The Sheriff’s House
I am eight, maybe. Maybe in my pocket, some candy stolen from Scotty’s. It’s getting late. I’m a moth drawn to the flame of a TV in an empty bedroom. A boy with Down syndrome waits to be tucked in and kissed goodnight. He grows impatient there, in bed on TV, grows panicked, in fact. What’s keeping his mom? He begins slamming his head on the headboard.
I will be unable and—later—unwilling to forget him, or how I slip down the hall, crouch on the steps then listen to the Sheriff and his wife cussing each other out, baby-talking through clouds of smoke. Cocktail glasses sweating above the table’s heavy legs. My Mom there and not there. She glances at the sliding screen door, the bugs in the porch light, me.
The world hums awake when we leave. Little brown bats clap at the dark and the scent of the curb—like warm bread—rises, cooling in the moonlight. Close to home the trees redden with the glare of brake lights. Up ahead in the road, a raccoon shrieks, mourning we know well enough what; the crying makes Mom cry. The raccoon and her other cubs retreat into the woods.
Moths brush my bedroom window screen. I lie adrift in bed and listen to the peeping of crickets countered by the piping of tree frogs. In on the breeze comes the musk of the woods, the skittering laws of summer. Am I with the peopled world or against it? I pull the sheets over my head, imagine going below deck on a ship in the arctic sea, then sweep the animals in with me.