Rumpus Original Fiction: Clockwork

By

On the other side of the boring island there was a mother who moved her kids into the car at the first purr of thunder. This was new for the mother. June was a Midwestern girl; she was accustomed to filing into cellars, brushing through dust and spiderwebs as the fingers of cold musty air hooked into her nose, unfolding careworn jokes about Oz, soft and torn at the creases, to hide the fear that thumped in her chest. But in Florida she learned that she had to choose between risking a lightning strike or a twister. She was young but she was not a stupid woman; she knew the car was a metal box. Then came the first time lightning struck her house, flashbulbing for what felt like an eon before leaving her and her children in ringing darkness, ears crackling, arm hair settling back flat. She chose the grounding of rubber tires.

Every day at 4:30 p.m. the clouds piled up behind the houses across the street. Cartoons would go off, no matter how much the girls howled, and then as the air thickened she’d take them each by a wrist and haul them out to the car. The three of them sat together in the back. The baby succumbed to the heat first, and June felt Ashley’s small heavy head pressing into her thigh, a brand burning into her skin just below her cut-offs. The baby’s sleep didn’t even wait for the rain to start.

Her older daughter, though. Chloë had never napped—not at home, not in the daycare, not at June’s mother’s, or at June’s grandma’s. She knelt in the back seat watching the clouds through the back window. Then she’d be telling her story. June could never really follow, but it seemed to be one long tale that stretched through each afternoon like a string through pearls: unicorns and brave boys and horned monsters and fairies and butterflies that talked. Sometimes the Christian Devil made an appearance. But that was June’s mother’s influence, which would hopefully be wearing off now that they were a thousand miles away. The fairies travelled in a group—sometimes her daughter made up a word for them, referring to them as a “bouquet” of fairies, or a “Nestlé”—and they protected the brave boys and fought the monsters and generally had each other’s backs.

The storms in that part of Florida were clockwork, so there was that, at least. They’d roll through and she could get the girls back inside and in front of the TV, with enough time to makeup and hair spritz and walk (slowly, she didn’t want to smell like sweat) to the restaurant. Then her shift until closing, then creeping in on cat feet like the poem so the girls didn’t wake up. The babysitter always got them to bed and asleep and locked them in, and she was also thoughtful, because she turned the kitchen light on when she left so June didn’t come back to a dark house.

In five weeks and four days June would turn twenty-one. That meant a better job, at a bar. She’d move them into a better apartment.

Lightning slashed down and thunder followed it as June mouthed “two” but her daughter’s voice was steady: Chloë told her the fairies were beating up the Devil again. June looked down, coiled a finger into her baby’s sweaty hair.

 

burning hearts within hearts within hearts burning burning you spend yourself but always there is more pouring out you will curve over every face press into every shallow indentation wrap around every blade of grass slide from ragged tip to root, roll every grain of sand between your burning fingers each grain of sand becomes a glowing coal tumble over and over under the waves into the dark and gust and gust higher higher into the air until blue becomes heat white

 

“This is a serious monsoon,” Dawn said.

June laughed. She didn’t understand why the girl always had to go for the fifty-cent word.

The two watched the rain.

“Do you have any idea when Chloë’s getting home?”

The rain came down like water had decided today was the day it would win its war with earth. June looked at Dawn’s face, soft and unmarked. Baggy T-shirt, drooping cut-offs.

She wished Chloë still considered Dawn a friend.

There came a point this year—June wished she could remember when—when the girls coming over to pick up her daughter weren’t girls anymore but young women who wore their makeup so thick June could smell it. These girls had no interest in letting Dawn tag along. If Chloë was telling the truth this morning when she slammed out the door, she was with them now, somewhere, June had no idea where.

But June carefully stepped around the knowledge that she hadn’t looked directly at her daughter in months.

The wind kicked and the rain belled in through the screen door.

The new girls terrified her.

The air settled in her mouth. June tasted copper, and the world went white with lightning.

