Between Living and Dying

(page 2 of 3)

Zero exhaled. She tucked her short hair behind her ear and waited and listened. It was quiet at the courts. Nothing but the panicked twitter of birds on the edge of the woods. They were gone.
Zero crept around to the shack door and pushed it open. She had never been inside before. It looked smaller than she thought it would. There were crates and boxes stacked in the corner. Magazines and food wrappings littered the floor. Her brother’s pack was rolled up in the corner. Profanity was written with marker on the walls. The place itself seemed to notice her, to assess her and then, to reject her. It smelled of sweat. Her mouth went dry, the knowledge that she did not belong in this place, that it was a world she was not a part of, filled her. Zero wanted to run, back to the house, back to her room. Her mother always told her to leave her brother alone. He’s a boy, she would say. Let him be. As if they were these otherworldly creatures. Not human. Not flesh and blood. But boy. Made of something different. Something that lived, that thirsted, that took, in a way a girl never, in the center, under the blanket. She refused to turn back now.
Zero kept the door open, so that she could hear the boys return just in case. She had never seen anything dead. Except for the fish. Her brother had caught it back at the lake, brought it home in a bucket. It was a small fish and Zero watched it open and close its mouth like it was telling her a story. She wanted to keep it. But her brother said they had to kill it. It was too small to eat, he said and they couldn’t leave it in the bucket. Her parents were upstairs. She could see the flicker of the television in the window. Zero had stood on the gravel driveway, as her brother picked the fish up and put it on the ground. It flipped over and over, like it was doing a dance and she had to cover her mouth not to laugh. She grabbed at it once, but let go quickly, the jagged scales hurt the inside of her palm. Her brother came back with a small plank of wood he found under the deck. He said it was the only way. It took a long time. So long that Zero was sure that her parents would hear the thudding. When it was over, and her brother saw her crying, he called her a baby and he pushed her hard on the gravel, right next to the fish. Its mouth wasn’t moving anymore. Its scales ripped.
Zero leaned forward and picked at the corner of the blanket. She saw her fingers shaking and chickened out. Maybe they were coming back. Maybe there wasn’t time to look. She shuffled around the room, trying to remember everything she saw, wondering if she would ever be back in here again. A car went by on the street. A dog barked in the distance. Everything seemed to stand still as she stared at the dirty green blanket.
She counted to three. And then she counted to three again. On the third try she stomped forward and grabbed the blanket edge without thinking and yanked it back so fast that she couldn’t chicken out.
Between Living and Dying continues...
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About Ally Malinenko

Ally Malinenko is the author of the poetry collections The Wanting Bone and How To Be An American (Six Gallery Press) as well as the novel This Is Sarah (Bookfish Books). Better Luck Next Year, a poetry collection is due out in Summer of 2016 through Low Ghost Press. She tweets @allymalinenko mostly about more Who
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