by Sophie Kearing
It’s assumed that, at this stage, I don’t know things. Well, I guess that’s true. I don’t know things. But I do feel them.
Every time she thinks about me, the skeletal digits of an invisible hand squeeze all the comfort from me like juice from a lemon. The hand keeps me firmly planted in the darkness, unable to reach any of the good feelings.
She is tired, so I am tired.
This is zero.
When she takes up her frayed, Palmolive-coated brush, she penetrates the bottles with ill-concealed savagery.
When she lays me down on the changing table, her brow pinches and her nose wrinkles.
When she scrubs me with a washcloth in my too-warm bath, her hands grow angry and florid.
She is tired. She is tired. She is tired.
This is one.
She starts sending me to a place where there are other people my age.
She’s a little happier.
I’m a little happier.
But neither of us is as happy as my cohorts. They smear their finger paints across blonde tabletops and eat their Play-Doh and clap triumphantly. Meanwhile, all I can seem to do is retreat to the muted ire of the play kitchen so I can rub my forearms and neck with the small, checkered dishcloth.
She takes me to the doctor.
“27 months….” he says. “She should be putting some crude phrases together.”
She shakes her head.
“A word now and then? ‘More?’ ‘No?’ Surely ‘Mama.’”
She pinches the bridge of her nose. She is tired.
This is two.
I don’t hide my sacred rituals out of malice. I hide them to spare her the exhaustion.
One of the ways I protect my most treasured ritual is making sure that the bottom of my bedspread clears the floor by exactly two inches. Any more than that and she’d feel compelled to tidy things up. She’d find the roaches.
I hunt them in the basement after she’s gone to sleep. Every night, I trap one in a small Tupperware and bring it up to my room. I army-crawl under my bed. I make sure to maim the panicked insect while it’s still in its plastic confines; that way, I can line it up precisely three quarters of an inch away from the one I captured the night before. I have a designated Little Golden Book—Scuffy the Tugboat—that I use to smash my little prisoners into the old hardwood. I’m pleased by the surprising uniformity of the textured, inky stains. There’s a grid under here: 15 by 12 so far.
This is three.
To this day, I have never uttered a syllable. It’s assumed that people like me don’t connect with others. Well, I guess that’s true. I don’t let irrelevant shit like compassion or blood relations or legalities get in the way of what needs to be done.
I look at her face, which is now marred with a few dark kiss marks from her hungry, salivating grave. Though she looks like she’s sleeping, there’s a wounded, inquisitive quality about her. She definitely wants to know why.
“You—” I squeak. I take a pull from my bottled water, then clear my throat. “You were always so tired, that’s why. A dirt nap is exactly what you need.” With my steel-nosed shovel, I gather some earth and sift it over her.
This is four. Times ten. Haha.
Sophie Kearing is a writer of short fiction and a composer of long tweets. Her work has been featured by Mojave Heart Review, Ellipsis Zine, Jolly Horror Press, Moonchild Magazine, Horror Tree, Spelk Fiction, and other publications. She’d love to connect with you on Twitter: @SophieKearing