Cynthia Arrieu-King


His letters kept appearing in the mailbox. They described his times alone surveilling clouds in the pin-prick forests of Japan. In the small attic apartment, she kept to herself and wondered about the child she would possibly, then certainly, have in his absence. Sometimes a few crinkled letters were delivered together as if they'd been collecting at the bottom of a box. She brought them in after dusting the scratched furniture she'd found at rummage sales. She had flipped through circulars looking for a rug, a chance to make the attic apartment they'd rented more her own, to pin down her possessions and arrange them as she liked, sometimes moving the bed three times in a month. Many moments in the day, she wondered whether her husband was dreaming, or sleeping, or fighting, his breath out in front of him like a rag.

One day she went out to the mailbox and found a lumpy package from him. She went inside on that warm day and poked the corner with a knife rather than her finger. On the package "fragile" had been written three times in blue pencil beside the familiar handwriting. She got the end of the small parcel open and pulled out a small shape in taped plastic that revealed rolled gauze. She felt it and knew it might be ribbons, some kind of pressed plant pod. But when she'd cut away the plastic carefully and let the object turn in her hand as she pulled the length of gauze, she found that actually it was—it took her a few seconds to realize—not a dead baby embryo but a severed human ear: cartilaginous, bloody, waxen.

The air took on a crystalline quality as she registered what was in her hand. She slid the thin letter and a photo from inside. The letter offered up every other sentence and the rest ran and tangled. She read that this ear was from a man her husband had fought. Was it the right or the left and what nerve or what thoughts did it take for him to get it off? She couldn't look long enough to tell. Was he afraid of being heard, was he hoping the slumped headless man would never listen to his live blood rushing through his whole head, she could not say.

She dropped the letter to the table, collected herself and went to pour a glass of iced tea, slowly running her hand along the counter as she walked in and out of the kitchen. The sound of her ring stopped and started against the Formica. When she returned to the table, a photo slipped from the letter as she picked it up. Along its glossy square, her husband seemed made from shadows and white patches next to a uniformed body slumped in brush: Bob gesturing toward the ground and the man prone ended in a white stone instead of a head.

She read the scrawl her husband's handwriting had become. The letter described the binding silence in the Japanese mountains. How he slowly erupted in laughter for no reason. One day with little notice but the snapping of some dry brush, a man had come at him, a Japanese man who'd looked him in the face once and he'd decided immediately to try and kill him with a knife. Her husband had fought him and eventually killed him with his gun. What happened next she wasn't entirely sure as to the reasons for it, but he'd severed the ear as a present. The eaves seemed to sway the more she realized it wasn't a story.

Because he was alone, and because he hadn't seen anyone for days, and because he knew she was the only person who could know about this, and because of the fact that the war actually had been over for a few weeks and he could be court marshaled, he simply had gotten separated from his citizen self, his regular husband son self: he had panicked. That's what she imagined to fix the reasons in her mind rather than letting them rifle. She was sixteen.


She waited through the dogwood blooms and the horse races and the bean dinners for him to come home. Aunts came by, her mother helped her pull the crib up the steps. More letters arrived detailing his being returned to camp, his lost weight, his malnourished frame. He used to feel so heavy and older to her: cut grass and aftershave. Enough years older than her to make people stare a little. But that didn't make her any less fretful on her way to the mailbox. She wanted him to walk through the door and he didn't.

The baby came. Fall had come, and the infant had Down syndrome. The nurses had looked at her with so much thoughtfulness, brought her pillows scented with something sweet, a little more than simply the scent of the wash. There was baby powder on everything, and they brought her too many skeptical assurances of the doctors that this baby, Frank, would never read, never work, never amount to much. That was the feeling at the time, yet she had never accepted this verdict.

She read to the baby in his warm flesh. The outside light always hit the dogwoods softly, illuminating each dewy petal. Slowly, she decided she'd ignore statements meant to soften her low state or to be wise. To her, the pronouncements were useful insofar as she wanted instinctively to rebel against them. She put them aside and settled on her own regimen for her pink, slightly Asian-looking baby. She made up her mind.


Finally, Robbie's husband had been stumbled upon as he was making his way back to the beach. He was returned to his platoon, was given a medal and some framed flags, and packed his things to return home. He had not mentioned the Japanese man to anyone, but instead joked about getting home to the missus and some pie and kept the reality of how blacked-out his days had gotten to himself. He kept with him carefully a red box that he tucked deep into his seabag's ditty bag, and hoisted it onto his own back and never let anyone touch. He smiled at the stewardesses on his flight back to Louisville, but wanted really to see his young wife and with some dread and anxiety, wanted to see little Frank.


