The day before she left, Mama forgot where she put the baby, or so she said. Mama went outside in the afternoon fog with the baby strapped to her in a cloth as if he might otherwise get away. When she came back, there was no baby. She still had the cloth, though, wrapped around her neck like a scarf, its greyish whitish color looking greyer than ever, dirty from the outside world. Mama looked shocked, her eyes distant. She did not look at me when I asked where the baby went. Probably because I ask too many questions. Both Mama and Auntie think so. I know this because sometimes they don’t answer me.
The next day, Mama went out again in her blue dress, the one she said reminds her of crying. I didn’t think twice about it. Mama says strange stuff like that all the time. The whole day went by and she never came back. I asked Auntie why she hadn’t called the police yet. Auntie said Mama just went to find the baby. She’ll be back really soon.
Honestly, I don’t believe Auntie this time, though she usually knows everything. They told me Daddy would come back and he didn’t. I bet it’s the same with Mama.
No surprise she left me behind. I could tell that she was starting to like me less the more I grew. The less I fit in her arms. The more I made her legs hurt when I sat in her lap. The further and faster I could move away from her.
This is why I like Auntie better. Auntie is delighted by how tall I’ve become. I can reach things that are up too high for her (Auntie is a very tiny old lady. She says she used to be tall like me, but how does that work? How do you grow smaller?). Also, I can clean better. Our house is the least dusty it’s ever been, Auntie said. I was pretty proud, though Auntie is sometimes upset because, she says, I don’t get all of it. I’ll wash and wipe and clean and then almost right away Auntie says she sees something there, not dust, though. It’s whitish greyish and soft like dust, but not. It moves, too, Auntie claims.
I try to see it, but I can’t. She says I’m too young to see. Only eyes as old as hers can see the little whitish greyish specks. I trust her.
I should say right now that Auntie is really my great auntie. She’s my mom’s dad’s sister.
My grandpa is still alive, but he lives in town. Auntie says this place frightens him, reminds him of things. It seems harmless to me. The house is very old and there are a lot of dark corners to hide in. I like those. I started going in them when the baby was born, when Mama started ignoring me. I just went with it. I’m good like that. Like with Auntie’s whitish greyish specks. I go with it and clean them for her, sometimes before she’s even asked. I just guess where they are. Problem is, Auntie always finds more, even in the places I just cleaned. They must come back fast.
There is a library in the house and I go there a lot, even though I can’t read books that hard. I
always ask Auntie to read them to me, but she won’t. She says the words crawl off the page when she looks at them. So instead, I usually go to the library to think and imagine. Today is different, though. Today, I go on there to listen for the baby. The day after Mama left, I was in there, climbing a ladder to a high shelf, when I heard the baby. He wasn’t crying. He was talking. Talking like me, easy and flowing, but in a high baby voice. I could not understand what he was saying. It was warbled. But I knew he was trying to speak to me. He was trying to tell me where he went or maybe I just wanted to think that. I listened. I was worried. Mama may have loved the baby more than me, but I still wanted a friend and, besides, Auntie would like another helping hand. Maybe he and I can hunt for those specks together when he’s old enough. That would make Auntie happy.
I listen close. Very close. Then, it begins. The warbling, high pitched baby voice, speaking unimaginable things. It sounds like it is coming from upstairs, so I go there. Look in the rooms. No one. I listen again. Now it sounds like it is in the kitchen, so I go there. Nothing but our clean counters and the yellow curtains blowing in the wind. Then the sound is outside. I circle the house. Porch is empty, except for Auntie’s rocking chair with the tattered blue seat cushion. There’s a tree where Auntie says they used to have a tire swing, but all that’s left is the rope. It sways in the breeze, dragging its frayed end in the dirt, making lines. The branch creaks in a way that sounds really painful and, for some reason, I grab my arm as if it hurts, too. Then I go to the back garden, where everything is looking grey, dried and dead. I relax my arm, feeling very sad now.
