Because it’s June and there’s nothing better to do, we go to the strip mall at the edge of the city. Someone’s mother drives us; it isn’t mine. These girls—they’ve got hair blaring red as a siren; no curfews, boyfriends and rumours going all the way. I’m fourteen and buttoned in a blue floral blouse, bespectacled, and a little shy. Last summer, I tried to die. Which makes me interesting. We loiter in the moist heat of the parking lot, calling lewd things to strangers across the anguished sea of asphalt, laughing with our whole mouths. Every part of us gleams: our licked fingers from caramel Krispy Kreme, lips glossed cheap cherry. We’re not that old, but young enough for men—which to know, is close. We bare our thighs in shorts like secrets that have hurt us. Sitting there, impatient, one girl might kiss another, leaning against a brick wall, giggling, shadows pitting in the parking lot. And then there’s me, ever the apprentice in tenderness and nerve. I’m fasting and picking pepperoni off dollar pizza slices like skin blemishes and trying not to complain. Then, when a man, inevitably, approaches— we rise like all birds do: flushed and feathered, heaving against each other as if to escape a fate we know to fear but can’t name. & when the sun swells like a blushing bubble, we wander, snapping Hubba Bubba as street lights pop above us, offering toothy grins and gossip like they’re makeshift stars. The sky gloams. We wait for someone to wonder where we are, find ourselves waiting long in the sky’s anguished navy. I think we like this better, the night falling onto our shoulders like a warm sweater, the blonde grasses whispering as we circle and circle the unclaimed lot—know we’re forgotten and not. And if we listen hard, before someone comes for us, some nights our names are called between guitar riffs on the classical rock station, blasting from rusted cars, patio bars across the street, songs we know by heart. Songs our fathers once sang to our mothers before they were ours or anyone’s, ballads that made them believe it was possible they could, a lifetime, love, be loved, desperately, like that.
Morouje Sherif is an Egyptian-Canadian writer who adores apricots, verdancy, and temperate climates. Growing up in the Mediterranean, she has a vicarious thrill for feel-good compositions and the traverse of truth. Her work has appeared in the international Minds Shine Bright prize, published in the CONFIDENCE (2022) global anthology, The Poetry Society of UK, The Blue Marble Review, Reedsy Prompts, SOFTBLOW, and elsewhere. Asides from writing, she enjoys judging dubious architecture, the colour sage, and drinking herbal teas on the weekends.