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yearning; or, the ballad of polly cooper

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verse one

Polly jumps rope, then falls onto her back in the grass, giggling. “Let’s blow bubbles in the breeze,” she tells her sister. Her sister, Betty, always follows her, like their mother always scolds her, like their father always watches her, scowling.

As the bubbles float around their heads, Polly picks up the rope to jump into them. She wants to jump or float or run or swim or fly. She wants to go where Betty cannot follow, where their mother cannot scold, where their father cannot watch.

She runs away, and they chase her. She hides, and they find her. She’ll have to wait, then. She’ll have to yearn a little longer.

verse two

On Polly’s twelfth birthday, the sugar on her birthday cake sparkles in the sunbeams, and the tiara in her blonde hair sparkles, too. She pretends she is a princess-or better yet, a queen, though the twins are the ones who hold court on the playground.

They are red-haired and marble-pale as regency aristocrats. They walk in lockstep, though they don’t share much besides looks. The boy-twin, Jason, is mostly still and quiet; he knows his voice is captivating as the Pied Piper’s melody. The girl-twin, Cheryl, shouts and bares her teeth. She stomps the grass flat with her red Mary Janes and orders Betty to pour her lemonade. Betty pours; she always follows orders. Polly and her sister don’t share much besides looks, either.

Polly watches Jason. He looks otherworldly, like he lives in a world she wants to run to but cannot reach.

Her father says, “Don’t talk to those red-haired twins.”

verse three

Her father says, “We make our own name, and we pen our own stories.” But the name is his, and the story is his. Polly does not want them.

Her mother says, “Listen to me. Learn to beg pardon, and I’ll make you a lady yet.” Polly doesn’t want to beg pardon. She doesn’t want to be a lady. She wants to be otherworldly: powerful and captivating and free.

She puts on a satin bow headband and pretends it is a tiara. She dances, jumping for Cheryl and her court. She’ll make herself powerful and captivating and free. And if her father watches, scowling, and her mother scolds? All the better.

Off the dance floor, off the football field, she is still and quiet. She watches Jason share milkshakes with other girls. He doesn’t see her. She’ll have to wait. She’ll have to yearn a little longer.

verse four

Jason watches her dancing. When her white sneakers touch the grass again, he asks, “Would you like to share a milkshake?”

For the first time, Polly wants to follow. But he links arms with her, courtly as any regency aristocrat. They walk in lockstep to the diner.

He says, in his melodic voice, “Sometimes I want to run away from my sister, my mother and my father, those maples. I run across the football field, I swim across the river, and I end up back in that forest.”

She kisses him, not gently. (Polly has never kissed a boy before.) She says, “We’ll run away to another world. We’ll rule it together.”

verse five

Jason kisses her in the diner, on the football field, in his red convertible. He kisses her on the banks of the Sweetwater River, where the moonbeams light their bodies.

He sings to her. He bespells her with his voice.

He wraps his letterman jacket around her shoulders.

He gives her a copy of his favorite book, about a girl who ran away to another world, towards men as hedonistic as any regency aristocrat. He leaves a message on the inside cover: “I love you, I love you, I love you,” and she touches the red ink, reverent.

Her lays her down on his red silk sheets, and her moans echo in the gothic mansion. He gives her orders, and, for the first time, she likes it.

verse six

The boys in letterman jackets stare at her. They laugh and sneer. They whisper that she’s easy, a freak, nine points.

She sits in her bedroom, alone among the yellow flowers. She presses her palm against her belly. She thinks, “Nine points.” She knows her mother and father hear her crying.

A pebble hits her window. She leans out and sees Jason standing there, still and quiet, still the only one that she’s ever wanted to follow.

He leads her to the banks of the Sweetwater River. The moonbeams light his face as he says, “So you were tally marks, a rebellion against my father, not a girl to love, not at first. But wasn’t I a king to win? A rebellion against your father? Didn’t you court my twin so I could court you? I wasn’t a boy for you to love, either.”

He kisses her, insists, “I love you now.” She presses his palm against her belly, and he says, “I’ll make you a Blossom. We’ll run away together.”

verse seven

Polly’s face is round, and her belly is round. Her father locks her in a stone cell. No matter; she can wait a little longer, even though she yearns for her lover.

Betty finds her and says, “Jason is dead, washed up on the banks of the Sweetwater River.” Polly jumps from the window to find that it is true. She hides in her bedroom among the yellow flowers. She runs away to the gothic mansion. She falls onto her back on his red silk sheets and cries. She asks, “Why have you left me? With your children inside me, I cannot follow.” She hears the girl-twin (the only twin) crying.

Cheryl says, “My brother is gone, so you and I must rule together.”

Her father says, “A Cooper was a Blossom, so you are a Blossom.”

Polly remembers Jason’s voice, that day in the diner. She thinks, “I may be a Blossom twice-over, but I will not end up in this forest.”

verse eight

Polly’s belly is flat, and her twins are still and quiet. They are blonde, though they are Blossoms twice-over.

Her lover’s father is a killer, who killed his son. Her father is a killer, who wanted to kill her. No matter; she is in another world. She doesn’t need to jump or float or run or swim or fly. She doesn’t need to pretend her headband is a tiara. It is. She is queen of this world of her own making. She must rule it alone.

Polly blows bubbles in the breeze. Her babies open dimpled fists toward them, yearning. Polly falls onto her back in the grass and cries.