Saturday
Nov072015

Instar

Robert Glick


 

Yes I wound up chaining the dog to the desk leg. Since the rabidity couldn't handle light, I grew a capillaried translucence over my eyelids, stockpiled string cheese under the mattress.

Or in a mason jar, on my dresser, among the play lipsticks.

For months after, I slept beneath the piano.

 

I didn't yet know how not to know anything. I was ten. I thought states were geologic ruptures. Chasm, cliff, chain. Indifferent to negotiations and reparations. Selfish shit. The Nemaha Uplift bulged out under our midwestern Manhattan, against the Forest City Basin and the Bourbon Arch, a hundred miles to the left. We were half split by the Missouri, half split by an imaginary squiggle. How could Kansas City occupy two states at once?

 

"Because you Americans can't get enough of oversignification," Ajla told me, "you couldn't get yourself to wipe the blood off my leg."

That was later, when I was fifteen, after her collaborator in her hypoxic performance class had assaulted her in the bathroom of the mini-mart.

In response, I had helped her crucify a bodysuit of leaves and dried mud to his locker.

I was sitting on the floor of her dorm room at the art school, raking my fingers through her hair, which always sheened dark after she showered. Her head hung back over the edge of her bed; the oxygen-starve calmed her.

"There were like zero paper towels in that shithole," I said.

"No," she said. "It was because of all the other blood, real and remediated. And of course your mother's miscarriage." She unhinged her jaw, pressed down her tongue to fatten up her lower lip. "You just stood there, with your face like this."

"I did not look like that!"

"Your friend Lix wanted to throw up, I think, when she saw me."

"So did I."

Ajla flipped over, touched the tip of my nose. "Even with all the viscosity," she said, "you didn't run away."

 

My fifth grade was having a celebration. The thirtieth anniversary of Three Mile Island and how everything was safer because of what we had gained from our mistakes. We learned how Normal Accident Theory had predicted the meltdown. We iced cupcakes in the shape of reactors.

 

Let's say after school I lay in the wilds by our house. I wasn't allowed to play there, which made me play there. Let's say I lay on my stomach, with my lower legs bent up and dangling, looking through my binder of Yu-Gi-Oh! Cards. I set up four characters in a square on my backpack. I threw down a Resonance Device card though that wasn't the rules. The sun superheated the part in my hair. Let's say like movies the sun cookie-cut shapes through leaves onto my daisy sundress.

I was humming Black Eyed Peas. In the video, the mushroom cloud turned into a tree with a rope swing, and the backup dancers wore red and black mazes on their bodysuits.

I sensed noise that shouldn't have been; a fast exhaling. I hopped up, balanced on a lightning-snapped log. There was still the telephone pole above me. There was still the looped cables and a blinking squirrel astride a blinking red plastic box.

"I like that boom boom pow!" I said, to not scare anything.

At first I almost walked right over it. It rested in shade, against the root-strewn edge of the log, its belly losing and gathering the roundness of air. One of its blue eyes had too much white, with white amoeba spots on that side of its head and grey tufts of fur where many invisible fingers had dug in.

I was pretty sure it was my friend Brianne's dog. When Brianne was five, she had named the dog Buttercup, but now everyone called her Chunky.

"Aren't you cute!" I said.

She licked my hand. The tag, a little metal bone, had Brianne's last name, Johnson, and I wondered why a bone. I didn't understand why a bone carried by a set of bones, like a Russian doll. Why would something want another one of itself inside of it?

Let's say the feral news of things was not readily apparent.

 

That night my brother Russell told me that dogs were notorious grave diggers. So the shape of bone, replicated on the dog biscuit and chew toy, were all that remained of the dog's genetically-wired necrophagy.

Necro-, etymologically, came from the Greek nek-, meaning to perish or disappear.

When I was ten, Russell was not yet disappearing. He was not yet Dr. Watermelon. He was mostly my brother, letting me win at Connect Four, crushing me at suicide chess.

