H E R M E N E U T I C C H A O S J O U R N A L
Thing is, there is something in the cellar.
New Mom won’t go down there, it’s the smell—that smell—and she slams the door whenever someone leaves it open.
Who’s always leaving it open?
At dinner she says the smell reminds her of the aunt’s house where they used to play sardines. Once in the window well they found a raccoon, leg injured, snapping and hissing as it tried to climb the side, claws scraping concrete. Her uncle trapped it in a garbage bag and when she asked where he was taking it, he didn’t answer.
It’s just that smell, she said, I can’t…
The Little One likes to go down and explore. There are boxes of things, photos and books and clothes but mostly things, and she doesn't ask where they come from, or what they mean. Instead she makes up stories: the faded jacket from Big Forest War, the silver backpack from Deep Blue Space.
She doesn’t put them back into boxes, instead tucks them behind pipes or into corners or underneath piles of other things. Then she whispers goodbye because she’s so good at hiding things she’ll be the last person to ever touch them.
That day she finds old birthday cards in a shoebox marked “TOSS.” Flower-colored envelopes with a familiar name but not quite, an eraser smudge across her memory. As The Little One flips through the cards she hears a stomp across the ceiling and then New Mom curses and slams the door and suddenly it’s dark, so dark she blinks and can’t tell if her eyes are closed.
There are cracks like dotted scissor lines across the floor, so she uses her fingers to follow one to a wall. She feels the stairs, but there’s no railing and the fifth one wobbles so instead she sits underneath, next to a pile of magazines she pours over her legs.
She calls out for Dad, then Big Brother, then New Mom, but only in whispers. The cellar swallows anything louder.
The Little One hears noises, hissing, grinding, sees the red light blinking across from her. Dad says it’s the busted water heater, it chugs to life at all hours, wheezing through the pipes, pumping out hot water wasted because your showers are too long, dammit. He talks about the water heater dying, those noises, only so many cycles left. She stares at the red light and tries to figure out what it’s saying—Morse code was too hard to memorize—but it’s such a slow sad blink it can only be saying I’m dying, I’m dying, I’m dying.
When Dad comes home his footsteps sound like boulders avalanching down the stairs. He doesn’t see her, then he does, as she slides the magazines off.
How could I know? New Mom asks, I thought she had dance, she never made a noise, I mean…
In the bath that night The Little One uses only cold water. She’ll keep the water heater alive forever.
Originally from Boise, Idaho, Andy Bailey teaches English in Los Angeles, where he lives with his wife and dog. He’s a Pushcart Prize nominee, and his work has been published in Juked, Tupelo Quarterly, Buffalo Almanack, Stymie, B-Boyish, and Underground Voices, among others. His attempt at a website can be found at www.memyselfandrew.com.
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