The child hears screaming crickets.
The swamp’s alive. The nights are never silent and leave you with sticky honeysuckle fingers to be washed before dinner. Magnolia’s citrus scent caught in Spanish moss sweeping the air. The child plays make believe. A mother clad in petticoat and apron, effortless red lipstick that leaves no print on folded napkins. Her hair brushed and raised to a ponytail that sways the opposite direction of her hips when she dances to Otis Redding playing on the radio——isn’t she gorgeous? Household chores transformed into life-affirming performances. Crimson lacquered toenails set against black and white kitchen tile. The child imagines a TV mom, a sitcom mom, a 1950s mom. No pills, mom. A southern belle. She loves me more than she loves him, I can tell.
The crickets scream, forming a judgmental choir. Every night they witness. The child imagines Montgomery Biscuits, Cracker Jacks, staccato echo of a ball whacked just right. Men reduced to jersey numbers and season stats. Isn’t that soothing? Their goal is to run back home as fast as they can.
Town fair, Ferris wheel, kettle corn, neon lights, stroking ponies, sad eyes, the smell of hay. Fat pigs, their weight guessed, then slaughtered. Fireworks, brass band parade, ringing ears. Big helium balloons as souvenirs, punted back and forth for days. Their slow deflation in bedroom corners. But that’s okay. The child imagines every passing of beauty that way. Painless and then forgotten.
The child imagines fathers as magic. Disappearing acts. Plump white dove perched on curled finger, flamboyantly covered by silk cloth, cloth crumbled by swift hand, a nothingness worth revealing. That’s the whole trick——the dove once was but now is not. The crowd loves it, everyone applauds. No girl is sawed in half in this show.
Birthday cake, song sang, candles blown out, wish made. Shut your eyes real, real tight. Don’t say. Don’t say or it won’t come true. Shiny dimes splash into wishing wells where they sink slowly. Which God obeys such tiny traditions and small donations? The child imagines one does and prays and prays.
Fat knuckles, graduation ring, wedding band, fingers nicotine stained, rough palms, dirty fingernails. Hands known in intimate detail. Did you know a southern drawl sprays spit when hissed? The child imagines baby teeth knocked out by strings attached to doorknobs. Slamming doors. Do you want more? No, sir. Crisp five-dollar bill under duck-feather pillows. That’s the price of pain. But the new teeth are permanent. They stay. That’s the whole trick, you see? The father once was but now is not. Everyone applauds. The God obeyed. Child’s play.
HANNAH MARY BLANKENSHIP was born in Orlando, Florida and raised in Montgomery, Alabama. She now lives and works in Bremen, Germany. She is a law school dropout, a writer, a musician, and a convenience store clerk selling cigarettes and booze rather beautifully. Her EP ‘Born Among Wild Beasts’ was released in March 2018.