 

Even with me petting her the dog fell asleep, so I ran over to Brianne's. She lived four doors down, not counting the adobe-roofed house with the detached garage, with the hanging engine block, where a hantavirus once lived. The Johnsons were one of two African-American families in our subdivision, and Mom asked me to make Brianne feel always at home. At her house, we ate spicy chili. We hid in her Mom's closet and stacked her shoes against the wall, which we knocked on for hollow spots. She had Celtic feet, which was, she said, an extreme anomaly, and which she accentuated with a ring on her second toe, and her Mom worked for an upscale furniture store, which meant their house was always lacquered up slickly with this year's wood, always remodeling itself.

No one was home. Two newspapers were on the front porch, knotted into their blue plastic bags.

On the way back to the wilds, I tried to walk with my foot half on the curb, half off. This exact light de-lighted me, how the sun on the low horizon had the exact height as my head, and almost I could stare at it, and it made all the leaves russet, as if we had skipped summer and gone straight to fall. The dropped magnolia flowers looked like old phonographs, and I was humming Boom Boom Pow because actually I hated it and wanted to exhaust it.

 

I tell you everything because it can't make sense of the multiples. Can't make sense of our other names.

The speed of a bullet train made you sick just looking out the tinted glass.

Some scorpions had two tails. Some scorpions burnished blue-green under an ultraviolet light.

An instar was a stage in arthropod development. The shedding of the exoskeleton.

Yes when Mom dragged herself down the stairs and into the den where I was eating Snack Pack butterscotch flavor, and when she said, "Listen, I'm probably only spotting, not an emergency, but I'd like to go to the hospital," I told her to drive herself.

Over her leggings, she had put on a pair of Pink sweats, a gift from me last Christmas.

 

Chunky had gone from the wilds. I checked for her imprint against the log.

But she had rematerialized on our front porch. Again sleeping.

I leaned back against the two large planters, one with a fiddlehead fern, one empty but for soil and a magnifying glass, and I waited for the spiders who lived inside the porch light, or for Chunky to wake up. What would she look like if we shaved her hair? I wanted her to trust me. I wanted her to let me touch the lens of her eyes.

Finally I got bored. I put out a bowl of water and went to the park recreation program. Dr. Watermelon, who wasn't yet Dr. Watermelon, had kicked zero home runs. During games, he would kick the ball away from me, to not put me under pressure, or right at me, easy to catch.

I should have known something, because the kickball punctured. Just sitting on the tarmac, not even rolling. The sound of the deflating ball confused me. I went over and stuck my finger into the hole. Someone accused me of breaking the ball but I showed my fingernails, which had neither sharpness nor force.

I told my brother about the dog. He suggested that our house had given it a more perfect shade.

 

When I got home, I made Chunky open her mouth. Her tongue felt dry. The level on the water bowl hadn't changed, excepting evaporation.

"Melancholic," Mom said when she saw the dog. She had cut her hair short in back, with long bangs that curved all the way around her face. She wore mustard-colored pants and barely any makeup, which meant she had been in surgery. She put gas into the lungs or blood of people. Once she took our class to the hospital and each swab and jar and syringe was elegant and gleaming. The walls of the operating room felt grey in the hot light. She explained how the mask put people to sleep. She explained that no one knew how the brain worked, or why we could shut it down.

From the way Mom scruffed up Chunky's neck, I didn't think she liked dogs. Mom wouldn't let us have any pets, not even a hamster, though me and my brother begged.

"Jessica," she said, "you know better." For the water dish, I had used what Mom called a special-function bowl, a ceramic bowl ringed by two olive-green stripes.

 

Which didn't explain why, when we got back from the hospital after the miscarriage, I saw Mom in a nightgown I had never seen her wear, sharpening an entire box of pencils.

It did, however, explain why, that evening, I insisted on wearing my new leather boots to the corn maze, even though they wouldn't manage the mud.

Yes I had refused to mop the kitchen floor.

Mom had hung a white curtain of daisies over her bedroom mirror.

Daisies in two places at once.

