At night I listened to rain on the tin roof, imagining I was in a land where it rained until the sky was full of water. They left me alone mostly, so in the mornings I could go for long walks in the woods, smelling wet dirt. The mother cooked something called collards and greens, and fried eggs served so hot they hurt the roof of my mouth. We all drank kefir, made from an aunt's goats. The mother kept a parakeet, Pretty Bird, hanging in a green cage beside the vegetable baskets. He was Pretty Bird 2; number one's legs had been fried by a boy, a boy who was gone. I came to take his place. I was easy, they said. They called me Pea and sometimes the older girls rolled my hair in big pink velcro rollers, then blew it dry until it fell thick and straight to my shoulder blades. I had good hair, the sisters told me, it was the color of Champagne Blonde #14, what their aunt bought in bulk. I kept their used eyeshadows, periwinkle blue and carnation pink, in a music box. The box had a dancing ballerina; her tutu was gone, but her golden toe shoes were painted on. They would never get lost. They had given me their own name. In my head, I said, Pea, not Priscilla. Pea, as in princess; Pea, as in sweet little pea.
What the girls smelled of was bubble gum and Aquanet, clean like disinfectant and sweet like cake. I don't have a scent, I whispered. They giggled. Pea, you say weird things.
Oh, Pea, they said. They talked about things they did, when I was there, like the time they found one hundred dollars beside the tracks, or when the man in Mr. Fresh asked the smallest one if she wanted a free polywog from out of his backpack, and when we asked him what a polywog was, he walked away all funny, like he was shoplifting or cussing when he shouldn't. But they didn't talk about it like I was there; they didn't notice, or it wasn't important. Once, I said I could drink five Snow Blizzards at the Mr. Fresh and I did, and they remembered. They talked about it all night, how I gulped, my big white moustache, how my eyes got big as saucers when my brain froze. Their mother tapped my foot. Where is it? She said. Where's the hole in there?
The week before I went someplace else, it rained every night. The mother came in on the fifth night, and asked me how I was. I felt sparks were coming out of my fingers. Looks like a fever, she said, and sighed. Where does it hurt? I felt pressing in my brain. Why didn't you say anything? The last thing we need is another sinus infection. Don't you have the sense? Cripes, cripes.
When she left I crawled under the bed, with the wet magazines, sniffing rain. I kept my ear to the floor, listened to distant voices. Why doesn't she say anything? She knows how to talk in a normal voice, I hear her saying words in her sleep. Their voices were so far away, I couldn't attach them anymore. Darlene, Patricia-Patty, Miranda-Mir, the mother, Nelly.
I thought about senses, and thought I could taste what I smelled, and smell what I felt. If I could lie there on the cool green floor and listen hard enough, I would sleep and seep and sleep and fall away, dead like possums or gone where insects go after a storm.
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