Creative Nonfiction Prize
Hilary Dean, "Holy Bald-Headed"
Presenting the winner of the 2011-2012 Creative Nonfiction Prize.
Please note that this story contains language and scenes that some readers may find disturbing.
by Hilary Dean
I am sitting in the back seat of my grandparents’ car, holding a glass jar very tightly. Inside the jar is a humongous cicada; its beetle body is so pretty and green like melted emeralds. I hold onto it super carefully so my cicada won’t get bashed all around, even though it’s been dead forever and the science fair is over. I won second prize in the primary division and they gave me a blue ribbon and announced my name on the PA and now everyone thinks I am a genius. You can ask me anything about the life cycle of the cicada and I will tell you. I am an expert on it.
The back seat of this car is giant like a church bench and I’m sitting in the middle so I can hear my grandma talking and when she stops I will ask her for another candy mint. She has the exact kind like they give you at restaurants and there’s like a million of them in her purse so I don’t get why she’s so stingy about them.
“You shouldn’t eat too many candies, Hilary. You’ll start to put on weight.”
“She’s tiny like a bird, Peg,” says my pop. “Put on weight, holy bald-headed.”
Pop doesn’t talk very much when he drives; he is a serious driver. He is wearing his driving hat. But he listens to my grandma and he says mm-hm in the pauses and he reaches his arm backward and hands me the whole tin of mints.
My grandma turns her head to look at me sideways and she smiles at me. Her lipstick is called coral and the soap in her bathroom smells so good but you’re not allowed to use it. It’s just for smelling.
“We have a present for you!” she says, and I am hopeful but suspicious. Grandma’s presents are sometimes weird, like one time at Christmas she gave me and my cousins these boxes wrapped up really pretty with giant silver bows and then inside they were empty and we were like, Why did you give us boxes of nothing, Grandma? And she said, This year, I’m giving you my love because I love you but you can’t put love in a box! And we all had to say thank you and kiss her, even though she ruined Christmas.
My grandma hands me a little box and inside it is a beautiful, beautiful ring. The most perfect ring I have ever seen. It’s a segment of a butterfly wing, blue and brown, under a clear glass dome that magnifies it. It’s too big for me but I will wrap wads of cloth Band-Aids around the bottom until it fits. I will forget to take it off at Michelle’s pool party and water will leak inside and turn the whole thing black and I will be devastated.
“Thank you, Grandma! Thank you, Pop!”
“Mm-hm. Mm-hm. You’re welcome.”
“You’re a good girl,” my grandma says. “You’re a good girl and you’re smart and you’re pretty and your pop and I are very proud of you.”
I am sixteen when my grandma dies and Pop becomes very sad and aimless without her. He spends his time visiting my dad at work and practising his putting but mostly he drives around and my parents worry about this.
“He’s eighty-two,” says my mom. “His reflexes aren’t what they used to be.”
“He did pass the eye test,” says my dad, “but sometimes he gets the trembles in his hands. I’d just feel better about the whole thing if he wasn’t driving anymore.”
“But Dad.” My whining is pitch-perfect, urgent and girlish. “You can’t take away his car, Dad.
He loves his car. How’s he supposed to get anywhere?”
“We’ll give him rides. Your mom and I. You and your brothers.”
“But Dad, senior citizens have way less accidents than teenagers do. It’s a fully documented statistic. Don’t take away his car, Dad, please. He’s totally healthy and alert and everything.”
Pop is watching figure skating in the TV room. He looks up at me and his eyes are so pale they’re barely blue.
“Well then. Are they going to take it away?”
“Did you tell them about the statistics?”
“Well then. Should we go for a drive and look at the leaves?”
I take the passenger seat and we drive around the neighbourhood. The car is an `86 Grand Marquis, silver and fancy. My family calls it the Boat because really, it’s gigantic; it’s like driving around in a senior citizen’s apartment. The upholstery is carefully DustBustered and the interior smells of leather and mint. The radio is turned to the classical music station. We turn the corner along a quiet side street and then suddenly we are up over the curb, onto the sidewalk and straight into a wall of bushes.
There is no one around, no one to see what has happened except us and we both sit there and we are both crying, lodged in the bushes.
I take the driver’s seat and then we are unstuck and heading home.
“Don’t tell anyone, Hilary. Don’t tell them, please.”
“I won’t, Pop.”
At home, Pop makes tea, then makes an announcement.
“Well then. I’ve decided that I’m not going to drive anymore. I’ve decided that perhaps it isn’t a good idea, given my age. I’ve decided to give the car to Hilary because she’s a good girl and she’ll take good care of it.”
I am a good girl and I do take good care of it. I wash the car all the time and vacuum the floor mats and I don’t let anyone smoke inside it. I add a hula girl to the dashboard and put mix tapes in the glove compartment and talk sweetly to the engine to make it start in the winter. My friends make fun of the Boat but they still make me drive them everywhere. I love driving so I don’t mind. I don’t even mind being DD every weekend ’cause that one time I left the Boat at home and rode my bike, Eddie spent the night passed out in the ravine by Anita’s house and I felt so bad.
One night there’s a party at Mike’s house, but by the time I get there after work, mostly everyone’s gone.
“Can you give me a ride?” says this guy. “I live pretty close. I’m a friend of Rob’s. My name’s Eric.”
“Okay, sure. But you can’t smoke in my car.”
“No, I don’t smoke. I have some good crystal though. You want some?”
“I’m all right.” I am a serious driver.
We’re on some dark side street when he tells me to pull over.
“Pull the fuck over.” He bashes my head against the window. He reaches over and locks the door. He yanks me across the giant boat seat and puts his hands around my throat and squeezes my windpipe like it isn’t even cartilage, like it’s nothing. My pulse is throbbing right under his hands and his eyes are wide open and his pupils are tiny black points in front of me and I claw for them and my forehead is slammed into the dashboard and the pain is sharp and it’s everywhere. He takes his hands from my throat and wrenches fistfuls of my hair.
“I’m stronger than you, you fucking cunt.”
“So you’re going to be a good girl, and you’re going to suck me off and if you do anything that makes me mad I’m going to kill you. I’m going to smash your fucking face in if you do anything wrong.”
The hula girl smiles up at me from the floor. When it’s finished, he bolts from the car so fast that I can’t even run him over. I can’t even see where he’s gone, it’s so dark.
In the driveway at home, I clean blood and white-yellow semen from the seat and then I barf so I have to clean that up too. I use all the cleaning supplies I can find in the garage but nothing will work. You can’t tell what the stains are but you can tell they are gross and wrong.
I go quietly into the house. I wash my face and I brush my teeth over and over. I stand in front of the bathroom mirror with a pair of scissors and I hack off all my hair, leaving only a few random, sprouting tufts. I go to sleep and when I wake up the next morning I am the ugliest girl I have ever seen.