I am standing at the edge of Eddy Pond with Pa and a white bucket. He tells me we’re catching fish today. I ask him where the boat is and he doesn’t know, says there’s a patch of mud instead.

He doesn’t give me a fishing rod or show me how to load the bait. I watch the pond and the carcasses of old land that the water swallowed: mossy landbones converted in bird’s nests.

Pa catches his first fish and it’s the size of a turtle’s head. Its bloody eye starts to taint the water in the bucket and I ask Pa if we’ll eat this fish. He says, ‘can’t eat this fish.’

The pond water is brown but it ripples. It’s not cleared for swimming. I think that we should have gone to Carbuncle Pond instead but then I remember Penny and her loud voice and jean jacket and the lizards at my feet. I almost drowned that day because I fell asleep in the water, sort of birth-calm, while my mother sat on a beach chair, low to the ground. When we came home my sister and I urinated painfully and we weren’t allowed to go there ever again. Something about the pH level.

Pa pulls in another fish, a weird fish. It looks at me while its gills bleed. I ask Pa if we’ll eat this fish. He says, ‘can’t eat this fish.’

This new fish has a large eye and when I look through it I can see our kitchen with the linoleum flooring peeling up at the corners. My family, all of us, we’re sitting at a table eating microwaved fish sticks and complaining about the weather. Around my neck is a hook and line carrying fish bones, reassembled like an old fossil. Wearing this puts me at the head of the table and nobody speaks until I do.

It’s grey outside. The clouds do the fish no favors, give their skin no shine. Guess it helps them blend in, like pruned fingers in soap-water. I wonder if their scales are ever clean.

The fishing pole looks relaxed in Pa’s fingers. There are no finger-cuts, no splinters. We used to keep the poles in the closet at home but I touched them too often. Got myself tangled up. Some head shaking and hard work before I was allowed to touch them again. The way Pa stared made me feel like I was in quicksand.

Not the first time I felt that way. My sister told me about quicksand. I started to think my bed could be quicksand, that the floor could be quicksand. One night when I was left home alone, I felt like the whole house was quicksand. I cried in my driveway until my neighbor noticed.

Three fish in the bucket now. I look at Pa, then the fish, then at Pa. I ask him if we can eat that fish. He says, ‘Can’t eat these fish.’

The fish don’t move in the bucket. Just a few twitches. I could grab one and it wouldn’t slip through my fingers. Pa gives me a look. I put my hands in my pockets. He looks past me. I start to walk.

The shore of Eddy Pond is a bunch of tree stumps and weeds. There is a camp there that’s closed now. Three blue buildings with chipped paint and one rusted swing set. Once when we were swimming there a boy told us he saw a snapping turtle. All of us sat on the dock and watched to see if it’d eat his fingers. He was brave. My sister jumped off of the dock and cut her foot on a broken bottle. We talked about it at home for weeks. The kids looked at her like she was sunshine.

I used to imagine there were people in the woods here. One girl who was always running. She’d say she had to hide before they put her on the moon. I never asked who they were. Sometimes at night I look for the shape of her body in the sky. Sometimes I salute.

Pa calls my name in a half-yell as if hoping to lose me. I dig my heels in the mud. It’d be easy to stay here, I think. Make a fire and catch fish, maybe other things. The woods would smell like wet boots and burnt hair. Whatever trash was thrown on the ground that day.

I walk to Pa’s red truck and he isn’t in it. The bucket is placed on the front seat, where I’d sit normally, meaning I’d have to hold it to my lap on the ride home.

I look in the bucket and at the weird fish, which now shows me its other eye. I tell it a story about how the bucket water is clean water and how Eddy Pond has snapping turtles and broken beer bottles at the bottom. The weird fish burps.

I imagine the bucket has the other fishes’ skeletons, perfectly intact. The weird fish presenting their bones.

Pa opens the truck door. He sits and touches the radio and settles on the baseball game.

‘What’s the capital of New Mexico?’ he asks.

‘Santa Fe’ I say.

He turns the key. The bucket shakes with the start of the engine and makes the water move. The fish swim in circles. The weird fish blinks.

‘New York?’

‘Albany.’

He puts his foot on the gas and we go backwards. The pond gets smaller. The fish do too. Perhaps they’re dancing now that the truck is gone. Maybe they’re having a meeting.

‘Denmark?’