 

Mom called the Johnsons, who were vacationing on Padre Island until Tuesday. Brianne told me about the nests of endangered sea turtles, how the island was almost an atomic test site, how she had gotten a mosquito bite as big as a hamburger bun.

Chunky had enough food, according to Mrs. Johnson, but she had no problem if we wanted to canine-sit.

"Chunks wants to stay!" I said. "She does!"

"I'll warn you," said Mrs. Johnson. "She's got a motor on her."

"That's Jessica's concern," said Mom.

 

Before I could bring Chunky into the house, Mom made me take her out, all by myself. Mom gave me a borrowed leash and a plastic bag.

I thought I'd take Chunky back into the wilds, by the little creek that salamanders used to burrow in. I wanted Chunky to take unstoppable interest in a tree scent or moldy gnawed-up tennis ball. I wanted her to bolt off into the woods, where I could call her name, locate the etch of her paw print in the dirt, track her down.

Unlike Ajla, whom Lix and I absolutely did not want to find, trying to scrape this man's skin out from under her nails.

As I walked Chunky down the street, I kept rubbing my thumb against the red and green striations of the leash.

I watched a pigeon with a dirty brown chest flutter wildly on a frail branch.

The development of pigeon gonads, I learned later, was used to prove the necessity of vision in the mirror stage.

And locusts, too, proved it.

To understand you were not and never could be yourself.

We hadn't even gotten to the house with the unused playset, which now, I saw, had a coiled hose at the top of the slide, when Chunky peed on a late-blooming patch of grass. A few steps later, she pooped inside a perfect crescent of spiky balls from a sweetgum tree, and we went back and because she barely tugged at the leash I felt no more capable than before.

 

Privilege charts our outer territories, Ajla taught me. Our wingspan.

So after the corn maze, after Lix and I watched Ajla use the bolted-in toilet roll dispenser to pull herself off the floor, I went back to the wilds.

I hadn't gone there in years.

It seemed small. Not wild. Encased by our suburb of brownstones, the smell of bake sales.

Meaning: so long as you stay bunkered in the vaguely threatening scrub by your house, you're under no pressure to jettison your fantasies.

"Don't make it seem like I'm such an exception," Ajla said later, gently pushing me away when I tried to hold her. She gave me back the pillow feather she had plucked off my sweater. "Even if it wasn't really a rape."

Meaning: when during the wars a Bosnian girl got assaulted or raped, it was totally normal, and here not, and I had no idea about any bigger picture.

Maybe because the summer was dry, the creek was a crooked, impressed line in the dirt. And the golf ball I had buried had decomposed down to its yarn-ball core.

Because obviously this strange terrain was not that strange terrain.

 

In my room, Mom set down an old Strawberry Shortcake pillow case. Chunky circled around it, then dropped.

Russell came in with a bag of kibble and the fake pelt of a flattened skunk over his wrist. I rubbed the length of the fur, and the bobble eyes bobbled, and its body undulated through the air. Russell was wearing his headgear now. He could poke out an intruder's eyes with it, he said. He was the dweeb with his glasses and him guzzling milk straight from the carton and he hadn't learned yet how to speak with his hands.

"Are you sure the dog's okay?" he asked. "It's like she took a chill pill or something."

"Dogs can be tired too, you know."

The slow cracking of each kibble between Chunky's teeth made me happy, like a bright flower you luck onto growing out of a tree trunk.

 

Dad got home from work. He called me, and I gave him a hug.

"Let's see the quadruped," he said. He went onto all fours, which made change spill out of his slacks.

Chunky pulled up her head and growled weakly at him.

"Not very comely," he said.

He left and came back in with Mom. The dog let Mom lift her paw.

"She's not acting right," Mom said, "is she?"

"She's fine!" I said.

"She should stay quarantined in the garage tonight."

"She's fine Right Here!" I put my fingers between her paws and she didn't care. I even felt the tops of her canines, soft mounded points on my fingertips. "See?"

