Sydney Culpepper reads from "Pack Mentality" from STRONGLY WORDED WOMEN

Sydney Culpepper reads from "Pack Mentality" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology (an anthology she compiled and edited!). The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Julia Figliotti reads from "Skin-Deep" from Strongly Worded Women

Julia Figliotti reads from "Skin-Deep" from Strongly Worded Women: The Best of The Year of Publishing Women, an Anthology. The reading was held at Broadway Books in Portland, Oregon on 2/12/19.

Trigger Warning: Some disturbing descriptions of an abusive relationship.

Strongly Worded Women: Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement

It’s here! The cover reveal for Strongly Worded Women: The Best of the Year of Publishing Women: An Anthology:

Cover by Sydney Culpepper

Cover by Sydney Culpepper

Back in 2015, Not a Pipe Publishing announced we were accepting author Kamila Shamsie’s challenge to the publishing industry to only publish women authors in 2018. Now, after publishing eight novels by seven authors, they are capping off their Year of Publishing Women with an anthology of 18 short stories by women authors from across the country.

The anthology will be available online and in bookstores on November 20th so it can be available for Black Friday shoppers, but you can pre-order it now to make sure you get your copy!


Hardcover: HERE

Trade Paperback: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Barnes and Noble and Nook: HERE

Apple Books: HERE

Inclusion in the anthology has meant a lot to the writers. Tonya Lippert, author of “Misreadings,” says, “It means joining a community of writers. I feel joined to Not a PIpe Publishing and the other writers whose work will be part of the anthology. We all will be working to spread the word and get the collection of stories to readers. Our lives are now intertwined.” Taylor Buccello, author of “The Becoming,” says, "Ever since I was little, I've loved writing and dreamed of having my work published. It still feels surreal to be getting this opportunity, but I'm so glad to be part it (and to be alongside some amazing women, at that) and to have a taste at the published world." Laura Hazan, author of “The Breakout,” concurs. “Having this story published in the Year of Publishing Women anthology is like a crowning - I've finally made it, despite the critics, including the one in my own head.” Rosie Bueford, author of “Woman by the Window,” sees it as a part of something larger: “I have long admired the work and social activism/awareness of Not A Pipe Publishing company and its founders. To be included in this project has been equally humbling and inspiring. As a woman and a social work student, I am honored to be a part of a literary project designed to empower women in the industry and in our country during such a tumultuous time. ... I feel this project has done a beautiful thing to bring about mindful awareness of what is happening within ourselves and all around us.”

Heather S. Ransom, author of “Eyes” and the novels Going Green and Greener, thinks of this anthology as a mechanism to mentor young women. “Today, more than ever, girls desperate to find their place in a society constantly changing around them need a wide variety of incredible females as role models. Strong, confident, inspiring women to show them that their future can be anything they choose, if they are willing to work for it. … I believe that young women today need strong female voices to guide them on their journey not only of survival but of self-discovery, appreciation, acceptance, and love.” For Lizzy Carney, author of “Mother Nature … Mother Nurture,” it’s far more personal. “Love for my mom is etched in my heart…putting words on a page was an action of describing that love. Just when I thought I would give up my pen for knitting needles, the opportunity of submitting Mother Nature Mother Nurture was literally handed to me. On a whim. I pushed send. Ma was a woman of grit and grace.  She loved to read and pitied those without an imagination. Having a piece of her story included in the Year of Publishing Women Short Story Anthology surrounded by stories written by women is incredible. Ma would be happy surrounded by creative women’s words. She made me promise I would keep writing. I will forget about knitting and keep my promise. Being included in this project, and having my story of Ma and her journey with Alzheimer’s published, is an amazing honor.”

LeeAnn Mclennan, author of “Zombie Apocalypse Rescue Agency” and The Supernormal Legacy trilogy, says, “I’m honored to be a part of Not a Pipe’s Year of Publishing Women short story project. The project celebrates women authors crafting the stories they want to write about the world they inhabit. It’s our chance provide even more evidence of the quality of writing women bring to the page. “ Karen Eisenbrey, author of “Crane’s Fire” and the novels Daughter of Magic and The Gospel According to St. Rage, shares McLennan’s view about quality and also highlights the community building. "The Year of Publishing Women has released a wide variety of great novels and short stories into the world, but it has been about so much more than that: it has brought together authors to learn from and support each other, and to amplify each other's voices." Maren Anderson, author of “Getting Pregnant on the Back of a Motorcycle” and the novels Closing the Store and Fuzzy Logic, agrees. “It's awesome to be bound together (literally) with so many talented women.”

