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Wednesday
Apr012015

"Trespassing" Published by Midwestern Gothic

This is no April Fool's joke!

My first story from my Wolf-Ely Writing Project is now published! You can read the complete story, “Trespassing,” in the Spring 2015 issue of Midwestern Gothic! Order your copy at HERE.

Read my online author bio HERE.

If you plan to be at AWP in Minneapolis April 8-11, purchase your copy in person when you visit Midwestern Gothic at the book fair (table #2032), chat with the editors, and peruse issues.

Thank you, Minnesota State Arts Board and Midwestern Gothic!

* READ THE FIRST PAGE OF THE STORY BELOW *

 

ABOUT MIDWESTER GOTHIC (quoted from the website)

Midwestern Gothic (ISSN 2159-8827) is a quarterly print literary journal out of Ann Arbor, Michigan, dedicated to featuring work about or inspired by the Midwest, by writers who live or have lived here. Midwestern Gothic aims to collect the very best in Midwestern writing in a way that has never been done before, cataloging the oeuvre of an often-overlooked region of the United States ripe with its own mythologies and tall tales.

Don’t be fooled by our name. Gothic fiction is often defined as the inclusion of deeply flawed, often “grotesque” characters in realistic (and, oftentimes unpleasant) settings/situations. At Midwestern Gothic, we take to heart the realistic aspects of Gothic fiction. Not every piece needs to be dark or twisted or full of despair, but we are looking for real life, inspired by the region, good, bad, or ugly.

Ultimately, we’re striving to catalog the best of Midwestern writers, and whether it be pieces physically set in the Midwest, or work inspired by your time living here, we want it.

 

Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Saturday
May312014

Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 152

(This is the sixth in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post includes a short essay and the beginning of an early draft of a story in progress. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)

Last night, I read through one of my stories, "Black Sheep." I’d set it aside for a while because I’d been on the fence about it. I wasn’t sure where I stood with my characters. Had I:

  • Given them enough details to be believable?
  • Spent enough time listening to their troubles, fears and hopes to give them enough cause to act?
  • Been fair to them?
  • Taken good care of them as human beings with all their flaws?

When I finished reading the story, I took a deep breath and said, “I just love this guy!” Even with all his quirks, faults and politics, by the end of the story, I felt an overwhelming sense of affection for the protagonist in the story. Now I knew where I stood with the story, and in that same moment, I realized that I'd grown so fond of so many characters in my stories. With all the danger, sorrow and despair that might visit them, I want so much for them to make it to the end of the story—and beyond.

I never thought I'd feel or dare to think this way when I started writing fiction. When I heard other writers talk about such things it sounded corny...but it's not. It's what living in another person's proverbial shoes does to you. If you dig deep enough, listen hard and long enough, you begin to understand them as a person, and with that comes love.

Here's the beginning of the story...

Black Sheep

Richard recognized his granddaughter when she stepped off the bus and onto the icy parking lot of The Pancake House. At 17, Rose still had those over-sized eyes and black curly hair of the little girl he remembered. Covered in a thin pair of tights, her legs poked out from a baggy matching cardigan like a black, stick-legged sheep. No hat, no gloves, no boots, just leather sandals on her feet and hanging from her shoulder, an over-stuffed woven bag. The rainbow colors had faded, but it was the same one her mother had carried the last time he saw them, 12 years ago in L.A. Rose hugged herself and buried her chin into the sweater’s collar.

As much as he hated to do it, canceling this morning’s meeting with supporters of the proposed copper-nickel mine was necessary to drive the hour from Greenstone to Iron Mountain and meet Rose’s bus. It was a shame Greenstone hadn’t seen a Greyhound bus in town since the end of its mining days, but it only made sense. Greenstone wasn’t on the way to anywhere else except Canada—and even then, you’d have to paddle a canoe through the Boundary Waters to get there. At least he arrived in Iron Mountain on time according to the Miner’s Bank clock flashing 1:15 p.m. and -2°F. What were social services thinking? A few days before New Year’s, below zero temperatures and his granddaughter is dressed for a walk in the park?

Rose looked everywhere but at him. She looked at the other disembarking passengers, the restaurant where orange paint peeled from the siding, and the cigarette butts scattered on the asphalt around her feet.