‘Copenhagen.’

We’re almost home. Eddy Pond is a short walk, shorter drive. The sun doesn’t come through the trees here. The walk is full of horseflies.

‘Iceland?’

‘Reykjavik.’

We pull into the driveway.

Pa brings the bucket into the kitchen. Ma and sister come to look. Pa tells them they’re yellow perch. I listen. He says there was too much milfoil. I listen. My sister reaches into the bucket.

I go upstairs to start the bath, step on the rotten floorboards. Too much water damage, probably from splashing. Sometimes I play drowning and kick my feet like flippers. Ma usually gives me a look.

I wash quick and put on my pajamas. My sister gets in next and shares my water. I sit on the rug near the tub and pick at the peeling floor.

‘What’s the capital of New Mexico?’ I ask.

‘Santa Fe’, she says.

‘New York?’

‘Albany.’

‘Denmark?’

‘Copenhagen.’

‘Iceland?’

‘Reykjavik.’

I tell her that last one is wrong and leave the bathroom. Ma comes in next to hand her a towel straight from the dryer. I watch. Their hair curls the same way, dark and swampy. Pieces stick to their cheeks like mud.

The tub is still full. The water is grey. I imagine the weird fish is in there, hiding. The drain-plug still in and trapping it. I climb back in.

Sometimes when I put my head underwater it sounds like waves. The same sound of holding a shell to your ear but with muffled voices in the background.

Ma walks in and sees my soaked pajamas, their red dye staining the water. She shakes her head and leaves. The water in the fabric makes me heavy, like my limbs are caught in weeds. I feel on display here and wonder if they ate the fish. There were three fish. I didn’t say goodbye to the weird fish, but it’s used to that. I’m sure it was okay.

When JD was thirteen the babysitter touched him. He said he wanted it.

Her name was Heidi and she died of an aneurysm a few years later. When my parents told him he sat on the front deck and threw old cigarettes into a pot of black-eyed Susans. “I could have married her” he said.

I stood in the driveway and washed my feet off with the hose, filled the flower pot and watched the cigarettes float. The way they surrounded the flowers made them look like smokeworms, their bodies ash-plump and drowning.

JD flicked his lighter on, and off, and on until his friends came by. They drove a yellow Geo Tracker with zip-up windows and a broken muffler. It sounded like the gas tank was filled with gravel. The right door had a dent from a joyride that left them bloody and dishonest. I watched them leave and stayed outside.

“Bunch of derelicts” my mom always said. I didn’t know what the word meant and didn’t care. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear.

My sister stared at me through the bay window, her back lit by the lamplight. She doesn’t get it. It was a comforting thought.

*

JD didn’t come home for a few days. When I asked my parents where he was they said, “He put a tent in Shane’s backyard.”

Sometimes he did that.

I looked out the window every few hours to try and see him. Behind our house was a long stretch of woods and bog-like swamps. It was easy to get lost. JD once nailed large planks of wood to some of the trees. I always thought it was to keep the swamp out of the yard. He covered them in spray-paint, pictures that looked like men with open mouths. He must want to scare things, I thought.

An old tabby cat crossed the yard and dragged a dead leg behind it. One of our neighbors had shot it for trespassing. When I asked my mom to adopt it she said no because it was feral. I felt bad for it.

My sister was practicing ballet behind me in the kitchen. She slipped in her socks and grabbed my neck for balance, her fingers tight and bruising. I raised my shoulders to my ears and she criticized my technique. I looked down. Her feet were usually pointed and bloodied from her shoes, the wool pads not stopping her nails from splitting. I looked up and kept watching out the window.

I never expected to see anything other than bike riders and our neighbors chopping firewood. It still felt important to look. One time, a neighborhood girl impaled herself on her handlebars. I missed it. After that, my parents only pulled me away if a salesman was walking up our driveway.

*

When JD came home he stopped at the bottom of the stairs. My sister stood at the top. Her hair was shower-wet and sat in her collarbones.

“Say that again and I’ll snap your neck in half,” JD said.

She said, “You’re worthless.”

The tile at the bottom of the steps had cracks in it. My eyes were fixed there while I listened. There was probably a slight breeze hitting his ankles from the draft beneath the front door, freezing his joints. He was holding onto a garbage bag. My parents were watching a crime drama in the next room, its opening theme a soundtrack.