Ashley was at her rich friend’s house in Seminole, but the fact that she didn’t know where Chloë was sizzled up June’s spine, vaulting itself from vertebra to vertebra and settling into a knot at the base of her skull. Cody shrieked in the next room, the knot throbbed, and Dawn jumped up. June made herself sit still and listen as the girl sang to Cody, soothed him back to sleep.

 

The air cool under the roach’s wings. Cool and delicious. The heat and wet beads on her hard back. She stretches her wings high high to feel the cool roll over her back like soft feelers. She stretches her legs down down toward the earth; she feels them work. The air is: water, salt, water, salt, water, salt, water, salt, meat water salt. Human nearby. But then SUGAR SUGAR SUGAR and her wings drop as her body becomes hunger and the air cool cool buffets her down toward SUGAR. The heat of the ground reaches up dark and sticky and dark is good, dark is hidden. Feels her whole self a small heat moving through the cool air, tugged down and down by the dark wet of asphalt as she lands and then the pressure terrible pressure above pushing her down into the dark and wet and she is not small heat now but a wide spreading heat until she feels the crunch of her hard back, the impossibility of her strong wings folding in spearing through her belly through her eggs into the warm wet below and her legs stretching until the snap and warmth inside billowing out and away

 

Back across the boring island Chloë was walking across the bridge alone. There were sixteen lampposts dotted across the bridge, and an angel perched on each one. She had tried not looking, and looking right at them. She had stopped thinking they were a trick of the light four lampposts ago. Their eyes were flat moonstones, and they followed her as she walked no matter what she said to them or if she gave them the finger. Their wings reached out up into points that met over their heads. Their hands and feet gripped the tops of the posts.

 

If your sister’s throat was sliced and blood came out like a napkin tucked into her collar

 

People used to drill holes in their skulls. Jeffrey Dahmer used to do that to his victims. If she could do that. She imagined ducking her head down and drilling a hole. Gripping her stepdad’s good drill, the cold metal bit against her hair. She tried to imagine how it would hurt, hair wrapping the drill for a second and pulling, the skin parting and pulling the bit deeper in, what it would feel like when the air poured in! Then the angels shrunk down, all sixteen, and dove down, down, some graceful as swans and some balled up like little boys at the pool, and they arced through the air and right into the hole like eight-ball corner pocket and then Chloë could feel them crawling over her brain the feathers rustling inside like roach wings and she jumped through the gray rain and down into the warm gray-pocked water below and felt the water spill into the hole and wash around and all the angels rose and bobbed out of the hole one by one. The rustling stopped and she fell down down through the water until the water became feathers underneath. Tickling. Poking. Darker. Darker.

As Chloë walked she felt the hot asphalt through her black ballet flats and each step was a shock like a brand. Like walking on coal.

There was nothing good on this side of the bridge. If she went home like this with her hair dripping and Lubya’s makeup like melting ice cream all over her face June would murder her. And she couldn’t go to Dawn’s—not ever again. But where then? There was a 7-Eleven, but she wasn’t allowed in there anymore. There was the library.

Lubya was a treacherous bitch and Chloë wished she could carve stars into the skin on her face, but she knew things. She had taught Chloë things. How to see the island like she was flying over it: glowing softness at Dawn’s house like the Northern Lights but all gold and tan—her mouth wrinkled with disgust as she thought of it, a scratchy swirling black at her stepfather’s house like black chalk on a chalkboard, the houses in between blurry gray. They didn’t matter.

But the library was blue today so it would be safe to go there.

The rain was as warm as the air so it was like walking through nothing. She held her breath passing the street where Dawn lived.

Dawn would smell her. She’d know.

She walked past the bar where her mother used to work, crackling red. The blue aura was best. Safest. That’s what Lubya had taught her.

Maybe the rain would protect her. It would cover her scent.

