Rule of Nines

A boy burns out his cigarette,
the ember sizzling into my flesh
like a Mentos in cola. It doesn’t hurt
at first, the skin going numb, shell-
shocked at the tobacco’s causality
as it eats through a freckle, never
to regrow. My other hand raises
and strikes, a yowling Valkyrie
sailing into the gauge of his ear,
which cauliflowers at once. A cry
more shrill than my own pierces
the silky sliver of night that shrouds
adolescence until it unravels; panicked,
I find myself razed by a woman, told
in no uncertain terms: Ladies don’t hit,
as she holds the boy’s head close
to her breast, his lips wrinkled into pucker,
a pre-feeding pout. Ice adhered to the lobe
in the hopes of subduing the swelling. I hope
it puffs like pastry. His keeper demands
satisfaction: Look at what you did, a cruel red
nail pointing to the offense, matching the crust
that adorns his skin. When I refuse to bow
and whither, the earth trembles, threatens
earthquake. Ladies are not proud. But she
can’t force me to drink from a bottle labeled
Apology, not meant for human consumption.
My mother raised me to have no fear, and I am
reckless in this defiance, a dangerous thing
that will not obey. I am never invited back.




Bailey Merlin is a recent MFA graduate from Butler University. She now spends her time wandering the streets of Boston with her dog, making banana bread with her many roommates, and working on the same six pages of her manuscript before starting all over the next day. She has been published by Anomaly Literary Review, lipstickparty magazine, The Avalon Literary Review, and others. More of her work can be found at




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