Target Practice

You said I had rabies. Saw a television boy nicked by a coyote two years before, ball and body dropped mid-game two years later, the sixty minute special screened between self help recordings and foreign dramas during the library’s weekend hours. That I would probably die in this house tonight. Downstairs, relatives you didn’t know leaning and sitting, talking at each other; the wine we’d passed as pomegranate juice, twak-twak of a fan, your baby niece wailing one room over, peek-a-boo scared; your eyes glassed in pity-pride, hand tight on stolen drink, like you were readying to carry me off and shoot me in the yard right then. You who sucked cigarettes stubbed from cement, who refused to step foot in a front doorway, who spat and cursed and smoked in your father’s pickup as if you dented the doors yourself. I could see me leaving you; holiday faces oohing and ahhing, touching my cheeks, me feigning sickly, oh you dear, you poor dear. But your mouth’s moving, rattling around us. Remember? Remember? Do you remember that time. And I’m stuck, I’m in your words; Leslie’s house, me picking apart her jewelry box and thick perfume bottles and crystal plated cabinet, you noting what to pocket, that raccoon of hers skittering near my feet. Hooky trip to the park, snapping monkeys caged in candy wrappers, limpy fox cooing, our peanut butter slicked sympathy; Please Do Not Feed the Animals. Reverend’s land, the barks hidden in the wheat. Our summers scarred by cold and broken teeth. The nights we walked, the stings that bit through the dark. Again, I said. We’ll try it again. You got on top of the wool quilt your father left you, the mint of it steeping you, and me, our scent the same; shut eyes, head lulled, you felt dangerous, part of me wondering if you had a switchblade somewhere close to my throat. You threaded your fingers across my scalp, lifted me slowly to drink. The wine was heady, inking my lips and tongue and teeth and reaching my throat as lost acid; confusion seared with nowhere to go, no muscles seized or swallowing. It rushed upwards, spit foamed, frothing my neck, loose like blood. The dull chatter underneath us peaked, a voiceless radio joining in jingly. I remember when you called me crying, voice so wrong I didn’t know who it was; you saying what do I do he’s gone he’s gone what do I do and me running to you and you sitting on the porch, flushed laughter eating you up, sweat shining your legs and you saying it’s a joke for Christ’s sake and me not laughing and you waking up the next day not laughing either.

Your father: a plodding gait, fast eyes, middle age bank teller who knew how to fix things with his thin fingers. When you didn’t eat for awhile he’d stick them down your throat, rolled oats, mint ice cream, quick, sweet shoves. Mostly I remember him dead, something slow and massive in powdered paper dressing after his fast eyes were going too fast to miss that minivan or too fast not too. Inconclusive they said, showing us graphs and flat lines and overexposed photos from the-scene-of-the-crime. You said you liked the drama in those words, how exotic they were. I kept shaking your shoulder and saying hush honey hush. The nurse looked at me and saw the frayed plastic of my wig and sloppy heels and saw I wasn’t the woman who birthed you but she kept emptying the waste basket of needles in her latex hands and singing in her throat. Vegetative, they said. The breathy hum of the respirator paced the pale room, the clack of wheeled chairs, clipboards, soft knock-off sneakers rhythmic, vital. You made them go away. Made me stand by the door and watch you watch the room, the saggy weight of you on the plastic bed padding, the gnashing of your teeth, tendons popped as the hands in yours cut pale white, you squeezing and squeezing like when we sat on Reverend’s roof slingshotting the flicks of shadow that were maybe bats and you shot blind and said one of these days we're gonna hear the buggers hit the ground and we never did and you kept squeezing at your eyes anyway. You peeled back each digit, every one powdered thin, stuck out from the wooly bed sheets, furry and unbreakable as you dimmed the lights and closed the door and signed that thing to your aunt-from-Tallahassee and it’s still humming away, probably more alive than he’s been in my whole life is what you said.

Your mother: unknown. Reverend said she gave you to him herself, rang the doorbell and waited. It was the hottest day come July and I can see those mosquitoes at my wrists and smell the clouds coming in heavy but for the life of me I can’t see that mamma of yours. Reverend always used his preacher voice telling us this. We started whispering it, singing it, pledging it with our palms touching, the sounds lofty, summer bred sounds. It strung between us, crafted yarn, us bound at the seams, exotic and meant to be unfolded. But you had red ties round your neck, too thin to see till the bent oaks dotting Reverend’s land were stripped bare, till your father rang Reverend’s door and waited and sat you in his pickup and brought the windows up tinted and drove across the dirt path back into town kicking up dust and it wasn’t hot, it wasn’t even summer anymore, but the words were bundled up in an itch and trailing over and over, it-was, it-was, the-hottest-day-come—

I remember you connecting once, the riverbed pebble swallowed into the night, the flecked wet of it gone black in seconds and knowing then it had hit, knowing it hit like it was crunching into my own paper veined wings, knocking me dead to the summer earth. You felt for another stone to fling, ran the smooth of it down your cheek, wedged it in the pale rubber sling and pulled it above your head with a sightless snap.

My body on the wooden beams crisscrossing your ceiling, fan whirring below from reaching legs, plump and black spider spinning and your mouth moving are-you-alright-are-you-OK-I-told-you-you’d-die-in-this-house-tonight. My head and neck were sinking together, too small to see bat bites flaming the backs of my arms and your hands hot there and trying to shake something out of me. The Reverend was talking downstairs, giggles following suit like a chant and his footsteps and his voice coming up the stairs it’s time to go It’s time to go. I remember your eyes locked up and me not ever figuring what it was you were aiming to hit.  

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