About the Feature
John and Lilly arrived home from a disastrous date, each quietly surprised at how peaceful their house appeared from the outside. John stalled the sedan at the mailbox to admire the moon’s illumination of delicate icicles hanging from the window boxes. The iron loveseat Lilly had insisted they move from their Texas porch was covered in snow, the seat’s back a coiling pattern of perfect white hearts. The view’s only stain was the living room window, a long, reflective rectangle that would have been beautiful if not covered in bars.
The previous owner installed the bars, and from the beginning Lilly had said they “screamed prison.” She insisted John remove them by summer. To her, they kept things in. To John, they kept things out. He couldn’t say precisely what things, as there was little threat of robbery in Hardin. But when he left for work each morning, he imagined the thick fog that rolled down from the mountains circling his house, looking for entry. The fog was everything he wished to keep from their six-month-old daughter. It was doubt and pettiness and betrayal. Its edges were green with the world’s greed. He knew it was silly to imagine morally destructive moisture attacking tiny Sylvia, collecting in her lungs and maturing her from the inside out. Even more ridiculous was thinking a bit of metal could stop the process. Yet each time their home began to shrink in his rearview mirror, he felt relieved knowing the bars were on the windows.
“Not a snowflake out of place,” John said. Right now, Sylvia would be sleeping in the nursery at the back of the house, and their sitter, Teeny, would be draped tiredly over the crib’s edge, humming a lullaby in the soft glow of a Cinderella night-light.
“Can we go inside?” Lilly said. “Tonight, maybe?”
He parked in the driveway, the garage being full of their before-baby lives. Workout equipment, hunting equipment, sewing equipment—all crammed into a damp, one-car space. At dinner, he’d joked to Lilly that the only equipment they needed now was a pacifier and two sets of earplugs. Funny, he thought, but Lilly’s smile had wilted, her eyes becoming fixed to her water glass. That was during the appetizer; by the time the entrees arrived, the air was completely thickened at their table—a familiar, insufferable thick. Cutting his steak was a challenge, the knife working through the added weight of forced conversation.
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” Lilly said as he switched the engine off. The words ballooned from her mouth in small clouds of mist, and John couldn’t determine the amount of sarcasm in them. The evening was anything but lovely, which she knew—right? If so, why pretend now, and if not pretending, why resort to passive cruelty?
“You’re welcome.” He tried mimicking her tone and immediately regretted it. Lilly slammed her door and stomped through snow to the house’s side entrance where she shivered with arms crossed, waiting for him to bring the keys.
He had insisted they reinstate date-night, though they were forced to spend it in one of the town’s four restaurants or in the small (only two screens) theater. Hardin, Montana, was not Houston, Texas. Still, they’d enjoyed several small successes. Two weeks ago they strolled down the short main street, holding hands and laughing while a dog got his face stuck in a yogurt cup. Three weeks before that, they saw a romantic comedy, and Lilly put her hand on his thigh while the heroine stumbled into a kiss with the hero. Tonight John was not so lucky.
What happened to the Lilly who curled against him in bed and whispered, “You’re my BFF,” while trying to twirl his untwirlable hair? Her body was plump and soft before and during her pregnancy with Sylvia. Her hands—“earth hands” she called them—were thick but gentle, and he often imagined their movements over him like those of small woodland creatures, nipping here, petting there. He wondered if it was her body or his memory of her body that was sweet and plentiful. Did it even matter? They’d left her behind in Houston, a city where, if questioned, any one of the couple’s friends would’ve said, “Cockroaches are to nuclear war as John and Lilly are to marriage. If anyone can make it . . .”
She’d dropped sixty pounds since the move, claiming it was breast-feeding that burned her calories. He suspected depression. He could feel her bones when he hugged her, and she didn’t wear her wedding ring because it needed to be resized, downsized. Now, watching her thin body illuminated in the headlights and shaking in the cold, he realized two things. First, he was taking longer than necessary to get out of the car—it was satisfying to see her tremble. And second, he missed her so much his cheeks burned like he might begin to weep. He pretended to rummage through the console, taking several steadying breaths before joining her.
. . .
Inside, Teeny lay stretched out on the living room couch with Sylvia nursing at her breast. Actually, the sitter didn’t feel comfortable with “breast,” dismissing the word soon after thinking it. “Boob,” sure. “Tit” or “titty,” why not? Her mother had breasts. Her father probably thought about breasts. Another wrong word: “nursing.” Not because it was gross like “breasts” but because she couldn’t, in fact, produce milk.
