Originally published at Extract(s), 2014

When We Churn Up Gravel

by Lauren Dixon

Lock the cat in the blue suitcase—don’t let it out, don’t let it breathe. They plow up the backyard where we used to play kickball—now rows, rows, rows, rows of corn. In the midst of the subway’s tremble, creosote floats up and soaks my lungs. We wrote them all valentines—”If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll kick you in the nuts.” I cut his voice out of the telephone, scoop him out completely. Soon after I pick it up, steal away with it between my fingers, my grandfather gives me his flamenco guitar, the bridge warped, the neck still warm in my palm. With little strength left, my fingers scrape across the cement—they just let go—the cinder block crushes Bryan’s toes. We pedal against the white gravel, our tires buzz against the ground, we escape the rattlesnakes snapping. Drip, drip, drop, poisoned amber slips into the catheter. Naked, we race around the trailer—sparks of night erupt around us, white gravel. I push Charlie into the plastic swimming pool, and watch as water drowns his camos. “We’re vegetarian now,” Mom says, so I bite into a bacon cheeseburger. At the bottom of the River Lee, a shopping cart— St. Finbarr’s salmon swim in and out of its gratings. My chubby fingers twirl the stereo knob to the highest volume— a sonic boom deafens my father, me, the stereo. A puffy, purpled dress, too much hair, a place to hide, everything else forgot. From the plane, we crane our heads down, down, down until we join the crumbling ashes still smoking below. Another disguise: a tasseled, deer skin jacket to consume all of me. A guitar string snaps, lacerates my finger. Two hard, wooden whacks for whispering on the school bus. She wrestles me down against the floor, until I am silent, until I let go. In walks an orange shirt with a cat on it, carrying him with it. I won’t kill myself, I won’t ever kill myself. No chicken, no ice cream, no beef, no cheese, especially no cheddar. Rag doll, raw potato, rat poison. Broken shells slice and scrape, send bits of my blood to sweep back into the sea—I pretend we’re not oscillating, and instead I tread water, swallow salty gulps of the shores of Virginia Beach. Fried chicken makes me sick, but still I eat, grease swelling. Sweat soaks into every place so I will see—Keith won’t cough ever again. Mom unfolds the latest death threat, asking her what her children must think of her. We’re in Tulsa when my little sister is born—I turn her around in her crib.

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