Soil by Karleigh Frisbie

Editor Carrie Ivy, Editor's Choice, April 3rd, 2018

"...the way girls play war, with mysteries and clues and some magic."

Karleigh Frisbie Essay NAILED Magazine

A personal essay by Karleigh Frisbie.

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Star is her middle name. Her first name after the candlelight, the only light you can see through the trees, so small and flickering—and when you find it you know how to get home. Her first name is also after the wasp pendant, or maybe it was a scorpion, that sits in a dish on her mother’s vanity. Her name could also mean “proceed with caution.”

The forest is dense and steep over some ravine, way down, where a doe and her babies might be on stilty legs. This is where we play war, Amber Star and I. It might be the way girls play war, with mysteries and clues and some magic. We are a troop of two that sometimes divides. Our enemy we cannot see, might be hiding and watching in trees and water. Codes are sent out through the stream talking over rocks. We decipher. Shhhh, we say.  I hear them, we say. We find patterns. We look for signs: A tee shirt, ripped and moldy and bunched and orange, is a sign. So is a tin that says Copenhagen. The signs make us say This way.

A road interrupts us. I am surprised by its suddenness. The forest does not prepare me for its end. We follow the road of dark soil and soggy bark and old rain. We pass a neighbor’s house and Amber Star tells me not to look at their horse. That the people are mean, possibly kidnappers. She tells me to keep walking when the dog is barking or the eyes are looking from the kitchen window. I look at my dirty shoes, a flap of rubber siding flapping. They are the generic ones from Ross where Dad said he was a manager but wasn’t and got fired. I make a blue rectangle with a marker on the back of the heel and hope that people think they are real. Amber Star has majorette boots with fringe that used to belong to some cool cousin that lives maybe in Tahoe.

The sky above us is getting ready to return. Ocean river lake stream birdbath kiddie pool ready to return, to come home. Like when grown-up women go back to golf-course neighborhoods and remodeled bathrooms and the same Costco Chinese chicken salad kit since age thirteen and you look different, the mom says. But they are made out of the same exact stuff, just waiting to return like bad weather every Christmas or funeral.

We run now and the rain is getting our hair all drippy. Pass the water tower, the tire. Cut into the trees to take the shortcut. Gallop like horses over ropy roots. Leap over mud and bones and stones, feet landing nimbly. The slant of the roof is visible now—the orangey glow not yet. We charge ahead.

In the parentless kitchen we work the stove like adults, like college roommates. We make canned soup and packet-cocoa that turns blue when we add water. We take our hot bowls and mugs into Amber Star’s bedroom careful not to spill. We sit indian-style by the big window that is stained with rain. We hate Christy, we decide, because she is a double-crosser and she thinks she’s so hot because she ice-skates. We say double-crosser because we hear it on TV. We think it’s a good lesson to order her pizzas. We call the Dominoes in town and tell them we want fifteen pepperoni pizzas delivered to 220 Golden Ridge Avenue Apartment 18. Amber Star’s face is buried in Mr. Banana’s stomach when I talk. When I hang up she throws Mr. Banana at me. We then call seven or eight phone numbers from the phone book and ask for Jay Jay each time. We think this, too, is funny. I call Mr. Banana a pervert. Mr. Banana wants to hump all the girl-monkeys, I say. I got Mr. Banana when I was three, Amber Star says. And I say So what.

When grown-up women return home they might pretend to have better careers and better relationships than they really have. They might wear something that ordinarily gets ignored when they rifle through their closets. Something that always falls off the hanger because of its weird straps and falls on top of the pile of shoes and stays there for months. These women still like to be feral in a wet wood surrounded by junker cars and mildewy houses. These women still like to say the word pervert.

The mom calls us out to see if I’m eating with them. Amber Star says, Can she spend the night and the mom says yes even though it is a school night. The mom is lean in denim and doesn’t need a bra. She has a smeary blue tattoo on her freckly arm of something delicate that no longer looks delicate. It looks bruisy. It looks like a sailboat or maybe a bird. She is pretty, I think.

