When We Remembered Zion


She is lying spread-eagle on the mattress. I kneel at the edge. My shins are soaking in the mud of her amniotic fluid. She screams. Blood and mucus bead over her perineum. Her cervix is about ten centimeters dilated. I don’t want to touch her vulva, so I use a set of forks to look.

Breathe from the diaphragm, I say.

She does. She reaches for my hand again. I don’t let her have it. It still hurts from all the earlier squeezing. Instead I give her the squishy ball I took from Walmart the other day. She wrings it so hard it flies out of her hand and knocks over the lamp next to us. Thankfully it doesn’t set the cabin on fire. I grab the ball and give it back to her.

Warren, she moans.

This is the first time she has mentioned him in weeks. Don’t think of him right now, I say. I put down the forks and dab her face with a towel.

I want him, she says.

He isn’t coming back, I say. You know that. Now push.

She throttles the ball and pushes. No progress.

Harder, I say.

Another push. Blood gets all over the mattress. Fucking shit, she howls.

More.

A long breath. Another thrust. Then the tiny, conical head.

He’s crowning, I say.

Don’t hurt him, she says.

You know I won’t, I say. Then I tell her to push again.


§


The engine starts to clatter. I pull over. I turn the car off and try the ignition a few times. Sputtering and then nothing. I don’t have a phone, so I get out and stand under some nearby trees.

Soon a pickup truck comes down the road. I wave my hands. It stops. A woman sticks her head out the passenger window. She has brown hair and a small nose and blunt canines. The man driving has large biceps.

You okay? the woman asks.

It won’t start, I say.

We can try jumping it, the man says. His eyes are hard and dark.

Once they park I open my hood and the man opens his. He takes cables out from under his seat. The woman stays in the car. He says she’s pregnant and needs to rest. He lights a cigarette as he untangles the cables.

Where you headed? he coughs. I wonder when he will develop emphysema.

Just driving, I say.

You from around here?

No. Is that your wife?

Girlfriend.

In a purely observational way—I don’t experience sexual attraction but admire symmetrical features—I say, She’s very pleasing to look at.

He raises an eyebrow. He has a profound laryngeal prominence that bobs like a fishing lure. Are you hitting on my girlfriend in front of me? he asks.

No. I’m just remarking.

Just remarking? he hacks. He looks me up and down. His eyes widen. He walks to me with balled fists. What the fuck is wrong with you?

I put a hand up to keep him at a distance.

Fuck you think you’re doing, reaching like that? he growls. Then he lunges. He puts one hand on my throat. He strikes at my beltline with the other. I punch him right under the sternum. My father taught me that this should knock a person unconscious, but he only grunts. I see drifting golden sparks. I don’t want to, but if I don’t I might die, so I draw my pistol and fire twice. He collapses.

I split. Meaning I start to see myself from the outside and my brain makes me do what it wants.

the basement smells of formaldehyde and human rot my father stares at me over the examination table

My body climbs into the truck. My foot presses the gas. For a while the woman just stares. Then she punches me in the ribs. My arm blocks her. Her hands plow through and strike me in the head. She is stronger than she looks.

he says Listen Close with his forceps he pokes the cadaver’s abdomen the brown heart the fibrous lungs he says This Is The Small Intestine This Is The Mitral Valve These Are The Bronchi

Warren, she sobs. Oh my fucking God. Warren.

I’m sorry, my mouth says.

She pummels my shoulder. You killed him, she screams. You fucking monster.

he pinches a little nub on the large intestine he asks What Is This I say That Is The Appendix Sir he nods and even though I am correct right now I won’t always be and when I am wrong he will beat me

What my brain thinks: I’m not a monster. I was defending myself.

What my brain makes me do: Suggest that she breathe with her diaphragm to lower her cortisol-related stress levels.

Shut the fuck up, she says. She clutches her bump. It’s not small, but it’s not large. She must be twenty-four weeks along. She is wearing a maternity frock covered in flower patterns. I don’t know why but that calms me, and in a few moments I regain control of my body. She trembles against the door. I have the strange feeling that I want to shield her.