Sometimes a car would slow or honk or yell or wave. The key was not to flinch. The key was not to react in any way. You hold still so they can’t see you. But someday one will succeed and screech over and she will be pulled in and holes will be opened and widened and there will be blood and spit and salt tears and all will soak into her skin and she will carry it inside her if she lives and if she does not it will soak into the earth.

 

If you reach in and take your brother’s crying screaming tongue and pull and pull until it is all the way out

 

She could track the heats with each step. The sidewalk, sunbaked all day, reaching up and biting her feet. Vacant lots soft with the smell of bread. Glass windows like ice, blue with TV light, shoving her along as she passed house after house and family after family. She could feel the sun waiting behind the clouds, patient, pulsing. And the lightning throwing itself from cloud to cloud, a trapeze artist, a clean slicing heat. Cauterizing. Like the whole sky was a wound.

Now the library was in front of her. Now to dodge the Library Ladies. Everyone on the island hated the young, and the young were accustomed to ducking and sliding around their elders, but the Library Ladies hated with a special heat. Their leader was tall and straight-backed. She had magnificent hair, white and silver waves whooshing up from her head like a bird taking flight, or an angel on a lamppost.

Dawn had named her Maleficent. She delighted in whispering the name to Chloë as they walked in, and when Chloë failed to stifle her laughter Dawn would shush her, which of course was loud, so Maleficent would shush both of them and it would be a cascade of shushing, like a wall of snow coming down a mountain to silence the world.

Maleficent was the one who took the last sex education books away. Chloë had watched her: she came into the Children’s Room, stalked straight to the library’s three Young Adult shelves, added three horse books, and when she turned back around the last two sex books were gone. They never came back.

She was the capo. The head vampire.

Her two minions were short and round, one ancient with thin hair and a face that was a mass of folds and wrinkles, the other younger, shockingly small, and from somewhere in Asia. Chloë didn’t know where. She did know that Maleficent called her Mail Order Bride behind her back.

Since the Ladies wouldn’t let her check out “adult” titles she had to drag June in with her to get V. C. Andrews and Stephen King, and then the Ladies would burn holes through her as she took them from her mother, and by the time they got out the door she’d be a pile of ash blowing out onto the sidewalk.

And now here they were before her.

The three of them stared down at Chloë, shrinking her with their glares. Maleficent lifted a Dick Francis hardcover from the pile in front of her, slamming it down onto a different, smaller pile.

“These are ready to be re-shelved.” She stared down at Chloë, waiting for her to try to walk past them to the stacks. She had no choice but to escape into the Children’s Room.

She hadn’t been in there since January. The walls were glaring yellow and some imbecile had drawn a cartoon between the windows, a tree with elves in the branches. Chloë’s eyes bounced over the new children’s books on the display table. Happy kids doing happy things, skating lessons or camp or riding horses or slumber parties, braiding each other’s blonde, blonde hair. Braiding their horses’ hair. They came home from dance practice to moms who made dinner. Even the kids who were dying were happy—they had Jesus, and sometimes they went into remission by the end of the book.

“Excuse me?”

Chloë looked up into a blurry white face. It was a mom. Two little boys were hanging on her hips, their hair glowing blonde.

“We’d like to look at the books, too.”

Chloë felt her hair dripping down her back. She swiped her hand across her face, quick, one motion, and when she looked at her palm there was a slash of black eyeliner. She could feel it thick on her cheeks. She grinned at the boys until they hid behind their mother’s legs.

But the rain came in and pounded the windows until they cracked and soaked through all these books until all the blondes had wet gray hair and the windows sharded and fell in like silver drops and sliced right through those two boys and their smug bitch mother. She looked back at the woman and carved her into throbbing pink pieces and eventually it must have showed on her face because the bitch looked away. She was just starting to carve the two boys when Maleficent appeared in the doorway.

Chloë wanted to carve Maleficent more than anything, but she was pretty sure the woman could read minds.

She pretended to be interested in the shelf of Sweet Valley books across the room. That sort of bullshit Dawn liked.