The sound is inside again, like it is in the library right where I started! I go back confused and angry and there she is, Auntie, in the library, facing away, hands gripping her dress, fingers kneading the cloth as if she is nervous. The sound stops as soon as I set foot in the room. Auntie doesn’t move. I walk around and face her.
She is crying with her mouth wide open, her eyes fixed up to the ceiling, which is high and dark and full of corners. “Auntie?” I ask, quiet and gentle. Her eyes are wide. She looks scared or really surprised, I’m not sure which. “Auntie?”
Her eyes roll slowly towards me, her head stays fixed, face turned up. She looks at me, eyes open so much they’re mostly white. She looks at me for so long I get scared. Her wrinkled face is distorted like a plastic bag filled with water. It makes me want to run, but then I see Auntie is saying something. Her lips are moving, but there’s no sound, until I listen closer and hear this soft, crinkly sound like when the tv goes out. It’s her whispering.
“I can’t hear you, Auntie.”
She turns her head suddenly, as if it had been stuck and became unstuck, like when you’re trying to peel the wrapper of a lollipop that’s melted.
“Child, don’t go to the water. Don’t go, even though she liked it so.” Auntie’s voice is as gentle and normal sounding as usual. Soothing, like Mama’s from when she still liked me.
“What water, Auntie?”
“You know,” she says, wagging her finger at me. “And you won’t go there.”
Auntie makes me promise her that I won’t go to the water, wherever that is. That even if I remember how much she liked it, I will not go. I start thinking really hard. Who do I know who likes water? The only other “she” I know is Mama and she never said anything about water. At least, not that I can remember. I’m trying to look calm and not squint too much, like I’m thinking. I’m afraid Auntie will know I’m trying to figure it out, then make me promise again not to go to the water. I try to distract her by saying it’s time to go to the living room to do her knitting while I make lunch. While we’re walking, my ears are pricked for the sound of the baby. I want to know what he said. I am worried about him, out there still, alone in the fog. Unless Mama found him and just hasn’t come back yet. Maybe he did get far. Maybe he figured out how to walk and just got so excited about it he ran for miles and miles until he was lost and now he and Mama have to walk a long time before getting home.
I make Auntie’s lunch, a bologna sandwich with old fashioned mustard and mine, which is cheese and ham. I get two apples. Normally we have them sliced, but with Mama gone there is no one to cut them. I’m too little and Auntie doesn’t trust her hands anymore. “Too shaky,” she says. “Getting old is no good.”
I take everything to the living room. Auntie puts her knitting down. It is a wooly baby’s onesie. It is fall. It will be cold. The baby will need a wooly onesie to sleep in when he gets home. In fact, I would guess he probably wants one now. It’s already pretty chilly out, especially with the fog. There’s not a lot of sun. Auntie and I eat quietly. We look at each other and smile some-times, but mostly just look at the fireplace, which is empty right now. I assume Auntie does the same thing I do now: I imagine the fire that will be there, its flames dancing, happy and inviting. Fire can hurt you, Mama said when I was very little and got too close. Fire can hurt you, she said, but in my head, the fire doesn’t seem so bad. In my head, I reach out and touch it.
When we are done eating, I know because my food is gone and the sound of the knitting needles starts up again. When Auntie has fallen asleep, I also know this because the needles stop. Without looking yet, I gather my dishes and then Auntie’s. It is such a habit, I sometimes forget to look at Auntie when I get her dishes. I have to remind myself to look at her or I get this terrible feeling, like I am leaving someone I will never see again without saying goodbye or even saying something stupid like “Don’t forget to feed the cat!”
I wish we had a cat. Maybe he’d help me find the baby. Or at least make me feel better if I don’t.
I wonder if I’ll ever see Mama again. I don’t remember the last time I looked at her. I look over the inside of my head, hoping to find the last time I looked at her. I remember seeing her when she came back, that creepy look on her face, but I don’t think it was the last time I saw her. It couldn’t be. It just couldn’t.
