I’m sitting in the bathtub of 905 Kings Highway. We rent this tiny, yellow house. It’s a rancher with a rock garden my mom built. One of the neighbors has a tire swing. The boy who lives there is a few years older than me. He wears shiny Umbros. Scotty. I imagine what his shorts would feel like against my skinny legs—cool—like seaweed, like turkey lunchmeat on my smooth teeth the day my braces came off. He has dirty blonde hair and leg hair. The leg hair almost glows. It’s white blonde—the kind of blonde I see on beautiful children with their beautiful mothers in perfume ads. It’s not like I am all that interested in perfume—or Good Housekeeping for that matter—but I have nothing but stacks of Sports Illustrated and ladies’ magazines in the waiting room of the orthodontist’s office. I used to spend a lot of time there, so there you go.

You might not even notice the leg hair, but I do. When we are running through a sprinkler, the drops of hose water cling to the leg hairs like gel. The hairs keep a distance from the skin. A bird’s feathers don’t absorb the rain.

I don’t eat much—a few cookies from the cookie jar, cheese & Triscuits, watermelon slices when my mom cuts them up. It’s a hot summer. When my sisters want to come in from outside to watch General Hospital, I fill the bathtub with water so hot I have to coax each toe in one at a time. They turn red immediately. My mom would holler at me if she knew the water was so hot. She’d probably be pissed I’m using so much water too—what with the sprinkler running and now the bath just because I feel like it.

My upper lip is dotted with sweat. Its blonde hairs stand alert from my skin like Scotty’s. My nose looks like it’s boiling. When my mom brought home lobsters one night for dinner and started a pot to boil, my sisters and I played with them on the floor. Their clamped claws weren’t going to get us, so we got close and listened to their legs scampering across linoleum. I can’t get that scratching sound out of my head some days. Today’s one of them.

I’m sure by now the hairs at the back of my neck are darkening and curling with sweat. People think I’m Italian. If I were, I imagine my legs would have that long, thick hair some girls in my class have. When they find out I’m not Italian, they say I look exotic—their eyes go right for my eyebrows. They make me repeat my names at least three times, the dummies, and they leave it at that. Exotic. They don’t want to have much of a conversation when I say I’m Persian. The really clever ones might make a sorry joke about cats or rugs or both, and that’ll be the end of it. I wish I were Jewish. Jewish or Italian. That way, it’d be OK to have an accent, leg hair, a big nose, thick eyebrows, pickled foods in the pantry, a grandmother with bad posture who lives with you.

I rub Ivory on a sponge and the sponge on my belly until it feels like rubber, until the water turns the color of the powdered milk I mix when we are out of the regular stuff. My baby hairs coil up into a force field around my ponytail. I stand up to crack the window, which sticks. Sometimes, when I am sitting on the toilet, I peel strips of paint from the window while I think about Scotty—his crew cut, the veins in his forearms, his anklebones jutting out from socks orange with baseball field dirt. The dirt, I bet, tastes like river water.

I can see only my knees. The left one is crisscrossed with scars from shaving and a night game of Jailbreak. There is a girl in my class, who each week, I swear to God, has a gash on her legs from shaving. I’m not talking about a cut. I mean a gash, a real ravine. She tries to hide them with those flesh-colored Band-Aids, but she’s had so many of them this year that I know to look for them as soon as she steps off the bus.

Later tonight, I will wear my dad’s old T-shirt to bed. The shirt is maroon, has a stretched neck, and smells just like I remember him smelling, which is a bit like that river water tastes—clean and dirty at the same time. When my sister slips into her side of the bed, she will be immediately quiet. She’ll become small, like a bird. When the fan blows in her direction, through the streetlight near Scotty’s house, I will watch as a few of her hairs lift and shudder before falling back to the others.

Leila Marie Crawford is spending a lot of time on being brave and creative these days.  In New Jersey, she teaches, writes, and spends time with her family.  She adores new bars of soap, fried artichokes, and the smell of Play-doh.

 Illustration by Marc Snyder