We’re having a launch party at Another Read Through in Portland on November 30th from 7:00 to 8:00. Come hear many of these talented authors read from their stories, and get your copy signed.

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement for Kate Ristau's Shadow Girl

It's here!

The cover of Kate Ristau's

Shadow Girl

Shadow Girl eBook.jpg

We're so pleased with the great art by Portland's own Lee Moyer

Áine lives in the light, but she is haunted by darkness, and when her fey powers blaze out of control, she escapes into the Shadowlands. But she cannot outrun her past. Fire fey and a rising darkness threaten the light, burning a path across the veil. Her fiery dreams come to life, and with the help of Hennessy, an uninhibited Irish girl, Áine dives into the flames to discover who she truly is. Her mother burned to keep her secret safe, and now Áine wields the deadly Eta. She must learn to fight in the shadows — or die in the flames.

This is not a fairy tale.

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Powell's: HERE

Barnes & Noble: HERE

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Want to meet Ms. Ristau? Pre-order your copy and bring it to be signed at "Love for Women Writers," a party at Taborspace on Saturday, February 24th from 2 PM - 3:30 PM. It's free and open to the public. We're kicking off the Year of Publishing Women with a big celebration with authors LeeAnn McLennan, Susan Hill Long, Kate Ristau, Maren Anderson, Jessica Mehta, Mikko Azul, and many others! We will invite female-identified writers to the stage and celebrate them with readings and love letters from authors and fans. We will profess our love and finish the day with truffles and book signings. You'll have a chance to have your copy of Shadow Girl signed by Kate Ristau herself! Sign up for the event on Facebook HERE!


And check out what the critics are saying about this amazing novel!

 "A determined girl from Faerie meets a frank, funny Irish girl in a delightfully fresh fairytale of old meeting new." 
--Tina Connolly, Nebula-nominated author of Ironskin

"A fun, engaging, and unique magical adventure." 
--Jen Violi, author of Putting Makeup on Dead People

"This is a coming of age narrative involving fairies, but it's no Disney movie. The magic is considerably nastier and relationships more realistic and slippery. The folklore that Ristau pulls from is older, darker stuff; a heady mix of British Isles mythology, cosmology, and history." 
--Librarian and Folklorist Charlie McNabb

"A fast-paced adventure with a fresh voice." 
--Molly Ringle, author of Persephone's Orchard

"Fantasy braided with Irish folklore, making the reader's journey not only entertaining, but rich with fascinating detail." 
--Blythe Ayne, author of The Darling Undesirables

"This is not a fairy tale. Don't expect fairy wings, but it is filled with magic, folklore, witty dialogue and epic storytelling." 
--Librarian Robert G. Monge

"An entertaining, magical read." 
--Joanna Bartlett, author of The Awesomely Amazing Adventures of Cherry: Butterfly Buddies

"I love it when a book surprises me. Shadowgirl kept surprising me all the way to the last page." 
--Maren Bradley Anderson, author of Fuzzy Logic

"Fast moving and witty, Shadow Girl pulls on a journey from fey lands into our world through the eyes of Ainé , a mysterious girl on a mission."
--LeeAnn McLennan, author of The Supernormal Legacy series

Cover Reveal and Pre-Order Announcement for LeeAnn McLennan's The Supernormal Legacy: Book 1, Dormant

It's here!

The cover of LeeAnn McLennan's

The Supernormal Legacy

Book 1


We're so pleased with the great art by Portland's own  Randy Kintz ! 

We're so pleased with the great art by Portland's own Randy Kintz

The Supernormal Legacy tells the story of Olivia Woodson. When she was just seven years old, she already knew she was a supernormal, someone with super powers who must protect normals. Then she witnessed her supernormal mother die fighting terrorists, and fear and guilt drove Olivia to cut off all contact with her mother's family and reject her destiny as a supernormal. Now, at 14, she just wants is to live her life as a teenager with her normal father, maybe grow up to be an environmental lawyer or a photojournalist. But when Olivia and her boyfriend, Jack, get caught in the middle of a bank robbery, she must choose between using her supernormal powers or watching the robbers kill innocent people. Olivia's powers awaken, saving the day. She tells herself this is the only time she'll ever use them, but her powers refuse to be contained, forcing Olivia to do what she dreads most - connect with the supernormal side of her family and awaken the power that has been lying dormant inside her.