You might say they don't act that way but they do. The white parts of her fur might have gone a dull yellow.

"Grace," said Dad, "we're not in the outback."

"Mi hija," said Mom. She encouraged me and my brother to start picking up Spanish through disconnected phrases. "If you see any change, you tell me right away."

"I will," I said.

"I mean right away. I'm treating you like an adult here."

If I was like I am now, I had two fingers of one hand around my other wrist, finding the pulse of vein.

 

Within a few hours, the dog had strayed to the darkest corner of my room.

"It might have rabies," said Russell.

"No way," I said.

He tried to scare me about the sixteen shots. He tried to jab me in the tummy and I warded him off and he ruffled my hair.

I switched off my lamp and we switched on our Maglites.

"But what if it does?" he said.

"Then we can take her to the veterinarian, stupid."

Sometimes my brother forgot what was most obvious. After the miscarriage, when he and his friends burned down the boat outside the sketch house, they left all their stuff for the police to find.

We played Connect Four, game after game. The only sounds were the occasional rush of air through the conditioning vent, and the tinkle of the dog tag, and the click of a single chip sliding into a slot. Each time I won, my brother let me release the latch, letting all the chips crash down.

 

When later I told Russ to get raped, I meant it. I had seen a diagram of the scorpion, its eleven sections. In class I learned the four or five taste areas of a human tongue. Everyone except me was into umami because it was unclassifiable, irreproducible.

After Mom and I got back from the hospital and we were sitting at the kitchen table, saying nothing, and Mom was weighing a long wooden soup spoon in her hands, it was as if the gravity had been switched on and even flushing the toilet bruised the soft side of my fingers.

Bitter, sour, sweet, salt.

I had to settle the most painful word on each part of my tongue.

I wouldn't say it now. Not to my brother. Maybe to Lix. In the bathroom of the mini-mart, she couldn't bear to watch Ajla struggle back into her jeans. She didn't really want Ajla's lips to be the blue of drowning. She offered to go get a pizza because she couldn't stomach how Ajla watched every episode of Friends, how Ajla nailed all 27 tubes of her acrylic paint to the wall.

I loved Lix for a time but now I'd say to her rape rape rape. I'd say that if we don't run, we don't always become the shriveled kind.

In Ajla's dorm room at the art school, I watched the cadmium red and cobalt oozing and clumping and hardening down the tube.

 

How could we imagine animals would accept their domestication?

I brought a water dish towards Chunky. The repulsion was extreme. I thought her fur stood on end. She shuffled back, against the side of my desk, toppling onto a yellow oil rig platform I had built from Legos inherited from Russell. I retreated with the water dish. She stood up again and snarled and I screamed, and she returned to the Strawberry Shortcake pillowcase, and for the first time, I saw a white fleck of saliva on her chin, and I saw more saliva in a pool by her paw. Maniacally, she started scratching the top of her head, opening a hole in the skin for the sky of light to pour through.

Then silent, then unmoving.

 

I want this writing to take place in eleven sections, like the body of a scorpion, but all subdivisions are fake ways of making it make sense.

I want it to follow a schematic of an airplane, but even a diagram is a kind of overstated order.

I hadn't yet told myself that I had always known.

Here we are, the rabies and the scorpion and Ajla, who insisted on going back into the mini-mart for first aid supplies.

Here's Ajla, taping a piece of gauze over her calf.

Now you should ask me about the handcuffs.

No, don't ask me, not yet.

 

In my room, I watched a video called Extreme Mammals, which linked to a video titled Rabid Dog, Gangtok, September 2008.

Maybe fifty villagers stood in a circle, yelling at the dog in a language I later learned was Lepcha. The dog snarled and snapped at one person and then got distracted by a child, no older than me, who came towards it and danced back.

Behind the villagers stood two backpackers. The guy had big eyes set too close together, and was wearing grey cargo pants, a canteen hanging off a belt loop. The girl was all sinew, as if she could hike forever. An orange bandana was tied around her forehead, an Indian scarf about her neck.