Where are you taking me? she asks.

I don’t know, I say.

Are you going to kill me?

No, I won’t kill you.

She looks relieved. Then terrified again. Then what’re you going to do? she asks.

I am about to say that I don’t know. Then I realize that my split saved me. Meaning I could have frozen up and stayed put until the police came to escort me back to Quilton. Or to death row. But they don’t know anything. They don’t have to. I need to make a plan.

We’re going to wait, I say. Then we can talk about letting you go.

She doesn’t respond. But she does throw up all over the center console.


§

We’d been on the road for an hour when, for the first time that day, you reached over and touched my belly. You used to stroke the surface for a while—you liked the sound of skin scraping against skin—then stick your finger in my belly button and make a face, like it was an accident, and that would make me laugh, and you always said that when I laughed you felt like maybe the world wasn’t so bad, and that maybe we’d all been conditioned to think it was when, really, there’s proof of its goodness in the grin of the woman you loved enough to reveal all the things you hated about yourself, like your crooked teeth and your extreme impulsiveness—take the time you did a backflip out the second-story window of your frat house and broke your leg, which never fully recovered—and how much you wanted your parents to forgive you for knocking me up out of wedlock. Most of the time you tried to act proud, like nothing ever mattered, but you knew when to admit what you felt, and that’s why I loved you so much.

Five minutes later, some strange man reached for his gun while you were jumping his car, and you—bravely? stupidly?—tried to disarm him, and then you were bleeding out while Rodney kicked and kicked and rolled around inside me. And the man stood over you, and he was smiling, and his pistol was coughing out smoke the color of the walls in my parents’ basement, and for the first time since I met you, I thought that maybe you were wrong, that maybe the world really is as horrible as everyone says it is, and maybe the fact that you thought it wasn’t and so decided to help that bizarre motherfucker with the lisp and the ugly beard and the holes in his jacket is why you’re in the ground, and why five days later I’m listening to a stolen Volkswagen Jetta’s radio that is always turned to the news because the man who killed you is too paranoid to listen to music, and why the authorities are announcing a multi-state investigation after identifying my kidnapper as Samson Whitaker, who three years ago was admitted as an inpatient at the Quilton Psychiatric Center, and who to make things worse hardly sleeps, just stares through the windshield the whole night so I can’t escape, and why the police are searching for your truck, which yesterday he forced me to push into a lake fifty miles away from where this nightmare began, and maybe it was perverted of me to think, but as the car burbled into the water, all I could think of was how one night a couple of years ago we’d fucked in the truck bed, and after we were done we cuddled under your old throw blanket and you told me that if you had to choose one moment to remember for the rest of your life, it would be that one, huddled together in the night, smelling of each other’s sweat, our bodies gray under the moon, and I nuzzled into your neck and you ran your fingers through my hair and we fell asleep, and in the morning you were still there.


§


The protocol (inspired by my father’s):

- Follow all traffic rules.

- Stay in the right lane so highway drivers don’t recognize her.

- Keep my pistol on her on our way through towns.

- Wear sunglasses and dye our hair.

- Wear elevator boots.

- Only visit stores when necessary. Must have large enough windows in front to see the car.

- Bind her hands and feet (flesh-colored rope) whenever I leave the car and before she falls asleep. Knot should not be loose enough to undo or tight enough to inhibit proper circulation.

- Make sure she has no access to a phone.

- Keep her fed.

- Treat her well.

There’s not much to the plan other than to keep driving and listening to the news. I don’t tell her this because it would make her sad again. The last time she was sad I had another split. She’d been crying and begging for days and kept saying how much she hated having blond hair, and my brain made me veer off the road and almost crash into a tree. That hushed her. But now she just stares out the window and doesn’t speak. Which is almost worse because sometimes I think that she’s dead. And that would make me responsible for another killing. This time of a good person. Good because she always holds her bump. And she smiles at animals on the side of the road. And it has been two weeks and she hasn’t resisted the protocol.

