I smeared my daughter’s body with zinc cream and sat her – a bonneted, white-frosted bun – on the bench next to me. My own skin I oiled with a product that promised to brown it.

When the game was done and the requisite slapping of hands and asses complete, the players emerged with dripping cans of icy beer. My husband took his time. The big russet-haired player, on the other hand – let’s call him Struther – was first to come out. He’d brush past his admirers – the dependable cluster – and head straight for us.

Here they are, he’d say. What can I get for my girls – some pop? A candy bar? Your wish is Uncle Struther’s command!

He was always asking to hold my daughter and when my arms got tired or I wanted to do something else with them for a few minutes, I let him. But once, while I queued at the snack shack, I looked back and there was something wrong about his hand – how it cupped her bottom, how it probed. Across one huge, ropy arm, her little legs splayed wide. I threw my cigarette to the ground. I flew. I grabbed and lifted, but he held on. My daughter started to cry.

No need to be greedy, Struther said.

But it was a season of pleasure and we mostly enjoyed it – my daughter, my husband, and I. We slept on the screened porch and ate fruit from roadside stands. We stopped at street carnivals to try our luck. My husband was luckier than most – he got our girl a big stuffed horse. We sat with her between us in a giant teacup that spun slowly on its saucer.

Then, after the last game of the year, on a night my husband was out of town, the doorbell rang. Struther was on the stoop. Could he take my daughter for an ice cream?

She’s sick, I said. From the window I watched him walk back to his truck. He started it but sat in the cab a long, loud time before leaving. From the tailpipe came a thin blue smoke I could still smell later, when I sat in the bath.

At work the next day, I picked up the phone. Mr Johnson’s office, I said, How can I help you?

You can help me with my huge cock, said the caller.

Struther? I said. Is that you?

No, he said, and hung up.

 

*

 

Then I was pregnant again.

Before I started to show, Mr Johnson asked: Could he use my daughter? She’d sit on Santa’s lap ten minutes while a camera rolled. The commercial would be good for business, he said – and my bonus.

My daughter was lifted, tickled, fluffed. They painted her face. A man carried her across the set like a china vase and placed her on the broad velvet thigh of the man impersonating the fiction I’d recently sketched for her in vague strokes.

He comes into our house at night when we’re asleep, I’d said.

My daughter’s large, dark eyes took in the room. They turned to the face of the man who held her. Beneath his curly white beard, he was a haggard, bloated youth.

Okay honey, look pretty, Mr Johnson said, which was what he always said. I thought of my daughter on a screen, late at night, in a lonely den.

I strode across the set, plucked her from the man’s lap, and walked out. In the bathroom, I wiped her face with wet towels. On the way home, I stopped at a lake. We sat on the grass. Brazen ducks approached but departed abruptly when they saw we had nothing to give them.

On Monday, Mr Johnson called me to his office. I waited ten minutes for him to emerge from his private bathroom. At last the flush resounded and he came out, fastening himself. He sat at his desk and leaned back.

I had two things to do today, he said. Take a shit and fire you.

 

*

 

At home, I tried crafts. I melted wax in a pan and poured it into molds I’d cut from milk cartons. But the cartons split and the wax flowed quickly into the sink and down the drain, where it promptly hardened. It took the grim plumber six hours to scrape it out.

Lady, he said when he left, Stick to sewing, okay?

I bought a stack of cookbooks and attempted various bakes and dinners. One night, chopping onions, I cut my hand to the bone – I saw it, white, swimming in the brimming gash. In a damp, tingling suit of skin, I slid to the floor. Later – how much? – my husband shook me awake and drove me to the hospital.

Ouch, I said to the nurse who stitched me.

That hurts? she said.

Yes, I said.

That doesn’t hurt, she said.

 

*

 

My doctor asked: did I want a natural or an unnatural birth?

I need something for the pain, I told the old doctor. I was his last delivery before retirement.

I’m so tired of all you women, he said.

When it was over, I had another daughter. It was summer and I was high. They’d cut me, anus to vagina – no matter. I lay in bed with my girls. The smell of flowers came in. We slept.

I had a dream. On the porch, with my foot, I rocked the baby in her bassinet. Then, with its cruel mouth, a large, muscular dog picked her up like she was a bone. It ran. I chased –too slow. The dog stopped to shake its toy. The baby screamed.

I’ll get you some pills if you want, my husband said.

Flowers shriveled and our shocked lawn blanched beige. I drowsed through the house, bumping walls and tables. There was a sense of the earth in a fever. There was a question of when she’d boil over.

I gave birth again – this time to the clotted, rotted wad of gauze the old doctor’d stuffed me with to stop my blood.

I got him on the phone. I think you forgot something, I said.

You survived, didn’t you? he said.

 

*

 

Then, on the porch, on a day suspended by insect drone, we held our hands above our heads and turned them as though the breeze might be twisted on like a faucet. The older girl laughed and the younger one burped and bubbled at the mouth.

In a dark corner of the yard, something shifted. The drone stopped short – clamped tight.

Shadow became shape. The shape moved in our direction. It flickered like a flame. It wobbled, watery. It picked up speed. Then – fully formed – it advanced on us like a vision of God, gnashing his great white teeth.

Flesh of my flesh – I hauled them into the house. From the rack of fireplace tools, I picked up the poker. I went back out and shut the door firmly behind me.

All of this is just to say I have seen mine enemy upon the earth – and I smote him.

 

Photograph © Eric Allix Rogers

Three poems
Cassiopeia (three back-to-front songs)