For C.A.F.

The first time she remembered feeling it was when her older sister leapt to her death from the roof their two-story home. The girl had sort of known it was going to happen, in the way that five year olds know anything: a burst of violent language between bigger people like an explosion of blackbirds from a wire, her sister’s boots thumping the staircase. Eventually, the creak of the eave and the broken cry that ended with a thud. It was in the way that thud shot through the bones of the house, that’s the feeling that carried the girl away. That first time it was parrots and waterfalls, a kaleidoscope of them—purple rivers and a perfect sunset on the hazy horizon. She could float more than fly because she didn’t need to exert any effort and the air was kind around her small body. When she was pulled back into the world by a social worker’s cold, callused hands working her face, into the tumult of looping emergency lights, the screams of her mother, the girl was angry and swung at the social worker and ran to her room and packed pillows around her, praying to return to the world of color, of parrots and rivers.


The second time it happened she was a couple of years older, thigh pumping a silver streak scooter down her block on a blazing July day. The SUV with college football flags flying from the antenna rounded the corner with a yip of tires and maybe that’s what made her Labrador yip back and then leap street-ward, as if to defend her. The driver was provoked by this or perhaps merely drunk and put down her beloved dog with a millimeter adjustment of his wheel. The girl sat down on a sidewalk square and soon she was underwater, but could breathe fine, twirling and jetting in the Caribbean blue, being kissed by turtles on her dimpled cheeks and tickled by tiny yellow fish along her ribcage, her legs encased in shimmering scale. When her mother scooped her up from the concrete shouting consolations into her ear, the girl screamed in reproach, broke from her mother’s arms and ran back to the sidewalk square and sat hard, staring at the dog’s broken muzzle, as if she might go back.


She did not go back, not again until she was a teenager and a new transfer to a suburban high school, her family having slammed behind them the haunts of their old house in the city. The girl was smart and self-directed and quiet and drew fantastical, breathtaking portraits of beautiful demons in the margins of her notebooks and earned straight A’s. She walked home with her head held high and the stares of hungry boys glanced off her shimmering helmet of jet-black hair. It was strange that she attended the party, stranger still that she followed a boy she barely knew into a basement for a shot of liquor harder than the Riesling she clutched in a paper cup. After the slog of booze—after which she planned to march straight back up the stairs and out into the spring night of manicured lawns and lightning bugs’ performance—it was already done. Whatever the ball-capped boy had dropped into her shot passed through her brain and knocked her knees out. She went that time to a tropical mountainside where she swung in a hammock, gazing out across a hazy valley, smelling orchids and hearing the laughter of children. Because when she opened her eyes all she saw were the slack jaws and cruel, pin eyes of many boys, flashes of canine teeth and tongues, she closed her own eyes again and again and was able to return to the hammock.


Nowadays the girl has grown into a woman and lives in the foothills of the mountains, in a large, bright house on a hill where she often doesn’t lock the door. Her twin sons are wild things, already, at the age of five, marked with hard knocks of life: falls from trees, accidentally swung sticks, door-slammed pinkies, etc. She sleeps well and dreams vividly and sometimes is sorry that dawn has come—not because she doesn’t anticipate the day ahead, but because the dream is a shame to leave.


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