As it happened, they were reunited on a Sunday in the middle of fall. He'd come off the plane without looking up at first, then broke into a run when he saw Robbie waving on the tarmac. They held hands in the car, and she tried to take in that he was actually there: arms, legs, chest, face more lined, voice more ragged and blowing out the window. Helping him understand his sudden possession of a son, she had brushed Frank's mouse-colored hair back off his face, and urged her husband to trust her when she recited the alphabet to the baby over and over, cataloguing too everyone's dismissals of her effort as ridiculous. At home, she smiled to see Bob take his son on his knee and bounce him to the rhythm of "Twinkle, Twinkle," reciting the alphabet. The wreath of pinecones Robbie had arranged and wired and hung to the door, the orange candles she'd found at Woolworth for five dimes, and the strange pumpkin that would have to do pleased her in her ability to clean and set them out, turn them to their best angles, and know they were her handiwork.

Her husband one day turned a baby blanket out onto the blue carpet of the living room floor as if he were preparing to change Frank's diapers. He asked Robbie to sit next to the baby on the carpet. Bob had brought down his seabag he'd left in the top of the closet for some time and told her to pull the front door to. She knelt next to Frank and near Bob as he pulled a red box from underneath some military bandanas he'd swaddled it in.

The baby then crawled sleepily towards the edge of the blanket. Robbie crooked her head in her elbow, a gesture she used to indicate thoughtfulness, as if trying to get something off of her chin. He lifted the top from the box made out of cardboard and inside was what at first she thought was a bleached tortoise shell. He lifted it out with his large tanned hands and she leaned back against the sofa when she saw its two large eye sockets. It was a skull.

Bob took it in both hands and moved it back and forth as if the person it had belonged to were looking two ways before crossing a street. "This is the man who tried to kill me. Just came at me screaming. Must have been lurking for days. I was afraid they would figure out who he was and come after me, somehow. So I took it off of him and boiled it and brought it back with me," he said. She wasn't sure she felt unhappy exactly, but also not surprised. This was all the tragedy like a wild plant over a continent, up her husband's leg and somehow into his mind and now this man's Japanese head was here in a Louisville, Kentucky living room.

"You see this? You can't do anything with this. You can't show it to anyone." He drew a knuckle across the crown. "You can't sell it. Not ever." His gruffness made her skin prickle all over and she turned completely to face him. The baby crawled near her feet.

"You cut off this man's head?"

"Yes, it took a . . ." he made a gesture with his hands as if showing the length of a tool.

"I don't want to know." She picked up the baby and told Bob to put it away. She didn't try to act as if he'd been brave, though he must have been. He looked at the jaw with a finger along the bone: "I can see them even though they aren't there. The eyes."

He leaned suddenly into her with a thumb pressing into her arm.

"We all did it. And I could go to jail for it. So you keep your mouth shut about it." He leaned back into an upright position. She swallowed.

"How would you like to be buried without your head?" she asked. The baby lunged forward on his hands and knees and rocked to a settled mess.

"We're not going to talk about this any more or we'll not be friends."

"You boiled it?" 

"I couldn't leave him. His teeth and his dental records could show who he was, and I couldn't bury the whole body because there was hardly time and I had nothing, just matches and a canteen. I think I'd gotten a little crazy. There was nothing to do but get him cleaned off. And anyway, I wasn't the only one." 

Her mind debated whether or not to pounce into that gruesome scene. She did despite herself and hated to think of the head in a pot or towed out in saltwater behind a rock.

She made a pretense of getting a bottle cooled more, rushed into the kitchen with the baby slung over her shoulder. Bob didn't call out to her. He simply wrapped one piece of tissue over to hide the caramel bone, closed it in the box, and stuffed the red box at the bottom of the sack, tied its laces tightly down.

That night, she dreamed of a monk walking in a green light who became several monks. They moved certainly like men, but were actually skeletons with some purpose she couldn't figure. One had the air of an idea in his posture and the monk seemed both to stay five feet away but be closer and closer, almost in her face, a horrible sight almost in her thoughts. The close penetrating insistence articulated no thought to her, but the dream was too animated for her to control with her conscious mind, something she could not turn off. With the bones around the eyes, it made a noise akin to loudness, anesthesia ringing in her ears.