Her name is Cara Dyer. I know because of the radio. She didn’t tell me, and so for the first few days I only called her Girl. Now when I say her name, she turns her head. She looks away when she remembers it’s me.

This morning I park outside of a deli. I tie her hands and feet before I go inside. I order us breakfast sandwiches. I ask for spinach in hers because she looks anemic. Back in the car I undo her ropes and hand her her sandwich. When she unwraps it, she pokes the greens with her index finger.

Is that spinach? she asks. It’s the most she has said in two days.

Yes, I say. I start to drive.

What kind of breakfast sandwich has spinach in it?

I asked for it.

Why? she asks.

You’re pale. You need vitamins.

I’m naturally pale, she says.

I mean that you look paler than usual.

Her upper lip twitches. Than usual? she says. Look, guy, I’m not your daughter. I’m your fucking captive. Remember? She rolls down the window and throws out her food. It hits a passing fence. Fuck you and your spinach sandwich, she says.

This doesn’t offend me because she’s talking again. Though I do feel bad that she’s frustrated.

I keep driving and eating my sandwich. She breathes heavily. I wonder how many liters of air her lungs can hold. Soon she looks in my direction. At first I think she’s staring at my face. But then she drinks back saliva.

Do you want the rest? I ask. There are still a lot of antioxidants in this.

She glares. Like she hates every part of me. But she nods and takes the sandwich. I’ve noticed that she chews a lot before she swallows.

Why do you care so much? she asks.

I don’t want you to feel bad, I say.

Little late to be worrying about that, don’t you think?

It takes me a moment to tell that she’s being sarcastic. I’m sorry about what I did, I say.

You’re not. You reached for your gun for no reason. You smiled after you shot him.

I did not, I say.

You did. I saw you.

I did not, I say more firmly.

She looks like she’s going to scream. Instead she sighs and holds her belly. Whatever, she says. I won’t try to convince you when you’re obviously delusional.

She finishes the rest of the sandwich. She balls up the wrapper and tosses it out the window. I’m about to turn up the radio when she says, Can I ask you something?

Okay.

What happened to you?

What do you mean? I ask.

You were in a mental hospital.

I didn’t think she would bring this up. I should have changed the station when the newscasters mentioned it.

I was, I say.

Why? she asks. Besides the obvious.

I don’t want to think back to that time. It might make me split. So I decide to be vague. I have problems with my prefrontal cortex, I say.

Yeah, I kind of gathered that much. But what—

I don’t want to talk about it, Cara, I say. It was the worst time in my life. But I’m free now.

She nods. Then she looks out the window again. I adjust my seat and merge onto the highway.


§


It’s been six weeks. The only reason I know is because the newscasters announce the date and time before their monologues. You died on May 24, and today is July 5, and by my calculations—which I know are right, because most of the day I count the cars we pass, count the miles we’ve traveled, count the days since I last saw you, count the months until Rodney arrives—that is exactly six weeks of too much thinking. I haven’t gotten used to all the changes and don’t think I will, but sometimes what goes on in my head is easier to bear, and those moments are the ones when I can finally take a long enough breath to believe that things will be okay in the end, even when I know they won’t.

I didn’t realize that yesterday was the Fourth until he wished me a Happy Independence Day, and then I got to thinking about all those old summer nights when I’d drink a twelve-pack with Amy and Tara and you’d finish a handle with Derek and Killian, and we would turn on the stereo and listen to Zac Brown and Bruce Springsteen and, for some reason, Sufjan Stevens, whose music we knew was too depressing but we enjoyed anyway, as the night wound down and we gathered around the backyard firepit and watched the fireworks, their bursting colors, wondering why it took a holiday to feel so free. Or at least that’s what I would think, even though I had everything I needed and could technically do whatever I wanted in this country and so should have been happy with how much freedom I had.