 

crackling through the heat and through the wet cloud to cloud lacing fingers and pulling pulling pulling into new clouds take the trees hands pull up and clutch the fingers and take the hair between fingers and pluck up up with you with you they’ll come with you they’ll become you

 

Dawn looked out at the rain. It was still heavy, she could go out in it and head home, but then what. She’d come back soaked, and her parents would demand to know why Chloë’s mother had let her walk in this weather. If she answered honestly: “June doesn’t have money to put gas in the car this week, and the stepdad is out in the van,” then she’d have to witness the Concerned Look her parents would exchange. It was entirely possible that her mother, choking like a cat bringing up a hairball, would ask her if she wanted to invite Chloë’s family for dinner. It was equally possible that there would be another lecture on Why Dawn Should Find Other Friends. She never knew who her parents would be from day to day.

A lizard climbed the screen door. It only had a stump of a tail, but it was so big she could see the nub of bone sticking out from where she was sitting.

“Where’s Tony?” Dawn asked. She hadn’t seen Chloë’s cat around, and had a vision of the poor thing outside somewhere, soaked. When June only shrugged in response, Dawn told herself the rain was getting lighter, and stood. She could walk over to the library. She didn’t want to deal with the Library Ladies, but at least she could wait out the rain reading. If her parents asked where she’d been she could tell them the truth.

“Could you grab me a Coke? While you’re up?” June asked. Her voice edged into a whine that made her sound like Chloë.

Okay, change of plans. Apparently June did want her to stay. She sounded sad.

Or more than sad, Dawn thought: bereft.

But the refrigerator presented a conundrum. Since June had asked for a Coke, Dawn felt like she was supposed to get one, too—it would be rude not to? But June only had about fifty bucks in her bank account. Amidst all the complaining about Chloë’s stepdad and Ashley’s teachers and worrying about Cody’s visits to a lung specialist and the price of Chloë’s meds June had mentioned her bank balance a few times. She couldn’t drink the woman’s Coke. Her salvation appeared in a pitcher of thin pink Kool-Aid—that was only thirty cents a packet.

But when she came back in everything else stopped because June was crying. Her head hung, her hair shook.

 

The lizard climbs the copper lattice of screen. She edges her thick tongue out and tastes the air: the copper of the screen; lightning; heat; salt; iron; blood warm in the bodies inside the house; fly-meat; roach-meat; blood pulsing in the bodies of mosquitoes; spider-meat; wasp-meat; blood a warm pulse in the body nearly hidden in the grass.

Away is a heartbeat, a blink, the throb where the air bites her tail’s bone. Away becomes the lizard’s body as she darts up the screen until she is still and safe in the gutter. Away from the cat moving closer, sliding through the grass. She feels her eggs heavy inside. Soon her body will become lay the eggs but she has no way to know that now.

 

Chloë pulled a Sweet Valley book down and it made her so mad to look at the cover that her hand got hot. #63: The New Elizabeth. How were there more than sixty of these? Who cared about these rich blonde bitches? Maybe she’d read it if somebody raped both of them. If it ended with both of them dead.

Her fingers burned right through the terrible cover right through their bright blue eyes until there were just two black sockets and ropes of flame twined through their ugly hair and every letter of every word burned off the page.

Maleficent was gone again. Chloë walked fast past the bitchmom and her two little goblinbabies and hunched her shoulders against the brightness of the tiny Reading Room. There was an old man with a newspaper. The loose rolls of his neck spilled over his shirt collar like a bunched napkin. If she got past him before he turned the page she’d make it home without being kidnapped.

She was two steps from the doorway when she heard the paper crinkle.

Turn the corner, let the darkness swallow you, and you’re in the stacks.

She could hear the books breathing and she was safe. They exhaled and their breath caught her by the wrists and curled over her hips and pulled her in.

The Ladies hated it when she and Dawn went into the stacks. They belonged in the Children’s Room, that room was a favor, and Chloë and Dawn were ingrates for rejecting it. As though they got to decide what Chloë could read, and when.