Bob'd found them a home in a Jewish neighborhood, a house far from the sidewalk and surrounded by hedges. In this honed shade, she would fry sausages in an iron skillet and stir cornbread mix while he would fester at the window, looking out at parked cars, and trees that scratched at the brick. Really he saw pines and beach and mountains, not the actual street they were on. Or she carried the baby around on one hip, out to the yard with Bob where they surveyed the hydrangea and counted the ways raccoons could get their what-for in light of the way they'd dragged ribs and apples cores all over the yard: poison, traps, concrete blocks on top of the aluminum lids. Bob pounded several flame leaf bushes into a row along the front angle of the corner, the burlap at their roots ripped away, and then he planted more along the side street. The baby was good at crying, and taking in uninformed strangers with his smiling. No one could quite see what marked him, though his parents knew it was going to show any day.

One day, six months after he'd returned home, Bob went out to see about his pension at Ft. Knox far on the other side of town. Very early. It was the weird white sky of summer that seemed out of reach. He should have come back in about an hour and a half, at the most.

Robbie was on the porch trying to clip Frank's nails when two policemen pulled into the driveway. They had sunburn on their cheekbones. She knew not to move or breathe, but this didn't prevent everything from pulsing. They removed their hats and came to the door and said, Sorry ma'am, your husband has had a wreck and been killed.

Later in the day after having left the baby with her mother and having gone to the morgue with her aunt who held her hand and then, after they'd slid the drawer shut, drove her back to the dark house without the child, she crumpled on the white dotted bedspread. A disjointed set of dreams—in which cherry blossoms and furniture were all set out for sale on the front lawn, and where she briefly saw Bob standing in yard with his back to her—ended at some amber-lit time after dinner. Awake, she looked at the white tablets she'd emptied into her palm and poured an army of them out. It had gotten so the air danced with pin-lights and she felt herself being mauled by something so much larger than herself she wanted to die. There was a knock on the door. A hand around her throat. The door opened. Her mother stood in the doorway with Frank in her arms. His chubby face and limbs stuck out from his small blue coat. He was as helpless as she felt, and she repurposed herself to him.     

"You been sleepin' all this time?" her mother asked. Robbie got up and took Frank in her arms and he felt lighter, as if his mother had taken him to a planet without as much gravity and the new weight stuck. He cooed and pulled at her neck.

"Yes. I don't know if I can do it. I don't know if I can do this." 

"Keep lookin' at that baby." Her mother softly set a tiny hat on Frank's head and rubbed her daughter's arm, saying, "I just love him, and I love you." Usually she said, "to death" but kept this to herself. Robbie kept him in her lap all that night as her mother washed the dishes and tried to reattach a pinecone that had gotten loose from the wreath using a paperclip. He squirmed and turned around in her lap trying to get a better look at the door. 

In the morning she found all the pills scattered across one corner of the bed. They almost disappeared in the knotted white pattern of the bedspread. She had an easy minute where she'd forgotten the previous day, and then it all came rushing back. A terror bit her. She wanted to be gone again, to not live, and forced herself to stare at the ceiling until she heard Frank moving in his crib. She took him out, eased down the steps with him, thinking of him walking, thinking of him saying mama, hoping he would. They both snuck past her mother sleeping on the couch. She caught her face in the dining room mirror, one with gold filigree around the edges she'd got for a whole dollar. She could barely recognize herself for the deep gouges under her eyes, and in a second was reminded of the terrible monk moving at her and never reaching her. Except for the baby's face next to hers, pinkly recognizable, she would not have known she was at home. Not even the color of the walls or the sunlight looked familiar.


Two lilies, four lilies, a whole trail around the mausoleum out of sight. Matthew tucked some of the flowers back away from the portrait of his grandfather so it stood out more in the arrangement. His mother bowed steeply into the altar. He hated this photograph of his grandfather because in it, the young man looked ready to speak, ready to get up from the desk he sat at, the intensity both raw and forbidding. In life, he would never pin his eyes on Matthew and speak—only hold this look. The incense wafted back and two Buddhist monks in bone-colored robes folded to their knees and read out the prayer that ordained the dead man as a monk. They walked home quietly.

