(after Sonya Vatomsky)
If you come upon a fire, trembling still with bark and pine cones, almost out, you go by. If you come upon a rustling, a pair of eyes blinking back, you go by. You go by because this is the woods and you know what happens to little girls, skipping into the brush with wicker baskets and clean socks. You listened to your mother—you are very good. You thought it best to avoid the woods altogether, only watching the trees crackle darkly from your bedroom window.
You recall when autumn came, when you were nearly not a girl—that’s when the butter knives vanished, one by one over the golden months. Soon there was only one knife to share between you and Mother, passed back and forth, edge slick in yellow. She suspected you of mischief. When that last one departed—gone in the night—she sent you to bed, no supper. Soon it was all the silverware. Then a candlestick, a tablecloth, a white dress that was drying on the clothesline. All disappeared without a trace.
Mother grew quieter and days grew shorter, on the edge of snow. She no longer asked you about the silver. You began to suspect something sinister: claw marks on the door, flowers trampled in the garden, footprints leading from the house to the woods. Something stealing from you in the night. Something scraping up and down the hall, and by morning, Mother too was gone, an empty chair in the kitchen.
You decided it was time to be brave. So it’s into the trees, following her scent—gardenia, wax, butter. And if now, at last, if you come upon a house made of sticks, smoke twining upward, your own dress drying from a branch in the yard, be quiet and quick, little one. You know what can happen.
Runaway Joins The Circus
She hops the train, with her patent leather suitcase, with a doll head glued awkwardly to her collar. When she shows up at the tent—a hopeful applicant—the ringleaders take pity. She is provided a patch of straw for sleeping and a small rocking chair for her exhibit: Come One, Come All! See The Two-Headed Girl! They let her keep the doll head, spruce it up with a fresh coat of lips and freckles. She and doll head sport matching top hats, elastic strap under chins.
When passersby approach her rocking chair, they react, at first, with scoffs and bafflement and this is stranger than anything else I’ve seen here today. But they too soften at her look, the eagerness as she sits straight up, caressing the synthetic hair dripping down her front. On the straw, she often sleeps in her clothes, keeps the extra head there, whispers sister, baby sister.
Soon, the novelty of her lack of novelty wears off. She is passed up instead for the bearded lady, the human pincushion, the actually conjoined twins whom she envies, dreams of waking up as their triplet. She doesn’t like the way the ringleaders are looking at her now, like extra cargo, dead weight. She considers lopping off a finger, a limb, any extra appendage. She would be a new attraction, a cut-up wonder.
When they’re not looking, she steals from the knife-thrower, tucks the blade into straw. At night, she sits beneath the big top, a handkerchief knotted in the mouth to keep it quiet. The silver flares in her hand. A cold face blinks up at her, pleading.
Emily Corwin is a Midwestern girl who loves all things pretty. She is an MFA candidate in poetry at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Painted Bride Quarterly, glitterMOB, smoking glue gun, Word Riot, and Midwestern Gothic. Her chapbook, My Tall Handsome was recently released through Brain Mill Press, as part of the Mineral Point Chapbook Series, and in the coming year, she will serve as Poetry Editor for the Indiana Review.
Lead image: “DSC_0844” (via Flickr user Vicky MR)