In the dark, the husband smoked around back. Told his wife he’d quit, but never had. He wore a leather glove on his smoking hand. It was July and hot as shit in Georgia and he thought it noble. The sweat there on his palm, a token of his generosity. He kept a bottle of mouthwash where a brick was missing from the foundation.
The daughter was an anxious thing. She thought ghosts with massive cocks lived in her shower. She didn’t know how sex worked. An older boy down the street kissed her. She thought this made her pregnant. She thought she’d been had. The daughter sat on the toilet. She poked her little round stomach out over her thighs. She rubbed the skin there, sobbing. Her eight-year-old legs were numb from restricted blood flow. Her feet didn’t reach the ground. She thought of labor pains. The VHS tape of her mother giving birth. The bags underneath her eyes. The top of her own head, crowning and blue.
The mother—the wife—slept easy. Never better than when the husband was out of their bed. It fed her soul to sleep alone. This shamed her in waking hours, nourished her while dormant. She didn’t hear him leave, couldn’t yet smell smoke. But she had a nose on her like a bloodhound.
The daughter wanted to get rid of her baby. She was dry heaving now and placed her hopes in a candlestick. Long, white, one of ten on the dining room table. The mother was that kind of decorator. So the daughter thought she might jam the child out. Thought she could extract it, a pit from a cherry.
She moved from the toilet and stood over the candle. Legs bent in a wide plié. For a moment, she thought of waking the mother. But this was her burden. She’d prayed over the guilt. She didn’t want to concern anyone else. She thought God had given her an out, reminded herself to thank him later.
Deer roamed silent in the woods behind the house. The husband smoked and threw acorns at their shadows. It gave him a thrill to watch them. Leaping over felled trees and piles of leaves. He liked imitating an apex predator. But a screeching yawp sounded from the second floor. The deer bolted while the husband watched, useless. He thought of how often the daughter slithered into their bed. In the dead of night, right next to the mother (never next to him). How she’d interrupted, really, so very much. But his wife didn’t mind. They’d sleep there together, the daughter and the mother. Burning hot and tangled till morning. They came from each other, he knew that much.
There was crying inside. Dull thuds of stairs climbed. He touched the foundation. The wife’s panic reverberated. She shouted too, yelling for the husband. Let her wake up, he thought. Let her wake up and deal.