“Unleashed” by Catherine Zickgraf

I clutch Dad’s oak tree leg. He reads the congregation my pre-baptism testimony. Seems my
heart rejects sin, especially finger-painting my bedroom during Sunday naptime. But I’ll convert
again for another church swim, descending again—I’ll wear their sheet—in the water pit behind
the pulpit.

After the doxology, adults just stand around. So I belly-paddle the forest of carved pews,
between trunks of hoof-heeled feet. Carpet static and rug-burnt chin don’t slow me down, only a
collective parental voice glaring my whole name. The threat fans the sanctuary: failure to emerge
is Dad’s belt to bottom at home. I appear. They click me into the LTD’s rear-facing seat. I fling
look-at-me spells at surrounding cars. Eyes turn to me. I giggle.

While Mom’s potato water bubbles, I scale the mountain between living room and red abode
where I ball up my corduroy jumper, kick it under my bed, pull socks on my feet. Lunchtime.
Impulse runs me down our escalator. I throw myself over the last railing spindle, twist and a half
to the ground floor—and I’m off through the house, sliding into kitchen chairs. Mom unties
apron, unamused.

Sunday naptime again. I line our home’s lower half with bathwater waterfalling our steps. I fist-tug the rope tied in the webs of the stairwell ceiling. A down-swing, fling myself into the living room flood.

So they take me to the YMCA, it’s half-abandoned, condemned for demolition. I swim the
lonely homeschool lesson, Mom crocheting in the bleachers. Afterward, I descend the cement
solo to the changing room. Windows lift the ceiling, a sun slice is beaming in. Against the glass
are tapping November’s disfoliate branches, headless bush roots splaying against it. I peel
swimsuit off and balance, arabesquing and pink, along long-abandoned locker benches. Outrun
yourself scratched in the blue paint


Catherine Zickgraf lives in Augusta, Georgia with her husband and sons. Her work has appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Pank, Victorian Violet Press, and The Grief Diaries. Her chapbook, Soul Full of Eye, is published through Aldrich Press.

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