Turn of the Millennium

by Megan J. Arlett
                  “What happened to her / did not happen to you.”
                                                                      —Meghan O’Rourke
Every day a wormhole, an investigation
of something past:
today, I’m doing nothing more for men.
Investigation, only.
And only for me.
All the ways I could have 
fallen into hurtful hands
as a child.
Call me selfish. Call me by my name.
One hundred miles from the cool-grassed summer garden, 
where we counted chickenpox scabs, 
chests flat and bare,
where we did not suffer desire, where we
spun in office chairs,
from playing, were not allowed to walk to the shops
alone for sweets,
two other ten-year-old girls:
Jessica and Holly. 
The newspapers became mirrors.
A Kent police officer said, “If Hannah Williams had been a Milly Dowler, 
she may not be dead now.” 
I know which I am. 
My parents claimed to love each other, 
perhaps they even do.
This voice of mine distinctly middle class,
lilting with school fees and long vowels. 
Why run away from home?
Why go anywhere further than the end of the garden, further 
than the queen-sized white flags on the washing line, 
damp and fresh?
Even now, I think these things don’t happen
in England, but girls were missing like teeth from a child’s grin. 
Such darkness, the lively tongue 
wagging within. 
And still, more stories breaking, more child-shaped
Our chickens clucked like grandmothers.
Why this insistence on possibility? 
I have reconciled myself to luckiness—
man who ran after me at the train station
holding return tickets I’d left in the machine,
lost keys
placing me third in line at the traffic light,
merely a witness to the T-bone,
hands owned by men who listened.
Forgive me. 
I have been granted so much.
Newborn, swaddled in arms. I name my sister Francesca Rose Arlett
as though the act is a gift. 
She is two hours old. 
August is ending. 
All her mouth knows is milk and howling.
Eight years old, camping in the garden.
Emily’s parents won’t let her, knowing
what happened to Sophie Hook.
“Snatched” they said, “nightmare” they wrote.
I have enough of those,
climb into my parent’s bed 
more nights than not.
In this newspaper clipping, a survival.
Severe head injuries, tied up with shoelaces.
her mother, Lin, her dog, and her six-year-old sister, Megan, 
dead beside her.
The hedgerow heavy with blackberries,
the wild rose’s hips, dogwood, whitebeam
all swollen with July’s juice.
Lewes Crown Court is trying a murderer.
The jury knows the following:
Sarah Payne’s brother saw 
a “scruffy-looking man with yellowish teeth”.
Sarah Payne’s shoe was found along a country lane.
A single strand of Sarah Payne’s blonde hair was found in the suspect’s van.
I have just turned nine. Sarah Payne will never turn nine.
My stomach cradles a collection
of broken wings. 
In my mouth, tucked beneath this tongue,
are words sweet with gratitude.
My shadow stretches far beyond
my reach. It could be
anyone. It makes a strangely human shape.