But I don’t blame myself for having those thoughts, because there was always something restrictive in normal life. Maybe it was how we spent so many mundane days at the office or in the living room, watching the same three shows on rotation because we didn’t want to start at any new beginning. Which isn’t to say that life was never inspiring, because it sometimes was, especially when something unexpected happened, like when my mother called to say that she and my father had decided to move into a bungalow fifteen minutes away because they were getting too old to handle the cold up north, and so I spent the next three days planting daylilies and hydrangeas in the front yard because I wanted them to see how mature I’d become when they visited—yes, I was old enough to own a pretty house, and yes, I was wise enough to live with a man I wasn’t married to. Though when I think about it now, I remember you thought that this was all a little pretentious, which hurt me, because if we couldn’t support each other when it came to minor things, how would we make out when something significant happened? Isn’t the trust we had in each other why we decided to have a kid, why even though I wasn’t thrilled with the name you wanted for him, I yielded to Rodney, after your late uncle who, although you adored him, always struck me the wrong way, what with his creepy smile and sexual jokes that were a little too graphic for family gatherings?

This year, the Fourth was uneventful—we’re on the road most of the day because he doesn’t like to stay in any one place, and boredom has become as familiar to me as breathing—until about eight o’clock at night, when he stopped the car in a forest clearing filled with fireflies. He opened my door and told me to get out, and I was sure he was going to rape and kill me—he could have done it and nobody would have known—but as I stepped out, he went to the back of the car and pulled two lawn chairs out of the trunk, which surprised me because I had no idea when he’d gotten them. He opened them a couple feet away, and I just stood there not knowing what to do because he’d only ever let me out to pee or shit, but then he sat down and asked me to join. And as I did, my hands started to shake, and the air smelled like dung and the trees around us were swaying a little too much, and I was afraid that my head would explode until he smiled at me—which I’d never seen him do—and said that I should look up, because there would be fireworks soon. And ten minutes later there they were, sparkling and shimmering all over the night sky, and they were so beautiful I started to cry, and right then I felt like I was free, freer than six weeks ago when I could watch all the TV and read all the books and listen to all the music I wanted, freer than all those bad-breathed mornings you’d kiss my neck and say you loved me, freer than when I was seventeen and would speed down the highway at three o’clock in the morning, and my friends and I would stick our hands out the windows and let the air blow back all the hair we’d primped for the boys we’d seen earlier. And as the fireworks went out, I wondered why it took being stripped of all my freedom to realize that I was never as free as I thought I was, and part of me blamed you for whisking me into a life I accepted because I didn’t know any better, and I wanted to punch you, to yell until fire came out of my throat, but then I remembered that you’re not here anymore, and that even if we could talk, you would shake your head and say that I was being silly and should sleep off my worrying, just like you used to.


§


After we check out of the motel, I drive us to the diner down the road.

Don’t do anything bad, I tell her.

I won’t, she says. Then we get out of the car.

This will be the second time we’ve eaten in public. She’s nervous, but I’m not. We’ve been staying in motels for weeks and haven’t had any problems. Nobody this far west knows about us.

The diner has chipped green walls and smells like perspiration. The host is a septuagenarian man with solar lentigo on his arms. He leads us to a booth. Cara holds her lower back as she sits. Her bump pokes up over the table. She bites the cuticle of her thumb.

It feels weird to be in here, she says.

It’s just a diner, I say.

Yeah, she says. Guess I’ve been away from people a little too long.

I’ve been away from people for much longer than eleven weeks before and it never bothered me. Then again we’re different. For instance she always used to ask when she could go back to her normal life. Which was strange to hear because this is my normal life. But she did stop asking that question around Independence Day.

A middle-aged waitress with strabismus brings over water. Her good eye fixes on me. I order myself an omelet and Cara a fruit bowl. Before the woman leaves she looks at Cara’s bump and congratulates us. I’m about to say the baby isn’t mine when Cara says, Thank you. Which surprises me. But I don’t comment. I just sip my water.

Can I ask you something? Cara says.

Her questions can be intrusive. But I still say, Okay.

She taps on her glass. Have you ever felt love? she asks.