“Rose?” he called over the noise of the idling bus. The smell of diesel exhaust filled the air. His chest squeezed. He thumped his fist against his sternum. This damn heartburn chose the most inopportune times to act up. He unwrapped the last of a Tums and popped it into his mouth, swallowing it dry. “Rose!” he shouted.

She shot a wide-eyed glance his way. It was hard to tell if it was an expression of surprise or fright, or just the zombie look people got from three days without a good night’s sleep. It was probably a combination of all three. Riding on a one-way ticket more than forty-eight hours on a bus from the West Coast to meet a grandfather you couldn't remember could do that to a person. He waved her over and tugged at the bill of his Marine Corps cap, squeezing his bald scalp as he pulled it down over his forehead. A nervous habit. Though he wore a down parka, heavy gloves and boots, he had to admit the cap was a practical mistake—his ears burned in the biting wind—but without it he felt invisible.

“Grandpa?” Her voice rose with a crackle of hope. Rose looked nothing like her mother, Suzanne, a blond, pale-skinned woman of sturdy German stock. And though he’d never met her father, it was clear that Rose looked everything like him, a black-eyed, oily-skinned Mexican—or Honduran or El Salvadoran—or whatever. Something illegal from across the border.

He wanted to give Rose a hug—not wanted really, just thought he should. It was the right thing to do for a child whose mother just passed away.

“Good to see you,” he said, and bent forward. Her body stiffened when he pressed his hand to her back. She felt as brittle as a dry birch twig. He feared he might snap her in two if he squeezed too tight. She smelled of damp wool.

“How was the trip? Can I get your bags?”

“I don’t have any,” she said. Rose looked away across the valley. She pointed toward the tiers of snow-covered waste rock piled hundreds of feet high and leveled flat along the northwest edge of town. “What is wrong with those mountains?”

“That’s an iron ore mine.”

“You mean,” she began. She scrunched her face with disgust. “Open pit?”

 It sounded like she said, open shit.

“No, an open pit. You don’t have a suitcase? A duffle bag?”

She shook her head.

When Mendocino County social services called three days ago, the heartburn stabbed all day. He went through half a role of Tums. The news was incomprehensible: His estranged daughter had died by carbon monoxide poisoning caused by a blocked woodstove flue—and he was the designated legal guardian for a granddaughter he barely knew. He couldn’t sleep that night. He had his own life. Granted, he had the house to himself. Donna wasn’t interested in spending her golden years fishing for walleyes like he was. She’d refused to follow him to Greenstone for retirement. The nearest medical clinic being an hour’s drive away might also have had something to do with it, that and the fact that his second marriage hadn’t been going much better than his first. But taking a stranger into his home—a teenage girl at that? Well, let’s just say it could only mean complications.

On the drive to meet the bus, he resolved that if it was right thing to do, then he’d better get at it. And now it was clear what the first step would be. Those nitwits at social services should’ve given Rose more than a bus ticket to Minnesota. If they’d had any common sense, they’d have given her a decent coat and a pair of mittens knowing she was coming to the land of 10,000 frozen lakes. At least some real shoes for God’s sake.

“Here.” He took off his parka and draped it around Rose’s bird-boned shoulders. “Wear this. We’ll stop at Walmart first thing before heading home.”

Rose eyed the man-made mountains along the horizon with suspicion.

“Rose.” She turned her attention to him. Her eyes narrowed. “This isn’t California.” …

 

Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

   

 

Thursday
May012014

Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 121

(This is the fifth in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post is the beginning of my fourth story in progress, an early draft. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)

Trespassing

The call came early one November morning, just like any other. Routine trespassing. Or so it began.

“My property’s posted,” Dan Jacobson, a small-potatoes logger said over the phone, his deep voice indignant. “But somebody’s got a trap line on it.”

“Where can I meet you?” John Reid asked.

“The end of my driveway. It’s south of town on 27. Right-hand side just before the Indian reservation.” He paused and added gruffly, “I gotta wolf, too. Live. In a snare...”

Not so routine.

“…and I’m not having nobody point a finger at me for snaring a wolf between seasons,” he insisted. “They’re not my traps.”

“I’ll be right out.” John rubbed the knuckled stump on his left hand where he’d lost three fingers years ago in a domestic violence call. He looked at his watch. 9:12. He sopped up the last of his eggs with a corner of toast and grabbed his jacket with Conservation Officer printed in gold letters on the back.

