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Cheryl Anne Gardner


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It started as an itch, burnin, festerin until the hate broke the skin and slithered out. It was like this every time, and I didn't like doin it.

My momma always said, "If you don't like somethin, change it." She never said nothin about can't. Can't was a bad attitude, won't was even worse. I didn't like neither of them words. She made me eat green soup with chunks of fat in it, or at least I think it was fat. "Hocks," she called it, showed me where it were on a body, poked it with an iron rod and said you gotta smoke em up so's they don't taste nasty and tough.

Those were tough times. I was a kid then, spent my days dustin the tombstones in the abandoned churchyard behind my house. Sometimes I'd find bones that had risen to the surface after a hard rain. The crows would pick them up cause they're shiny and then drop them on the porch. I liked to drill holes in them and hang them from the apple tree gone dead in the yard.

Lots of things gone dead here.

There was this dream I had once, the moon hangin low overhead as the night collected around my feet, swirlin and swallowin up my shadow. I was runnin across a starlit skyline, jumpin from rotted rooftop to rotted rooftop in this podunk town. I'd been around the world, you see, had the stamps to prove it, stuck to my flesh, all cancelled and faded. The adhesive would give me a painful itch sometimes, but it was worth it. Below me, inside the walls of sleep where the soot and seepage couldn't touch them, the townsfolk went undisturbed. I often wished I were like them, warm and comfortable, but I'm not. Tonight, momma sent me out to get the hocks. She showed me how to put em down, how to lock my fingers and twist – hard. I get hurt sometimes. They kick and squeal, and I hate them cause there ain't never enough meat on them anyway. Other parts is better, but momma says they's dirty. Makes me bury them in the boneyard, where my daddy is, but sometimes I don't. I won't.

But I don't say anythin. I just sit and eat my green soup, hatin on her, wishin I was the wind. I knew I'd never be. Momma said she needed a man around to smoke the meat, but if I could, just for a minute – that minute when they'd finally stop breathing – I'd be swingin from the weathervanes, just like I did in that dream.

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