I miss Mama. And the baby, though I don’t really know him very well. I think he’s too little for anyone to know him really well.
When I have the dishes, I go to the kitchen and carefully get on the step ladder in front of the sink. I wash them quietly, even though I know no sound could wake up Auntie. She sleeps so much now and so deeply even clanking pans and screaming would not wake her up. This is pretty upsetting to me, so I am quiet anyways. I hate thinking about how old Auntie is and how she sleeps so much now.
When the dishes are clean and in the rack to dry, I go outside, being careful to not let the door slam. It’s windy out today and the front door is heavy and makes a terrible loud sound when it shuts. It also makes things shake, like the little table nearby for Mama to put her purse and the umbrella rack, which rattles like sticks or bones.
Outside, I run in the yard with my ribbon, which I take out of one of my pigtails. I like this game because I can play by myself and when I’m done, I can go inside and Auntie laughs at how I only have one piggy tail left. Then she fixes it for me. It’s really nice when she does that.
Today, I’m running around, my ribbon in the air, pretending I’m a bird with pretty feathers flying through the clouds. I chirp like a bird, too. I try to make the sound pretty, but my voice is squeaky, so I don’t think it sounds too good. I’m happy now and not thinking about Mama or the baby or how Auntie sleeps a lot. It’s a good time that usually seems to go on forever. I play this game and then explore our land until dark everyday. Then I go in so Auntie can fix my hair.
But today, that doesn’t happen because before I can finish the Ribbon Game, I hear the baby crying outside and it’s getting louder. So loud it hurts and I can’t hear my own chirps anymore, so I stop and follow it. First, it seems behind the house, so I go there. Then, it seems to be in the front, so I go there. Then it’s not near the house at all, so I follow it farther and farther away until I’m in the woods, where it is louder than ever. And it hurts. It hurts a lot, but I follow it into the trees, over logs and rocks and past ditches until I am so in woods that it’s gotten darker. But I know it’s still day because I look up and there’s still light squeezing through the three branches. I jump. I skip. I hop. Mostly I run.
The sound is louder and louder, then suddenly it’s normal as soon as I find this clearing I’ve never seen before (not that I go into the woods a lot. I promise).
There is nothing in the clearing except plants. Everything is green and damp. It must have rained sometime I was not paying attention. I walk around. I look. I look in the trees. I look where faint light beams come down. Then I realize I have to see the ground, but as soon as I part two ferns with my hands, the crying stops.
But I keep looking. I look at all the ground I can, pushing leaves and branches of shrubs aside until I think I have seen all the ground of the clearing. Mostly mushrooms, dirt and rocks, smaller plants. Some moss is on the bigger rocks. It looks like pieces of cloth, like the rocks are wearing really ugly sweaters. I laugh thinking Auntie could make ones that are much prettier and more colorful and then I wonder if rocks can get cold or if rocks are even alive. Doesn’t seem like they are, unless someone lives in them and that’s why rocks are so heavy. Maybe they want to be warm, so the moss grows there to keep them warm. Maybe.
Is the baby hiding in one of them? I start looking for a rock the size of the baby. It would make sense for him to find some place to hide. Maybe that’s why Mama has been gone so long. She went looking as if he had run away when maybe he just hid in a rock. It’s a good hiding place. I hope to find him soon. He’ll be fun to play hide and seek with.
But, I don’t see any rocks the size of the baby. Plus, I can’t figure out how you get in a rock. There’s no opening or door.
So, I decide Mama and the baby are not here and go home.
When I get home, Auntie is awake and she smiles when she sees me. Today, she seems like she is dreaming when she smiles, like she is smiling at a person standing where I’m standing, as if they are a ghost and she is looking into their eyes and not mine.
She laughs. “Only one piggy tail!”
I sit down on the floor at her feet facing the empty fireplace while Auntie puts my second pigtail back in. It’s the left one today. I try to mix it up to surprise her, but I always ask her to guess which one after she’s seen me. That way she is always right.