Pre-order your copy from your favorite independent bookstore by asking for it at the front counter, or order it from one of these fine online booksellers:

Barnes & Noble: HERE

Amazon: HERE

Kindle: HERE

Want to meet Ms. McLennan? Pre-order your copy and bring it to be signed at "Love for Women Writers," a party at Taborspace on Saturday, February 24th from 2 PM - 3:30 PM. It's free and open to the public. We're kicking off the Year of Publishing Women with a big celebration with authors LeeAnn McLennan, Susan Hill Long, Kate Ristau, Maren Anderson, Jessica Mehta, Mikko Azul, and many others! We will invite female-identified writers to the stage and celebrate them with readings and love letters from authors and fans. We will profess our love and finish the day with truffles and book signings. You'll have a chance to have your copy of The Supernormal Legacy: Book 1, Dormant signed by LeeAnn McLennan herself! Sign up for the event on Facebook HERE!


And check out what the critics are saying about this amazing novel!

“The characters are so well developed and realistic that I feel I know them. The plot speeds up to a frenzy for the thrilling conclusion. A thoroughly satisfying read for any fan of YA or superheroes.”
-Benjamin Gorman
author of Corporate High School
“Fun, fast-paced, and a great read! Lots of Portland connections here, and I loved finding out about their superpowers. I can't wait to find out what happens in the next book.”
-Kate Ristau
author of Shadow Girl
“The heart of this story is familiar; its hero is our neighbor or classmate or even our own self. Olivia is at a crossroads: on one side, her comfortable, normal high school life. On the other, a world of secret power waits for her to tap into…Set against the cloudy, quirky backdrop of Portland, Dormant is a compelling read and a balance or light and dark, just like life it.”
-Sarah Jilek,
author of Jaidia
“Dormant is a look into the life that may be hidden right under our noses. Olivia’s struggle between fitting in with the normals and supernormals resonates beyond her abnormal abilities, reaching even those without bulletproof armor…sending readers on a thrilling ride.”
-Chelsea Bolt,
author of Moonshine
“Dormant had me hooked right from the start. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Action-packed and full of life’s struggles, like trying to be someone else or accepting yourself. When I book this book down, the only thought in my mind was, “There has to be more.””
-Abigail Hernandez,
author of Viper’s Legacy

#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: A Flood of Memories by Ramona Scarborough

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

A Flood of Memories

by Ramona Scarborough

A sobering picture of life in 1940s America, made even made even more important by today's political landscape, this story is told simply, with no fuss or flounder, as it recounts the events of a tragic day and calls attention the value placed on the lives of people of color. Do not be fooled by the gentle lilting of the southern accent; this story packs a punch. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



Deep water rolled lazy-like past our apartment house. We trusted in dikes.

Every spring, folks said, “The river’s pretty high this year.” But they were just talkin’.

My family had special reason to pay no heed to our whereabouts, on dredged up land smack dab between the Columbia River and the Slough. We’d moved from Carolina, where we barely scraped by. Most of the white men had gone to the war, so my Daddy landed a job in the shipyards and we could live someplace without people hollerin’ at us or worse. We had enough money for Mama to put ham hocks in with the beans and make cornbread drippin’ with butter.

Four, I was and my brother, Virgil, seven, when we moved to Vanport in 1944. When I played stick ball or jump rope on the street, I couldn’t even see the river, the dikes were nigh onto twenty feet tall or so. I had to stand on my tippy-toes and peek out the front curtains of our top story apartment window to see the water.

So you see, I was busy being a happy youngun’ with plenty a’friends and goin’ to school right along. We didn’t have no trouble, cause Mama made sure we stayed in the black section a’ town. School was a mix of white and black kids, but hate is a learned idée and some hadn’t been overcome by it yet. I never gave thought to us bein’ in a dangerous place.

Yesiree, I may be an older now, but I don’t forget the date-May 30, 1948. A sunny Sunday mornin’, we was eatin’ high on the hog, some grits and sausage and my daddy heard a bunch a people talkin’ outside. He got up and went downstairs.

When he came back upstairs, he had a paper in his hand.

“So, what’s goin’ on?” Mama said.

“Oh, I guess the river’s floodin’, but this here paper says the dikes are holdin’fine. They’ll warn us before somethin’ happens.” He waved the paper around, “Some high-ups in the housin’ authority says, ‘don’t get riled up.’”

Just like that, we fell back to eatin’. After helpin’ my Mama with the dishes, I went out to play. After lunch, I did the same.