JD said, “One day I’m going to come in here and smash your jaw into the counter.”

He never talked to me like that. I walked into the kitchen and poured a glass of water.

On the fridge there was a photograph of me and JD from a long time ago. In it I was hairless, a bundle of red fleece and alien-large blue eyes. He had his arms around me and stared at the parts of my body that needed support, like my bones were going to snap in his hands. I was looking at the camera with my lips folded in, head dropped onto his shoulder.

The photo was taken in a dark room and we were lit by nothing but the flash. It was this odd ball of comfort, a small focus. His t-shirt was white.

Every time my mom caught me looking at it she said, “He loved you.” She used the past-tense even though he was still alive.

*

JD took me with him to Tommy O’Neil’s house sometimes. Before I was born they grew up together, like brothers. His dad was always sitting in the front yard with a chessboard, mumbling to the dead grass. His hair would get caught in the chap of his lips whenever he took a drag of his cigarette. He never accepted challengers and only moved the pieces on one side of the board. Whenever we walked by him, JD would wrap his arm around my waist, under my shirt, and pet my hip.

“Ignore him” he always said.

Tommy had a younger brother named Sean that had a scar across his neck. It made him look like a scarecrow. He never talked about it. When he caught people looking, he would hunch his shoulders and drop his chin to his chest. I always tried to look down, keep my eyes on the patterned carpet. It had circles upon circles of ribbons and birds.

I never paid much attention to anything else when I was there. Sean would grab a scale, measure weed into plastic bags. Tommy would take money. Sometimes they’d smoke. Sometimes JD held the joint to my lips and told me to suck. I never did it without coughing or crying. The room would warp like I was seeing it through a fishbowl, JD patting my back hard enough to feel it in my chest, all the way to my ears.

He put me in his bed those nights so he didn’t get in trouble.

“They’ll notice your eyes,” he said.

“You look pretty like this” he’d say later.

*

One day I was home from school with a fever. I had a nightmare about being sucked down a drain pipe.

From upstairs I heard my mom arguing with JD.

“I can’t go to school,” he said. “My pants aren’t dry.”

I had fallen asleep wearing my mom’s nightgown. It hung low on my chest and had a lighthouse on it. I bunched the fabric in my hands so I wouldn’t trip and went downstairs. JD was naked on the couch, half-covered by a hospital-pink quilt. I stood still.

My mom handed him a dry pair of pants and said “Put them on.”

He said, “I don’t like those. They make me look like a fag.”

He pulled the blanket over his face so only his bangs were sticking out. He had shaved the rest of his head and dyed those blue. This was his fourth absence in a row. It was his last year at trade school where he studied culinary arts and didn’t care about it. He was talented but child-slow and skipped class most days to threaten kids in the hallway.

Their fight didn’t last long. She handed him the TV remote and said nothing else. He didn’t look up from his lap until she left, only removed the blanket. The couch was his bed because his old attic-mattress had bats living in it. They got in through a hole in the fabric.

I piled up a few pillows on the floor next to him and fell asleep. I woke when my mom came home for lunch. JD’s hand was in my hair.

“You shouldn’t make her go to dance class” he said.

“She’s fine” my mom said.

I was sweating through my nightgown and pretended to be asleep when my mom touched my head.

“She has to go tomorrow” my mom said.

*

JD went inside Tommy’s house and left me outside. His father was at the chessboard, mumbling, the pieces untouched. I sat across from him.

“Your move” he said.

It was the first time he’d talked to me directly. He’d drool out words sometimes but always to the pieces. My mom told me his brain was fried from the ‘60s. I moved a pawn.

I watched his fingers while he thought of his move. They looked calloused, like he’d spent the day holding a chainsaw or plucking guitar strings. I didn’t see either in the yard, just a baseball bat and a few golf balls. He moved the knight.

“How’s your dad doing?”

I shrugged.

It had been a long time since the two of them talked. Their garbage business didn’t make any money and they blamed each other. My sister said dad had a gambling problem and that I was too young to know.

They didn’t tell me much. I had to learn from stuff we had around the house, like a picture of my footprint next to a newspaper cutout of my sister nearly-naked in a sprinkler. Behind her there were strawberry bushes, dull and greyscale. I remember getting caught in the thorns and bleeding. The news story was something about a heatwave and ways to keep cool. Behind that photo was one of JD sitting in a lawn chair, wearing overalls and smoking a pipe. His face was painted like an Indian.

