Hefty Bag

Jenni Nance

Jenni Nance

The girl grabbed one of her mother’s steak knives on her way out the door. In the darkness no one would notice the child edging down the road carrying a large garbage bag. She gripped it by its twisted throat—the bulge stretching black plastic towards the earth—and shifted it awkwardly from hand to hand, never once cradling it between her arms.

She walked a half mile to a public park. The swing sets and see-saws looked forlorn in the blue wash of moonlight. She imagined ghosts—phantom children—playing there at night. She thought she could hear tinny laughter, rubber soles squeaking down slides, and see long hair tinseling in the wind. Afraid now, she hastily swung the black sack into an aluminum trash bin. She then dusted off her hands, fingered the serrated edge of the steak knife splitting through her corduroy pants, and headed for home.

In the blue light wildlife brimmed to the easement. The palmettos rustled with night creatures, opossums and nine-banded armadillos. The saw grasses parted their hair in the wind. And when the Great Horned Owl passed over her like an eclipse, her hand jumped to her pocket.

Running now, she focused on the dim lights of her street in the distance. And as she ran, she thought of the park ranger. She prayed that some wild animal—raccoon or bear—wouldn’t tear into the garbage overnight and uncover her secret. But most of all, she just hoped that someone wouldn’t find a big mess in the morning and have to clean it all up.

For the entire summer between 5th and 6th grade, the girl had been shitting into ten gallon leaf bags. Every time she went to pee, she looked up at the faded poster of Monet’s Water Lilies hanging crookedly on the wall and was reminded of the reason why. Framing the print were four crumpled indentations in the dry wall. If some big man were to press his fist into one of those rough impressions, his knuckles would have nested nicely. And if some small girl were to press her forehead into the deep depression next to it, she could comfortably lean there while she counted back from ten in a game of hide and seek.

Her father’s hands. Her head. Twice.

The first time it happened she had simply asked for help. She jiggled the handle but the shit just rose back up with such volume and velocity that she felt she might drown in her own panic. “Daddy, help! Daddy! Come now! Help!”

Her father burst into the bathroom, a terror of a man, and thrust her aside. He tore off the tank’s lid, ripped at the chain, and then plunged. Pumping twice, cursing twice. Pumping twice, cursing twice. The only words she could clearly make out were “foul” and “bitch”.

When he finally turned to her, he smacked her against the side of her head. “That’s for ruining my dinner.”

He left. She rubbed her face. And then she stood there wondering who the foul woman was.

 

The second time it happened she didn’t call after her father so quickly. She replicated her father’s movements: She lifted the tank lid. She jangled the chain. She futilely stabbed at the fecal flotsam. But still, the shit swelled. And only when it reached the brim of the bowl did she dimly mewl for help.

Her father’s eyes were black marbles. She couldn’t even see a slivered crescent of their usual pale blue. These were his manic moon shadow eyes.

He plunged wildly, trying to side-step the shit sluice, as the shit overflowed onto the carpeted floor. When the water finally receded, her father swung the plunger at her like a bat. Flecks of excrement speckled her face. He struck the handle against the counter and it splintered in half. He punched his fists through the gypsum board, folding it in like Styrofoam. And then he grabbed up his daughter, and smashed her against the wall.

“You disgust me!”

His daughter’s little head bobbled in agreement as it slammed up against the wall.

“You’re dirty and unclean.”

Again, she nodded.

*

It is hard for her to think of it now. As she hikes the Appalachian Trail and hangs her ass off logs to shit, she wonders how she had ever thought of it. Those Hefty bags. She remembers balancing herself over them in her bedroom. Late at night when the whole house was asleep. Her belly distended from too many days of waiting. The contents of the black bag hot in her hand. The smell in her room masked with a child’s perfume. Why hadn’t she just crapped in the backyard and covered it over like a cat? Or better yet, why hadn’t she just taken a dump on her father’s dinner plate? She wipes herself with rhododendron leaves, so happy to be free of him.

Many men have loved her since. Told her she was something else. But sometimes, she just can’t believe it. There are days when she still feels dirty. Unclean. Days when she still remembers racing desperately through the night carrying a big bag of shit.

 

3 Comments

  1. Shocking, raw, and powerfully eye opening. A world I hadn’t imagined. It takes me out of my comfort zone and confronts me with possibilities that require me to think again about childhood trauma and abuse. Well done.

  2. Shocking, raw, and powerfully eye opening. A world I hadn’t imagined. It takes me out of my comfort zone and confronts me with possibilities that require me to think again about childhood trauma and abuse. Well done.

  3. Painful, beautiful. My favorite passage. “Every time she went to pee, she looked up at the faded poster of Monet’s Water Lilies hanging crookedly on the wall . . . If some big man were to press his fist into one of those rough impressions, his knuckles would have nested nicely. And if some small girl were to press her forehead into the deep depression next to it . . .”

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