fiction from my head
Nina has smashed herself into one of the favorite hiding places in the house, but no one found her. Her Raggedy Ann clings to her chest and light pretends to filter through the pink wickering. She is squatting on her mother’s underwear and her father’s clothes are bitter, like dead things. It is hot outside, hot in the house, hotter in the hamper. Nina has breathed up all the air like a little fire. Fire was like when her father took her to the fireman’s fair where she saw a man burned in his bed lying there as an illustration. There is only the thump of her mother’s sewing machine somewhere deep in the house pounding its holes in the fabric, and no one can be looking for her anymore. When her mother finally gets up from there she will come and yell and pull them in like fish on her line, and yell them into the bathtub all at once together, and push them into bed and leave.
Nina climbs out of the hamper, goes into her room. The Barbies do not turn their heads to look at her. No one would look for her. Not her dad who was never home – always at the fire station, or her mom who was a blur like that, all busy to herself and once with blood on her hands from smashing her fingers with the upholstery hammer.
Nina’s older sister Kelly’s Barbie sat in her real Barbie car blocking the middle of the road, and her little sister Cynthia’s was lounging in its shoe box car on the edge of the town. Nina’s Barbie was a Midge. Midge was flung down in the Barbie bank, which was a box split open, and she was scribbled over with markers as if she were the victim of a terrible crime.
Her sisters were out in the yard. The sound of them yelling back and forth, their arguing barks, pounded on the windows. Their voices rushed through the sawgrass around the yard like a wind pushing the swamp flat where it ran three sides around the old house that ticked and settled when the dark finally came with its tiny cool. The cicadas sang, the dogs bayed, the mosquitos sawed the air. Opposite, banked across the sea of scrub palm, was the highway raised like a dinosaur on its tall legs above them, glaring down at their island of flat, sand lots scarcely covered, like a weak rug, with grass. The frogs singing in the swamp were like engines roaring for take-off, and the highway was a series of sweeping drones that bore down and were carried away.
Nina got bored and went outside.
The heat hit her in the face like burning glass raining from the sky. She stood dazed for a moment. Kelly and Cynthia were sitting on the bleachers their dad had put up. They were just cinder blocks and boards to let people see their beagles mate with her dad’s, because they paid money, and they were supposed to watch.
Kelly was in the front of the bleachers, and she told Nina to get up there and play. Nina walked up to the very top fourth board with her Raggedy Ann in her hand. She sat Ann on her cut-off shorts on her lap and talked to her as if she were a real child. “Shut up and sit still,” she said because Ann was like her and she was like her dad. Kelly was talking as if she were on TV. Her voice ran very fast right past everything. She was saying that Cynthia should guess what was behind door number three, her fist twisted in front of her like a microphone. One of the mamma dogs was lying on her side, half out of her house, letting her puppies have all the milk they wanted. She picked up her droopy face and licked them so hard she pushed them right over. Their little noses skidded on the cement run. The frogs fuzzed up the air with their thick bleating. The sun beat down. Kelly was still talking.
When their dad lay on the floor watching Perry Mason or Wild Kingdom, the girls lay on his belly like sweat and pretended to watch and he pretended they weren’t there. If they were squirmy, he would raise his terrifying voice. Or else, during the happy, thin sound of the commercials, he would wrestle them into leg locks like real wrestlers and they couldn’t get away. They were twisted knots on the ragged, green rug. When the commercials ended they all fell back into their positions puddled on the floor.
Suddenly, Kelly said, “Miss Nina, you are the next contestant on the Price is Right. COME ON DOWN,” and Nina rose and walked dazed back down the fidgeting boards to Kelly. Her bare feet felt like moss on the wood. “Miss Nina, I have for you, for your very own, a braaand neeew caaar. All you have to do, and this is so easy Miss Nina, all you have to do is tell our studio audience if it is behind door number one, door number two, or door number three.”
Nina stood there, but she wasn’t in the game. She knew vaguely what it was. It was like Kelly locking her and Cynthia in her big closet and making them play school, and Kelly was the teacher who spanked your butt.
“Come on Nina, pick, pick.”
“Pick one, slow poke,” offered Cynthia.
“Three, ” Nina said, and her mouth felt like she had been eating cattails.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, let’s look behind door number two to see what Nina would have got if she picked it. There is… a new gas grill.”
Cynthia clapped her hands like tennis balls bouncing on pavement.