I hear tell now, a little after four in the afternoon, the dike on the railroad side broke down and water came gushin’ out. I didn’t see the wall of water a comin’, it poured in behind our apartment and burst out onto the street. I was hollerin’ and so was a bunch of other kids. Virgil grabbed ahold of my arm and dragged me along toward the front of our apartment. Higher and higher, the flood was pullin’ me down. I was breathin’ hard and bobbin’ like a cork. Dirty water splashed over my head and I’d go clear under. When I come up for air, I spit it out as best I could. But Virgil never let go a’ me, not even when we started climbin’ up the stairs. Our daddy was running down toward us.

“Thank the Lord,” he said.

Mama wiped her eyes on her apron when we came into the kitchen. We put our arms around her. She didn’t care we was all wet. She smelled heavenly, like the chicken she’d been frying for supper.

“Stay here now,” my daddy said to us. “I’m going to go see if the Washington’s or Brown’s below us need help.”

Mama bit on her lower lip, “Be careful, Jasper.”

We shucked our shirts, pants and underpants. Mama toweled us off and helped us put on dry clothes. She put a blanket around my shoulders. Even though it was warm, I was still shakin’.

Daddy came back with our neighbors, Beulah and Otis Washington, who lived on the first floor.
The Brown’s had gone of a morning to visit their kin in Vancouver on the Washington side of the river. Beulah was crying.

“Everything we got’s all ruint, even them fiberboard walls is all soaked up with water.”

Otis, put his arms around her, he was tryin’ to comfort her. “Baby, be glad we ain’t dead.”

Daddy, Virgil and me looked out the window. “The water’s still a’risin,” Daddy said.

A man’s body was a floatin’ down the street. Nobody we knew, but you don’t fergit the sight ever. I didn’t want to see no more. I went to Mama and she rocked me back and forth in her arms like I was two instead a’ eight.

Now we was glad we hadn’t got a house like we’d wanted. The ones close to the ground was bein’ washed away. Both Daddy and Mama had complained about the stairs, but right now being high up seemed like a mighty good idea.

A boat came for us in the night. Daddy opened the window and handed me down to a big man. I didn’t want to let go a’ Daddy.

“I gotcha now, little girl,” the man said, putting his arms around me tight.

The boat rocked a bit and I screamed, thinking I’d be dropped down in the deep black water. One by one, us and our neighbors got into that boat, seemed awful small on the big river.

Even goin’ across to dry land was fearsome, waves lickin’ up against the sides of the boat like they wanted to swallow us down. We all made it safe, but some folks didn’t.

I’ve heard tell different stories. Some even say the gov’ment tried to cover up how many drowned. Somebody tol’ me when the river started gettin’ high that mornin’, they skedaddled six-hundred horses outa’ the race track to higher ground. I guess we wasn’t as important as those fancy racehorses.


The town we’d lived in for four years was under water. For a spell, we had to bunk in with Aunt Ella in the Albina district in Portland. We’d lost everything we owned. We moved just a few blocks away once Daddy got a job as a night watchman and we got back on our feet.

Even as young as I was when the flood happened, I never was as free an’ easy as I was before. For awhile, I dreamed I was back on the street, the water rushin’ in around my waist, creepin’ up my neck, ready to carry me away.

My Mama always read us the Bible. One verse makes me think of what happened to us that day so many years ago and how I feel now that I’m older. “For you do not know what your life will be tomorrow. Your life is like a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”



Ramona Scarborough is the author of ten books. Her stories and articles have appeared in over 80 magazines, anthologies, and online. During her childhood, she lived near the site of Vanport and heard stories of what happened. Vanport, a hastily constructed city for shipyard workers, many of whom were African-Americans, was destroyed in a flood on Memorial Day, May 30, 1948. The Federal Housing Authority issued a notice to tenants that morning informing them not to panic; they were not in danger there.


#TheYearOfPublishingWomen's Short Stories Series: "Buzzards and Bathtubs" by Jessica Mehta

During 2018, Not a Pipe Publishing has accepted Kamila Shamsie's challenge to only publish women for one year. Beyond the nine (nine!) novels we'll be publishing, we'd also like to promote even more women's voices, so we'll be publishing short fiction here. If you would like to submit, check out the information HERE.

Buzzards and Bathtubs

by Jessica Mehta


Note on this story: This is part of an unpublished book titled Gimme the Familiars. Each chapter (and in this case, the story) begins with a "mini chapter" that's a re-telling of a Native American myth in contemporary settings. The following story mirrors the myth, and addresses a sexual encounter of the protagonist.

