They Are All Turning to Sand by Bridget G. Dooley
They don’t notice at first, while suspended inside their mothers’ bellies, that their vestigial tails are flaking off in amniotic fluid. Particles of them wipe off onto blue powdered surgical gloves and the mottled nails of midwives. Doctors and social workers and doulas explain to their legal guardians in careful, level voices that this is a condition about which nothing can be done, that they will be deteriorating even as they grow. “We’ve never seen so many of them,” the medical professionals say, “it is a sort of scattered epidemic.”
A few of them get tired of wiping the dust layer off their elementary-school desktops with their shirt sleeves, of being called “grimy,” or “that dirt kid.” So they fake sick to stay home but mostly they get bored of daytime television and return to class after a few days. Their mothers make them wait in minivans in parking lots and they can’t tell if the crumbs stuck to the undersides of their thighs are their own or the remnants of graham crackers past. They take their first trips on planes. They wonder how much of themselves is circulating through the air-recyclers, throughout the cabin, into the pilots’ lungs. They explain to their first boyfriends and girlfriends why is it is their lips feel so gritty, like kissing asphalt. Many of them don’t have boyfriends or girlfriends after that. Those of them that graduate high school spend much of the ceremony shaking soil from their gown sleeves.
They track college hallways with people-trails, sand pouring out of the aeration holes of their sneakers. They take a class with an older woman who barrel-curls her honey-dyed hair, slams diet sodas, wears aviators in lectures, and asks questions about the syllabus too loudly. She doesn’t have any of the manners they’ve had shamed into them. Or, instead of school, they work cutting dies or as customer service reps or telemarketers. They’re more comfortable on the phone, where they don’t have to worry about shooting sand at someone if they sneeze.
One of them starts a support group online. Another puts up fliers for a mixer.
They sit together in twos, threes, more, having only just realized that other people have this problem, too. For the first time they can discuss how some days they find only a few granules and other times it’s as if they can’t sit still without leaving behind buckets full. They hold hands and dangle their legs off railroad bridges, trying not to watch as streams of sediment fall from their pant legs and down into the river, washing them away to who-knows-where.
Bridget G. Dooley lives and writes in Kalamazoo, Michigan, which is, in fact, a real place. She is the recipient of the 2011 Bruno Shulz award for fiction and her work has appeared in Asylum Lake Magazine and Plumberries Press, among other places. She attends Western Michigan University and is an alumnus of the Prague Summer Program for creative writing.