Each time she phantom-nursed, the baby’s small mouth worked hard for the first few minutes, a relentless pulling and sucking that caused Teeny’s eyes to squeeze in pain. Although the small gums became less frantic, the sensation was radically different from foreplay with her boyfriend, Adrian. She didn’t particularly like either experience. She couldn’t understand Adrian’s fascination with what she saw as two great lumps of fat over her heart, and she didn’t have any friends to ask on account of none of them were having sex. It seemed he was actually trying to please her. When he told her this, she wanted to say, Well, please stop. Instead and without knowing why, she took off her shirt and guided his head right between her boobs. Afterward she felt even more confused and a little ashamed. She punished herself for both her actions and the resulting feelings by ignoring his calls or forcing herself to text him mean messages like cant u suc dic and die alredy?
At least there wasn’t any confusion with the baby. They both knew the score—it would hurt Teeny but keep Sylvia, who often refused bottles, calm and quiet. It would allow Teeny to watch TV.
Not that there was anything good on tonight. Two hours of a Paranormal Activity marathon ended with the host repeating what he’d said in the previous three episodes: A few scares, folks, but nothing conclusive. Teeny flipped off the host with both hands. The station’s next and even less promising show: A History of Fabric Dyes.
She squinted at photos of haggard women punching fabric into tubs with their muscular arms and imagined her own skin permanently stained blue by the television’s cool light. If that did happen, what would her boyfriend think? Kinky? Ugly? When Adrian licked her, would she taste like blueberries? He hated blueberries. Sweet and tart, he once said, wonderfully sweet and tart—then swallow and the mouth is dry. He even hated the idea of blueberries, the ruse of taste and aftertaste. Blueberries, he said, are small, round metaphors for substance addiction. And he should know, he said.
Teeny shifted the baby’s warm body so it wouldn’t roll off her chest and leaned over to search for the remote. The carpet was sticky, almost crunchy in spots. She foraged between cushions. No remote, but was that sand? And that a coin? A wad of hair? Gently tapping the baby’s flat nose with each word, Teeny said, “Your parents aren’t so clean.”
A voice on TV: . . . discovered mauve in 1856 while searching for a cure for malaria.
“Listen up,” Teeny said. “I read about malaria in school and it ain’t for babies.”
It was a brilliant fuchsia color but faded easily, so our idea of mauve is not what the appearance of the original color was.
“Well, what do you know.”
. . .
Lilly and John entered quietly through the side door, flipping on lights as they moved from the back den to the kitchen. Despite what John thought, Lilly blamed only herself for her misery. When the factory in Hardin asked the factory in Houston for a poultry production manager, she pushed John to take the position. She said, “It’s an adventure. We do adventure.”
Once settled in the isolated town, she didn’t complain but masked her regret with high-pitched phone calls to former coworkers and girlfriends. “You can visit when the baby is born,” she told them. “Then I’ll join a mommy circle—those actually exist, right? And anyway, I don’t want to teach again until Sylvia is at least three. You’ve got to be present for the formative years, don’t you think?” She babbled about fresh mountain air and the prospect of learning to ski and the Saint Bernards they’d raise to drag their children’s sleds, and wouldn’t that be darling? Secretly, though, she hoped the factory would burn down, so they could return to their old lives. Montana would become a fond memory, a small detour, a glittering glitch in their system.
Then John suggested they buy the large, barely affordable two-story down the street from their rental. She saw the cost and size as two heavy anchors in their move. The first they would have to pay off or sell (not likely in this town, in this economy). The second was something far worse, something they would have to fill with possessions and more children. John didn’t seem to mind either, though, and was giddy upon closing, running circles through the house and kissing her cheek with every pass. Without considering how odd it sounded, she turned to the realtor and said, “But adventures don’t have five bedrooms. Adventures are tents with expandable flaps.”
The realtor wasn’t fazed. How many women had he consoled in his career? He patted her shoulder and replied, “You can’t raise a baby in a tent.”
In the kitchen, the dishes were washed and put away, the counters clean. A bottle of her breast milk bobbed in a sauce- pan on the stove, and they could faintly hear the noise from the TV, but no wailing child. John ran a finger across the table’s polished edge—a challenge rising and resulting in one arched eyebrow and the slight, triumphant turn at the corners of his mouth. He had chosen the girl, Teeny, while Lilly had wanted to wait until they could find someone older. The disagreement became one of their silent battles, and she lost more ground each week they returned to a safe, quiet daughter and cleaner home.