Editor's Note: I believe it takes a lot of skill to effectively mix myth with modernity, but Mehta does it so gracefully that it suddenly looks easy. The writing and story are equally captivating. If the rest of Gimme the Familiars is as good as "Buzzards and Bathtubs," I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy. -Sydney Culpepper, Assistant Submissions Editor



The Buzzard of the Highways

He watched from his post on the evergreen top, that one good tree that was could carry his pride. The other branches, the weak ones of the pear trees and the hybrid apples, they shook and wailed under his hooked feet like scared things. Desperate things. The types of things he glanced over, flipped his top knot like they were so ridiculous in his presence, but they were. They couldn’t help it, those struggling branches, and not even the Oregon moss gave them a coat thick enough to act tough. Not like the buzzard would have noticed anyway. Not like he cared.

The four-wheeled monsters, the two-wheeled ones, they whipped by fast along the asphalt, as fast as he could fly. But they were scooted along in the filth, and sometimes their bellies scraped the bumps. Pathetic little things. Sometimes they were just as useless as the prey he watched sprint across the yellow, dashed lines.

Buzzard tousled his top knot over his scapular, glorious atop the world. Death was beneath him, bits of snake pancaked from a worn-out wheel. An hour ago, he’d watched it happen and for just a moment—he swore it, just a slip of time—he’d thought about snatching the slithering miniature beast for himself. Then it wriggled of course, spilling over with life and energy. He hadn’t even been hungry, wasn’t even thinking of slipping scales and long, long bone between his beak today. Snake was tough, not his favorite. But the eyes he could imagine popping in his throat, juices sluicing quick into his belly. And the tongue, the tongue. He liked to think of it splitting all the way to its other end, filling him with ribbony pieces of pink that soaked into his hollow bones.

Just look at them down there, pitiful and shrieking at each other. Crow bounced around ridiculous, pecking between wing flutters of the Vultures. “You’re pathetic,” he called down from his perch, waiting between the highway horn blows to rain down his judgments.

“Says who?” Young Vulture asked, tiny entrails spraying from his beak. “The one who thinks he’s too good for us, sitting fat like a god in his tree?”

“Disgusting,” said Buzzard. “All of you, the lot of you. Eating deadness. Eating trash.”


Young Vulture fluffed himself, rolled his eyes as his elders shushed him. Crow, he never spoke to Buzzard, pretended like he couldn’t hear. Stupid, Buzzard knew he heard all.


As dusk slid its slippery black fingers over the pines, Young Vulture played the afternoon over and over in his head. Idiot Buzzard, so prideful. So vain. Him and his stupid pile of hair-feathers balanced like a crown in the sky. “Why’s he gotta do that?” he asked his elders, but they quieted him like always with no answers. And he was sick of it.

Young Vulture, he knew where Buzzard slept. Knew the tree where he buried down in the night, the one with the wires wrapped around it and the bed made of dried grass and decaying pine cones. And he knew Buzzard slept well, slept hard, stomach full and heavy with the dying animals he’d snatched that day, their blood keeping him warm ‘til morning.

He waited until the nests in his own tower were quiet all around him, nothing but the dream-induced fluffing and quivers in the purple sky. Grabbing the old knife from the storage branch, the rusty one that still held sharpness, he tucked it into his claw and delighted in its weight. He’d never touched it before, though he’d loved it the minute his brother had carried it home. “What are you, a magpie?” his mother had laughed. He’d always adored the shiniest things. Only then, with the slicer cradled like a scared rat below him, did he leave the roost, hop in silence from the commune before taking a wobbly flight into the deep.
Buzzard’s nest wasn’t far, and Young Vulture knew he’d be back before anyone would miss him. I thought I’d seen a mouse. Today’s carrion made me feel ill. He ran over the excuses, rolled them across his tongue to make them taste natural in case any elders saw him come back and required an excuse. Something believable.

He’d never seen Buzzard’s nest up close. The smell was different, the acid from the pines making it softer and warmer than his own. And he slept different than Young Vulture’s elders, not curled up nearly as tightly. He slept alone, could spread out and let his feathers fall like grace across the branches. Now, in this moment, he looked almost peaceful.

His top knot, it really was beautiful, thick and grand. Young Vulture didn’t really get the point of such a vanity, but like everyone else he admired it. Not that he’d ever tell Buzzard that (nobody did), but it was Fact. His own head was clean and bald, not a single feather to be found. It’s what made him ugly.
The snip was over fast, but the memory burned into his brain. The sound the top knot made when the knife flashed through it. How it felt so much lighter than he’d imagined clutched in his talons. Buzzard didn’t even move and now—now—now, now, now …

Buzzard was ugly, too.


