In the meadow where frisbees snipped dandelions in two, I rested my palm on my forehead. Underweight and sickly, but this wasn’t anything new. However, the fever and sweat behind my ears suggested that on Monday, I would be sleeping in. Since New Year’s, I vowed to be healthy, exchanging cookie dough for vegetable soup, reaching into bowls hugging cherry tomatoes. Red skin dry against walls of black lacquer, the contrast akin to frightened spies beheaded on the ground.
The adults would sit on the patio every other weekend, eating Jim Beam chicken and singing Tom Jones amidst news of Y2K. “The hills,” they’d say, nodding ahead. “All the people, dying.”
A hillside and modest cave. These were things in my backyard that didn’t make the news. They were everywhere, for miles. Pollen ruining my elastic pants as I rolled to the bottom, bowing to my teddybears arranged row by row. We couldn’t reenact the Bible though, setting up camp inside a whale. Too many snakes between the rocks, some dead but a certain few were ready to snatch us by our paper ankles. The hospital was somewhat far, and children were killed before.
The people in the city didn’t care for us. Or maybe it was our parents. It wasn’t too long ago when one of their own elementary school students didn’t make it home, through no fault of her own.
I didn’t eat all my tomatoes that day and put them in a baggie. I was set on eating a dozen, every morning for eternal life. Flower petals stained the bathroom sink, coated lightly with hand soap. I had my own superstitions and was afraid to go to sleep. Especially when I was told that sleep was how relatives went away.
It was cold in the thicket, the moss and lemongrass obscuring the backside of a cave once filled with those who hugged their knees. Those who breathed raggedly, uninvolved. They had heard the worst of us, feared our gregarious animality. No, not us. I wasn’t born yet. Possibly our grandfathers.
Dampened pants and a tattered shirt, torn at the neck, where his Adam’s apple must have swelled. But the apple was sliced in half, its core birthing any future thought raised in morning’s mist. I wondered what I had done, if saying my classmate’s sketches were ugly upset my guardian angel. I watched him walk across the field, clovers beneath him tearing. He approached the charcoal igloo, kneeling to disappear.
Nothing dripped. I just saw the dye I knew I’d hate to scrub away with my hands. Cotton all over, hardened in spots that reminded me of science books about the sun. For days, he was still in the cave. Eyelids heavy, thin lips chapped, skin clean of shrapnel, ears intact.
But depending on whom I asked, he was a handful of things. Second-class traitor, accent odd, urging locals to turn themselves in. Stood in the light, spoke too loud, hitting the soil like roses at recital.