Heather Cutforth | Sweetness

Last summer, we ate oranges under the slide. You used a knife to peel off the skin in one long strip and then we twirled them like snakes around our necks. Hidden away, you told me secrets. We were hunched over and your hand cupped my ear – sharp citrus smell.

Now you say you don’t remember. You cross the street when you see me and tell stories to boys. I have listened to you on the other side of walls and hate the way you speak. It is high, giggling, and false.

“People change,” you say to me. “It’s called growing up.”

Walking by your home, I find an old doll house and a box of toys with a note that reads: FREE! PLEASE TAKE IT!

Your childhood things look dull and dirty. I cannot imagine them being loved, though they must have been once. When I get home, I take all my toys down from the shelves and pile them in the middle of the room. Mum sees and says, with noted relief: “It’s about time you sorted them out.” She fetches me a big bag and then tries to talk to me like we are friends. “Got your eyes on anyone? Go on, you can tell me.”

There is a list going around the school. The boys have been rating us. No one knows if it is better to be at the top or the bottom.

In Biology, someone passes me the piece of paper. You are number three on the list and I am sixteen.

I can see you watching me from across the room. We no longer sit with the same people. The girl next to you is saying something and I think it is cruel the way you smile, lips all glossy, wet like a predator’s.

It is becoming harder to remember the way your face used to be. It has become thinner and you wear black lines around your eyes that make them seem unreal.

I do not want to grow up.

I do not want to be at the top of any list.

I want to be below the slide with my friend, wearing orange skins and to never forget that once we smelled sweet together.

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