The guy lifted slightly up on the girl's backpack, and she shrugged her way out of the straps.

Then it was all choreography. One man held a slab of concrete above his head. The muscles of his arms were shaking. He threw the concrete, at close range, at the dog. It was a dull sound, like a rock on a shingled roof.

The dog had matted hair and big watery eyes and a big knob in its back right leg and one ear was clipped.

"Holy shit," said the cameraman.

Another man threw a huge stone, which hit the dog squarely atop its head. The dog flinched.

Then smaller rocks came flying at the dog; pinpricks of blood. One man had taped a thick magazine around his arm, which he offered to the dog, who chomped down, which allowed another man time to break a board over its skull. Blood was streaming from two cuts over the dog's ear, and patches of skin were showing.

A woman tried to crack its hind leg with a splintered two-by-four, and the dog's legs buckled.

With a sharply pointed shovel, a man speared the dog below the rib cage. The dog, hobbling, on three legs, had let go of the magazine but was still snapping and charging everyone.

The shovel had punched out a single ribbon of intestine, and the dog kept coming.

"Hey Avery!" yelled the cameraman. "To think you wanted to go on a meditation retreat!"

With two minutes thirty seconds left on the video, I closed the browser window.

 

At that moment, if Chunky had been fully cooked, approaching her most purely animal state, her brain would have been spongiferous and she could and probably would have mauled me to death.

All adrenaline, pain centers off-switched.

For all that, I was completely certain she wouldn't attack me.

If Mom or Dad came in, Chunky would wind up disemboweled like the dog in the video.

Tomorrow I'd tell Mom, and we'd discuss where Chunky could be kept safe until Brianne came home.

In case I got hungry, I took all the string cheese from the refrigerator.

Quietly I got my Dad's bowling ball from the garage and kept it on the bed.

Quietly I locked my door.

Now you can ask me about the handcuffs.

 

A few weeks ago, I snuck into my brother's room. He was at soccer practice, eating quartered oranges and side-stepping cones and laying white chalk for boundaries.

His room had a bunk bed with a slanted ladder I liked to slide down. Mom was at work, and Dad was doing laundry in the garage. He would often come up with piles of shorts and dresses, and before I put everything away, I would press the heat against my face.

My brother was learning magic tricks, had mastered them too easily, without challenge.

"Magic was nothing but misdirection," he said, disillusioned.

As if misdirection was a weaker art.

Yes I stole the handcuffs lying on his floor.

I didn't have the key, which prevented me from closing them around anything unimportant. I could only listen to them click shut, de-circle into two metal arcs, click through the tightnesses until they opened once again.

 

I shined my Maglite on Chunky, who kept softly growling. I turned off the light. When it seemed docile, I got the handcuffs from my backpack and attached one to a desk leg. I was really scared. I moved carefully. It kept blinking its cloudy eyes. Sometimes I thought the white-blue eye closed a nano-second before the regular eye.

I attached the other handcuff to the upper part of its forepaw and cinched it tight.

 

If you can imagine me sleeping, the red quilt from Mom's Mom folded back and diagonal like a paper airplane, and once I woke and pulled a chair up to close the cold-air vent, and maybe the dog snoring, or what seemed like snoring, you can also imagine that before Lix and I left the corn maze, and before we found Ajla in the mini-mart bathroom, I didn't know how to imagine myself as someone else without sucking in that someone else for myself.

 

And I was asleep again.

A ripping noise pulled me out and up.

It was Chunky ripping the desk leg out of its socket.

In my dream the sound took the shape of the earth ripping open like a zipper.

I screamed.

It lunged towards me, but couldn't leap onto the bed because it was still attached to the desk leg. I scrambled, backed myself up against the baseboard. The bowling ball fell onto the floor. I pulled in my limbs. It jumped again, fell. I rolled to one side and scuttled myself into my closet. Its snout slammed into the closet door, with the handcuff rattling against the wood. I kept kicking my legs out, which made my pajama leg tear, and loose game pieces and clothes piled all over me. Mom and Dad were yelling. I heard my door being forced open, the hook and eye broken, and the door immediately slamming again and after a minute the light in my room turning on, and Mom tugging me painfully hard out of the closet.