When the second piggy tail is back in place, Auntie says she’s tired, that doing my hair always wears her out. “Being old is no fun. You should try your best to stay a little girl,” she always says or something like that. It’s the same kind of thing each day, but I don’t mind. When Auntie takes her nap, I get to explore the house. Or just lounge about and pretend like it’s mine, which is both a neat feeling and a sad feeling.
Auntie goes to her room and for the first ten minutes or so, I’m pretty happy it’s this time of day. Now, I sit in Auntie’s chair and imagine I’m some kind of queen of some place other than this house. But I’m barely done imagining my royal palace when I hear Mama singing to the baby. Mama is back and Auntie didn’t say anything?
Maybe she was asleep when Mama came back in.
It’s the baby’s naptime, too. Right on time with Auntie’s.
I run up the stairs, but I don’t skip them because my legs are still too short, which is frustrating when I’m hurrying. But I get there fast enough.
Too fast, really. For there is Mama, but something is not right. She looks too…perfect. Mama always looks tired. And her hair frizzes. This Mama looks awake and her hair is silky smooth, almost like in her magazines. They never look real. What’s worse is even though those ladies are flat pictures, my Mama looks even less real. Flat and against a real, full room with things I can touch.
Mama looks like paper, though she moves, rocking back and forth with the baby in her lap. A magazine lady on her rocker. The baby looks strange, too, but not flat. Just…too bundled. So bundled I can’t see his face. And here’s the worst part—Mama is feeding him with her breast, which is fine and I’ve seen before, but her skin is all black and shriveled, as if she’s drying out there. It hurts to look. Like she’s bruised or dead there. Dead like the apples that turned black and shriveled after Mama left.
The baby is making Mama turn black and shrivel like dead apples. If the bundle is the baby at all.
Mama is smiling down at him as if she doesn’t want to look at anyone else. Mama always reminds me that we are both her babies, that even though I’m big now I’m still her baby, too. This time, though, she doesn’t look at me. Not even for a second.
Today she ignores me because whatever is in the bundle is better than me, even though it is drinking her dead. How can that be? I never hurt Mama, not that I remember being a baby. Why is that? That people forget being babies?
The next thing reminds me why. The baby stops drinking and starts to wail. Wail and scream as if it is dying. As if the milk mother gives it is not good enough. Or as if the milk will stop forever and the baby will starve. Babies don’t know that you always eat again later. Maybe that’s why we don’t remember being babies. It’s too scary, remembering when we didn’t know enough to not be afraid of dying all the time. He sounds as if can’t cry enough, and I don’t blame him if he thinks it will never get milk again. He’s screeching. He’s louder than he’s ever been and, believe me, he has been very, very loud.
Then the sound goes all strange. It warps and drops up and down in pitch, like when the singer’s voice drops if you put your finger on the record player (Auntie has one she plays all the time. I touch it even though I’m not supposed to). The sound goes up and down and up and down, from screeching baby to big, scary man, then it stays low and bellows and bellows until it hurts my ears. Then, for some reason, Mama lifts him up out of the blanket and as she’s lifting him to her, I see his face, horrible, veiny, shriveled and black like coal and his mouth is the darkest. No lips. Circular and open, constantly crying, constantly wanting and reaching and just screaming, screaming for it.
Mama smiles at him and rests him on her shoulder, bouncing him and patting his back like when she makes him burp, because apparently babies are too little to burp by themselves.
Then she looks at me suddenly, as if I’ve scared her, but she scares me instead, glaring at me. Her eyes are solid black, her lips shriveled and dry and cracked. She is suddenly pale and more real and more tired than ever, bags under her eyes so heavy they seem like bruises, and something tells me she’s still not really there, like she’s just an image of Mama, some kind of fake.
Or, at least, that’s what I want to think. Mama would never be so angry at me and never so scary. I scream and run away, yelling, “You’re not Mama” as loud as I can, just to try and make it more true.
It’s when I’m running that I realize my socks are wet because my feet are cold and I slide a little when I hit the wood floors downstairs. I didn’t think I got that messy outside!
