by Lacey N. Dunham
Against the gray sky, Nala dances to Satie’s Gymnopédies, the soft chords held close like a child. I hesitate in the doorway and watch her, umbrella at my side. The tiny bells around Nala’s ankles shimmer an ecclesiastic glissando as she dances in tune with the rain, a streak of happy noise.
Later, jasmine and lavender melt into the sweat of Nala’s cinnamon skin as we lay together in bed and my hands press a lump on her breast. The doctor is cold and I squeeze Nala against me, push her body to mine to absorb the poison, the pain. Her tears taste metallic like water from the stream that flows by our house.
I am a small child for my age, and I watch while Uncle Petey lurches at the bottom of the basement steps in his tall boots, the four feet of ditch water, a carpet of sludge, thick tendrils of mold and damp creeping up the stairs. Uncle Petey aims a finger at me, his lips a crooked smile.
Thunder pounds the house timbers and suddenly there’s blood and sewer shit and fear and more fear as I tumble down the basement stairs and sink into the swirling water. He plucks me up and lifts my dress, tucking me under his arm like a doll.
The rain is a muted horn in a slow, sad march. So, this is turning eleven. Daddy stares at his fields, at the newborn heads of wheat and beans as they drown, and he waits for it to end. Sundays, he prays away the endless plague of water. On other days, all I smell is the bitterness of whisky over ice.
Still heart. Hot anger. Hollowness.
A kind of forgiveness.
Author Bio: Lacey N. Dunham’s fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Ploughshares, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, CHEAP POP, and The Other Stories, among others. A first-generation college graduate originally from the Midwest, she now lives in Washington, DC.