Dad yelled, "Take that, Cujo!" He had covered the dog in a blanket. He was holding a baseball bat. I shrieked at him, which made the dog snap forward at me, and Dad brought down the bat on where he thought was its head, and I kept shrieking.

 

Later it became very important to learn about rabies.

How rabies and rage were etymologically related.

Dip a dog in bleach.

How rabies could sizzle a man down, could create a chemical aversion inside him. To shake violently, to be unable to walk or take water.

That in Spain, men who claimed to be able to heal rabies also claimed expertise in hunting witches.

 

The feel of my bare tiptoes grazing the stairs; that was how fast Mom pulled me down.

"Tranquila, tranquila," she said.

She wore a spacesuit's worth of clothes and thick gardening gloves.

I could smell her sweat.

"Don't fuck with us!" I heard Dad yell at the dog.

My brain went backwards. The signed baseball and the art books and the planters with Wandering Jews were nothing but blurs that suggested other blurs.

Even before I saw the clock on the microwave, still an hour off from daylight savings, I knew it was the exact center of the night.

Even when Mom physically lifted me, which she hadn't done in a while, onto my seat at the kitchen table, I kept shaking.

My brother was already sitting there, shirt in his hand, excitedly chopping the placemat of candy cane stripes. He started to speak and Mom said, "Hush!" But he kept chopping and Mom clamped her hand over his and said, "Hush! Hush in every dimension!"

I imagined Brianne on a beach somewhere, tugging down the lip of her bathing suit bottom, and tipping up the visor her mom had bought her, and her face when I told her that Chunky had gotten sawed up in pieces, and ripped open like a stuffed doll, all in my bedroom.

Later I gave her all my Legos.

 

Rabies was, as Mom said, zoonotic. That dogs got rabies from bites, from bats or skunks or other dogs. How its encephalitic brain was roiling. How the virus crawled slowly up the nerves, from the extremities to the trunk.

Dad came down with the bloody bat.

"Can you wash that off?" said Mom.

Every so often we heard the dog upstairs, yowling, careening into my stuff.

"It can't break the door," Mom said to me.

"I'm so sorry you had to see all that," said Dad. He put me on his shoulders. "You're very brave."

I didn't feel brave. I could have locked the door, barricaded or chained myself up. I felt guilty how I wanted to pull its intestines, to divine, to see how long.

I tried not to think of what would happen to the dog, the moving ghost of it under the plaid blanket.

Mom unrolled my sleeping bag under the baby grand. From the closet, she dragged out the leafs to the dining room table, fashioned them around the piano.

"When I was younger," she said, "I used to make a fort like this."

I cried and cried and I tried not to sleep and I tried tracing the crossings of all the golden wires under the piano above me and I tried not hearing the dog thump into all my things.

 

The next day I woke up.

Remembering how a few weeks ago, I turned in a quiz on tadpoles and chameleons, and I saw my teacher reading something called Great Salt Lake Minerals Expansion of Evaporation Ponds, which I converted into a tongue twister, which I sang to myself in the wilds.

My arm socket was sore.

I ran upstairs. My window was open. There were stains on the carpet, and a blot of blood, and the wrampled blanket, with its own stains, and the handcuff around the desk leg, which I slid off and threw back into Russell's room.

Animal Control had come and gone with the dog. They had left me a toy airplane.

"Kids used to get stuff like that on flights," Mom said. "But not any more."

I ran back downstairs, where Dad had dumped my cereal into the bowl. He knew how much I loved to pour my own milk. To control, as he liked to say, how much the shipwreck jutted out from the shallow sea.

 

The rabid dog was the opening bracket of my impossibility.

Hating mostly Mom and sometimes Dad for letting me keep the dog in my room despite the obvious hazards.

Also how badly I misjudged her fidelity, or our friendship.

