Photo. For my fat little hands. Your head tilted back, mouth wide in laughter, hair peeking out from silly hat. Grasp photo smooth edges with jelly fingers. Smear. No, no father says we don’t, we don’t, we don’t. Keep the past like glass.
You look at me, tubes from your veins from your nose reaching under the white hospital sheets. You say don’t look at me, don’t like your bloated stomach the way the fluids fill your belly up wrong. Your thin fingers protective across your mouth, your body too fragile. Too glass delicate. Orange hat on your head keeps the smooth sphere warm keeps your vanity protected. I look, I don’t look, I don’t look. To make you happy, my small hand in yours, my eyes away down on the floor. Linoleum blue and white, like second grade school redlines tracing where to put our caterpillar feet. The other kids buzz around me, smell of cheese crackers and ranch dip, ask me where is your mother, where is she. Our mother is at home they say is at work they say. Is waiting for me at home they say. When they walk off the yellow bus and they run with quick little legs into open butterfly arms.
I am walking off the bus now between the raindrops. Raining hard. Been raining hard. Worms writhing in the puddles I scoop them out of their death and onto the dry earth. Dirt under my short nails push into the skin. Burn in ribbons. I know the house is full of black clad parents friends cousins taller than me by miles. My friend inside drawing pictures of her family in red blue green. Ugly stick figures bulging heads line hands holding each other. Trays of hot sweet kugel, congealing on forks paper plates sticky clumps of raisins. Kitchen and dining room chairs pushed together in a mismatched wicker circle navy prayer books hooked in hands. Endless arms and hands rubbing my shoulders my head hissing brave girl brave girl leave two red pinpricks in my neck. Sound dripping from open orange soda bottles.
I stay outside, I am savior of five-hearts a worm.
Scoop their wet slimy bodies into my fingers put them in the pots under the awning soil breathing. Spider crawls across the rim of pot. I flick it into the rain pounding down. Search the flowerbeds for squirming bodies, run my fingers gently through wet earth waiting for their silky touch. The small rings circling their length. There. Stuck in bumpy crack in the road, tree root slithering beneath, I slip my fingers in gently close around the flipping body and run my feet to the pot of soil. Safely place the body down, watch it twist and turn and dive down into the light softness.
Red orange leaves plastered stuck wet to the ground. Worm wriggling screaming for help begging for life. On my knees, fingers scooping through drowned grass. Rough rocks and sticks and broken plastic straw dig into blue jeans now black jeans mud cold sucking on me. Protect this writhing creature. Must be me to stop the worm’s body shuddering in pain. But who will help you. I try to slide fingers through the earth but I cannot catch the slick body slips by in the rain. Shivering arms, body shaking the cold inside my bones. Too far in. Mud in my ears snot covering my nose stringing down into my mouth. Coating me in mucus.
Sky a pulsing grey belly spewing spitting vomiting down on me. Water shocks me slaps my upturned cheeks. Invades my eyes and nose. Choking me carving new paths wrong way up inside my nose. I am dirty sneakers soaking up brown driveway water.
Cannot see worm cannot see you. I did not see you in the cemetery. Saw cloudy sky and too many people in black gathered like vultures around a hole. Pushed me back say too young to see too much for you. Stay back with your gummies your snack. I sit in black leather seat my hands trace seat belt in endless black car. Hebrew words sigh through the air, scratching faintly against glass windows. Shushing me. Not now to ask. But when.
In the middle of their beaks and claws you sit you lay with tubes filled with blood thick and gummy. With air sucking in and out. Mud clinging to the ends of your hospital gown. Worms’ dead bodies are carpet beneath the pale wooden box.
Don’t be. Don’t be there in the wet earth.
Don’t be dead be walking in the front door late. Be picking me up from school. Be laughing with me, coloring with me be anything be with me.
Front door swings open clamor of crows. Father shouts come in don’t be cold don’t get sick. Pick up picture soaked sick through. Shake in hands. Face shake out. Worms slip away.
Hurry to door over puddles murky and deep. Father takes picture, wipes it clean on his shirt. Streaks of mud left behind on cloth. Picture mother smiles tenderly at us both.
We go inside for kugel.
Simona Zaretsky lives in New York City. Her work has been featured in The Normal School, Barnstorm, Digging through the Fat, and other publications. She is an MFA candidate in fiction at The New School.