Fear gripped Young Vulture on the brief flight back, even as the river beneath him glistened like the shiniest of all greatness. And the top knot grew heavier, heavier in his grip, so heavy he couldn’t keep hold. So he let go, let all that beauty get wrapped up in the winds and scattered like droppings to the earth below. The knife, too, the evidence of his badness.

Young Vulture slept late, a rarity for him. Like the rest of his family, he was often up early, eager to see what treats had been broken, beaten and splayed open like a gift on the black flattops below. Why didn’t anyone wake him? Why was everyone lined up like dutiful soldiers on the big wire?

“What time—“ he began to ask his mother as he settled next to her, his eyes still full of sleep.

“Shh,” she said, motioning to the earth.

What seemed like miles below, Buzzard was hunched, looking bald and naked, amongst the empty cans and discarded sandwich wrappers. In his feet, a smashed squirrel’s head lolled backwards. Young Vulture could smell the wheel-death of the big-tailed animal from way up here.

“Is he … why’s he eating carrion?” he asked his mother. She shrugged, eyes embarrassed for the poor thing, and nudged her son back to the nest.


Sex starts small, I learned that young. I was four, and (like most inching towards Kindergarten), I don’t remember much. I remember this—standing on the autumn leaves while my father built a little house for me in the backyard. Years later, it would be home to the big pool pump even after the water had dried up and the lining got cracked. I remember finger painting with my mother on the rickety metal card table in the living room, her screaming at me to be happy and enjoy myself. I hated finger painting, it made me feel dirty. I remember the eyes of the Indian woman in the hallway painting, how they’d watch me no matter which way I walked, and how she’d only do it when nobody else was looking.

And I remember the time in the bathtub.

Our water came from the well, and I hated the taste. Like metal gone bad. Sometimes it had a rusty color, and I didn’t want to bathe in it, but my mom didn’t believe in showers. Demanded that baths were relaxing and, like her, I was only allowed to soak. But I’d throw a fit when the water was too brown, so she’d squirt in half a bottle of blue food coloring to bury my silence. “It’s like a lagoon! A tropical paradise. Hawaii,” she’d crow, even though she’d never been anywhere beaches were warm. She’d only seen the sands of Oregon, and we called them coasts here. And once, once, I’d been told we’d seen the blinding white sands of Florida, but I wasn’t sure that was true. She said I was still in diapers and didn’t remember, and the people in the pictures looked like they were in a play. My mom looked too young, my dad didn’t have his moustache, and the baby they held had nothing of me in it. Those blue eyes in the photos had long turned to Cherokee green.

And sometimes not even the blue food coloring satisfied me. I swear, I could still see the grains of the filth. The well’s underbelly would sneak in through the pipes, deposit a dusting of what I was sure were crushed insects along the porcelain floor. I wouldn’t get in. “Jesus Christ, Justine,” my mom would say, and then glub-glub half a cup of dish soap in the tub. It covered the secrets up, but I could still feel the broken bugs on my too-thick thighs and flat butt. I just knew enough not to complain anymore.

I’d stay in the bathroom for an hour. It didn’t matter that the water went cold or that every last bubble popped. I didn’t care that the dish soap dried up my skin so much that it began to pain, or that I could feel the slime of it seeping into my pores. That my hair, no matter how many times I dunked it, never really got truly clean in the soupy well water. I was told that this was Relaxing Time and it was the only time my mother left me alone. When I was ready to get out, I had to call her. She hated the thought of leaving soap to line and sit in the tub, so I’d have to stand as the water drained and she hosed down each piece of the liner, inch by inch. Once the escaping water reached my feet that looked just like hers, she’d start to hose me down, too. The well, it was running dry, and by then the water from the hose was always almost-cool at best. Usually, it had gone cold. And she’d have me spin, turn, hold up my hair to spray down my slippery neck. At four, I’d already learned fast to hate this process. It was like being one of those hanged, headless, skinless animals at the slaughterhouse down the street. Hooked and waiting for the butchery to be done while my insides, my private areas, were on display.

We had one bathroom in the entire house, and so I wasn’t allowed to lock the door. My mom, in the summer, would always be in the yard, covering our one, long acre in discount perennials. Tending to the marijuana that she planted along with the tomato plants because they looked kind of alike. Pulling up weeds, yelling at my dad to mow the grass, swatting away the latest animal she had acquired, shrieking at it to behave against its instinct and act like she thought it should. Goats, turkeys, ponies, and rabbits. Sometimes, her or my dad would come into the bathroom, pull down their pants to defecate or stream yellow into the chipped bowl. I could only see the flanks of their thighs when this happened, the toilet was on the other side of the bathtub wall with the sawed-off spout. My mom’s white-white jiggly side-butt or my dad’s milk chocolate cream with the sparse black hairs. It always shocked me, how much lighter his Indian skin was on the parts where the sun couldn’t reach. To me, he was Hershey brown, a color that must have run out of me in birth.