On the way out, he locked the front door. No one else locked their doors around here, but it was a habit from the city which he could not let go. What if on his return he surprised a drug addict who had taken advantage of the open door, looking for cash and guns? A crime of convenience. A preventable confrontation. Ten years on the Minneapolis police force did that to a person, etched into his brain the violent possibilities of what if?

Outside, the sky shone an intoxicating clear blue, but the frigid air sobered John up and he pulled his black toque over his balding head. Armed with his .223 rifle on the rack, a 12-gauge under the seat, and a laptop computer mounted on the console, he drove his pickup south through Superior National Forest, past Greenstone to the Jacobson place.

John left Minneapolis after losing his best friend, his fiancé and his hope that he’d never have to kill anyone. He gladly accepted the position of Game Warden in this remote corner of northern Minnesota, a dozen miles south of the Canadian Border. The small, isolated mining towns, smatterings of glacial-scraped lakes and forested wilderness gave him spaces in which he could breathe. After more than a decade as a conservation officer—that’s what they called game wardens nowadays—he still welcomed the daily tedium of his 24/7 routine enforcing game laws. It was more like public relations compared to the life and death situations that came with armed robberies, road rage and gang shootings—and domestic violence calls, his least favorite of them all. Not that he liked confronting any desperate person, but when it came to affairs of the heart, well, no one could predict what a man was capable of until love or jealousy tested him.

Five miles later, John found the end of the Jacobson’s driveway deserted.

He turned in and drove a quarter mile through the pines past a black spruce-filled bog. On a rise above the bog sat a  log house with a squat roof surrounded by a thick stand of pines. The sun peaked over the tree tops, casting long purple shadows on the snow. As he got out of the truck, the smell of wood smoke filled the air. A lazy wisp of smoke rose from a stove pipe poking out the cabin roof beside a TV satellite dish. John’s what-if radar sharpened.

It was quiet. Too quiet. He imagined the same stillness in the air when Johns’ best friend Keith, a fellow officer, found the slumper sleeping in a car in the church parking lot. A routine call. The slumper had a warrant for his arrest, but before Keith could reach the squad car to look up the man’s record, he took three bullets in the back.

“Hello?” John knocked on the front door. The busted-out screen rattled. “Hello!” He rubbed his knuckles and counted to ten before following a worn trail through snow and trees to the backside of the cabin.

“Inside my heart there's an empty room,” a mournful voice sang from inside a small pole barn. Young and feminine, the voice cut through the winter stillness like a siren over a frozen sea. “It's waiting for lightning. It's waiting for you…”

“Hello?” He raised his voice as he knocked on the barn door and stepped into the darkness. Before his eyes could adjust, the smell of warm hay and summer pastures filled his senses.

A young woman popped up from behind an interior pen. “Oh!” she cried, a startled expression on her face. Under a blue knit cap, a long blond braid snaked out over her shoulder. Her pale blue eyes were red and swollen. 

“Someone called about trespassing and a wolf? A Dan Jacobson?”

“Jesus,” she said and looked away, down toward her hands where she held clumps of hay. “Didn’t Danny meet you at the road?” Two goats no taller than her knees milled about beside her snatching mouthfuls of fresh hay from the floor. Rays of sunlight streamed in through a small window igniting dust particles in an aura around her.

“No, he wasn’t there.” He held out his hand. “I’m John Reid.”

She dropped the hay, wiped at her face and shook his hand. “Bijou.”

When his eyes met hers, it took only a moment for his heart to quicken. Yes, he was sure. He recognized her kind...

 

Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

 


Wednesday
Apr022014

Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 92

(This is the fourth in a series of posts that chronicle my year-long writing project. I'm writing fiction to explore how wolves and the legalization of wolf hunting and trapping affect residents in northern Minnesota. This post is the beginning of my second story in progress, an early draft. For more information about this project, please scroll down to Wolf-Ely Writing Project: Day 1, or click here.)

 A Million Suns

Gloria was afraid it would come to this. First it was the deer. Now it could be the wolves. She’d warned Len about hunting on her land. Hell, she took his deer stands—all three of them expensive aluminum high-tech tree perches—and locked them up in the shed.

