back of a water moccasin. She imagined Va’l like the wise Medusa- covered in snakes and leeches and silt and slugs and all the glistening wonders of the South. And wanted her. Badly. She watched those lean legs scissor-kicking across the distance, hike up onto the wooden platform, scrape against the wood, get held by a small hand tight across the scratch, and then swing up underneath a pair of faded tan and orange board shorts with the word “hypercolor” peeling with age on the back left pocket. Va’l waved her over, and Hannah, finding her irresistible, obediently dove towards her.

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