In eighth grade, Juno takes my hand—the prosthetic one—and tells me a secret. I can help you with this, she says. I feel her weight on the plastic, but not her skin. I imagine her fingertips are cool and soft like a salamander. The bathroom we’re in seeps grey—uneven paint, metallic sinks, muted light—and tastes of perfume.
Juno steps closer and whispers, I can tell it bothers you. It doesn’t have to anymore.
A ring loops through her left nostril. Her lips are thin and pale. Dirty-blonde locks sprout and fall from her head like wilting flowers. She is beautiful. The type of beautiful that doesn’t hurt to look at.
When she was younger, Juno was adopted by a Neo-Pagan couple. My parents would be skeptical of them. Would probably talk shit about them at dinner. Sweat bites my hairline. Slithers where my prosthetic melds to my forearm. I meet Juno’s gaze and say okay. Her eyes become shiny, filled with tears, and she nods.
# # #
We walk to Juno’s house, and the hanging sun turns our cheeks ruby. She tells me I have Aquarius energy. I say I’m a Libra. We don’t speak much after that. Yard after yard embraced by white fences, cut grass, sparkling wind chimes swim past. I consider turning around when Juno strolls up the walkway of one. My house is just like it.
Juno opens the front door for me. I fold myself, holding my damaged arm with the normal one, before entering. Her living room is hazy and sanded with objects: smooth sea shells, animal figurines lacquered with gleam, jars and soup cans stuffed with lively, sprung plants. Everything gathers on polished wood shelves, congregates in corners, drips off untouched walls. Lemon-scented Lysol licks my nose.
She is waiting for me to speak. I hear it in the way she sucks in air—heavy and long, muffling the silence. A painting is pinned to the wall. It’s washed in browns, yellows, and greens. Vomit colors. In the middle is a satyr. His beard is clean and sculpted. Horns burst from his forehead. He acknowledges us with kind, round eyes and a tilted smile.
Who’s the goat guy? I ask.
He’s a god. Can’t you tell?
Juno’s balmy breath kisses my ears. She trails her hand from my shoulder to elbow and her jagged nails summon goosebumps.
He splintered from vines and bone. Defied darkness. Conquered the labyrinth, Juno says.
I step onto the carpet. It’s buoyant and speckled. The kind of carpet that would leave red imprints on your arms in you lay on it for long.
I didn’t expect you to live in a house like this.
Why wouldn’t I live in a house like this?
I turn to face her. Juno smiles, small and close-lipped. Quiet simmers between us. She nods, encouraging me to answer. My jaw is twisted shut. I want to ask her why plants can still grow without sun. Why seashells tether to dirt despite cracking waves?
Juno takes my hand—the real one. Follow me, she says, pulling us to center, a crevice between leather couches. It’s all looking at me, staring with eyes of leaves and canvas.
We sit on the floor, knees touching. Legs prickle with hair. Lie down, she says. Her voice is Playdough. Both pliant and firm. Her gaze—that of a deer to another deer—glides down my throat and sits on my lungs.
Are you sure?
I don’t know what provokes me to ask. She bobs her head, so I spread myself on the ground, stretching my legs to either side. My limbs cradle her. The prosthetic cowers in the cave of my stomach.
One moment, Juno says, standing up.
I close my eyes until the carpet shifts and skin touches mine. Crystals the size of perfectly sliced carrots fill her palms. They are jagged and sparkling. For a second, I hate her.
Why’d you bring those? I ask as she spills the crystals at my sides. They glitter so bright they could line wedding rings or my mother’s necklaces. Juno exhales, picking a apple-colored garnet and rolling it in her fingers.
Why’re you upset by it? She says, soothing. Eyes throb. Words fall into the chasm between us. Reaching to caress my plastic hand, she speaks again. Crystals heal us. Show us who we are. They grow by hardening. Like people.
I want to tell her it’s all bullshit, but that would make me feel like my parents, so I don’t. I bite my lip. Halt the tears. Juno moves my hand to the floor and I’m starfished. It reminds me of how I stood to be fitted for a bridesmaid dress. We’d like a nice pair of matching gloves for her, my mother told them.
Juno places the garnet by my arm and plucks the rest from the carpet, clustering them along my skin until I’m outlined in shiny flecks of rock.
You’re all the energy of the earth, Juno says. She runs a finger from the top of my forehead down the bridge of my nose. Do you feel it?
Maybe her lunacy blankets me. I imagine the vibrancy of the crystals dripping from their bodies. It erodes the ground, melts magma until there’s only a single pillar of earth and it belongs to me. The room is warm. Juno kneels behind my head. It makes my breath heavy, and the sharp edges of the crystals needle my flesh to remind me they are there. They are there.
Juno touches her forehead to mine, mixing her sweat with my sweat. It belongs to you, she says. There’s the sound of static—shifting carpet, raveling hair, buzzing heat—like an old TV losing grip.
The crystals crawl again. This time, they embrace every crevice of plastic—where screws meet rounded caves, the slip of space where it meets my arm, the small indents of knuckle. I let the tears go.