Tommy’s dad scratched at his beard until ashes fell out. They landed on the white squares and stayed there. I used the ear of the knight to clean under my nails until JD came outside.

When we got home he sent me upstairs alone.

*

JD came up from the basement around three in the morning. My dad had left to deliver newspapers. I was watching the backyard through the porch doors and could see his reflection in the glass, foggy and stumbling. He walked over to the computer and unzipped his pants. I asked him what he was doing.

“Going to the bathroom” he said.

I stayed quiet and kept my eyes on the woods. I could hear his breath in the next room, followed by the sound of him tucking himself back into his jeans. I spent a lot of time cleaning the computer and made sure it still worked.

Sometimes JD fell asleep standing up. He usually had something in his hands, like the phone or a hammer, but never dropped it. His head would fall forwards and startle him. I always watched. When he noticed me he’d blink a few times, like he thought I wasn’t real.

“You’re the only reason I’m alive” he’d say.

I’d tell him that wasn’t true.

Sometimes he’d say, “You’re the only person that treats me like a human.”

I always told my mom what he said the next morning. She’d say, “He’s fine.”

*

I had a nightmare on a school night when JD was in the hospital. In it there were three men forcing pills down his throat. He was crying and digging his fingernails into his forearm. The motion peeled off his tattoos.

I wrote about it in class. We had an assignment that tried to get us to use the senses. I wrote that his tears looked like oil, and that the pills wriggled like maggots.

My teacher held me after class and asked how things were at home. They all knew my brother was trouble. I didn’t say anything. She asked how my brother was doing. I didn’t say anything. She tried again.

“How are you doing?” she said.

“No” I said.

She watched me closer after that. Having her eyes on me made me feel inside out, like my ribs were an open cage. I didn’t like the attention. One afternoon she called my mom in for a conference. On the car ride home she asked, “Why do I have two of you?” She looked at me and JD like we were one person, connected by strangeness. It was a comforting thought.

*

When Tommy’s dad was killed he came to live with us. He and JD were starting a business selling powerful vacuums and made us watch the demonstration more than once. Tommy liked to tell my sister she was pretty, that she looked like Catherine Zeta Jones. My sister liked to hear it.

JD didn’t have much time for me anymore. If I wanted to see him I had to have a reason, like bringing him his mail. He was always on the phone and would yell if we listened on the other end. One day he was sitting on the front porch with the cordless phone in his hands. It had run out of battery. I was drawing flowers with sidewalk chalk, making their stems look bug-eaten. JD got quiet. I looked at him and waited.

“I’m so glad that bitch is dead,” he told me. He shook his head and went to the basement through the back. The glass door never locked. He jammed a golf club in the slider so it’d stay closed and I tried to follow him. He saw me through the glass and didn’t move. I sat on the pebbles outside of the door. They marked my skin like red freckles.

I always wanted JD to be alive. I didn’t know why.

You

 

 

don’t know that my ribs are a cemetery, that

sea shells rest here and sound like death when you listen.

i tried to tell you that the ocean comes to die here

that there’s no infinity no we’re so deep the pressure

could fold our bodies – look

 

 

you can see its heart through its skin 

isn’t that something?

 

 

there’s the sound of your cigarette burning, a faint

crumpling of paper at a grave and you’re saying 

i loved you once - and i thought there’s some beauty

in that before the tide came in and turned my bones

to sewing pins - some beauty. 

 

 

You

 

 

used your oars as a shovel without realizing that

was shameful. that, “digging up the dead” is not thinking

we’re destined to sink here, tangled. I tried to

speak through soil to tell you yes that touch

is electric – your hands belong to living and

 

 

oh – there’s the sound of an anchor scraping.

there’s some beauty in that –  some beauty.

This old apartment has beetles in the mirror
could be me
shedding wings in the laps of firepoles
or men, their mouths open like coal-chutes

Look at anything too long and
knuckles are metal and gong-beat-backed
concrete slabs that move
like an old rocker children split their eyes on,

Moon-bird in the window
roars
pours salt on my bedsheets and
skin shrivels the
old tiles applaud, clasp hands
with half-peeled walls and 

there are shells in there, all pieced
like the corners of a collarbone,
a young boy from Cincinatti trades
organs for wood and arsenic 
the currency of row boats.

