Gabrielle Lee


Gabrielle Lee earned her MFA from Eastern Washington University, where she also served as Managing Editor for Willow Springs. Based in southern California, she currently lives the life of a domestic superhero: government administrator by day, writer by night. Her short work has appeared in SwitchbackThe Common's Dispatches section, and various anthologies. Her (illustrated!) sci-fi novella, JENNY & THE LABYRINTH, is forthcoming from Monthly Fiction starting December 1st, 2016, and her first novel, COMFORTS WE DESPISE, is forthcoming from Zoozil Media in 2017. She writes regular blog posts on her website's Throwback Thursdays section, and you can find her on Twitter @yesrielee

Photograph Without Time-Lapse Montage

The tattoo on her back is chainmail.  Her new husband might understand it but the girl I knew ten years ago wasn't interested in the permanence of ink.  But she married him, not me, and the chainmail is high up on her back, right under her necklace, choking her in that ink in that dress in that life and she stares at the wall as she zips up her purse on the table.  Her back is still strong, the muscles she used to use for being a better ballerina than me still wait for an opportunity to expand,

contract.  He wears a military uniform and she works on the base as a secretary, she was always a better dancer than me. Pointed feet and small, petite body it wasn't fair how beautiful her feet were her arms were her hands were they were perfect. They were perfect. Her arabesques higher than ninety degrees her pirouettes tripled before the rest of us and clean. Neat. Perfect. It wasn't fair. Her mother cleaned our house while the two of us played Barbies upstairs. I had Barbie's legs but not her perfect skin not her perfect hair not her perfect dress not her perfect

boyfriend. Both of us were young and flat-chested and brown-haired and half-white. My mother paid her mother to clean our house; they were both white. What did that have to do with any of it? What did that have to do with us? Our skin was darker but it was our mothers who had endured traumatic pasts. Our hair was in buns and we had more flyaways than bobby pins could hold and my mother was a teacher it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that my mother was her mother's boss. We ignored it. It wasn't our story.

I have no tattoos. I did not become a ballerina and neither did she. Our bodies are women's bodies now,

women's bodies
not boys not girls not mothers,

we are women. She seems happy in that photo but the chainmail binds her somewhere where I'm not bound. Our feet have no blisters and our bodies have withered away from that muscly tautness they once flaunted. Her head is tilted to the left, eyelashes black and dark, eyes closed, silhouette of browned skin perfect, flawless. I am a secretary, too.

Now she stands still. She makes no sound.


Miss Sue From Alabama


I've never eaten Betty Crocker but I sang it in the song. It's the sort of food
mothers buy their young girls in the South, where it rains on white picket fences
in the summer,  some cookie mix prepared by '50s mothers tending their prized
houses and husbands— 

My mother feeds me hippie food, everything-from-scratch food:
kale, yoghurt, oats; up-to-date with the latest in parenting trends,
nothing processed, no sugar, never sugar. She doesn't let us eat fruit
for six months. We watch the grapes grow in our California backyard: 
         we watch them fall, we watch them rot. She is a modern mother,
         a working mother, an immigrant; sometimes she makes me clothes
         but they never fit quite like the ones she buys from the store. Once
         she gets a full-time job she tucks away her sewing machine 

         to rot in the hall closet. I play hand-clapping games at recess
         and think about the subjects of our songs, those girls in the South
         I sometimes see in movies, and those girls wear dresses,
         home-sewn, pastel, cinching at the perfect places on their waists, 

         dresses that they wear to the first day of high school somewhere in
         Louisiana, Alabama, it makes no difference. In second grade, in California,
         where the fences are cross-hatched and metal, I watch my teacher, who is from Alabama
         like Miss Sue, herd us around like sheep, strict and sharp. Her eyes soften sometimes 

when she tells our parents how lucky they are to have us. I imagine she is Miss Sue,
whose real name's Suzy-Anna, who grew up in waist-cinching dresses and watched her mother sew them,
and now she watches girls her age raise new girls and send them to her classroom and take them to church
while Miss Sue only requires one seat. Years later I'm too old but pregnant anyway, and I visit her, 

         sit with her in her living room, I on the couch, her on the rocker,
         as she sews dresses for the girl who never made it out of her,
         and together we watch the old grandfather clock, paint breaking down
         like our bodies: tick, tock, tick-tock, banana rock—

© The Acentos Review 2016