I turn and there’s water splashes going up the stairs. There’s no way my feet are that wet. I look down. My socks just seem damp, but not soaked. I’d have to be soaked to make puddles like those! I don’t have to look to know they lead to the baby’s room. I turn back around. The wet spots stretch before me and lead to the door. I go up to it and look outside. There’s wet on the porch, too.
It’s dark, but I need to know. Where do the wet spots lead? Turning on the light, I see the splotches are on the concrete walkway beyond the stairs. They stop at the turn, as if the person walking with very wet feet just kept going straight instead of following the path to the right, which goes to the driveway.
They walked right into the grass. Can’t follow wet spots there, though I want to. It’s dark. I decide to come back the next day, in the evening when Auntie is asleep.
Since it’s dark, I know it is almost time for dinner. I go back inside and go upstairs. I run past the baby’s room, but I get chills anyways. I can still hear Mama singing, though the screeching has stopped.
I reach Auntie’s room and knock. Mama’s singing stops, too. Why doesn’t she want Auntie to hear? I open the door and Auntie is standing right there with her eyes closed, arms tight at her sides. Her fists are balled. She’s frowning and looks angry.
“That girl. That girl. That girl,” she says,
“Auntie?” I say. “Auntie?”
“That girl. That girl. That girl,” she keeps saying.
I’m scared and shaking, but I reach out and touch her. Her face shoots up. Slowly, her eyes open, her expression loosens. She’s happy. She smiles.
“Well, hello, there! Let’s go have us some dinner,” she says. Her eyes are all lit up. Her smile is wide, as if nothing was ever wrong. She is still not aware.
When we pass the baby’s room, I glance at it fast so Auntie cannot see. No one is there. The room is empty and silent.
The next day after lunch and the Ribbon Game and Auntie fixing my piggy tail, I decide I’m going to find mama and the baby. So, I go out the front door and walk straight.
Even though it’s afternoon, it’s quite dark out. The clouds completely cover the sky like a blanket, so no sun can come through, not even a little. To add to it, there is an awful lot of fog, which happens here a lot. I usually stay away from the fog as I don’t like the thought of being outside in a place I can’t see well, but I tell myself I must find Mama. And the baby. So, I go right in. I try my flashlight, but all it sends back is white and then I wish I’d gone sooner, but Auntie would have worried if I was late for fixing my hair.
So, I walk in and the air is cool and moist. I breathe it in. It’s not so bad. I can still breathe.
I keep walking straight and I’m very careful. I try my best to keep in a straight line even though I can hardly see. The fog is all around, really close so I can only get a good clear look at what is a few steps in front of me. But I walk, even though I’m scared and my palms are sweating.
Then I hit the path right where it curves, a dirt path that leads to the well and the lake and then I wonder, is one of them the water I am not supposed to go to? As much as I hate to break a promise, especially one to Auntie, Mama and the baby need me. So, I’ll go to the well and the lake, even if one of them is the water I’m not supposed to go to.
The cover is off the well and so all I see at first is this big, gaping hole that reminds me of the baby’s terrible mouth like it was yesterday and I almost stop in my tracks. Almost. Usually, the cover is on the well and I’m not allowed to take it off and look in. Dangerous, Auntie and Mama both said, so you know it must really be. And when Mama and I pass the well, she always looks at it like she’s afraid. She says it brings bad luck, too.
But today, the cover is off and leaning on the side of the well, which is made of stones. Big ones, but not big enough that the baby could hide in them. I step closer and closer, slow. I look in and it’s as dark as can be. I take a rock and throw it down. When the sound comes back, it’s a dull thud, not a splash. So, that’s why the well brings back luck instead of wishes. It’s all dried up!
That’s when I notice a piece of cloth I know is the baby’s. It’s stuck by the cover. It’s just a shred of it left and it’s a filthy dark grey color. A dead color. Like it’s been there for weeks.
Then I know where the baby is and I feel sick.