I can see the floor move while sleeping
and feel my chest a Harlem window
conducting the electricity of the body
cleansed in rain and steam

Sane boy tried to make this place beautiful
and ended up feeding flies.

Walk like Tiffany

            people wearing

shuffle in guttered gutted birds

We heard morning

                         Sworn

                             Swelling

                                    Tell me

                                        come back to bed

red blanket

          our

rib-stained musket.

Mud slow moving

                   gallop feet in

                               harmony

to hair-slicked

quick-fingered widow.

crowded room

morgue

more    drumming

run memento mori

his 

Insomnia said forty five

speed

             spit on virus

sit on wired cables

we clean until midnight

close at moon

            bone

                    collars on doorhooks

hanging men

tried our best

           his chest his need

mouse feet petit allegro

our tongue in

      his eyes

           ozones benzos

                           jitter

                           quicker release

My mother curls up against the body of the dead horse. I say to her, “It was always a ghost-horse, you know. Too-white and his burrs never stuck to my sneakers.” Tony scratches the back of his head, scaly and sunburnt, makes him look older. I sit on the fence and watch, kick rocks at my niece’s bare shins.

Simmy,” mother whispers, “I didn’t know.” I want to tell her that he’s dead and can’t hear what she’s saying, that he wouldn’t even if he was alive. Tony grabs my purse and asks me if I have gum, pulls me over to the barn.

It might be best if you leave them be for a while,” he says.

I say, “Funny words coming from a horse-killer.”

He says, “Simmy was suicidal,” and I kiss him hard on the mouth. His lack of guilt makes him more attractive.

I’ve got an alibi,” I say, “and it’s approved by Mary.”

******

I spent the day by the Virgin Mary statue in our backyard. She was bolted to the dead grass, white-covered eyes on the street. I worked on making her a headdress of flowers my neighbor had grown to make her look less cold, saw my mother’s horse, Simmy, kept walking into the road.

Stay away, funny horse,” I yelled. He did not yell back.

I told Mary not to worry, “All white horses have wings.” She did not seem as confident, kept her posture strong.

Simmy is a strange horse with a bad leg, think he might have brain damage. My mother told me he was abused, that my cousins used to beat him with large rocks. I didn’t tell her I was with them when they did it and she never asked.

The stable is only feet from our home, next to a red barn that invades our eyesight when we look out our window each morning. The nearest house isn’t for miles. The lack of traffic on this road makes the street full of strange people. The farm down the road has a woman that was arrested for chasing her husband around the backyard with a hatchet and without clothes. Hurt the man bad, painted the grass red. The way it patterned made it look like glass.

The pavement of our street was hot. I expected Simmy’s hooves to melt, his legs to sink into the road. I sat on the grass near Mary’s stone dress to keep my feet cold, watched Simmy wander. The sun made his mane look like stars. Blast off, horse, I thought. Simmy did not move. His stillness bothered me. I began calling his name. “Simmy.” He shook his head. “Come here boy!” He stomped his right foot. “Move,” I said. He neighed.

I asked Mary for help. Her statue-mouth wouldn’t open. I took the flowered headpiece I was crafting for her and said “Well, Mary. You’ve earned yourself one less tulip on this headdress,” and shoved the unused flowers in my mouth. I chewed them and felt like Simmy. Horse had bad taste.

Simmy watched. Cars began to talk at him with loud horns. The sound made him trot forward to the deer-warning sign next to my family farmhouse. I knew this meant I had to update it to include Pegagus-warnings as well.

“Simmy,” I said, “come any closer and I’ll have to tip you over.” He blew air from his nose and stood still. There was no reason for mother to be so infatuated with this particular horse. He had fishbowl eyes, large and watery, the type that the sunlight feeds on. She hadn’t mounted him in years, said his bones weren’t strong enough, that they’d shatter into marble-small pieces. The light grey of his fur was like dust, as if he was reflecting the inside of our farmhouse. Old thing filled with sawdust and powder, potentially broken down bone. Eerie house even has crosses nailed to the attic walls, no proper floor to walk on to remove them. I used to think Mary put them there, but she’s never had the legs.

Ten minutes late, the carpenter, Tony, pulled into the driveway. His blue flannel stuck to his back with sweat. “Break in the fence?” he asked, seeing Simmy. His eyes were small and focused on my mouth. “Whatcha chewing?”

