BY Erika Eckhart
“Don't let me see those little motherfuckers.” He measured out a 1-cup portion for the boy child and the girl child and locked the rest of the cornflakes in the car, took the toilet paper to work, locked their momma in his room and made her beg for the key. He made sure they could hear everything. He picked them up by their chins and told them he could make them and their slut mother disappear. So, that summer they hid in the forest behind the house until mid-day when he went to work at the paint factory. There, they built a fort of rotted logs and wooden palettes stolen from behind the 7-11. They filled their home with furniture picked from the garbage, hung mobiles of perfectly-cleaned bird bones, stapled flannels from the thrift store donation bins as wallpaper, put out vases of weeds in empty beer bottles. Then, once everything was settled the way they liked it, they passed the days tidying their home with brooms fashioned from branches and reading comics. At mealtimes they ate generic ho-ho’s and drank the colored juices that come in tiny plastic barrels with wispy foil tops. They made conversation and asked to be excused from the table. Once, they found their home destroyed: their palette walls covered in spray painted remarks and broken in places, their beer-bottle vases filled with urine, and on their furniture, three little plastic sleeves that held shiny fluid like the iridescent film that collected in the still spaces on the creek. It took them a week to roam the alleys and campsite remains to find materials to rebuild. They took turns standing guard at the fort. When it was her turn, the girl child eagerly remembered a housewife waiting eagerly for her husband to return in a black-and-white sitcom. She stood at the entrance way in an apron fashioned from leaves, hummed an ancient song, and swayed back and forth, waiting for the boy child to return.
If they find him encased in ice they might mistake him with Adam.
After the last surgery they decided not to reconstruct his belly-button. It’s only a cosmetic concern they said, a tiny depression and now it’s just a smooth plane, but likely, when he is found he will be just bones and some future culture will look at the nicks and depressions marking his extremities, the inside of his fingers like the teeth of broken zippers, and think that we practiced torture or conclude that we evolved small indentations for holding pens or saws, or that we were defective. If there was any skin left they could see so much more. That’s the real prize, when there is still skin. They could see the indelible blackness draping his fingertips. They would see the darkness beneath his nails, each explaining a decade, the examination of just one might tell the story of a house he bought, a failed marriage, a bottle hidden under a chair, and then two, and then no house, and the process of building master bedrooms for others and then returning to a small trailer at night. They would see the scars that wind can create when it beats the same place for too long, the redness highlighting each stressed, protruding follicle coating his throat and the soft part under his eyes. We must remind ourselves that, given time, moving air creates mountains out of dust.
You can imagine she feels terrible now, half a century later, about what happened. They taught school children not to give water to burn victims; that their insatiable thirst was deadly. That somehow it would drown them, even though they appeared leaky. So when those that were closest to the blast, white with char, the ghost people, came begging for water, she said no, no, no. She was expecting help, an emergency crew, nurses to make the men stop moaning and glue their skin back on. They put the remains of their hands together and pleaded. Please, please, please little miss. They used their last breathes asking. She is still murmuring to herself around the house while doing the dishes or in the shower, “If I knew they would die anyway, I would have given them the water.” And the same dream comes to her still: she is surrounded by men that start with melted eyes and begin to dissolve further, their skin coming off in sheathes, everything collecting in a pool at her feet, the men keep complaining about their sight and each time she says it will be okay, they erode further and the pool rises, approaching her neck.
This was the third month she’d hid her soiled underwear in the burgundy suitcase with a gray monogram that only accidentally matched her initials, quietly like a wounded soldier scared to admit his injury for fear that he will be left behind. Each morning, before her brother and mother woke up, she doused the three pairs in rubbing alcohol (her grandmother used it to clean her scrapes when she was little) and returned them to a sealed plastic bag under all of her other belongings. She was running out of underwear. At first she had attempted matting up toilet paper, but it clung to her pubic hair creating little roly-polies, enhancing the smell, holding it to her. The smell—that was the real problem. This month their room had a balcony overlooking the pool. She worried the chlorine would emphasize the smell, which reminded her of the time a mouse died under her grandmother’s house and they had to wait for the earth to take it back She tried to keep her legs clenched at night in this the queen bed next to her mother’s, and in the one before this and in the one before that. She remembered, last summer a boy she knew taunted her with a Slurpee, an amalgam of cherry and coke; he told her that’s what girls were like inside.