Abbey Branco

is currently a junior at Bridgewater State University located in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. Along with reading and writing, she loves to spend time with her dog, Iris. This is Abbey’s first official publication as an adult.

Thesaurus Et Al.

It starts when I see the stranger. I am five and she is much older than I will ever be. Leather-clad. A single chain connects her nose to her ear. Her blue lips touch another girl’s like a man and his wife, which creates a clutch in my chest and a heat on my cheeks. My eyes water when I see them. My mother grimaces. She looks at the stranger’s boots and catches the red snake dancing around the skin of her forearm. Then, she covers my eyes. My side stings as I am opened to a world with letters strung together spelling out all of the synonyms for hate. “I’m just saying, Lily, it’s okay if they are… just keep it at home.”

It hides itself in the closed lips of the boys in my high school. Materializes and glues itself on the rooves of their mouths like bites of peanut butter sandwiches. They whisper it to my friends on mold-crusted buses after I’ve cut my hair short, “Is she know?” Their mouths run dry and palms grow clammy at the thought of two girls behind a closed door.

I can see it ruminate in phantom syllables slipping on my mother’s tongue as I turn down her wedding gown. I have just graduated, and her offer is a chance to reclaim her youth. I tell her, “It’s okay, give it to Janie, I won’t need it.” Little sister always doing right, no need to hide. I don’t ask for dad’s ties, don’t wish for his loafers, I just blame the lace and balmy wedding mornings.

It’s spat out by my first (and last) boyfriend as a punchline to an old joke. Five letters puffing off his chest with ignorant sharpness. He passes me off and says, “You shouldn’t get mad, you’re only bi,” and “My best friend is a lesbian. I can say it.” I shrug and laugh, but my heart breaks each time he speaks. I sit in the bathroom stall of his dorm and try to stifle my tears. Hot gasps and a burning chest keeps me from drowning, and God how badly I want to drown.

When I shave my head a year later, the whispers grow louder. It brands me on subways from elderly bodies, with their wrinkled lips and puckered cheeks. It’s hurdled from ravenous men in their demand to be heard, to be seen, to be bigger than the space I dare to make up.

I don’t hear it when she brushes out her hair, or when her eyes catch mine, and they’re green and warm and I’m floating. I don’t hear it when she fries eggs in the morning or wears striped pants with star patterned socks.

I just know that her fingerprints become my fingerprints. That we are one and true and as much a part of the world as we are a part of each other. With starlight in her eyes.