“Mom,” he said when he came into the house last fall. “Got my first deer.”  He stood in the kitchen decked head to toe in camouflage he’d bought new from Cabela’s. “I shot three of them.” He tracked mud across the tiles to the fridge. “Hot damn. Am I some shot, or what?” He cracked open a Hamm’s and guzzled half the can before wiping his mouth on his coat sleeve.

Len was her oldest of five children from two marriages. She and her first husband moved from one low-rent apartment to another in Minneapolis. Then when Len came along about the same time they both lost their jobs, they decided to chase their dream, to live off the grid—before there even was a grid. They bought 20 acres of forest south of Greenstone. It was wild and cheap land. Gloria’s Eden. The first year they lived in a tent while they built a cabin from the pines they'd cut to make a clearing. The second year they had twin girls. The third year they drilled a well. The fourth year they got electricity. The fifth year, a divorce. The girls stayed with Gloira. Len left with his father to live back in Minneapolis. He spent the next three decades breathing exhaust as a student, a bus driver for the public schools, then the owner of a courier service. He was a good driver, sure, but Gloria always wondered how he had handled those city kids, him being so pudgy and soft in the gut—and in the head. He’d always been a whiny, brooding child and he seemed to have never grown out of his need to prove to people he was otherwise. 

“What did you go killing deer on my property for?” She asked Len. At 38 years old, he’d never shot a thing in his life until now. But after signing the last divorce papers giving his wife custody of their three children, he’d developed a sudden interest in hunting. “Just because you could?”

“Goddammit, Mom,” he said. “Yeah. I could. I did. Chill out, why don’t you.” He sucked down the rest of his beer and stomped on the can with his new hunting boots.” I gotta go get me my venison.” He smiled and slammed the door on his way back out to his car.

They were does, three of them. And ever since Len shot them, all winter she’d hardly seen a deer pass through the clearing out back. Hadn’t seen one stop to sip at the crick that ran along the edge of the forest.

That’s when the wolf came...

 

Wendy Skinner is a fiscal year 2014 recipient of an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. This activity is made possible by the voters of Minnesota through a grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board, thanks to a legislative appropriation by the Minnesota State Legislature; and by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.



Wednesday
Nov062013

Mrs. Larsen's Goats

You can listen to a live reading of "Mrs. Larsen's Goats" here.

"Mrs. Larsen's Goats," a short story from my collection The Lucky Ones, was published in the winter 2014 issue of Calliope and nomiated for a 2014 Pushcart Prize.

Calliope describes itself as "the official publication of the Writers' Special Interest Group (SIG) of American Mensa, Ltd. It is published four times a year with a circulation that spans six countries and nearly every state in the USA. Calliope on the Web is an online extension of printed Calliope."

Mrs. Larsen's Goats

Mrs. Larsen died of a mysterious sickness when I was eight years old.  The grownups wouldn’t tell me how, so I imagined being in her bedroom when she left: I stood beside her where she lay in her four-poster and looked out the second story window at Lake Superior shimmering in the afternoon sunlight. She

whispered to me, “Good bye, little angel,” and closed her eyes. Her ghost slipped out of her mouth, like a swallow from its nest. I opened the window to free her and she flitted out, up and up, higher and higher until I couldn’t tell the difference between the blue of her nightgown and the bare April sky of heaven.

When she died, Mrs. Larsen was the same age as my mother, twenty-eight-years years old. They had not only been neighbors, but good friends, too. When my mother needed to run errands into Two Harbors, Mrs. Larsen watched watch me and my little sister, Silvie. Mrs. Larsen wore a size ten like my mother and traded shoes with her for weddings and funerals. A beautiful pile of blond hair sculpted into rosettes sat on the top of her head. She looked like a fashion model. I wanted to be beautiful and childless.

 

After Mrs. Larsen died, my mother spent hours at their house every day helping Mr. Larsen with the cooking and the cleaning. He worked as a well-driller along the North Shore and my mother said he’d never washed his own underwear and that he didn’t know how to cook anything but toast and scrambled eggs.