I also feel bad for not having liked him more. I admit, I liked it better when it was just Mama and me. I hope this wasn’t somehow my fault.
I don’t cry yet. Not yet because Mama might be okay. I think maybe she is by the lake where she liked to go when she was sad. She liked to dip her toes in the water. “Watch how it ripples,” she would say. So I go there. Maybe she is still too sad about the baby to come home yet.
Walking to the lake is frightening. The fog is so bad I go slow because I don’t want to slip and fall into the water. It’s weird because I feel like the fog is getting thicker and closing in on me, getting as near to me as possible like it wants to wrap me up and cover my eyes. But I can’t let it cover my eyes. I have to find Mama and try to make her smile so she’ll come home. I hope she still likes me enough that seeing me will make her come home even though the baby is in the well and won’t come out ever again. Maybe he tried to get in when she wasn’t looking, though how would he get the cover off? I still can’t figure out how he got in there. I just know that he is because seeing his dirty cloth on the ground like that made me sad. And the cover being off. And because it brings bad luck.
I really believe that the Mama who glared at me in the room is not the real Mama. My real Mama will come with me when she sees I’ve come to rescue her. Then I won’t have to walk too far where I can’t see and accidentally fall into the lake.
Luckily, I hear the water lapping before I get there. A breeze has picked up, though the fog stays the same. I finally reach the shore. The reeds and grass sway back and forth. I can barely see much of the water, except right at the edge. It laps at the shore, sending out ripples that disappear into the fog, away to where I can’t watch them like Mama says. I kneel down and touch it. It’s ice cold and scares me, so I pull my hand back fast. Mama’s there. I listen to hear if she’s crying. I would just follow the sound, but there’s nothing. Just the breeze. Maybe she’s resting.
I start walking slowly along the shore. There’s a tree Mama really likes, a tall, gnarled tree that is so big the branches actually grow out over the water. Mama loves it. She says it’s like the branches are reaching for something. I asked her what they’re reaching for, but Mama never answered me. She and Auntie must think I ask silly questions, too, which is the other reason why they don’t answer me sometimes, like when I ask where Daddy is. I remember him once from a long time ago and he left. Mama said he was just going away for a bit. I asked her where, but she never answered. Then I asked Auntie because sometimes Auntie knows things Mama does not. Auntie didn’t answer either. Just shrugged and muttered under her breath, then told me not to ask about him every again. It would make Mama sad, she said. So, I try not to ask, even though I want to a lot.
This was several months before the baby was born, before Mama became big with him. It was kind of scary to think he was growing in her. That I grew in her, too, in her belly.
Anyways, as I go towards the tree, I start to worry that maybe Auntie will be upset if she finds out that I went to the water even though I promised her I wouldn’t. But I just have to know. I have to know where Mama went and I just have a feeling it’s here. It’s getting colder, though I can’t tell if it’s gotten any darker. The fog is thicker than ever, and closer. It’s wrapping around me until I can’t see my hand when I put it in front of me. I get scared, so I start taking tiny baby steps, which is all I really can do without stepping into an area I can’t see. Now I don’t like this place so much and I just know that this was a bad idea, but I keep going. I have to find Mama. She must be scared and sad. She needs my help.
I’m inching along, my feet in the mud, leaving a trail behind. It’s getting muddier and wetter as I go along. The tree is in a spot where the lake kind of bends a little bit outwards, like a little “alcove” as Mama calls it, so I must be getting closer.
As I move along, things feel less and less okay. I notice there are no sounds here except the reeds in the wind, and also this kind of low, moaning singing voice that I’ve never heard before. Aren’t there normally bugs and frogs here, being noisy, buzzing and croaking? That’s why I feel less okay. And also more alone where I can’t hear or see hardly anything.
Finally, one of my feet hits water: it’s cold and muddy, so I pull away fast. The shore is starting to curve more. I should be at the tree very, very soon.