The Clive Barker books were gone—put away somewhere or maybe just thrown out because the Ladies couldn’t handle him. And Dean Koontz was a pussy, so no need to bother with his books. But there was King waiting for her just a couple of shelves down. They didn’t have all of his books, but the Ladies couldn’t get rid of him because he was the most famous writer in the world and if they took his books down the people would rise up and the Ladies would be overthrown.

She almost wanted them to try.

When she got to him, she saw that his books were in the wrong order again. Dawn came in and fixed them at least once a week—she pulled them down and put them in chronological order, Bachman books first, all the way up to Gerald’s Game, and each time she’d debate about where to put Danse Macabre since technically that was nonfiction and didn’t even belong in the same bookcase.

 

If Dawn would let you use the razor just a little just a prick on her palm or the inside of the elbow where it was so white it was blue

 

This time Chloë took The Talisman down. She folded herself onto the floor. Now she could be Jack Sawyer. She flipped ahead and then she was hitchhiking with him, and she was in the car with him when the pervy old driver tried to feel him up.

Maybe the Ladies would forget she was here and she wouldn’t have to go home. She could build a wall out of the books. She could find where they’d hidden the Clive Barkers and put them out like bloody pikes to hold the Ladies at bay. She’d just stay here. There was a bathroom.

She heard breathing and thought it was the books again but no. It was the ancient man.

“What are you doing?”

She held the book up. Duh.

His face wrinkled up. “Who told you that you could read that?”

She stared at him.

“This is the grown-up section.”

She would need to carve him, too, but now she just wanted to be alone and read. She raised both eyebrows and waited.

“Why do you want to be in here anyway? It’s summer. You should be out playing.”

“Playing,” she said.

“Or home helping your mom around the house.”

He kept talking, describing all the things he thought Chloë should be doing. He asked her whether she was excited for school to start again. “My mom’s dead,” Chloë said.

She watched his eyes go big.

“It was my sister. She killed her.”

Bigger.

“With a knife.”

His mouth was pushing out at her like a little boy blowing a kiss. He turned and walked away. Finally.

 

Dawn stood in the doorway with the can of Coke sweating in one hand, and the Kool-Aid throbbing in the other. Put them down? Get tissues? Would a hug help? Was a hug moronic? Dawn was accustomed to Chloë sometimes turning cruel—she sharpened herself on Dawn like the girl was her whetstone. And Chloë’s attacks were normal by now. She would describe things Dawn couldn’t see, she would shoplift knives, she would cry, she would go silent for an hour or more, and Dawn stayed steady and calm. That was part of the job of being her friend.

But this was an adult.

Dawn set the drinks down on the floor and tried to pat June on the shoulder.

“…it’s okay?”

June said something.

“What?”

June looked up. Her eyes looked punched.

“Are you afraid of her?”

“What?”

“I’m afraid of my own daughter.”

Dawn knew she was supposed to hold the woman’s eyes, but she couldn’t help it—she flicked away. The light outside was glowing green.

 

The cat opens his mouth and breathes in bloods, salts, sweats, fats, electricity. He smells another cat’s heat. He smells the lizard and her eggs, tracks her up the screen and into the gutter. He shoulders through the grass, his whiskers slide from the ragged blade-tips down to the roots. He can smell the birds above him—the scent of their tiny blood-blister hearts and thin bones louder even than the alerts they’re sounding as he walks closer. He smells the roach crushed and twitching and baking all at once in the asphalt at the front of the house. He smells roach-meat as it meets and grinds into the rubber soles of the shoes walking away from the house. He smells the different meats inside the house, the perfumes, the milks, the hair, the skin and dust crushed into the carpet, the scents that dance together until they become Baby. He smells the mosquito ballooning on the blood of Baby’s eyelid. But under the blood is a blink a thrum a warning and his whiskers tremble. The vibrations in his whiskers are stronger. He stretches them forward and back. He touches his belly to the ground to feel the thump and the pressure. Beneath the sharp warm bready grass the pressure surges through him as whiskers flatten as ears flatten as tail curls and wraps to make him small as his body becomes away away now he begins to run.

