button eye fiction contest – winner
A generator, a travel stove; canned things, an old mattress, the single picture tucked into a drawer where you can’t look at it ever not even accidentally; you don’t need much. Four walls, floor and roof all meeting at right angles, no leaks. It takes less than a day to move in friendless and fill the place with necessities while silence teems inside you like fish. You tell yourself the smell of vinegar which haunts the place must be some quality of the earth.
At first you are busy, very busy, and work hard at this – your business. And you learn it’s not silence, these woods full of skeeters (the biters) and rustling things, a deer who keeps returning. On the third week you open your laptop, select every email just checking in, and delete. And close your account. You switch on the light. You switch it out. You stop shaving, you flip the mattress, you shovel the drive, and spread salt, and beat back branches and pull out weeds you cover seeds carefully you rake leaves, and then you do it all over again. (You think of him; you think of him.)
One day when tugging a reluctant carrot out of its bed, you think you hear the crickets rub their legs into a word. You haven’t slept well and tug restlessly at the fist-long beard, a bad habit, standing still with the carrot earth-warm in one hand while you look for the cricket who learned to speak like him. In your hand the carrot shrieks, held painfully by its roots. Apologize.
One day your bad hand seizes up and scatters salt everywhere. A rat travels diagonally across the room leaving feet behind, like a child’s hands in paint. You forget to sweep it up. In the evening the deer returns so you tell her about your day, the rat, and she watches you with eyes made of glass, she doesn’t care about your salt, your carrots, she’ll eat them anyway. In the dark you deliver dramatic readings of The Hungry Hungry Caterpillar and wait for someone to speak. The silence turns in on itself, snake-like. Eating your words. You sour.
(He crouches on the ceiling coloring outside of the lines. He listens to you.)
One day a hurricane comes and snaps trees to prove it can while you sit in the bulging dark with a tin of lukewarm beans. In absolute black you fumble with a match saying fuck, fucking fucker and it snaps like a tree in your hand the instant it strikes because then, then you see him – his shape in the darkness holding still. The crashing rain. His large, rain-filled eyes which watch while he sits with his knees in his chest fingers in mouth because he doesn’t like thunder, even after you told him it was just God farting. Even now you won’t look him in the eye. Water seeps in under the door. Briny. The soles of your feet are wet. And you know, you know he wants to crawl under your arm, into your lap, he wants you to stop the weather to prove you can. It’s terrifying. The storm passes and he’s gone.
But the crickets speak. The carrots shriek. The water stays. And sometimes, if you hold until your breath becomes a statue you see his shoulders hunched in the corner, like someone sent him there for crying.
Goodnight Mr. Moon. Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. The Gruffalo and Where The Wild Things Are, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. The librarian asks how many kids you have. The floor glistens.
He doesn’t like it when you drink, won’t even watch through the window so you try and save it only for nights when your hearts bursts into a bouquet of cockroaches and nothing else will drown them. Kicking bottles under the sink the next morning his eyes gleam reproachfully. Around your ankles, the water shifts. (The yelling. The smashing things and booze breath she yelling back, he in the next room stiff ceiling-staring awake.) You can’t remember.
That night you wake up and hear hissing gas, the stove flickering a blue ghost stretching out the tip of its tongue to lick the dish towel. You leap to turn it off and frowning return to bed, you’re losing it, have to be more careful. You fall asleep tasting salt. The water swells and submerges the mattress, you punch your sodden pillow and turn over. From the corner he sees, scowling.
You have four dreams in a row: at the beach you show him a jellyfish and he holds your head underwater until the bubbles stop streaming. While you fumble for a foothold on the rocks and find air instead, he lets the rope slip and the ground drives up into your skull and it cracks everywhere like a nursery rhyme, he wraps fishing line around your neck and pulls until your eyes flop out. He summons the blue ghost to the stove. You lie on the mattress, paralyzed.
And when you twist out of sleep like a fish yanking off a hook while you decompose your dinner, the water rises around your waist. He rocks in the corner watching belly swollen famished, nails or are they talons digging into bone his black eyes scared or angry or both you can’t tell, you can’t hold his hand. Not with talons. Not ever. Your skin puckered and remembering the machines wired into the circuitry of veins nothing could keep him alive you can’t remember you can’t remember his small and already stiffening body – the head which you held struggling with a razor shearing away the illegal hair because no one goddamnit not anyone was gonna call your son a sissy while eyes red knuckles puffy he sniffed. And held still. The water around your shoulders, there were good things. He shows you his pointed teeth his shaved stubble egg head and scores red lines down his spindly legs. There had to be good things. This head plastered in down pushed out of all that goop and screaming and yes you thought wow but mostly yuck…. How the days came after that, wrestling with diapers and bills and the way he screamed and you looked at her and she looked back hysterically, helplessly… (Climbing around your mouth press lips he can breathe underwater vinegar thing, you suck salt out of your teeth yank hair) In the yard where everyone performed their grief when you forgot your lines your cues and wandered around, ate twelve chicken wings and sucked the barbecue sauce off your fingers each time and then lost it all to the unyielding basin, this was a tragedy. Which was what everyone told you, your walking around smelling of puke and sadness in the suit you wore to your wedding and divorce and – so it had to be true. The tragedy.
Like a lid coming off a swift pop and then no house no him no horror. Only the trees, the salt trickling back into the earth, and you – pickled thing – alone in the fallen leaves.
And you remember his face…. a hot thing, his puppy fat cheeks and mouth filled with gaps, his eyes which were brown and ordinary and sometimes like a cow’s. The way you held his hand, his bitten nails, the blanket you drew to his chin and love you left on his forehead, your son. You say his name. His name and stand up.
You walk into the softening dark.
Remi Seamon is a student who spends her time split between Cambridge, England and Seattle, Washington. She received an honourable mention in the Foyle Young Poet of the Year award and her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Unlost, Clementine Unbound, Rat’s Ass Review and streetcake, among others. She considers her greatest inspiration to be her dog.