His mother always stayed moody for a couple of weeks after this anniversary. As a girl during the war, she had never seen the body, she'd say, and her own mother was so shocked when she came back from identifying it that she didn't speak for six months. Even the Buddhist aunts had droned at her face while laying out trays of rice and fish. They tried to tell her this silence was disrespectful grief. Matthew heard this story two or three times in his entire childhood—the story of her marathon refusal. It was the kind of heavy recollection not told to strangers, but when his mother's mood took on a minor, watchful cast, he tried to wash the dishes before anyone had actually finished eating.

Matthew's grandmother used to read all day on an ottoman in front of the utility room. Was she guarding the spare pillows and shovels, or waiting for everything to be put back, Matthew couldn't say. Whenever he went there for a jug or a planter, her little watermelon seed eyes seized on him.

"Kaage" she'd rasp, "these business men have no eyes in the back of their head. Jerks." In the time it took Matthew to lift the terra cotta pot off the shelf green with moss, her muttering shifted from lecture to reminiscence. Occasionally she moved to the living room, treading slowly, and patted him on the arm as he passed her. Or she sat all day reading her encyclopedias of plants or condensed stories.

He imagined them all in white back in the forties somehow assembled on a beach. They were a set of motions spelling out the shape of a heart. They were a swarm defeating a giant snake of sand. But in the stem and roll of his reverie, he could not get past the idea of white. It was the place his mind could rest from everything he could never know. A window opening suddenly. His eyes blinking at painful light after an hour sleeping on the sand.

Now everyone wore a kind of black robe so deep nothing shined from it, no amount of light would show the texture of the cloth at a distance.


Finally, Robbie laid the navy necktie across the uniform, and laid out the shoes. Back on the porch, she thumbed the torn up undershirt into the black wax and saw the gloss on the shoe disappear dull, then come back shiny as she eased the rag across it. Her mother had fought her for this task, fussing at her through the screen to lie down and get at least an hour sleep. Robbie said no, she needed to do something besides sit in bed and sob. She almost lost the laces she'd unstrung in a shrub she and Bob had picked out last week at the farmer's market downtown. Mid-morning people began to show up with creamed casseroles she couldn't stand the thought of eating. She smiled at them. The clanking of lids in the kitchen set the baby crying.  

In this way, small chaos by chaos, the righting of these disorders amounting to a day and then weeks, she helped the baby towards some intelligence. Toward being a curious toddler. She picked up knick-knacks like geese and alarm clocks and let him arrange these, give them names. Then he was a smiling child who repeated what his mother said more than most kids, and then he was a teen. She picked through the merchandise her neighbors laid out on their driveways: end tables, martini glasses rimmed copper, toppled by a dog's nose. Frank grew up ready to start a fuss, Frank could read and remark on the likelihood of the church newspaper being delivered soon or not. That he wore suspenders set him apart and placed him in the middle of some taunting remarks that rolled off his back. Tall and broad, he wore cardigans most of the year against some cold that never was. His hair got silver at the temples.

She considered how her husband had warned her never to let anyone take the skull out of the house. She thought about her dreams when she woke up and considered jail and Frank being left to walk around the neighborhood, vulnerable to any crazy person with a pick-up truck and a mediocre coax.

Robbie got shorter by about two inches and leaned forward a bit like the number seven.


One afternoon, green clouds and a pollen-splintered heat moved through the oaks. Robbie grabbed an old radio and the dog leashes. Her white hair stood up like dandelion fuzz. The cool basement wasn't the worst place to be in a storm. Frank was almost always the first down the narrow steps.

"Give me that radio, I want to see it," he said.

"Okay, but remember we only have the one battery."

"I'm not going to do anything to it." He was irked.

Not so much rain, turned out. The wind didn't actually get there then, and he had to deal with the ideas of Doppler, flying glass. Robbie patted him on the arm. The storm settled back into the county. He idled with the books lying around in the dust. He marched back upstairs and Robbie tagged along, working her bad hip.  

That night the storm came back so harshly while they slept that the oak in front of the house fell to the roof, crumpling it and sending ventilator pans sliding. She'd woken up to the bang of lightning so close she thought it had hit the house. The sound of the roots gnashing from the soil preceded the oak smashing down like a car wreck. She stumbled to the door and pulled it open to find Frank sitting upright between the tree and a wall.

The next day when the neighbors came by, she leaned on the fence and said nothing.