 

Maleficent loomed between the bookcases. Chloë pressed her back into the wall and hugged the book. She could try to flee—dart between the woman’s legs. She saw Maleficent turning somersaults mid-air.

“What are you laughing about? We’ll see what your mother thinks about—” but then Mail Order Bride huffed and puffed in like she was being chased by a monster.

“My mother won’t give a fuck,” Chloë said. She had closed the book and was staring at the back cover, which was just a photo of Stephen King. Sometimes she wanted him to be in love with her, but sometimes she thought through the steps it would take to go to Bangor, Maine and meet and fall in love with one of his two sons and then marry whichever one so Stephen could remain happily married to his wife, Tabitha, whom Chloë also loved. Then Stephen and Tabitha would be her parents like they should have been in the first place.

Maleficent was grabbing her wrist. She was right in her face, hissing.

Tornado.”

Chloë let herself be pulled up and then all of them were huddled in the office behind the circulation desk. Chloë had never been in there. There was the mother and her boys, the old man, the other Library Lady, and another woman Chloë had never seen before. All of them looked like cartoons of frightened people. It made her laugh, the way these idiots thought they understood fear. They couldn’t handle Clive Barker, and they were afraid of a little storm.

Maleficent shoved her down.

“Hey!”

“You shut your mouth, girl,” the old man said. He was looking at her like he wanted to throw her to the tornado. Maybe he would. Maybe he was a member of a pagan cult, and he’d grab her and chuck her out the door to appease his Wind God. She imagined herself cartwheeling through the air and laughed again.

If he speaks to you again you will eat his eyes

The mother and her boys had clasped all their hands together. They were praying. She realized that both Ladies were, too. She should call upon Satan. She could slit her palm open and swear her eternal allegiance to Him and He could come and get her and she could laugh as they were all left behind to die with their mouths gaping open.

“…we ask this in the name of Christ Jesus—”

“please please please please”

“Mommy you’re hurting my—”

“not yet—”

The idea of slicing her palm open coiled around in her brain until her hand began to itch. She saw her white skin splitting along the blade. She saw the blood like velvet curling out around silver.

“Where do you think you’re—”

Chloë lurched up to look for something sharp. A letter opener on the circulation desk winked at her; she wobbled toward it. Her ears popped. She looked out into the storm and there was a black blankness in her mind where Dawn should be.

 

Your blood will stop the storm it will soak down into the ground and the trees will drink it and cry to the storm to stop and your blood will rise from the ground like steam and

 

She didn’t know where Dawn was.

 

circle and circle and dive into the pockets and suck the shallow indentations and over the waves and more circles and snatch the leaves and the hair and wrench and tangle and find the fur and tangle and dance dance with them can they match your steps can they the waves can the waves will match you the trees are sluggish the grass will spiral and spin but the trees have roots find the roots and pry the roots

 

“I can’t look at her anymore. She looks at me and it’s like the cat’s looking at me.”

Dawn saw Chloë’s face in front of her, the flat wide eyes, the lips pulling back. The calculations. The sudden harsh laugh.

She was always startled to remember that June was smart, and noticed these things.

 

Chloë was out the door and walking. She looked down at her hand and the letter opener glinted in the weird green light. It was a different heat now. It was a fist squeezing around her. Her mouth opened and there was metal on her tongue, her tongue was mercury sliding across her cold teeth. Each step she took was a loud wet slap that rippled out across the black asphalt and then the asphalt would pull her feet down sucking around her soles and she’d pull and pull until she was free again. The street tried to pull her down, the air tore her skin, the wind shoved her between her shoulder blades.

