By Maia Harrison

Have you ever been so sick your tongue swelled and filled the back of your throat? Imagine that feeling through your whole body. That’s what it’s like being wood again. You don’t know how much you’ll miss a thing like blood, or fingernails, until it’s gone. You might never think about your regenerating skin cells, or the slosh of fluids in your stomach, or hiccups—but imagine the constant chaos of your body suddenly going stiff. Being a real boy means being a good boy, she whispered beneath my thoughts. For years, I spent each day behind a desk, while the drone of flies mixed with the teacher’s wandering voice, sunshine condensing into stuffy heat. And every evening I helped Gepetto hack up chunks of oak, despite the psychological implications. Chores and chastity and this aching boredom: the cost of borrowed flesh and bone.

But it’s hard to stay good when the air is caught between seasons, tasting half of watermelon and half of pumpkin, and she’s looking at you with those well-deep eyes. Did the fairy think I’d stay a boy forever? Did her moon-blue skin just flush hot as a kettle when she peered down and saw me unbuttoning Carolena’s skirt?

I’ve relearned how to use my Jenga-block fingers and clacking jaw, but not everything has a puppet approximation. Carolena tugs at her hair-bow like she’s tolling a bell, and glances at my etched hair, my outdated, painted-on lederhosen. The breeze swirls up a kaleidoscope of leaves, and she plucks them from her hair, though they look like they belong there, nestled in her like-colored curls.

“Does it hurt?”

“Not exactly.” I don’t bother explaining how it doesn’t hurt, which is worse. Her blouse is pressed so well the shoulders are still relaxing out of the little peaks left by the iron.  She’s going to college someday, you can just tell. The sun is catching in my horse-hair eyelashes, rainbowing my vision, when she clasps my hand suddenly.

“Momma told me this could happen. She said making love too soon stunts your growth.

“I don’t think this is what she meant, exactly.”

“Well, what difference does it make, what she meant exactly?”

I can see perfectly the kind of woman Carolena will become, how she’ll carry herself in lecture halls, the meals she’ll someday prepare for her family. I can see her rushing miles ahead, and know somehow that it would have happened just the same, either way.

“Do you still love me?” she asks.

“Forever,” I say, but my wooden heart doesn’t even beat.

Maia Harrison’s work has previously been featured in the Orlando Sentinel and Touchstone Literary Journal, where she served as Editor-in-Chief from 2009 to 2011. She has served as a contributing editor to the Barrier Islands Review, and was the recipient of the 2011 Sullivan Award for excellence in Creative Writing. She received a B.A. in English with a creative writing minor from Stetson University in May 2011, and currently works as a Learning Specialist at Daytona State College in Daytona Beach, Florida.