Lilly turned down the long hall, and John shrugged off his coat. He was still trying to work out what her date-night attitude meant—might as well pick a lock with a spoonful of jelly, he thought—when he heard her shrieking in the living room.
. . .
To her credit, Lilly didn’t begin by yanking Sylvia off Teeny’s breast. Instead, she placed her thumb against the teenager’s nipple to gently break the suction. For this brief second, all three were connected. Lilly could feel Teeny’s warm skin and Sylvia’s wet mouth. Both lazily and happily looked up at Lilly, who realized she would never again have breasts like Teeny’s. Never again that solid, buoyant flesh. Lilly’s nipples were changed, chapped and another shape, as if the baby had sucked them to the fit of her particular mouth. In this second, with such trust in both their expressions, Lilly changed tactics and ripped Sylvia from the girl’s skinny arms.
Teeny’s head turned, as if slapped, and she quickly pulled her shirt down. Lilly wanted to hit the girl, wanted to beat her. How dare she? How dare she. “The fuck you think you’re doing?” Lilly said.
John hadn’t heard such emotion, of any variety, in Lilly’s voice for months. He arrived in the living room to see her standing in the corner, holding their daughter as if facing a pack of rabid dogs, her face ghoulish in the TV’s blue glow. He flipped a switch, and the lights popped on.
Teeny winced; she felt disoriented and a little dizzy.
“Are you laughing?” Lilly hissed.
Was I? thought Teeny.
“What’s going on?” John asked.
“Do you think this is funny?” Lilly said. The girl stared at the floor, one hand to her forehead as if shading her eyes, and she was giggling. “Do you think this is funny?” The baby cried into Lilly’s sweater, and she cupped the tiny head against her shoulder, stroking—somewhat frantically—the soft, blonde wisps of hair. “I should call the police.”
“What?” John said. “What about the police?” He picked up the remote—the end peeking out from beneath the couch—and turned off the television.
“She was . . .” Lilly gasped and flattened her palm against the baby’s back, patting at a fluttering speed. It was eerie to watch her hand move quickly while her mouth delivered the words in a slow, steely manner. “She was.” Pat, pat, pat. “Breast-feeding.” Pat, pat. “Our daughter.”
Teeny stood and adjusted her bra strap, reaching into the shoulder of her shirt and jerking the red band up. “Look, I wasn’t breast-feeding anything.” She placed her hands at her hips and shifted her weight to one leg, a move she’d seen her own mother make countless times—usually facing Teeny’s father. “I wasn’t hurting anything either.”
Hiccups interrupted the baby’s high breaths. Teeny closed her eyes and clenched her fists. Come on, she thought, come on baby, I thought you and me were friends. How could such a small thing make such a big noise?
Lilly turned and took the baby from the room. Teeny kept her eyes shut and felt the woman’s shoulder brush her own. She waited until the stairs creaked and an upstairs door shut before she opened her eyes to look at John.
He couldn’t believe her tan. Regardless of winter, her lanky body was baked a golden brown, and he wondered about her monthly tanning bed expenses. Her socks were mismatched. The left, a knitted rainbow, was sutured at the toe with a thick, red thread. The right, a gray dress sock, hung past her toes and sagged at her heel. Her pose didn’t suit the rainbow sock, and the gray was too serious for the lime green streak in her yellow hair. It was a pose too severe for the Poky Little Puppy on her tight T-shirt.
“You can’t . . .” he faltered. Her expression said she was unwilling, unable even, to accept any words that might follow can’t. “You can’t do that.”
Her pose collapsed. She stood a fallen tent, as hunched and drained as a sixteen-year-old can appear. She kept her head down while he picked up the pillows that had fallen off the couch. He felt guilty, yet pleasantly powerful, for producing this effect in another human being. Lilly never gave like this.
Teeny slumped into the couch, removed the gray sock, and held it out to him. “I borrowed it from the laundry room.” The sock was warm in his hand and slightly damp from sweat. Her toenails were painted a glossy black. She reached beneath the sofa and produced a pair of slippers. They were blue, with little threads sticking out and patches of blue sequins. “Mine got wet doing the dishes.” She reached into one slipper and pulled out a wadded rainbow sock, straightened it and held it up for John to see. She pointed at the dark, wet spot. “No one wants to wear wet socks, you know?”
John turned, allowing his car keys to rattle in his palm.
Teeny smiled behind him, and thinking about malaria and the color mauve, she said, “I love these shoes for what they used to be. Not for what they are.”
