Our Evil Days

We have to teach the baby, begged brother Linus. We can’t let her forget her native language. The television ran rented video night and day.

Our father, towering gloom in a tailored suit; his eyes could melt leather, but when he died in his bed it was just meat with a sheet stretched over. We laid him naked in a pine box and burnt him. We fought them to our last drop of sweat, he would say. They banished us, plowed and salted our cities, and what they couldn’t take with the sword and the fire they took with time and numbers.

We go to see our baby perform. Her cigarette wedged under a string where the wood is burned black, the hot red cherry leaving a trail. She bellows:

My days have vanished like smoke/ My bones are charred like hearth wood/ My body is stricken and withered like grass/ I’ve eaten ashes for bread/ and mixed my drink with bitter tears/ My days are a lengthening shadow/ I’m burning like grass under the sun.

After, Linus has her by the wrist. She’s twisting away, vanishing into the streets.

Home, toast and tea, movies. Mysteries of the Organism, Krapp’s Last Tape. Linus comes out of the baby’s bedroom, slams the door; locks it; sighs. Plummets into his recliner like a stone into cream.

The white man’s needle would put her under; she lost every breeze and drop of rain, twisting alone in her bed. But we could remember her voice—

Downtown is dead. Come up to me. So much space.

Broad clean streets, hospital corners, the mess stuffed into grand museums. The neighbors welcomed us, chose our haircuts and clothing. They smiled. Meanwhile we waited, like Ingrid Bergman in Suspicion, when Cary Grant brings her the milk in bed: yummy or poison? We’re still waiting.

Steven Wolfe lives in Houston. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Green Mountains Review, Chattahoochie Review, and Exquisite Corpse.