I didn’t know Mr. Larsen very well, but I loved his wife’s goats. As a gift the year before, Mr. Larsen had built a shed with a doggy door and had given her eight miniature goats. He encircled it all with a low electric fence. They often scrambled to the top of the shed and stood on its ridgeline like Santa’s eight tiny reindeer. Since Mrs. Larsen had died, every now and then Mr. Larsen gave me and my sister each a small pail of feed and let us into the pen. It was the only time my sister and I played together without fighting. Sylvie and I imagined we were herders in Nepal or circus-animal trainers in Florida—like in the pictures I’d seen in National Geographic. 

On the days when my mother was away scrubbing Mr. Larsen’s tub, washing his sheets, or cooking tuna casserole, I pinched my little sister—unlike the angel Mrs. Larsen thought I was. I ran away from her and hid under the cellar stairs where she was too afraid to look. I crushed bloody raspberries against my cheeks and told her the bogeyman got me, but that he liked fat little girls even more, so she’d be next. Every once in a while, I tormented her until she howled like a tom cat, so loud I feared my mother would hear us from Mr. Larsen’s house and punish me.

 

My father spent weeks at a time driving an 18-wheeler. While he crossed the plains of North Dakota, my mother cooked supper for Mr. Larsen at his house. I ignored Silvie as best I could, until she wouldn’t stop begging to go see the goats.  We traipsed over to Mr. Larsen’s house, rapped on his door, and asked to feed Henrietta and the rest of Mrs. Larsen’s goats.

Silvie wanted a goat for a pet of her own, in particular the smallest one with one brown eye and one grey eye named Henrietta. She played with the goat like a doll, talking to it like a baby. She loved all those goats, and though they were bossy at times, they were sweet things who loved a tummy rub and would follow her anywhere as long as she had a few pellets of rabbit chow in her hand.

“Silvie—don’t,” I shouted as she lifted the gate’s latch with Henrietta nibbling at her fingers. “You can’t take her out.”

“Henwietta wants to go swimming,” she said in her lispy voice. Silvie had just begun summer swimming lessons for four and five-year-olds at the high school pool. She’d practiced holding her breath underwater that first day, and although she could barely do it, everything Silvie played now had to do with swimming.

 

I’d caught her in her naughtiness and she bolted away from me with Henrietta trotting behind her. She ran down Mr. Larsen’s hill toward the bay. I dropped my feed bucket, pushed the other goats back, and latched the gate. Before I caught up to her, Silvie’d made it to the end of the lawn where the grass gave way to a shelf of bedrock at the water’s edge. “Hold it right there, little missy,” I said, and escorted the two fugitives back to the pen.

To keep her from fussing, I told Silvie that George, another goat, was sick and asked her if she wanted to be the doctor. She liked that idea and played the goat-healer, pushing George onto his side and pressing her ear to his grimy chest to hear his heartbeat. I took the roll of toilet paper from Mr. Larsen’s bathroom and gave it to Silvie. As she struggled to keep him from eating it, she proceeded to wrap the goat’s injured limbs with the pretend bandages.

In no time my sister used the remains of the roll, and bits and pieces of it lay strewn along the ground and caught in the electric wire. The other goats curiously picked at it with their snail-gray tongues. I went to search for a second roll of toilet paper. When I’d gotten the first roll, my mother and Mr. Larsen had stood side-by-side at the kitchen sink peeling potatoes and laughing. They’d hardly noticed when I passed through the kitchen. This time, however, the house was dead quiet. Peels littered the sink and the countertop, and a pot of water filled with potatoes simmered on the stove.

 

Since I’d already taken the toilet paper from the bathroom, I checked the closet across the hall. Inside the closet hung chiffon church dresses of dusty rose and powder blue, a black taffeta evening gown, house dresses in cotton calico prints, and blouses and skirts and slacks and scarves and camisoles and brassieres and girdles and silky transparent nighties. I reached into the folds of the clothing, letting the smooth fabrics slip between my fingers. When my fingers touched a sachet of potpourri tied to a hanger in the middle, a thick, sweet scent of dead roses released.

My mother’s closet was nothing like this. She hid her underthings inside her dresser drawers. The beauty of it all caught in my throat and I stood, entranced—when the commotion of goats bleating outside the bathroom window reminded me why I’d opened the closet in the first place. There on a low shelf beside dozens of pumps and sandals, lay boxes of soap bars and a four-pack of toilet paper. I hesitated and listened. Still no voices in the kitchen. I grabbed the whole package and ran back outside.