. . .
Lilly’s anger toward the girl quickly melted into the same depression she’d been feeling for months. No, not melted into, but rather on top of the depression, like a hot sealant that would now cool and harden over her sadness. This is what they don’t tell you, Lilly thought as she finished changing Sylvia’s diaper. They don’t tell you about the emptiness. She pressed a damp cloth to her daughter’s eyelids and cheeks, which were swollen and pink from her fit. They didn’t tell Lilly that she would miss having Sylvia inside her, miss the kicks like bubbles breaking beneath her skin. They didn’t say that for weeks after giving birth Lilly would start conversations with her belly only to realize she was talking to her intestines. That four months later, she would still find her hands stroking her tummy, sometimes from fondness and sometimes from a desire to comfort the baby who cried so much.
Everybody had a different bit of advice, a preferable brand of diaper-rash ointment. But no one, not her midwife, nurses, or friends—not even her own mother—told her how rocking the baby would cause her to feel overwhelmingly hollow. The homesickness a house feels for its vacationing owner. Except, Sylvia would never come back. Every day she grew a bit bigger; it seemed not in pounds but in distance from her mother. Eventually Lilly would be looking at her daughter, a tall, confident woman, and see only a speck of what was once happily all hers.
With the tip of her finger, Lilly wiped a bead of spit from her daughter’s lip and placed her in the crib. The weight of such a small body was still impressive. John, who tried to teach Lilly the signs of quality poultry, liked to say that a good bird is heavy for its size. He would place a packaged chicken in each of her hands. “This one,” he’d say, moving one of her wrists up and down, “is full of sweet juice.”
She sat in the chair next to the crib, absently cooing and rocking, attempting to soothe herself as much as Sylvia. Outside the window was the neighbor’s window and when their lights went out, Lilly turned on the baby monitor and went to bed. There she convinced herself that she wasn’t, in fact, to blame for the move. Or for anything else. John was the culprit in choosing the town, the house, the babysitter. He was clearly wrong in their arguments over money and time—both, it suddenly seemed, he spent carelessly and away from his wife and daughter. She hugged his pillow to her chest, breathing in his deodorant and sweat. Had she always hated that smell, his smell?
. . .
“You weren’t supposed to be back this early.” Teeny pulled on the gray sock and slipped her feet into the worn slippers.
“We couldn’t decide on a movie.” John didn’t think the breast-feeding was the catastrophe Lilly seemed to, but why didn’t Teeny show even the tiniest bit of embarrassment?
“Do you have a headache?” Teeny asked.
“No.” He took his hand from where it rubbed his temple. Yes. He had a real goddamn headache, and he didn’t know how much to credit Lilly or the girl in front of him. They should have gotten a college student.
“Are you sure?”
Teeny approached him, squinting at his head.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” John said, even though she hadn’t said anything else. He felt angry that she’d made him flustered. Let the girl explain herself. “Why’d you do it?”
“I saw some aspirin in the kitchen.”
“I’m taking you home.”
“It’s above the sink.” She lifted her head so that her chin was nearly level with his shoulder. “Look,” she said, her neck at quite the angle. “It was the only way I could shut her up.”
He understood this—how the crying could grate. Was it fair to expect a sixteen-year-old to handle what he, at thirty, could not? Sometimes he went to work on Saturdays only to sleep in his office chair. “Do you want a ride?” he asked her more politely.
Though Teeny was relieved—her parents told her to get a ride home, and they’d be grumpy if she didn’t push for one—she shrugged in what she figured was a cool manner. In the kitchen, she poured the water from the pan and balanced it on top of the dishes in the rack.
“You don’t have to do that now,” John said.
She ignored him and poured the milk out of the bottle. “Probably not good anymore, you think?”
In the car, she rubbed her hands and pressed them against the vents. “You ever play freeze-out?” She licked a finger and held it up between them. “Definitely cold enough. Roll down this window and brrrr.” She told John how Adrian liked to play the game, but she always lost on account of her low tolerance for cold.
“Yes, I’ve played.” John said. “No, I don’t want to.”
“Didn’t say I wanted to.” Teeny sank back in the passenger’s seat, slipped a foot from its shoe and held it up to the vent. “Fucking cold, though.”