“The fence,” I said. He shook his head. I grinned.

Nobody home?”

They’re at work,” I said. “Not everyone makes their own hours.”

No school for you today?”

Decided not to go.”

Sick?”

No. Knew you’d be here.”

Can’t get into college if you don’t graduate high school.”

That’s fine, though. You like your girls young.” He swallowed his breath, I watched his throat move.

I should fix that fence,” he said, and grabbed a toolbox from his truck.

It had taken me only twelve days to map Tony’s routine. On Monday, he came by to paint before the school bus showed up at my house. Tuesday, brought a male friend to help him scrape wallpaper around lunch. The male friend was around his age, fifty or so, but looked kinder. Made him less attractive. The rest of the week alternated between him not showing up at all, or sawing wood on the front porch for an hour or two. He had a bright smile at a lady jogger that passed each day around noon.

First time I met her she asked me why we were moving into my great-grandfather’s home. “Is Marty dead?” she asked. I told her, “No, just in a home now.” She was relieved to know he was alive. I told her, “He should be dead. He’s old and sad.” She did not respond. My mother interrupted the conversation. Said the jogger was an old friend, did not introduce me as her daughter. Last time she was here I told her a new route, said the sight of her bothers the horses. She asked me if I was Bonnie’s daughter, I said yes. She said I look nothing like her. “Good thing, she has a terrible nose,” I said. She clenched her teeth, made her neck look strained.

Tony led Simmy across the street. He hammered at the break in the fence. Removed his shirt. I told Mary to stop watching. She always had a perverted way about her, often focusing her stare on the bathroom windows of our home. I wondered why my parents didn’t factor that into the renovations. They didn’t seem to mind the invasion of privacy as much as I did.

“Should be good” he said, “Strange though, the breaks in the fence seem to be burnt off. Like someone torched the wood.” Behind him I could see Simmy back in the street.

“Careful, Tony. This is a teleporting horse,” I said.

He wrinkled his forehead and scrunched his nose. Made him look younger. He led Simmy across the street again, worked on another break in the fence. The sound of his hammer nailing the wood was rhythmic, lulling. I lay on the grass and started playing with the waistband of my skirt. Same result. Tony asked my permission to enter the barn and took rope, said he’d tie Simmy in place.

I knew the only place to tie Simmy was around the throat or the stomach, directed Tony to the smallest rope. He tried to fit it around Simmy’s body but gave up, made a noose-like loop and kept Simmy in place.

I laughed at the sight of him. The rope was tied tightly around his throat. “To the gallows!” I yelled. Tony shook his head.

“Funny thing,” he said, “isn’t much work left for me to do in the house. Just gotta paint a few rooms. Each time I come here, though, I never get to it. Seems like something else goes wrong.”

“Funny thing,” I said.

“Mind closing up the barn for me? I want to make sure the rope is safe.”

“Too many spiders in there, you’ll have to come with.” I told him. He listened, followed at my heels. I could hear his fingernails breaking in his teeth. “Gross habit,” I said, “chew gum instead.” I walked to the back of the barn. Tony stood at the door. I sat on the hay. He stood at the door.

“You don’t seem too scared to be in here,” he said and turned back towards the house.

“Good idea, Tony. The sex will be better if Mary watches.” He did not disagree. Simmy’s compulsion to walk in the road caused him to strangle himself with the rope in the meantime.

 

*****

Tony isn’t as thrilled about the alibi as I am. “Your parents won’t be too pleased to hear their carpenter fucked their daughter.”

It’s either that or you strangled a horse,” I say.

My niece enters the barn, crying. Her face looks like it’s melting. I ask her why she’s sad, tell her she didn’t even know the horse. She turns around and wraps herself around my father’s leg. The female jogger comes to see all of the commotion. She weeps at the sight of the horse. I tell her, “Horse needed to die, was brain damaged and had a bad leg. If it was up to me, know what I would have done?” I point at her with my index finger, thumb raised, and mouth “bang.”

Tony approaches the jogger, consoles her. Weak girl, I think. When Tony and I found the body there was no such reaction.

 

Silly thing,” I said to it, and kicked Simmy’s side. Tony knelt down, grabbed the rope. “Well, that was one hell of a knot I made,” he said and admired his work. We laughed. “Simmy was a dumb horse.”