 

The gate hung open and the goats clustered in and around Mr. Larsen’s flower garden, trampling the lupines and biting off the buds of the columbine. In the instant that I scanned the yard, the house, the garage, the woods to the back and the expanse of lawn fronting the lake, a child’s scream wailed from the bay. When I got to the edge of the shoreline, Silvie stood several feet out on the shelf of stone. The water splashed up to her belly.

Her face reddened in frustration. “Swim!” she cried. “Come. On. Swim!”

She pushed a goat with its lolling head under the water only to have the waves hurl the corpse back at her. I waded out into the icy lake to my sister, balancing on the slippery, pocked rock. I had hardly a moment to realize my fright—or amazement at how Silvie and the goat had gotten there in the first place. I reached for the collar of her shirt. She looked up.

“Henwietta won’t swim,” she told me through chattering teeth. “I teached her to hold her breath, but now she won’t swim.”

Her eyes set on what I still held clenched in my arm and her face transformed from a scrunched rotten apple to a golden peach. “More toilet paper!”

 

We left Henrietta to bang against the rocks and I carried my sister on my hip back past the foraging goats and into Mr. Larsen’s house as she squeezed the toilet paper to her chest. By this time, her new-found optimism had turned to crying that had turned to hiccups.

“Shush,” I told her and kicked off my soaked shoes. I set her down on the toilet seat, stripped her of her wet clothes, and wrapped a towel around her shivering body.  Mr. Larsen would be sad about Henrietta and furious about the other goats in his garden. Mother would blame me for Silvie’s naughtiness and Father would take the belt to me.

“Are you mad?” Silvie asked, as if hoping she’d mistaken the tone of my voice—that we weren’t in big trouble. “Henwietta wouldn’t swim. She was supposed to swim.” She began to cry again. “I want Mama.” 

“Shut up,” I told Silvie, but it only made her cry louder, so I put my hand over her mouth and—she bit me.

“I’m telling!” I said. “I’m telling Mom how you let the goats out and how they ruined Mr. Larsen’s flowers, and how you made

Henrietta—”

I couldn’t say it. I ran out of the bathroom and through the kitchen, the living room and the den. Empty. I ran upstairs. There were three doors.

 

I pushed the first door open and found a room with a sewing machine and filled with patterns and fabric scraps, shirts missing collars and skirts with ragged, unhemmed edges. A half-crocheted yellow, pink, and blue afghan lay unraveled on the floor. I pushed the second door open: a lacy bassinette. Piles of crisp, clean diapers, undershirts, sleepers, hats, socks, even a pair of tiny white leather shoes. A mobile made of little sheep—or maybe they were goats—dangled over a crib. I stood with my hands drawn to my chest, oblivious to the swelling bruise in the shape of teeth upon my palm.

 

I backed out of the nursery and stood at the last door. A rustling came from behind it, like when the goats pushed their heads beneath the base of their empty trough to snag stray bits of corn with their tongues.

“Mama?” I whispered, my hand hovering at the door’s knob. The rustling stopped. “Mama?”

Silvie’s sobs echoed up the staircase.

“What’s the matter?” a voice murmured from behind the door.  It sounded just like Mrs. Larsen. “Take care of your sister. Go on, be an angel.”

It was Mrs. Larsen.

My heart jerked through the ends of my fingers and I took my hand away.  I stumbled back downstairs and ran into the bathroom.

“I want Mama,” Silvie cried, pulling the corners of the towel to her chin.

“Shhh!”  I grabbed one of her hands. “Come on.”  I left Silvie’s wet clothes and our shoes behind as I pulled her through the kitchen where the potatoes had boiled over onto the stovetop. “Hurry up.” We fled out the back door.

“I want Mama. I want Mama,” Silvie chanted as I pulled her through the emptied goat yard.

“We’ll wait here for Mama,” I told her when we got to the back stoop. My knees trembled. I let go of Silvie’s hand, scrambled to the top step and sat on the cold concrete. “Come here,” I beckoned her with my arms out.

She tugged at the corners of the towel around her shoulders again, climbed one step and stopped. She frowned at me. “I. Want. Mama.”

I pushed the hair from her eyes, and kissed her forehead. “Come on. Right here,” I patted my thighs. “Be my little goat.” She climbed up, curled herself into my lap, and I smelled the lake rising from her hair. 

 

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