— Mariya Poe

It’s after her funeral, and my fingers are reaching toward the sun. I’ve heard about letting the dirt send tiny electrons through the skin of your feet that pulse up your body and into your brain. They say the earth heals you, transforms you. My neighbor watches me stand tall in my backyard. He’s in his window, his hands on the windowpane, bracing himself with grey, wrinkled arms, as he leans his face closer to the glass. We’re looking straight at each other. The sky is a hot, fervent blue, and this is not the first time he’s watched. He stares as if I’m the meat he’s been hunting for, wishing to find.

The spring she found a rabbit’s nest full of dead babies—small, soft, and rotting black—she dug a deep grave to bury them. She used a spoon, dug on her knees in the rain. When she was done, she tracked mud into the kitchen, stood at the sink rubbing soap on her hands and up her arms, saying, I couldn’t let their mama find them dead, see their insides like that. Her eyes were hard, daring me to tell our father. Water dripped fast on the linoleum, and I wanted to find living babies, show her their furry beating bellies, prove that there will always be more.

She told me I didn’t know how to love her enough, and I didn’t. I wanted her to be better, older. When she felt ignored, she’d melt and sulk for days, and I wanted to tell her, This isn’t bad enough. We all have to wait until someone is here; someone is on us; someone is breaking the cells and the spine of us. We have to learn what bad is, and then we have to carry our grief. You can’t cry yet, I wanted to tell her. You’re still lucky.

When the sky’s going cool and dark, my neighbor retreats from his window and pulls his curtains closed tight. A few beats and I hear his front door open. He walks slowly to his property line, stands in front of me, stares intently at my tits, my legs, my eyes. He’s hunched over, and his arms hang at his sides. He tilts his head to stare from a new angle. I push my toes into the earth and lock my gaze back on him.

Before she was born, while it was still just me, I searched for supernatural forces. I hoped this world would be vast, larger than its known limits. I conducted experiments: muttered made-up spells and hid moldy food at the back of my closet. I didn’t think it was fair to throw anything out before it was given the chance of rebirth. I hid broken dolls, crumpled paper, bloody tissues, my baby teeth, thinking maybe it will all come back stronger—new, and different.

I don’t know what’s enough. I was careful. I tried to be patient. I spoke softly to her. Where there were arguments, there were apologies. There was growth. I was a good student, a patient learner. I have loved and felt love. I was nearly married, but that’s not important anymore. I’ve been changed again and again, and there are no marks to prove what happened. None of it matters. There are never marks where you search for them.

From my bedroom, I look out the window, and he’s there on his lawn, looking up at me. I return to my bed and try to sleep. A few minutes pass, and I hear my front door crack and open, hear footsteps through the living room, and up the stairs. He’s at the end of my bed. I think about hurting him first, bruising his mottled skin like ripened fruit. I think about her hand on my face when she wanted me to listen, the collection of stained photographs she’d planned to repair. I’m afraid that I’ll never forgive her for getting killed. He crawls over my legs, and I pounce up into a crouch. I hold my hands up, palms open. The blankets bunch between us as he reaches for me—presses his palms against my palms. His fingers fold tightly over mine. I push him. He pushes me back. He grunts, breathes heavily from deep within his spoiled lungs. I can’t see his face.

We’re suspended like this. Holding each other up, leaning closer. We shove with all our might, willing for something to snap us in half.

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