I’ve never been in love with anyone, I say.

I don’t mean been in love. I mean felt love. There’s a difference.

I can’t recall ever experiencing what people describe as love. But maybe I have felt it and just didn’t know what it was. I don’t know, I admit.

What about your family? You must love them, right?

My heart palpitates. I don’t want to talk about this, I say.

Samson, I just want to know, she says. She has only recently started to use my name, and I like how it sounds when she says it.

Why? I ask.

We’ve been on the road for a while, she says. I still don’t know much about you.

That’s not a bad thing.

Maybe not, she says. But the longer we’re together, the more questions I’m going to have. So we might as well get some out of the way.

She has a point. But she doesn’t know how uncomfortable I am. What if I split again? And in public? She is almost begging, though. And I don’t want to disappoint her.

My mother committed suicide, I say. My father is a neurosurgeon. He’s an evil man.

My head tingles. It’s not a good idea to say anything else, but my brain makes me talk.

He wanted me to be a neurosurgeon, too. He tried to teach me. We brought dead bodies home. He forced me to dissect them with him. I haven’t seen him in years.

we lift the cadaver out of the trunk we carry it to the basement and lay it on the examination table my father points at the body which is still gasping he asks Why Are You Afraid I say Because It’s A Person Sir he says Everybody Is Just Viscera And Nothing More And The Sooner You Understand That The Easier This Will Be

Samson?

he pushes the scalpel into the windpipe the body twitches and then goes still then he saws into the cranium and when he is done he points at the membrane around the cortex he says Tell Me What This Is and I say Those Are The Meninges he nods he says More Specific and I say The Dura Mater The Arachnoid Mater The Central Sulcus

Samson. Samson.

he smacks me he points at one of the brain’s grooves he says This Is The Fucking Central Sulcus I say Yes Sir I Apologize he cuffs me again he screams Now Correct Yourself and I say That Is The Pia Mater Sir he nods he smiles his teeth are crooked yellow covered in dental plaque

My mouth makes noises. My brain thinks: Why does this have to happen to me?

he says So You’re Not A Fucking Retard I taste blood I say No Sir he says You Could’ve Fooled Me Now Don’t You Dare Waste My Time Again then he turns back to the cadaver he points somewhere on the brain’s right hemisphere he says What Is This and I know that later on he will beat me worse

She grabs my hand. She says, It’s okay. Around us people stare. Which makes me consider announcing that I was joking. But that would draw even more attention to us.

She hands me a napkin and holds my hand until the waitress returns with our food. Her strabismic eye is between us now. She asks Cara if everything is to her liking. She doesn’t ask me the same. When she leaves I begin to eat my omelet. Cara prods at the fruit in her bowl.

My older cousin, she says, used to touch me when I was a kid.

I don’t know what to say. But the anger is the strongest I’ve experienced in a long time. I want to find her cousin and hurt him badly. Maybe even kill him. Of course I don’t tell her this. She wouldn’t like to hear it.

We get back to eating in silence. Which usually wouldn’t feel uncomfortable but does now. I’m almost done with my omelet when she points across the diner. The waitress is on the phone. She is staring at us. She cups the receiver to her mouth and turns away.

We should go, Cara says. We run out. The waitress yells something behind us. We get in the car. I put my gun in my lap and start driving. I don’t know where to.


§


He’s out getting more supplies: food, water, folic acid supplements, kerosene for the lamp, a roller to loosen my muscles. We go through most essentials in three or four days—that number will go down to a day or two once Rodney is born—so he’s often out shoplifting, which is risky, but he couldn’t find enough game or plants around the cabin to support us.

We don’t do much when he’s here—either read what he stole from the library or walk around the forest, although these days I’m not really on my feet because my legs are so swollen—but when he’s gone there’s even less to do, and I’ve had to be completely alone for most of the day, which in a place as isolated as these woods is terrifying. Sometimes I think that a bear or some other vicious animal will knock down the front door and maul me to death, which is why Samson has agreed to leave his gun behind. Even though he isn’t the warmest person, he does give me the strongest sense of comfort I’ve had since you died.

