My first thought is, “He lies in every word.”
With each utterance, this cunning king of desolation sows more empty promises into an already arid field of despair.
Why do I continue to forage among his dejected rows, cutting the feet of my soul on the dangerous wreckage, quenching the gnarled, ever-hungry earth with my wretched blood time after time?
The question begs, but I have no quarrel.
I give it neither answer nor alms.
He hit me again last night, and this morning, outside the locked bathroom door, he cries my pardon while I powder my purpling cheek in the steam-streaked mirror.
I stretch my tender mouth wide to brush my wisdom teeth and wince. I spit blood-speckled foam that tastes of mint and pennies into the white porcelain sink.
“Baby, you know how I get. I just–I’ve been so tired. This place…”
I say nothing.
The boy’s face swims in my mind.
The running tap drowns out another of his barren pleas. He speaks louder, and I watch the crimson-tinted suds first circle the drain and then disappear.
“Oh, if it were only that easy,” I think, “to be whisked away to some other place and study war no more.”
But it is no longer that simple.
I rinse my mouth until the flow runs clear. Feel the mangled meat of my inner cheek, slick and jarring, where my teeth had dug in stalwartly against his wrath. The wind keens far away like a jilted banshee.
“Woman, I love you!”
He thrusts his fists against the door. I know this part, but still, I flinch.
The blue plastic His & Hers toothbrush cups clatter to the scuffed checkerboard floor and my armpits sting with a rush of adrenaline and fear.
“I’m sorry, okay? Please. I can fix this. We can-”
Outside, the blustery fluff whirls indifferently and I think, “This must be what it’s like to live inside a snow globe.” The dingy artificial dome over my life on this desolate farm has cracked and split, and it threatens to leak its poison into the world.
My own private Chernobyl.
And were we not already living in the fallout of some bleak and half-buried history, some dismal past now unearthed by our hopeful struggle? The realtor had lied. He’d said it was a fruitful place, quiet, welcoming. The murmuring townsfolk, however, with their sidelong glances and cold shoulders, said otherwise.
The single exception to them was a young boy who came to gawk at me with some of his chums while I gathered wood for the stove one foggy morning not long after we’d moved in. I saw them slink like thieves along the length of my fence and bade them a cheery hello. The chums giggled like sprites and fled, arms a-flail, and left the boy alone. His eyes bore into me. He raised one hand and gave a curt, low wave. I offered him hot cocoa in exchange for his help, hoping to seem friendly, but he only shook his head and continued to stare. I turned away from him, annoyed with how awkward I felt, and went back to my work.
“Ma said you gon die here.”
I stopped, squinted in confusion, and turned to face my prophet.
It’s silly, but I wonder if he could read my mind because he answered me before my lips had barely parted in response. “Don’t you know what happened here? What always happens here? Ain’t nobody told you? Dis ground sour. People be–”
The pug-nosed boy fell silent and cocked his head to hear something I could not. After a beat, I shivered, and then he lit off into the fog after the others. I stifled my embarrassment and confusion enough to avoid calling after him. I lumbered back inside with the wood and tried to convince myself it was just a prank, but I was afraid.
The realtor’s number was disconnected. Emails came back undeliverable. He had our life savings and we were stuck. We had no choice but to try and make it work. But how could we have known the things that had been hidden from us?
First came the shadows that wandered and moaned. Tricks of light and sound, my husband explained. The result of an old house settling its bones. Then came the fetid phantom odor that stank up the place, which probably meant a nest of dead birds or squirrels near an air duct. Probably. He said he’d look into it.
And so we passed our first winter here, blissfully ignoring these glaring signs, making love and making do. We forgot about the boy, the dank smells, the creeping shades and eerie lows, and we broke ground on the adjacent farmland the following spring.
We toiled and prayed and sweated well into the summer. Though the ground was cruel and stubborn we still hoped for a yield to sell, but by late September we’d reaped only ghosts and madness for our troubles.
Who was to blame for this fiasco?
Whose idea had it even been to come here?
And what the fuck was rotting inside our walls?
We were in over our heads and we despaired. He found both solace and anger inside the bottle, and then the thorns of his rage swallowed me whole. Neither my meager pleas for mercy nor my swollen belly could staunch his hate.
He knocks again and howls.
I’m far too big now to make it through the window and into the bitter waste beyond, but I would try if I thought I had even half a chance to escape what happens next, what must happen next.
The boy was right after all.
I replace the fallen cups. I close the tap. My sore and bullied muscles loudly protest each bend, twist, and breath. Fantasies of flight forsaken, I grab the doorknob with one bruised hand and tighten my grip on the cleaver in my other.
One of us is going to die here.
Image courtesty of Pixabay. Free for commercial use. No attribution required.
Mojo works as an editor, writer, web designer, and all-around badass to help creators to give birth to their ideas over at mojomediahome.com. Hailing from St. Louis, MO, Mojo and her two sons are owned by Baby Cat and Beans, their feline overlords. In her downtime, Mojo loves to ponder the mysteries of the universe, defend her Uno Champion title, and watch horror flicks.