*****

Tony runs his fingers along the hair of the jogger, who says she used to ride Simmy with my mother. He leads her to the barn, they sit down. She puts her head on his shoulder. He kisses her forehead, whispers something. I sit with Mary, pet her head. Tell her we won’t lose him.

********

Each day after Simmy’s death is routine. Tony comes by to paint, fixes a few things here and there. The jogger, knowing Simmy is dead, feels comfortable on this route again. She stops to chat. Tony offers her a glass of water. Mary and I watch. They kiss sometimes, sneak off to the barn. I watch. The sight of me makes them speed their steps. I’m aware of Tony’s mortality when I see him with her. She leaves to finish her route. Tony walks over to the backyard. He doesn’t sit, instead towers above Mary and me. I look at him, block the sun from my eyes.

Looks like things here are done,” Tony says, “just have to gather my stuff and I’ll be out of your way.”

What if things keep breaking?” I ask.

Hire someone to fix them.”

Like you?”

No.”

Tony enters the barn. Without thinking, I follow, close the door behind him, lock it. Tony laughs in reaction to the sound. “We had a good run,” he says, “now open that up, start attending school again.”

Can’t,” I say, “was expelled.”

For what?”

Started a fire in a trashcan.”

That all?”

No.”

I stand by the door for a few minutes. Tony grows impatient. I can hear his feet dragging on the barn floor, pacing. He tries to pry open the door with his tools. The wood of the door begins to snap, sounds weak. Need a new barn.

How does she taste, Tony?” I ask. He pauses.

Like someone my age,” he says.

So she’s stale, filthy.”

We don’t need to discuss this right now.” The wood continues to splinter.

She’s sweaty and wrinkled, fake blonde hair.”

Just open the barn.”

And crying over the horse. How can you even sleep with someone when you’ve seen them cry? I’d just be thinking of that the whole time.”

Tony pauses. “I only think of death when I sleep with you.”

Good,” I say.

Your parents will be home soon,” he says, “can’t keep me in here forever.” I want to tell him that mother’s mind will be on gin and arguments with father over what songs to play on the jukebox at Herbie’s, one town over. That she won’t even look at the barn. I look at Mary and nod, walk back into the house.

******

Mother comes home with hiccups and her red-eyed husband. I sit in the far corner of our living room, in view of the front door, and keep only the outside light on. The light hits Mary and makes her glow.

Those people have no business singing karaoke. They don’t know the first THING about singing,” mother says.

We should do a song together, Bon,” her husband says.

No, your voice is too low, you can’t sing anything.” Mother laughs. He joins. I join to let them know that I’m here.

That’s funny guys, I say, “but not as funny as the man I locked in the barn today.”

Mother stares at me and I rock back and forth to throw off her focus. Her body smells like remnants of the perfume she applied hours ago and chardonnay. “You what?” she asks.

I caught a man that was fondling Simmy’s corpse and I locked him in the barn.”

Fondling how?”

Inappropriately, I think.” I wink at my mother and she sends her husband to check the barn. I go to my room and stare at the fresh paint on my walls. I can see the wallpaper pattern beneath it. Looks like pig skin, I think. I look down at my feet and there are three paint drops on the hardwood. Know they’ll need to be covered in carpet. I hear Tony’s truck leave the driveway and he honks loudly. I check to make sure he didn’t wake Mary. 

The child didn’t come home today.  Serah holds the housecat to her stomach and weeps. Says he can’t go until she picks the burrs from his tail. We say the cat will hate her and scratch at her eyes. She rubs his ears.

Jonah said the boy is on machines. That they kept his foreskin because it was stars. That he was a wide-eyed-moon-freckled boy. At 3 a.m we hear him make phone calls to birds. Words like ‘Option’ and ‘Molly’. We do not know ‘Molly’.

Serah said it was hard labor. That he plucked her pelvis like a banjo. Something about his cry being electricity. The beeping monitor an amplifier. She said he had no face because it was red-covered. That they painted one on in the next room.

One night came home saying it wasn’t her child. That they swapped him with one from a shampoo commercial.  A lye-skinned boy. We heard Jonah say it has a small head, a Pluto-head. That we were on time and had war-heads, like Mars.

They named him Abel but he lives in a different house. Serah leaves an empty mattress on the floor.

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