“And now, behind door number three. Ah, I’m so very sorry Miss Nina, as you can see, it’s a goat. He has tin cans tied around his neck and he’s eating your underpants. You are the loser, and now you must give up your…BABY!” Kelly grabbed the Raggedy Ann’s arm and pulled. She held her microphone fist clenched at her other side. Nina would not let go. Kelly was pulling and inching her fingers up the doll’s arm. Nina knew not to not let go of her own baby, not to a nasty woman on a game show. She wouldn’t let anyone else hold her; that would be like getting in the car with a man. She wouldn’t let go and Kelly wouldn’t. Kelly yanked hard, and Ann’s arm came off. The arm was a sausage of stained material flopping in Kelly’s hand. Nina could tell Kelly was waiting to see what she would do.
Nina screamed and punched Kelly in the face. Her brown arm shot out from the shoulder. But Kelly just stood. Her eyes didn’t change. She slowly turned and looked up at the house trying to see if a figure was appearing blacker against the black of the screen to check what was screeching like a hawk in the yard. Nina grabbed the arm, but Kelly’s fist was closed tight around it, wadding it like a bundle of money. Nina stuck the raggedy ovals of her fingernails with their thin line of dirt into her sister’s tight palm with all her might until Kelly threw the arm into her face.
Nina ran with it. She didn’t know where to run. She ran into the house, past the crumbly screen door with the tailless lizard clutching to it. She panted through the mud room that was infested with the tiny frogs first brought in as tadpoles in a jar, and her mother said she was going to suck them up in the vacuum cleaner to get rid of them. Her eyes ran blind, not adjusting to the dark house, the wood crawling half up the walls, the wood floors. She ran until she found the blur of the bigger body of her mother in the dining room at the table that creaked on its bulbous green legs.
Her mother turned her dark hair to her. “Just sew it on,” she said, and she was turning back to her stiff fabric stuffed through the sewing machine on the table. Nina stood there still shaking. Her little shoulders scrunched inside her thin shirt. “I don’t know how to sew,” she said. She was going to cry.
“Of course you do,” said her mother watching the fabric running now through the machine and off the table onto her lap. The machine stopped its whining. Her mother pulled a hamper across the table toward her and opened its stuffed lid. She got out the tomato that had all the pins and needles poked into it and picked a needle. Then she pulled some bright red thread from deep in the basket. “Here you go,” she said, and handed it to Nina. Nina took it and looked at it, but her mother snatched it right back from her and stabbed the line at the tiny hole in the needle until it swept through. “You just lick the thread across your tongue and wrap it around your finger and roll it off to make a knot. That’s it,” she said. Then she took Ann from Nina. She pushed her flat down on the table and held her there. She undid the dress buttons that clicked on the wood, and pulled the clothes away from her leaving her looking like just a wad of dirty socks pinched together here and there. She held the arm back in its place. She put the needle through Ann two times. “Like that. That’s all. Take it in the other room where you won’t get in my way. Go ahead,” and she loaded Nina with the basket and then the little dress and the naked Ann on top.
Nina crouched on the linoleum in the kitchen and jabbed the needle through and pulled it out the other side, and through that side and out the other. It wasn’t like real skin; it was too much like tying your shoes. She jabbed her finger every time she poked, and every time she almost dropped her baby on the floor. The whole arm was staying on. When she shook Ann the arm dangled and did not fall but waved back and forth back and forth, as if Ann were a lady sweeping her finger through the water off a dock. But it was held on by a bad, lumpy, wadded mess. Her mother could have done it nicely, but not her. She made a patch, a thick, nasty spot. The red running around Ann’s armpit was like a tattoo, like the scar on Nina’s knee. Her father said that if she died, was all burned up, they would only know her by the places she was different. Her scars puffed up as big as road signs. There was nothing left but the needle. Nina bit it off, gnawing at the thread until it ran wet with spit. She jammed the needle back in the tomato until it disappeared, and the tomato she had to twist down into the stuffs in the hamper so that the lid would shut on it all. She left the thing there for her mother to find. If she had known, she would have lifted the big hamper and carried it to the closet and found some way, teetering on a box on a box on a chair to put it on its high dark shelf where little kids were safe from its needles and scissors and buttons to choke on, so when she came back in after the last bat had flown from the attic with her knees caked with mud, and mud between her toes, her mother would not yell at her like a hurricane swirling out of control through the house for not putting away what she got out. But she just put on Ann’s clothes, her brown fingers fumbling to stuff the arms into the elastic banded sleeves, pulling the tight flowered dress over the “I love you” and went outside.
She would find Kelly. Kelly was out there somewhere playing and having fun. She could hear her and Cynthia like she could hear the swoosh of the invisible cars high on the dinosaur’s back flying through the air to vacation.