Keeping Sweet

Keeping Sweet

Julie don’t wanna be sweet no more, she says Pastor Jeff’s eyes haunt her, followin’ her around, burning pinholes in her dress. She dreams of giving birth to those eyes, big round eye-babies of rheumy blue and once-white, now yellow as his teeth. She says it hurts bad when the eye-babies are pulled from her and they’re like stiff jelly, their coating clogs the pores of her skin.

Julie said she don’t wanna marry Pastor Jeff, but Papa presents her like the Christmas goose, all trussed up in Mama’s ribbons as a gift, and Mama is no help at all, just tells her to smile more. Julie hates smiling at Pastor Jeff ‘cause when he smiles back, the tip of his tongue pokes through his teeth, all pink and shiny with thick spit and then he licks his lips all slow and meaningful, makin’ the skin on her legs shake.

Julie don’t wanna be married, she don’t wanna be Jennie, or Clara, or Susan or Maribel, their skin crumblin’ loose and bellies hard and full ‘til they’re 30. Julie don’t wanna be devoured by Pastor Jeff like all his other wives were.

Julie’s runnin’ away tonight to a house with a picket fence she saw in one of Ada’s hidden papers, she says it’s just past the red barn. She says there she’ll feel the weight of her hair on her spine and wear cut-off shorts in the summer. She might even ride a bicycle. She says I can go too, if I want, but although I’ll miss Julie and my chores will take longer to do, I’m gonna stay sweet, pray and obey like Pastor Jeff and Papa says, ‘cause I’m only eleven and not for marryin’ yet.


Julie don’t wanna run away no more, she says there’s no picket fence just past the red barn, only a Circle K. On the night she ran away, Papa found her in the forecourt, cryin’ over a bright blue slushie that cost more than my shoes. The blue stayed on her lips for days, makin’ her look dead as Grammy on the night her heart stopped and I listened close to Julie sleepin’, afraid the excitement had done her in.

Mama won’t look at Julie, even when they’re folding sheets together, just lets out sighs that come from deep in her legs and Papa is cross. He says Pastor Jeff has some prayin’ to do, thinkin’ and praying’ and I can’t help but pray too.


Pastor Jeff don’t wanna marry Julie no more, says she’s too wild and Papa is hurtin’ with what he calls “the shame.” Mama has taken back all her ribbons, they’re in the bedroom drawer makin’ the shadows pretty and Julie should be happy but she’s not. She says there’ll always be another Pastor Jeff, another Papa and no white picket fence. So, I’m plannin’ on runnin’ away, far past the Circle K to find a place where Julie and I can live together, ridin’ bicycles and keepin’ everything sweet.


About the Author

Marie-louise McGuinness comes from a wonderfully neurodiverse household in rural Northern Ireland. She has work published in numerous literary magazines including Splonk, Gone Lawn, Bending Genres, Intrepidus Ink, The Metaworker, JAKE, Roi Faineant Press, and The Airgonaut amongst others. She enjoys writing from a sensory perspective.


Image by Robert Cheaib from Pixabay