3LBE logo

A Girl Explodes

by Ruth Joffre

757 words
Listen to this story, narrated by the author

No one knows why. Her friends, who were with her at the time, walking around in search of Halloween costumes to wear to a party that weekend, theorize that it had something to do with gym class (how Mr. Edwards humiliated her in front of the whole class for not being able to do a pull-up (or maybe how when he finally allowed her to rejoin the rest of the class Mei leaned over on the mats and whispered something in her ear, something that made her flush and hide her eyes once her friends shot questioning looks (and no — they did not know what Mei said (she wouldn’t tell them, which surprised them (she never kept secrets, and Mei was not known for being mean), though in retrospect she had been hiding things from them for weeks, if not months (for instance, that she could, in fact, do a pull-up if she wanted to) — and no, they did not know why she started sneaking around, working out without them), but Mei was not shy about revealing that the two of them had been flirting for a while, that it was kind of a thing, but they hadn’t put a label on it yet, and what she said was, “I think it’s hot how you stand up for your principles”), and of course that wasn’t the right moment to tell them about Mei, about the ideas for a couple’s costume they were exploring (the top contenders were Sarah and the Goblin King from the movie Labyrinth and two versions of Irma Vep, one Chinese and one Latinx), but she had planned to tell them, Mei had no doubt about that; she suspected some other cause of the explosion), but, considering the intensity and spontaneity of the blast, it seemed unlikely this incident in gym would be the reason, because in truth it was so small, so commonplace, just one of many days when she protested our society’s unhealthy body standards in general and Mr. Edwards’ misogyny in particular, that mean look on his face whenever one of the girls asked to go to the bathroom, that ugly way he laughed with the boys who made fat jokes at recess; she often said he was not worth going to the principal’s office over; he was just a man; just another middle-aged man whose name she would, inevitably, forget when she was old and far away from here), and in the absence of the gym class theory her friends do not know what to make of her sudden death (of the void it left behind like a sphere carved out of the surface of reality, its edges dark, shimmering, clearly visible from the sidewalk, where the police blocked off the area with caution tape (though that didn’t stop people from exploring, least of all Mei, who anchored a bungee cord on a telephone pole and walked right through that portal, just strolled in like there was no chance of encountering monsters in there (monsters like the ones who clawed out of the portal at night, tripping motion-sensing cameras with their leathery wings, their knife-like talons, as they prowled the streets, monitoring people’s movements, flanking those girls who dared walk home alone and ensuring each one arrived safely (although, there was some debate about the politics of this gesture (no one asked for their help, of course; it could be seen as paternalistic, condescending), but no one could deny the danger, no one could deny that far more dangerous things prowled the night, now that a portal to the subconscious realm had been opened (for how else could this all be explained — the sphere, the monsters, the inky black goo that oozed out of the corner of every room in town?), so the only recourse was to try their best to contain it), even as more creatures poured forth, creatures whose purpose was far less easy to fathom, whose days were spent poking holes into satellite dishes and studiously dissecting teddy bears, as if they were roadkill), and now people are so busy just avoiding monsters and figuring out childcare and being forced to go to work as if society isn’t coming unglued that no one is thinking about Mei — no one but her mother, who keeps watch by that sphere all day, every day, occasionally shaking a sandal at a monster that dares get too close, convinced that Mei will return, someday, and maybe even bring that girl back with her); after all, they still haven’t found a body).

Ruth Joffre is the author of the story collection Night Beast. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Lightspeed, Nightmare, Pleiades, khōréō, The Florida Review Online, Wigleaf, Baffling Magazine, and the anthologies Best Microfiction 2021 & 2022, Unfettered Hexes: Queer Tales of Insatiable Darkness, and Evergreen: Grim Tales & Verses from the Gloomy Northwest. She co-organized the performance series Fight for Our Lives and served as the 2020–2022 Prose Writer-in-Residence at Hugo House. In 2023, she will be a visiting writer at University of Washington Bothell. Find her online at www.ruthjoffre.org and on Instagram @realruthjoffre.

Issue 37

November 2022

3LBE 37

Front & Back cover art by Rew X

Thank you to our Patreon Supporters

Julie Ireland
Bear Weiter
Kelly L.
Jessica Guptill
Thomas Ha
Maria Haskins
Lorna D. Keach
Michelle Muenzler
Lowry Poletti
Julie Stevens
Molly Tanzer
Elise Tobler
Alan Mark Tong

Join us as a patron to subscribe or more.