 

June’s crying got louder; that was how Dawn understood the power had gone out. It was easy to ignore the hum of the fridge and the tock of the ceiling fans, and then they weren’t there and it was like the world had stopped spinning.

June rubbed her eyes with the heels of her hands. She held her hands like that, with the heels pressed into the sockets, her thin white hands looking like plants growing. Like anemones. Dawn made herself look at her even though she felt her throat clenching. She had to be here for June like she was there for Chloë.

“The way she’ll look at Ashley. At her brother.”

Dawn bit down on all the times Chloë had talked about her hatred for her sister, all the times she complained about Cody waking her up with his crying.

“She’s the worst case. She doesn’t know that. She’s the worst, for her age, in the county.”

Dawn took a breath.

“What did I do?” June said. Her head still hung. Dawn watched as tears dripped down into the carpet. “I quit drinking. I didn’t hit her.”

“It’s not your fault,” Dawn said. Here was solid ground.

June sucked air in a wet lump that Dawn could hear sliding in her throat.

 

They thought they could stop her. Chloë saw Dawn’s face, the way it folded around a laugh. The way she let a laugh grab her and shake her like a beach towel full of sand, like a laugh was a hurricane and she all could do was submit. She heard Dawn’s voice saying the word love—it was how they ended phone calls, ever since the first time Chloë had called from a hospital, talking fast so she could make everything fit into her five allotted minutes.

She cut across an empty lot and the air became glass, dusted glass digging into her to find every hole. She slitted her eyes and bent her head. The wind ducked around behind her and kicked. It coiled around her head, knotted fingers in her hair, the strands whipped across her face. She was Medusa, and thinking that made her smile.

She squeezed the letter opener. It would hold her here; she could stake it down into the earth and hold on if the wind tried to take her.

She let the wind pull her head back and the clouds above were black and green snakes in a tangle.

 

The door’s screen sucked in and out like a stomach. Another gout of rain washed in.

“You can’t tell anyone how bad she is. She doesn’t know. She doesn’t know.”

 

Here is Dawn’s house. Boring and small and square, but now it’s glowing gold. She will not let the storm take Dawn away. No one will take Dawn away.

The first cut is always the best, but only for a second because it’s never right.

She never gets it right.

Try again.

Try again.

She watches the skin split. Blood rises in fat beads and strings together like bracelets across her wrist. She digs further and they roll down chasing each other over her arm tumbling down down onto the soft black of the street. She watches the earth drink her.

Try again.

Try again.

 

Dawn starts for the door, to close it against the rain. The clouds are lower now, flashing with green deep in the black.

Come away from there.”

Dawn turns. June feels herself become a grown up again. She feels her face set. Her baby is in the other room, the innermost room, and the blinds are closed. They will wait there.

“If there’s a tornado the windows’ll blow in, not out.”

June feels her eyes, pulpy and raw. Dawn hasn’t moved, she’s frozen in front of the door, and June remembers how little the girl’s seen. She might need to go grab her away from the glass.

But Cody’s in the other room. She can hear him wailing now.

Ashley is miles away.

And where is Chloë?

 

It works, of course.

The wind becomes a soft hand. The rain comes and she waits for the curtain to part and for Dawn to walk through.

But it’s Dawn’s dad standing there on the porch, his mouth a round O, his eyes wheeling like the wind.

***

Rumpus original art by Lizz Ehrenpreis.


Leah Schnelbach is a whirlwind of intense opinions and naughty language. A flibbertigibbet! A cloud. They are a staff writer with the pop culture website Tor.com, a fiction editor with the literary journal No Tokens, and a sci-fi & fantasy columnist for Lit Hub’s Book Marks site. Their words appear in Joyland, Volume 1 Brooklyn, Tin House Online, Electric Literature, Madcap Review, and The Boiler, among others. They hold an MFA in Fiction from Sarah Lawrence College, and their work has been supported by the Tin House Writers Workshop, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the I-Park Foundation, and the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center for the Arts. But enough about them—how are you? More from this author →