They sat in silence for several minutes, each thinking about the word “fucking” and how odd it sounded in Teeny’s mouth. For John, it was as if the Poky Little Puppy on her T-shirt had caught a cockroach and was showing it off on his tongue. John tried picturing Sylvia at sixteen, worked to see her developing body and hear her expanding vocabulary, but he could only make out the same baby body, the same baby lips. He didn’t want to hear her voice and tried to turn off the image before his head supplied it. It came regardless, first as Teeny’s, high and lazy. Then as Lilly’s, gentle and with the thick rasp she used to converse with in bed. He absently clicked on the turn signal and then clicked it off.
Teeny thought about Adrian and how he’d taught her to properly say the word “fucking.” When she’d initially said it in front of him, he laughed at her. They were driving in his truck, and he said she didn’t know the real meaning of the word. She rolled down the window, her face and armpits sweating, and said she sure as fuck did. He laughed harder and said that was why he loved her: for her sense of humor. This was confusing because she wasn’t joking; she was lying and was pretty sure she knew the difference.
“You’re funny,” he said. “That’s why I’m cool with dating a virgin.”
How embarrassing. She said she sure as fuck wasn’t no fucking virgin, thank you very fucking much.
Soon after, she lost her virginity to him in that truck. It was a school night, and they’d driven to the grocery store where he worked. He parked near the dumpster in the back and went in for a case of beer. Half an hour later she was sitting on his lap without her panties on, watching three cats jump in and out of the garbage. They were skinny with matted fur, and one was missing an ear. Still, they appeared to be the happiest creatures alive, and she thought, It must be fish day.
When her friends asked about it, the sex, she told the truth: it was mediocre, almost boring. They said, “Bummer” and “Do you think he’s just, you know, bad at it?” She pondered this for a while and finally told them no, it wasn’t him; it was sex. Sex was boring, and they’d all have to live with it like they lived with second-period algebra.
Teeny became aware of the silence and of John’s tense posture almost folded over the steering wheel. She wondered how long she’d been thinking—her teachers were always mad at her for thinking in class. “You know I wouldn’t say the f-word around the baby.” She wiggled her toes at the vent. “I’m a good babysitter.”
John didn’t know what to say and decided on a noncommittal shrug.
“Really, I watch my cousins all the time, and they’re perfectly fine.”
“If you don’t believe me, you can ask my aunt.”
“I don’t think my wife would be happy if you watched for us again.” Why did he put it off onto Lilly? Shouldn’t he too be upset with Teeny’s irresponsible behavior? And wasn’t she toss- ing him even further from Lilly’s good graces? After all, Lilly would blame him for this girl’s weirdness, for choosing her as a babysitter.
“Yeah, some people just aren’t as open-minded, you know?” she said. Adrian prized open-mindedness.
“Well, maybe I can talk to her.” This was a complete lie. He knew he’d go home and assure Lilly that Teeny would never return. “No promises though.”
“I could use the money.” Maybe she was wrong about this guy? Maybe he wasn’t as stuffy as she’d thought—just trying to be adult-like with a wife and baby. After all, he gave her a sock so she wouldn’t have to wear the wet one now tucked into her jean pocket, a cold dampness against her hip. Still, she couldn’t imagine her boyfriend ever turning out to be like this man. Well, she could. She could dream up anything, but why would she want to dream up that? Maybe this man, years ago, had been something like Adrian—a thought more manageable. Had he taught his wife, that crabby, tired woman, how to say the word “fuck?” They screwed, obviously; Sylvia was proof. But how was it? Lilly seemed so contained that Teeny had difficulty getting the woman’s clothes off in her mind. Did men actually like that sort of present, so severely wrapped? Did Teeny give Adrian too much? That led to a question she’d had on her mind for several weeks. She turned to John and asked, “Do guys lose respect if you do anal with them?”
John swerved on the empty residential street.
“My mom said it’s practically a sin, and a lady in Cosmo said a guy won’t look at you the same.”
He could feel her presence more acutely, her weight within the car. A child, really, twirling the green stripe in her hair with boney fingers. He realized he’d never been more aware of his own asshole. They were almost to her house. If he kept his mouth shut, he would never have to say anything. He turned off the heater.
“It’s still cold in here.”
He turned the heater back on.
Maybe he wasn’t as open-minded as Teeny had thought. Maybe it was true; men did prefer women like Lilly. Well, now she knew, and it wasn’t as if she could have asked her father— her parents were always getting mad at her for asking questions. “I’d never talk like that in front of the baby,” she again reassured John.
He tapped on the steering wheel and pumped the accelerator.
“Up on the right. That one.” She pointed to a ranch-style with a trimmed hedge in front. “But, really, I am a good babysitter.”
He laughed, feeling the passenger-side tires bump up over the curb as he slowed the car.
