Published in Off the Rocks Anthology Vol. 17 (2013).
(I.S.O. “Girl” by Jamaica Kincaid)
Remember, son, to always look your best and never forget to comb your hair—part it on this side to look quiet, over here to appear showy. This is how to wash dishes, gently, and always with an ear on the other room. If one of the boys screams insults at school, be sure to walk away—you’re too small to fight and probably always will be. Wash clothes in the sink if the machine is broken, only use a few drops of detergent and give them time to soak. Ask your father how to knot a tie, more than one way, and teach your friends who can’t. Learn to keep your hands by your sides and don’t wear the same jewelry as girls, even if it’s a gift—boys don’t wear pink and purple beads. Burn a loose thread on a colored shirt to keep it from pulling further; pull a string on white cloth so it won’t leave a scorch. Hang your nice slacks like this so Grandma won’t think you’re a heathen. Try to squirm less in church, but don’t fall asleep. Tuck in your shirt and speak clearly, no one wants to hear mumbling. Be aware if your mouth is hanging open while you listen, close it as soon as you realize. Try not to laugh while chewing, it makes other people look away. Never smoke cigarettes, it killed Granjack and it can kill you too. Brush your teeth every night, slow even circles, so they will shine white and wet like snow on the fields. This is how to spread hay—over the fence, several piles evenly spaced. Don’t throw gravel at the dogs and never near the horses; if they kick you, it’s your fault. Never toss walnuts by the house, bust a window and you’ll pay for it. Wipe your feet before walking inside, especially if you live there. If someone is your friend, hug them and look into their eyes; if it’s a person you don’t like, smile and shake their hand firmly. Always be a good host, it will be useful with the right guests. Hold the door open for people, especially if they’re only a few steps behind. Look at pictures without touching them. Knock before entering a room. Learn not to be upset when your father comes home later than usual or not at all. Try to not ever cry—it’s not becoming on a boy. Learn to listen more than you talk and never swear in front of ladies, it attracts the wrong kind. Before leaving for a date, line your buttons up correctly, sloppy boys never date pretty girls. But what if the date isn’t with a girl? Wait, you don’t—you’re sure? All right, son, all right. No, no, you can cry, come here, it’s fine. At least you’ll be happy. Know that my arms are always here for you, okay? Always be judicious. Stay close to girls who aren’t afraid to fight—you’ll be tougher that way. Don’t tell just anyone. Never let your guard down, hear me? And don’t ever stare—no matter how safe you feel—in public.