Sometimes they’d say something to me, most times they didn’t. Especially not my dad—I don’t think he knew what to say. But this time, when I was squarely Four, I was well-armed. I was always swimming in toys, always used, always garage sale finds he would bring to me in soft, worn-out boxes from his Saturday hunts. My favorite was a plastic alligator squirt gun. My mom hated that, that I often went to the boy toys instead of the cutesy stuff she liked. She hated that I hated Sesame Street and picked He-Man or Thundercats when I had a choice.  She hated that I didn’t like dresses, preferred the black t-shirts with monsters on them. Werewolves, vampires and Frankensteins.

Just a month ago, my mom had painted big, fat blue raindrops everywhere on the bathroom walls. I had to help, and it was obvious which were mine and which were hers. Mine were fast, hurried. I didn’t want to be doing it. She did that, stuff like that. Our house was the weird one, but I was just now figuring out to be embarrassed. Embarrassment is something that comes in random bursts, like a growth. I guess it has to be that way, doesn’t it? Otherwise babies would be way too embarrassed with their poop and vomit and nipple sucking to ever get big. Embarrassment was coming in buckets to me that summer, like it had gotten lazy and was playing catch up.

It had only been a couple of weeks since the last big embarrassment. My mom, determined that I would know everything about sex since she had known nothing, had blasted words like penis and vagina at me since before I could remember. Intercourse, sex, orgasm, sperm. They were as common to me as yellow, blue, rectangle, and square. She didn’t want me to be like her, turn thirteen years old and come home crying because a boy had accidentally brushed his khaki-clad Penis against me in the school hallway and thinking I might be pregnant. So two weeks ago, while I stood on a chair playing with my dad’s long black hair, twisting it into twin mounts on top of my head and giggling, I caught myself when my mom walked by and asked, “What are you doing?”

“I’m making him horny.” I heard it, my try at making a joke—horns to horny—turn to filth between my lips. I knew it before I saw the shift in his eyes, before I felt the silence shoot at me from my mother’s presence. And I said nothing, just let go of his locks and scooted back down off the chair.

“What are you doing?”

My dad had come into the bathroom so quiet I hadn’t even heard the footsteps in the hall. He could do that, unlike my mom. Move like a cat, like a big sneaky thing. Her footsteps always announced themselves from what felt like miles away, a lumbering lack of grace before her musky smell announced itself.

“Nothing,” I told him. He stood before the vanity mirror, the one that opened with a soft press to reveal his green Barasol can that turned the shelves dark red. His old razor. My mom’s dull tweezers and silver hair clips. His back to me, he watched me in the mirror as he lathered his face. Like snow spreading across peaks and mountains. Something had changed in him. This mask, the snowy one, I’d seen hundreds of times. But always, I’d known what was below. Thought I’d known. It was my dad, the one who would drink an entire liter of Coke and half a can of peanuts. The one who took me to the Red Barn Auction on Thursday nights, to McDonald’s for their spongy pancakes and warm syrup on Saturday mornings after the first best garage sales had been ransacked. The one who flew me around like I was a plane in the photos, who grew that moustache because I got to watch Born in East L.A. and thought he looked just like Cheech Marin. “Grow a moustache! Grow a moustache!” I’d begged of him, and he had. It came in slow, so we all got used to it together. Now, it was the dad in the photos that looked like a stranger. I couldn’t remember what his full upper lip looked like anymore, but I knew what his moustache looked like after he ate all those peanuts. Dusted in salt and little nut skin flakes.

What are you doing? What are you doing. He said these words for a different reason than my mom. Because it made him sound like he cared, and he knew my answer would be short. My mom asked because she had to know everything, didn’t realize that children came with their own deep-inside personalities that she couldn’t keep choke-collar tight. I’d seen that after the horny incident, saw her face scrambling to contain the wild animal she thought she’d spotted in me. I wanted to explain that it was a joke, that my words came faster than my head could manage, but that would just make it worse. Wouldn’t it? Wouldn’t that just make it worse?

