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Plaster by Cecilia Kennedy

Buckets of plaster line the basement walls. Mom goes downstairs to mix and measure the right amount. She sifts the white powder carefully into a pail of water and lets it rest before mixing. She calls me, and my sister, downstairs, so she can wrap us in gauze before applying the plaster to our limbs, faces, entire bodies. She tells us we’re going to go swimming, and the sun is too hot these days, and she must protect us.

Inside the plaster shell, our skin sweats, longs to breathe. We go out into the bright sun at the public pool, to see the others swimming, while we sit in the shade, sipping on water from straws. The burgers from the concession stand smell like woodsy smoke and onions, but only water through a straw will get through. When we move or stretch out in our chairs, the plaster flakes, and we leave a trail of crumbs wherever we go. Mother explains that we have a skin disease, and that plastering is the best way to protect us. She tells this to strangers. But we don’t have a skin disease.

My younger sister picks at the plaster. I tell her to stop, that she’ll be in so much trouble if Mom finds out. But secretly, I want to feel the cool waves of water splash on my skin, let it trickle down my fingers, and draw myself completely under.

When we finally leave for the day, Mom tells us that she thinks the plaster is working so well, she just wants to leave it on. The sun is much harsher than we realize these days, she says. It pokes through the cracks in the ceiling, through windows. A person can burn just sitting by the glass panes, she says, and we must stay inside. She fixes a dinner of pureed baked ziti and water, then sends us to bed.

At night, when I see my sister picking at her plaster, when we’re in our room, I don’t stop her. Instead, I think about water droplets on my skin, rays of light burning the spots into my flesh. I think of tan lines and polka-dot specks on my arms and face.

When I’m good and full of watery thoughts, I guide my sister to the bathroom, and we lock ourselves inside. Together, we pick the plaster. The gauze underneath had moved when Mom covered it, so our skin was directly exposed. When we peel off the chunks, which crumble into powder, the skin tears, and we bleed. The blood pools, and we splash each other in the fresh rain unleashed on our flesh.

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