I still think about you a lot, but I don’t know if that’s because I miss you more or less. Which sounds cold—how could I not still yearn for the man I loved for so many years and lost in a split-second—but this isn’t something I can control. And if you were to think about it like I do, then maybe you’d understand, but you did always have trouble figuring out what I thought and why, so maybe it would be stupid to expect you to do something you’re not capable of. And if you believe I’m mistaken, then why don’t you think back to that day on the beach, when we were lying in the sand and you said I should undo my top because it would be more comfortable, and I said no, because it wasn’t a nude beach and I was already comfortable, but you said I was wrong, which struck me as absurd because I’d just told you how I felt, and then you said that if you were to lie in the sand with your shirt on it would feel scratchy and painful, and you couldn’t imagine how it would feel with tits. I was pissed off, but I laughed and got back to reading my book, and a minute later you undid my knot and pulled my top out from under me, and I was too shocked and violated to explain how that made me feel, and I never told you afterward how much what you did disturbed me because you were how you were and I was how I am.

That’s also why I told Samson, but never you, about what Eddie did to me. Because Samson has also been through awful things, and has never touched me, let alone looked at me sexually, so I knew that he’d never judge me if I told him the truth, and in that way he’s more respectful than you ever were. I also have to admit that what you did reminded me of how Eddie used to tell me to take off my clothes and lie down even when I said no, and part of me was afraid, as you took off my top, that you could do the same, or at least that you would ignore my feelings, so I said nothing, and I’ll always regret that.

But since you died, my love for you has changed, and for me to keep feeling it, I can’t keep making excuses for you. So as vile as it is to say, I realize now that you’re somewhat to blame for what happened to you. You didn’t deserve it, of course, but you didn’t think of what Samson may have been feeling, which could have been fear—you always did have a huge voice and large muscles—and you decided to be violent when he put his hand on his gun, which could have been a reflex or an accident, and maybe he smiled when you hit the ground not because he was happy that he killed you, but because he was relieved to have survived.

I’m relieved that I’ve survived, too. Because I’m safe now, and Rodney will be here in two weeks, and Samson knows how to deliver a baby. I don’t know where things will go from there, but I don’t feel so worried about it all anymore.


§

I pick up the bulb syringe. I clear the mucus from the baby’s mouth and nostrils. I tell her to push again and guide him until his shoulders emerge. I grab him by the underarms. Another push. He slides out. He is slippery with vernix, but I have a good grip. I wait for him to cry. Then I snip the umbilical cord with a pair of garden shears I’ve sterilized. I towel him off and wrap him in the bedsheet. He has a fat, purple face and his frontal fontanelle is very wide.

Is he okay? she asks.

Yes, I say.

I lay him on her breast with his face turned to hers.

Rodney, she murmurs. It’s Momma. I’m right here.

A few minutes later I help her deliver her placenta. Then I pass her my canteen. She drinks greedily. Some water drips on her neck. She drops the canteen when she’s done.

Thank you, she weeps. Warren and I are so happy.

Rest, I say. You need to recover.

She closes her eyes. The baby mewls for a while, and then he’s also asleep. I change into clean clothes and bury her placenta outside. When I get back I climb into my sleeping bag. I don’t expect to fall asleep, but after fourteen hours of caring for her, I’m unconscious in a minute.

When I wake up she’s stroking his face. I can feel the love she has for him. It’s so foreign that it almost scares me. But then it soothes me.


§


Isn’t he perfect, Warren? He has your nose, the narrow bridge and the pointy tip, and he has my eyes, big and blue and shiny in the light.

Hold him. This is your child. Remember you used to say that you wanted a son who by day you could play football with and by night you could hold close, and who over all the years of raising him you could teach to be happy no matter how cruel life is? Here is that son. He is yours. He is mine. He will always be ours.


§


He’s crying. Can you bring him to me, Warren? He’s hungry. Hello, my sweet. I know, I know. Mommy’s right here. She’s going to make it all better. Here, drink. Just like that.