More years went by. Frank seized and fell down in the street many times: a stranger's voice was always at the end of the line telling Robbie to come to a particular intersection while they waited for the ambulances. At home, he grew surly at her reprimands to be quieter, to be cleaner, to think before he spoke, to fix a mustard stain on his jacket. He was a good half-head taller than she was and stood in the doorway one night aching and blinking from the heat, not hearing what she had to say.

"You're always saying I'm supposed to do all this and I don't think I need to." He repeated the sentence in slightly different phrases until she heard his voice as noise.

She passed his bedroom door and touched a cigarette dangling from her mouth. "You take that shirt off and put it in the laundry," she said not looking.

"Mama I'm not doing it. I won't."

She wasn't sure what he said next. She recalled her eyes had stopped on the dressing table and from the look of the bottle she knew he'd stopped taking the seizure medicine. He rushed out to the hall and before she knew it she was in the air and falling backwards against the railing. Down the narrow flight and his feet like bricks dropped. He hollered and lumbered down the steps while she yelled her surprise. He went out into the humid dusk and slammed the door. She stared into the dark vibrating points of air wondering how to lunge out of her crouch. She got on the phone to Fiona and heard him slam the door coming back in twenty minutes later.

That night, she iced her knee and felt around in the dark for her cigarettes so as not to chance waking him. The air seemed to bang down on her joints and communicated this pain in blue and navy swatches behind her eyes. May as well have gone to sleep and had a dream of sweltering menace from a skeleton, rather than look at her knee growing oddly bulbous. He would be in the hallway again. Large and to be passed. She couldn't think what to do then as a fix but the next week he hit her across the face.

Then she sent him away to live in a home.

She cried when she came back to the empty house after the long explanations and the signing of official papers. The echo rang plastic and aluminum siding shaped into shades over the windows: She was alone for the first time in sixty years. She kept on with her inspections of the yard sales and told herself bargains were bargains and filled her house. Red fox lamps; old horse yokes. There's a little rug up to the armchair where her terrier sits. She doesn't take the skull out, but reasons while she stands at the fence to look out at the neighborhood that it's cursed her.


When he was twenty-four, Matthew flew from Seattle to Tokyo then took a train down to Awakominado. His grandmother had died sitting next to a well on a hot day. No one had seen her wander from the oshiire, from its cool pottery and spades and out the tended path. Whereas she'd always nodded or clucked her tongue approvingly whenever someone put a vessel out to catch rainwater, she had waited for dawn when no one could stop her from rolling a cracked jar on its bottom edge all the way to the water. It wasn't until after breakfast that anyone noticed she hadn't been seated on the ottoman tsk-tsking the latest sumo wrestler's diaper folds. When the dog started barking at her, her daughter walked out slowly and felt her skin both burning and cold beneath the skin. Her daughter leveled her hand at her brows to look down and take in her mother's back and the way the jar looked as if she might have been rolling it towards the well rather than trying to empty the well cup into its dark mouth. It was an old scorched thing, so big it always looked like it was in the wrong place.

Matthew woke up in the middle of the night. He eased out of the bed and walked slowly and without breathing. The hallway light illuminated her laid out, her hands at strange angles to the futon. The water pot had been brought right to the bedside as if it were being made to look at what it had done to her. What it and the heat had done. He laid his hands against the clay and saw faint black shapes where it had been scorched over a fire. White clay in the dim light from the hall looked like a featureless head and he wanted to see inside it. He hefted it up and took it out to the back door near the hose and filled it with water. The gurgling, loud in pre-dawn, sounded throaty and maligned. He put an inch of water over the charred mud and pared an apple into it. His grandmother had taught him the acid in the apples would eat off the burned parts – he would simmer it after everyone woke up and get the bottom clean. As each slice of apple broke the surface, the stars bounced.


Waiting for the blue to come back into the sky after dawn, he picked quietly through the balsa box of mementos she had kept of grandfather: an old doll's box that he'd always seen when he got a blanket out of the trunk at the foot of her bed. But who knows where that little figure and her three wigs were now. His mind felt blackness again, not so much a terror but a giant hovering like heat. He craved this full abyss: City living always tempted him to fall to the concrete and imagine various ways he could be crushed.

Clink. One medal. One handkerchief. Smelling of cedar. He heard what he knew were a few baby teeth skitter across the table: his mothers, his. He crushed one accidently simply by trying to pick it up.