My dad’s face was half white snow now, the top half the same brown skin as always and those green-gold eyes. They crawled over me like insects, and I could feel the itchy dead bodies at my legs again. They had disappeared when I’d first lowered myself into the water. But now that water was cool, the bubbles gone, and the false blue wasn’t enough to offer any comfort. There were dark bits floating at the surface now, too. What body parts might those be? Maybe tiny little alien eyes, or a leg all akimbo. Flecks stuck to my skin where the water licked at my belly. My sides. Right below my nipples. And I was ashamed.
It was like in Sunday School, how they tell you about Adam and Eve. Eat the wrong thing, and you get embarrassed all at once. Not over time like you’re supposed to.  I don’t know if my dad had ever changed my diaper. Given me a bath when I was too little to do it myself. I know he’d never hosed me off—that was my mom’s job.

“You gon’ stay in there much longer?” he asked as he picked up the razor, held the blade to his cheek. It was old, and I knew he’d cut himself. Leave the bathroom with bloody bits of paper stuck like bows at the sharpest angles. His Oklahoma accent spilt something fierce through his snow-flaked lips.

“I don’t know,” I said. Penis. Vagina. I could see the start of my vagina at the depths of the blue, blue water. His eyes kept marching over me. Down my throat to rest in the hollow of my collarbone. Across my shoulders, peeling from the early summer shine. He carved out a piece of brown from the white, the soft scrape-scrape sound echoing in the tiny room. He’d shut the bathroom door. Why had he shut the door? It was too small with two people in here, the raindrop walls moving uncomfortably close. It was pouring.

“Hmm,” he said, revealing another section of skin. His chin, the one unlike mine. Mine was like my mom’s, a slight dimple. Butt-face, that one boy had called me at Vacation Bible School. Jesus hadn’t cared, just kept staring at the ceiling from the big cross up front, eyes faded and looking bored. Not like my dad’s eyes. They moved to my upper arms, the ones I already knew were too big.

“You can always tell when a girl is gonna be fat by her upper arms,” my mom would say, pointing out girls my age, younger, older, it didn’t matter. “It’s all in the arms,” she’d say, with a sad shake of her head. “It’s a terrible thing, to have to watch your weight your whole life. God, what I would give to be thin and rich. That’s all I want in my next life.”

In my water-logged fingers, the hollow alligator nuzzled close. I could fill it with one hand, I’d been practicing. Like an army man, and I hadn’t even known a war was coming. Just knew, like instinct. I had to be able to load this gun one-handed, simple as that. Slow, careful, tucking the alligator against my hip I pulled his orange syringe like I was lapping up all the poison. He grew heavier in my palm, didn’t want to pop up to the surface anymore. He was so full with the water, he was happy to stay weighted and deadly ‘til I was ready.

My dad moved the razor against the long moustache hairs, careful to keep each side equally thick. It must have been hard to do without looking. Or maybe you get used to it. I wanted to see if he’d locked the door or just closed it, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t look away, or his eyes could race too fast to somewhere they shouldn’t be.

To my elbows they went, the crooks of them at the water’s surface. The razor slid to his throat. His eyes to my nipples. Now. The alligator attacked.

It was perfect, not a sound or a splash. I took aim like I always did, arm stretched out, trigger ready. But I shot for his face, the one in the mirror with the searching eyes, and the alligator vomited a blue stream all across his back.

“Goddamnit!” he yelled, raking the razor across his barely-there Adam’s apple and it went from white to bright red in a second. “What the—Rhoda! Rhoda!” he yelled, calling for my mom. Her heavy feet slapped against the linoleum in the kitchen, just a few steps away.

“Jimmy? What is it? Is Justi—” she screamed from behind the door, and it flew open. It wasn’t locked, wasn’t locked, wasn’t locked. “What happened?” she asked, scanning him as he clutched a wash rag to his throat, me sitting with my knees drawn up to cover my nipples.

“She shot me!” he said, like he couldn’t believe it himself.

“Justine! What the hell are you doing?” she asked.

“No, I—I didn’t do it. It was the alligator.” It was the truth.


Jessica (Tyner) Mehta is a Cherokee poet, novelist, and storyteller. She’s the author of eight books, which includes six collections of poetry: the forthcoming Constellations of My Body, the forthcoming Savagery, as well as Secret-Telling Bones, Orygun, What Makes an Always, and The Last Exotic Petting Zoo. She’s been awarded the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund Prize in Poetry, the Potlatch Award for Native Artists, and numerous poet-in-residencies posts around the world including Hosking Houses Trust with an appointment at The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England, and Paris Lit Up in France. Visit Jessica’s author site at