My brother keeps a fist to his mouth at night to keep his cries from being heard while he is asleep. He still has the nightmares, though he will not admit it. He tells me without using words. I am not like him. I am a child and yet not a child, violated and changed by what has passed; I wear the pleated skirt and smile of docility, but I keep a fire stoked high and hot within. I see that which is behind us as through fractal glass, and while I can obscure it from his view, I cannot deny its heavy presence in my own.
I see as though down a long hallway, the light pulsing at its end, behind a door, edges lined with red. I will capture, I will slay. I will stow it inside the fortress of my heart, those carnation-pink patched-plaster chambers. I coloured those walls myself. No sword, no fist, no fire breath can breach them. I swear my life. I swear my brother’s life. They do not have to know. They will never think to ask.
There is someone coming. A thumb finds my mouth, a pillow my head. My eyes close obediently like new shutters, no creaking, no sticking. Someone is warm and near, but they are stupid and think I am sleeping.
And perhaps I am. Perhaps I will wake in fuzzy footed pajamas with bells and flowers on my headboard, and there will be kisses and waffles and cartoons waiting for me in the next room.
Play will not be desperate but idle, and my imagination will fly beyond this cage of fear to a land with auburn-haired princesses and gnomes and fairy godmothers.
God is sobering for me, though He may be liquor for others.
They pass and we go unnoticed: two huddles of blanket and sleep-smashed hair, the same as any two of the other huddles; two thin, choke-faced children in a room of thin, choke-faced children. I touch my stomach, imagine my fist a mallet and I...