“You nearly hit our mailbox.”
With his foot on the brake, he unfastened his seatbelt and pulled his wallet from his back pocket. “Two hours?” He put a fifty—too much—in her palm.
“You’re in a hurry.”
He poked the red button at her hip. Her seatbelt slid across her body, snagging for a second at her chest.
She slipped both feet into her shoes and opened the door. “See you later then.”
. . .
John didn’t turn on the lights at home; instead he felt his way from one moonlit patch of room to the next. Climbing the stairs with heavy hands on each banister, he thought of when he’d completely botched the proposal, stammering and dropping the ring. Lilly seemed to forgive, or at least overlook it, wrapping herself around him, nuzzling his neck. Once, nearing the end of her third trimester, he found her in the kitchen, licking her fingers over a pan of raw beef. She clung to him then, too, trying to get closer than her pregnant belly would allow.
In the dark stairway, such happy moments seemed like ghosts upon their young marriage. He knew relationships took unanticipated dips and turns. He knew she couldn’t always be throwing her arms around him. But what if they had reached an end? Maybe not an end of them but an end of them as they’d once been.
He felt his way to their bedroom and sat next to her, rubbing her shoulder in small circles. “Honey? Lilly?”
“What do you want?”
It was obvious she’d been waiting for him, festering anger. Fine, she was pissed. He’d give her that, perfectly fine. Fine. She was right about the babysitter, and he was ready to tell her so. “I made it absolutely clear she wouldn’t be coming back,” he said. She sighed, and in the darkness, he wanted to press his hand against her mouth to have an extra sense of her, to feel her breathing. “Mind if I turn on the lamp?” he asked.
“I think I need to leave you. I think I need to go back.” Lilly rolled her shoulder beneath him, resisting his gripping fingers. She felt his weight move to the foot of the bed. Once there, it shifted, all toward the edge, and she imagined him sitting bent over with his head between his knees. Preparing for a crash.
“You mean it?” he said, because he couldn’t think of something else.
A silence hung between them stronger than anything they’d ever felt together, punctured only by his rising sobs. She’d never realized how the tears of a grown man were more moving than those of a little girl. Finally, she said, “No.” It didn’t sound convincing to either of them.
He took off his shoes, got under the covers, and pulled her body into him. From the bedside table, the monitor released the gentle whimper of a baby’s dreams.
. . .
Teeny also lay in bed, scratching that sucked nipple. It itched. Perhaps she was allergic to baby spit. Didn’t matter, though; Adrian never wanted children. Why bring another person into this fucked-up world? He said it was the worst thing you could ever do for anyone.
All right, only pets then. A dog to start and then a cat and then a pig and then a goat. Maybe two goats. She could be a hoarder in her old age, and this seemed the most marvelous idea she’d ever had. On her front porch, she would stand with broom in hand, the bristles frayed and useless for anything other than beating animal control officers. She’d defend her right to care for as many creatures as she fancied. The wind would tangle her white hair in knots, and when she cackled, her parrots would mimic her so that the whole house would be laughing.
This thought led Teeny to count the number of birdcages in her future bedroom, which led to the precise kinds of birds she’d house in them and methods for mating. Fifteen minutes later, she arrived at a memory of a baby sparrow chirping in the front yard of her childhood home.
“Don’t touch it or it will smell like you,” advised her mother, who looked not at Teeny but at the house opposite their own. Even then, Teeny understood that her mother wasn’t really look- ing at the neighbor’s house but past it, past anything material.
Teeny held her palms up the way she was taught to do after washing her hands for dinner.
“Doesn’t matter,” said her mother. “The mama will know you touched it. She won’t want it back.”
Teeny, whose name was actually Sarah, lay in bed for another forty-five minutes, horrified that Lilly might not want her daughter anymore. It would start with small neglects like waiting an extra minute to change a diaper or get out of bed in the middle of the night. Then one day Sylvia would learn to walk and pass from room to room as a haunting. She would wave her small hands in front of Lilly’s face, the shadows of her fingers passing over her mother’s eyes. Lilly would carelessly flit the hands away.
Such thoughts led Teeny to cry into her pillow, and eventually, with great humility, she got out of bed and lay on the floor. When pressing her face against the cold wood was not punishment enough, she stood, stripped bare, raised the windowpane, and leaned her body out over the sill. She stretched herself until she could feel every inch.
About the Author
Candice Morrow received her MFA from New Mexico State University. She teaches Composition in Las Cruces, New Mexico.