The boyfriend is a Rick or a Ray or a Rodge. He is lean in denim, too. He is always in a corner or in a shadow. He doesn’t talk. He stands at the kitchen counter with a magazine. He drinks beer that doesn’t have alcohol in it. Amber Star and I plan on sharing one later and pretending it’s real. Practice.

The candles are lit now. They reflect in the window shaped like a circle. I wish my house had a window shaped liked a circle. I also wish my house had wooden walls that smelled warm and like playground sawdust like they have. We have wallpaper and rectangle windows and no candles are allowed except on birthday cakes. We have smooth sidewalks that know my knees. We have trees that have been painted white—For the bugs, Dad said. We have pumice yards and itchy-grass yards. We are walking-distance to Slurpees and twenty-five-cent prize eggs. Where Amber Star lives there are hitchhikers.

We don’t want dinner, we want dance routine. We want majorette Dallas Cowgirl shimmy like the cool cousin in Tahoe. We go into Amber Star’s room and put a Madonna tape in the tape recorder. Her room is big enough for cartwheels and the kind of leaping spins Christy does on ice-skates. The big slanted window is black with nightness and I can’t see the forest but I know it sees us. I know the orange tee shirt is still there, getting wet for the hundredth time. That the roots we jumped over are there without feet jumping over them. That the kidnappers’ horse is probably cold.

Rick or Ray or Rodge is outside with trash. I hear him slam the car door. I see the little orange pulse of his cigarette. I know he sees us too.

When Amber Star takes off her glasses she is cross-eyed. I think it is cute, pretty even. We lie in her bed with Mr. Banana between us. If Mr. Banana was anybody, who would you want him to be, Amber Star says. She says she would want him to be David Lee Roth so he could hump her. Grody, I say. I would want Mr. Banana to be either Michael J. Fox or Prince. I tell her this. What would you do if it was Michael J. Fox or Prince, she says. Hump, I say. Because we practiced beer-drinking it is time to practice sex. We take our clothes off and Amber Star rolls on top of me. I put my hands on her butt cheeks and I pretend the butt cheeks belong to Michael J. Fox and then Christy’s teenager brother David. We move up and down for a minute and then stop. I had an orgy, Amber Star says. She explains that an orgy is when you feel real good when you are done humping. I have felt this before, when I stayed home sick from school by myself and watched TV from Mom’s bed. I was riding my hands and getting sweaty while watching Bewitched but I wasn’t thinking about Michael J. Fox or Prince or Christy’s brother but of the little starbursts on the ceiling light fixture that I was staring at, and how they seemed to twinkle whenever I heard the sound of Samantha doing magic with her nose.

Amber Star wants to know if I want to be on top. No, I say. I see the orange pulse, that little burning dot outside the slanted window. The forest is watching us, I say.

When grown-up women drive rented cars past water towers and collapsing houses, hidden by shrubbery and sick horses, they wonder about girls named after fiery, sweet-smelling resin and dead suns. They feel traces of their material in their bones. They hope that in a forest, under a certain tree, microscopic fibers of a tee shirt—ripped and moldy and bunched and orange—can be found in the old rain soil.

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Header image courtesy of Allison Debritz. To view more of her work, go here.

Karleigh Frisbie Essay NAILED MagazineKarleigh Frisbie is an MFA candidate at Portland State University, where she also teaches creative nonfiction writing and runs the program’s reading series. She is on the editorial team at Portland Review, on the facing team at Trader Joe’s, on the goth-playlist team in the car, and on other teams.


Carrie Ivy

Carrie Ivy (formerly Carrie Seitzinger) is Editor-in-Cheif and Co-Publisher of NAILED. She is the author of the book, Fall Ill Medicine, which was named a 2013 Finalist for the Oregon Book Award. Ivy is also Co-Publisher of Small Doggies Press.