The day my head ripped down the perineum, the sky cracked in response. Father cut the rope from around my neck, seared the fleshy tube, and dined with bottle of dry wine that night. The doctors were knee deep by the time I was placed on Mother’s chest. She lay numb from her belly down and made mini whirlpools. I was pruning.

When I was a baby, my parents would scoop gallons with storage bins. The floors were warped and squishy. The whole house smelled like wet socks. We kept buckets on the coat racks and Mother and I wore bare skin instead of clothes. I learned to swim before I could crawl.

Mother doesn’t bring hurricanes to the desert. Her mouth is always wrapped around a cigarette or a spoon. She doesn’t smile. She sits in the puddles of my thunderstorms and holds her breath until lightning screams.

I can’t cry. There’s never been a tear shed down my cheek. I’ve felt the weight, the heavy pressure behind my eyes. I’ve wailed to the brink of nausea. But not once in my life, have I cried.

Not even when Aunt Linnie died.

My aunt had a big mouth. She told her second husband that I was considerate and her third that I was a bad luck. She mixed salt into my formula and in my mashed pears until one day she cracked her head on the kitchen floor.

I was four at the time. The blood pooled like a red halo. She was Virgin Mary sprawled on the damp floor. I scooped a sample up onto my finger. It ran down all thick and slow. Just like paint. I smeared it across her lips; rubbed it into her cheeks; made angry lines on her forehead. I took my little hands with no sense of strength and unhinged her jaw. She had a big mouth.

I laughed at my work. Laughed at her crooked jaw and bloody lipstick. I laughed so hard that the sky weeped for me.

When my parents came home, there was bloody rainwater up to my chest. Aunt Linnie had begun to drift.

The roof was leaking onto my cheeks. The water was a thin pink. Mother didn’t say a word and Father laid Aunt Linnie out on the kitchen table. Mother cupped my face and brushed her thumb just below my eyes.

You’re crying, she said. And she smiled at me. She smiled until the roof dripped on her own cheeks. We smiled.

Mother and I drained the water. She grabbed the storage bins and my little hands the buckets. We poured gallons onto the front steps. Father brought out the wine from the cabinet and we had rare steaks that night.

Mallory, Father said. Do you know what happened to Linnie?

She hit her head, I said, pointing to the dent in the floor. I was naked. Mother’s nipples curved and I wondered why mine didn’t do the same. Mother chewed slowly with her mouth closed. She swallowed hard and sipped her wine. I didn’t touch my glass because it was too bitter. I was four; I liked sweet juice.

Father hummed. He had two steaks and drank straight from the bottle. One hand held the neck and the other cut the meat. Red grease smeared across his chin. Father had thin glasses on a big nose. Just like Aunt Linnie.

Mallory, Father said. Do you know what happened to Linnie? Mother sipped her wine and looked at me. Her eyes smiled. The steak was juicy and I mistook it for my tongue.  

She hit her head because of my puddles, I said. I ate chunks bigger than my mouth. I wanted green peas and potatoes, but there was just steak. Every night was just steak. Vegetables were for Wednesdays and fruits on Saturdays. I loved fruit. Father liked food that bled.

Mallory, Father said. Do you know where Linnie is?

In the freezer, I said, folded up like the laundry. Mother tipped her plate and licked it clean. Grease fell on her breast. Father took the napkin from his shirt and passed it to her.

Mallory, Father said. Do you know where Linnie is?

In your belly, I said. In our bellies.

Where are you?

In your belly.



received a Gold Key from the Scholastic Arts & Writing Awards


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