Suddenly, it’s like the fog moves away just so I can find it or it’s so big and dark even the fog can’t hide it: the huge, wide trunk, the color almost black in this light. It’s like a tower at first because I can’t see the branches. Then they start to appear: snaking up and out into the fog, most of them reaching to the sky, except a few that reach out over the lake.
I take a deep breath and start to run, I’m so eager to get there, to get to her, I just forget about how I can’t see and how scared I’ve been. I’m sure she’s sitting on one of the branches over the water, reaching down so her toes touch the water while she tries to stop thinking about the baby. And about Daddy.
I reach the trunk, stubbing my toe so it stings and slamming into it with my hands, which hurts horribly, like when I kick the side of a table or the doorframe by mistake. I lean and peer around it. I can’t see Mama up there, but the biggest branch that goes out over the water is swaying. Someone is there.
I start to inch around the tree, my hands on the bark, which is rough, but moist and smells funny. Little flakes of it come off on my hands. I see a branch I can grab and am about to reach up to climb when I see her.
Mama. She’s on the branch. Well, hanging from it, with the rest of the baby’s cloth tied tight around her neck at one end and around the branch on the other.
Her head is down, like she’s ashamed or sad, her long, frizzy hair waving in the breeze like feathers, covering her face. Her hands are limp at her sides. Her dress is the blue one, the one I last saw her in. It looks dirty.
I can’t see her legs, but then the fog starts to move away and I see that her toes are just barely touching the water. She’s swaying back and forth, creating ripples. I hear the water swish.
I can’t cry yet. It’s not until I’m back at the house telling Auntie that I realize I’m telling her that Mama is dead, that someone put her up in a tree by her neck and put the baby down the well.
We leave the house to go live with Grandpa in town after the funeral. I still can’t bring myself to ask why Mama took him with her instead of me, instead of us both. I have a feeling not even Auntie would know that.
The day we leave, I go back into the house after everything’s been taken out and I’m supposed to get into the car. “Nothing left to pack up but ourselves,” Auntie says.
“Hold on. I just have to do something real quick.”
I go back into the house and creep up the stairs, listening. It’s not until I’m on the landing that I can hear her, Mama, singing to him. I peek in the room. She’s in the rocking chair, going back and forth, facing away from me. I don’t say anything and I don’t go into the room. I don’t want to disturb her or see her turn around. I know that he is being fed, that her body is all black and his mouth is and her eyes. I don’t want to remember them that way, but I have to say goodbye
somehow, even if they don’t know.
So I wave and then start to run quickly, but lightly, down the stairs. As I’m running, I finally see them: Auntie’s greyish whitish spots are everywhere. On the ceiling, coating the walls, spilling down the stairs. I’m stepping in them and getting them all over my feet. I touch the railing and they’re on my hands, just everywhere.
I guess, somehow, I’ve become old enough to see them.
I reach for the door, but the handle won’t turn. Greyish whitish specks are all over my arms now and my legs, almost like they’re crawling up me, trying to cover me up. Right then, the baby starts to screech. I hear Mama sing, her footsteps on the floor as she starts to walk around to help calm him down. The specks are all over my hands and they’re so soft the doorknob slips in my fingers and I just can’t get it to turn.
I panic. I don’t want to see her, I don’t. The screeching gets louder and so does the singing and it’s in my head. Then the door turns and I’m outside in the quiet world, free of the sound. The day clear and open. I run to the car, my arms swinging, the specks disappearing into the wind.
I slide onto the seat and some of them still cling to me, just desperate to stay and spread, I can tell. They’re with me all the way to Grandpa’s house.
For weeks, I try not to touch anything, but they find their way around anyways. I can’t bring myself to tell auntie. She said only old people see them and I don’t want her to think that I am old now. So, I let the greyish whitish specks grow around me and I say nothing about them, except to ask Auntie where to clean. They’re just everywhere, worse than in our old house. They cover everything. The railings. Our chairs.
At night, they crawl into my bed with me, wrapping around me like a cloth and I can’t help it. I let them hold me close.