He recalled when he was a boy in this house his mother striding to this table, the soup of baby octopus, their legs flowering out like a set of rings. The jarring transformation of something alive, swimming, into a thing. In this impossible equation something unquantifiable was subtracted. No scale could measure it. At this table, he'd laid out these clues as if for a small museum—she was telling him to wrap everything well so nothing would be scratched. A bird chirped somewhere and the dim cream shapes and dashes of light gleaming on the table reminded him he was sitting in the dark and a black shimmering sand pressed on his sinuses; Grandmother's great silence then and now. She had fretted near her husband's grave, flipped chrysanthemums apart with her thumb, and cried for two weeks afterward, each time.

When he took the medal back with him to the States, he wouldn't have everything that had belonged to his memories but he didn't even want these few things. The medal said nothing about the taste of the sea or the dark clouds. Glancing at his grandmother who even in the almost dark looked asleep but blunt and deadwood, her silence now stood permanently like the photos of grandfather at the desk.

He hated furniture. He hated vases placed just so on end tables. He imagined the ceramics splashing into a bay and filling with water, maybe the lid coming loose. If he was able to live with all of this—the paintings, the doll, the medal, the teeth—rather than feeling himself one more thing in a box, he might feel he knew himself too in some way. It was hard to shake the impulse to bury the box—there were shrubs in the yard—as if the lost doll was to be commemorated.

"You take something with you. You take this. Who knows what will happen next," his mother had advised, not wanting to guard these things herself.

Back home, when he finally unlocked the door to his own apartment and drew the box from his suitcase, he noticed how large the room was. A movie could be projected onto two opposing walls. How this permitted the box to seem small, almost unseen.


Robbie polished the heavy sideboard. The eights she made with her rag erased the white dots of polish. The wood was oak and gave the dining room the air of a medieval pub where nothing was ever chosen for its ability to reflect light. It was as if over the decades she'd been in the house she had tried to fit every piece of handsome furniture she could into the dining room. A practiced trail to the kitchen that only she could have picked out while standing at the doorway—it filled periodically with baskets of artificial flowers, stacks of mail and wicker chairs.

Was there less air to breathe—the facts of thingness's volume and occupation obeyed by the immobile pieces she'd picked up at Saturday yard sales? Was air leaving the spaces between? She at least had some notion what existed against nothingness and dragged it deeper into the interior rooms. Her terror that all this was the result of something she had not managed to figure a solution to. It festered in the electric flashes of the recurrent nightmare not so much of skeletal monks but something gone wrong and nagging like an unseen fish gone rotten. A suitcase constantly packed with uselessness.

Her dog had the habit of running up to the easiest thing to break in public, say, a set of lemonade glasses. Some sets were incomplete or not sold with the metal basket used to tote them from room to room in anticipation of visitors, and wherever she ventured looking for the next piece of geometry to stack into the matrices, whatever black and red neon sign that made her brake, her dog managed to find a loose ashtray or wine glass, tip it over, roll it with his nose, and nosing around in it though she jerked the leash hard.

She liked finding a complete set, taking it home, and arranging it among the other things she'd chosen. A record of where she'd been, a record of what she appreciated. Her neighbor Fiona was in the habit of giving things away to the blind association every month they called: Robbie usually got it out of Fiona on the phone what was being dragged to the curb and made it down the block fast to hold up the charitable giving truck. She'd point at some freezer tipped out on the lawn that then made its way to her cellar. It would store sealed apple-picking and apple-sauce from a tree whose fruit swung heavily and constantly overhead.

"You should have a yard sale," Fiona said one day.

Objects had predictable habits, never fell down in the road, never swung out and struck you, seemed to bank up usefulness even in their stillness.

"It all could make me happy and if they have to drag me out of here—" she'd say as the light ran across the panes of her spectacles.

When she used the word "drag," she hardly meant the alive that drag implied, the struggle of her hands against a doorway, but more that she would prefer to leave this house feet first without any of it, dead and still herself, without the massive credenza that looked like the prow of a ship, without the hovering dark from where sunlight was blocked at the windows by the more-ness of it or the threat of any falling oak. What she'd done in surviving was never to allow the two surfaces of her imagination to touch: the white price tags mulled in broad day versus the skull that kept her mind blistered with its unbearable nearness that she woke to a thousand times, soaked and painlessly urgent—that electric warning more like a scene played out and begging to be imitated—the urge to drag the red box to the yard and dig at the grass in the middle of the night, to rest the thing coolly in a blackness. Which she never did, so be it.