by Len Kuntz
I am vanishing again, like smoke sucked into these wood-paneled walls.
Sis nudges me, and with her mind says, ‘You have to. It’s important to eat.’
A beer can crushes inside my ear, like an avalanche breaking. The subsequent burp is even more deafening. I scream inside my mouth but the sound gets swallowed by a vacuum near my lungs.
When I look at Sis, I see her eyes bugging out like a terrified frog. With her mind, she tells me, ‘I don’t want you to die.’
Our father is a leather father. His kerned scowl, tooled like an impression in a belt. His mouth, an opaque silver buckle. His tongue, a stiff purple stud.
I watch him shave a cob of sweet corn with a butter knife, the kernels sticky and leaking milk. Something about this makes me want to weep.
I am vanishing, bits of me flaking off, but before I disappear completely, a pheasant flies into the window and breaks its beautiful neck.
‘Fucking wind,’ our father says, cracking open a fresh can. ‘Power’ll probably go out any second.’
My brother shows up, wearing his new medals, shiny like just-cleaned teeth across his chest. He salutes someone.
‘Proud of you, Son,’ my father says, which makes my brother grin a wood-smoke smile.
Before I can disappear, my brother does, and so there’s just the three of us, along with Mother’s ghost.
Sis hands me a fork with a lump of paste or food on it and nudges the air. ‘Please?’
I haven’t seen our dog in months. When Mother died, Pepper dug a series of tunnels. Mounds of dirt and huge boulders the size of washing machines still cover our back yard.
I feel Father’s eyes boring. Smell burnt metal, burnt hair, burnt skin, burnt everything. So, I go back to teaching myself recessive breathing.
I am in a sea cave, head tilted back, catching the only strip of air remaining between rock and water. The waves lap across my jowls and eyes until there is no more room for waves and I am completely submerged.
Mother’s lover was a man from out of state. He had glistening hair, like black rain. He called me Little Captain and touched me there and there.
Father flings a fork. The tines scrape my neck before winging off and trundling on the floor, making a quaint tink-tink-tink sound.
‘If you don’t eat, I’m going to shove that whole fucking plate down your throat.’
Sis’s eyes melt, gummy now and no longer brown. I don’t want her to hurt, so I taste and smack my lips. The paste catches on the roof of my mouth.
I try a new thing. I picture Pepper loping around a different yard, Mother tossing a ball that bounces off the only mound of dirt there, the one where Mother’s lover is buried. I watch her shield her eyes while looking into the sun as if there’s a message written in the sky that only she can see.
Len Kuntz is a writer from Washington State and the author of four books, most recently the story collection, THIS IS WHY I NEED YOU, out now from Ravenna Press. You can find more of his writing at lenkuntz.blogspot.com.