Thank you for the water. It’s refreshing. Has the hot compress gone cold again? You can take it off. Heat it up and bring it back. Hello again, my angel. Are you done? Lie with me. Look at my finger, it goes up and down and back up and down again. You like that, don’t you? Mommy loves you, and so does Daddy. We love you to Pluto and back a million times over.


§


Where did you go, Warren? You were here a minute ago. Are you on a walk? Come back. I want you to hold me and kiss my forehead and look at our baby again. Please don’t leave me. We need you. I need you.


§


Samson. Has Warren still not come back? Look out for him. And thank you for the food. I hope you were careful getting it. Before I forget, I want to tell you that you’re not a monster. You’re a good person. You have to be.


§


The baby is crying again. Can you rock him back to sleep? Samson? Where are you? Your sleeping bag is empty, and I don’t hear you outside. Maybe you’re getting some more food. But there’s no light in the window. You’re never out when it’s dark. Please come back. I don’t know what Rodney and I would do without you.


§


There are footsteps outside. They’re not yours, Samson—yours are quicker, like you’re always running away from something. It could be a creature, a moose or a wolf, so I clutch Rodney to my chest and point your gun at the door. There are knocks, then a man’s voice saying it’s the police. I tell him to get away, I’ve got a gun, and they say please put the weapon down, and I ask why I should, and they say because we got him, it’s over, you’re okay now. But I don’t feel okay, Warren, and all I want right now is for you and Samson to be here with me and Rodney.

They open the door, and there are three of them carrying rifles, and I drop the gun, and Rodney is bawling because he knows I’m not strong enough to protect us. I say, Don’t touch my baby, motherfuckers, and they say, We won’t, we’re here to save you. It’s a sentence I would normally understand, but right now it means nothing, because what is safe, Samson? One of them takes my arm and brings me outside to one of their cars blaring lights all over the forest, and Rodney spits up milk on my shirt, which I know would make you nauseous, Warren, and I burp him and whisper that I love him and that we’re going to be all right, even though I don’t believe it. When I ask where they’re taking us, they say home, and for a moment I think that they’re bringing me back to Samson’s car, but that wouldn’t make sense, because we haven’t had a car in weeks.

Is it bad that, after a few minutes of thinking, I have no idea where home is?


§

Do You Know Why I Am Teaching You These Things he asks he is sitting on a stool next to the cadaver I shake my head I can’t open my mouth because it’s swollen shut from yesterday’s beating

He really think flopping around like that is gonna do anything? the officer who is driving says on the other side of the cage.

he says I Am Giving You The Keys To Think And Provide For Yourself he looks down at the scalpel in his hand he says I Do The Things I Do Because If I Didn’t You Would Live Your Life As A Slave

The officer in the passenger seat stares at me through the grate. He has a blond mustache and a patch of nevus flammeus on his neck. You sure are having a fucking ball back there, he says.

I nod I wonder what it would be like to have a different father or a mother who is still alive he says You Are Too Young To Thank Me Now But One Day You Will Look Back And Say ‘The Things My Father Taught Me Saved My Life And I Didn’t Even Know It’

My body falls on its side. My breath spasms. My eyes sting. My brain thinks: When was the last time I cried? Beyond the cage they laugh so hard they sound like they’re choking.

hear Me listen to Me you must be safe with your baby you must love him your only baby he will be good he will be good and right and he will know beyond all reckoning what it means to be free

 

A. J. JACONO is a proud New Yorker who has been writing ever since he could hold a pen. His work has previously appeared or is forthcoming in upstreet, Lunch Ticket, Cleaver Magazine, and Maudlin House, among many other journals. He is the recipient of the 2019 Herbert Lee Connelly Prize and is the founder of The Spotlong Review, an online literary journal. He is also the owner of Bibliotheque, an upcoming bookstore, café, and wine bar in SoHo, Manhattan. If you would like to learn more about A.J., you can visit his website: www.ajjacono.com.