by Jessica Evans
Discount pine beams lumbered and nailed to create a fence and keep me safe. Don’t fall Marcus. We have this so you don’t get hurt, Granny reminds me, shelling peanuts and dropping the innards into a bowl. For later, she swats my hand away when I reach for the legume. They’re saltless, like river water, but I want them anyway.
It’s afterschool. My plastic is backpack open wide, a mouth to fill with longing for a life outside of this. In the gravel expanse of a parking lot, cars are held together with zip ties and metal coat hangers. They make kick up dust pulling into and out of the adjacent laundromat, open until ten. Late afternoon when barges bleat to reaffirm their existence, a tugboat captain somewhere on the water making magic with physics. My body is here but my mind is not. Dissonance.
Sitting on the first step, my Payless sneakers make trails in the cool river dirt. My own affirmation. Half of one sock is pulled under the lip of the sneaker, trailing me against myself all day. I haven’t told anyone because who’s to tell. I’m here until Papa comes to get me or someone takes me back up the hill. Whichever comes first, but I already know I’m going to be drinking warm thermos milk and eating the leftover carrots from my lunch because no one will remember, and everyone likes to forget. Granny’s housedress was made by sewing two bolts of fabric together, one straight seam. A curved collar like the smile she’s forgotten. The loud print matches the urgency of her voice when her sons, my uncles, come around. They use dangerous words, those men. Arrest. Assault. Sex. Victim. Prison. I don’t know all the words but I know fear.
A crunch of tires marks the arrival Granny’s sometimes boyfriend who has one eye. He runs a bait shop out of his apartment, next door to Granny’s. I don’t know who moved in first, but I do know Otis doesn’t have a fence to keep me safe. He is kind to me, gives me Hot Fries and sips of root beer. I pretend to like the Hot Fries but never tell him because I don’t want to hurt his feelings. In the cab of his truck, his body is loose, bounces up and down like he sometimes asks me to do on his knee when no one is looking.
Otis deserves the same words as my uncle, but Granny doesn’t use them. She wants to teach me to be kind, docile. Too much spark and you’ll burn out. Be nice, Marcus. This is the lie I tell myself for the rest of my life, that Granny never knew when I’m shelling peanuts on my own porch, my small son playing with his shoe.
Jessica Evans writes from Arlington, VA. She is the EIC for Twin Pies, poetry editor for Dress Blues, and serves as a mentor for Veteran’s Writing Project. Work is forthcoming in The Louisville Review, Burnt Toast, Outlook Springs, LEON Literary Review, The Wild Hunt and elsewhere. Connect with her on Twitter @jesssica__evans