How I took the dog home at all.

Or how I wasn't ready for that certain violence.

The dog, my father, the bat, the spatter, the speed.

Or how, nestled in my fort, I didn't hear the Animal Control men, who apparently wrapped the dog in plastic sheeting and hurled its body from my window into the back of their truck.

Leaving, along with the toy airplane, a tranquilizer dart casing on my pillow.

Meaning, obviously, that I wanted to sleep through everything.

 

For months after, I slept beneath the piano. My room was full of angry dog hairs. Outcast wood. My parents had a smell. I was inconsolable, inside myself. The fascicle of bitters burrowed in me. Splinter as stalactite in the meat of my skin. Mom started calling me the Little Scorpion. She spoke to me only in truncate sentences.

 

When I tripped another girl in a race, at the curve of Devil's Mound, and pretend-stumbled, Mom knew better. "Again you're off the charts," she said. "Again about the wicked ways."

When we renovated the driveway that year, the jackhammered clots reminded me of the concrete that brained the dog in the video. I refused to walk there, instead lily-pad-hopping from sprinkler head to sprinkler head.

Yes I threw the head counselor's ping-pong paddle into the kelpy lake. Yes I made the six-year-olds carry rocks rather than go to Goat Garage for pet-pet time.

You might say any girl does mean things and mostly you'd be right and I do nice things sometimes too, but there was something enflamed about my meanness.

I deliberately left the refrigerator cracked open until the spinach wilted and the milk curdled. In conversation with friends, Mom said things like, "Don't mind her. Jess has decided that her body is a machine run by tiny evil people named Jess."

Before she got pregnant, when Dad was fighting with Uncle Bruce at our family picnic, when I scooped lake mud into Bruce's hot dog, I looked right at her. She didn't even bother to scold me.

 

Because they would, I was sure, mangle Chunky into parts and tufts. Because the feel of her fur, the triangle of forepaw and torso.

Because, pistol cocked on the operating table, Pasteur's assistants had to hold open the jaws of the rabid, frothing dog for saliva samples.

Because I didn't know how strong Mom needed to be to keep afloat, to keep us afloat, and how monstrous and awful that made her seem.

"Whatever you have hated me for," she pleaded, "you need to help me to the hospital."

Yes I threw the car keys down at her feet.

 

But there was a moment.

Or a few moments strung together, like hurricane lamps between trees.

 

Eventually I did drive Mom to the hospital, where they confirmed her miscarriage.

In the corn maze, Lix and I couldn't see the meteor shower, and the aspirin and the schnapps made me file down the points of everything. Lix plucked a strand of silk from my shoulder. She let her hand brush against mine and the world lost its gravity and I could feel the tips of my shoelaces fluttering in the tiniest of winds.

I put my fingers inside the cow's teeth. When I stood, Lix put her hand flat atop my head, and then moved it to almost the top of her head, to show she was taller, and I told her she was cheating.

"I'll prove it," she said, which meant that her lips touched the spot opposite that height on me, between my eyes.

At the potato gun range, where Lix and I tried to shoot the potatoes, halved and uneyed, through the mouth of a wooden face. The face of Ronald Reagan.

Let's say the trigger, the nub you press down on to fire the potato gun, initiated a recoil I could feel from my fingers to the top of my arm and far beyond that.

And the rush of air; all that pneumatic sound.

Let's say the trigger reminded me of an ear of unpicked corn. The tiny, unborn kernels, so hard on your hand you can only touch a part of them, the barest arc of their horizon.

 

And so you will understand that after Lix and I had gone giggling through the corn maze, and we heard the hyperventilating and saw Ajla splayed in the bathroom stall of the mini-mart, with graffiti scratched in the one-hinged metal door and with her jeans down and her cuffs rolled up and a gash on her leg, and she said, "Go away. I don't need your help," and even with Lix tugging the sleeve of my jacket, instinctively I turned off the harsh light and kneeled and spoke to Ajla softly by the glow of my phone and we stayed.