That Black Nothing by Ashton Russell

Mama is always inviting the neighbor over from across the street. He’s young, maybe younger than her, we think. But we don’t really know. He smells like dirt and gasoline, like when we open the door to the garage on a hot day. He likes to talk a lot about things we don’t understand. But when he talks it feels like he is only talking to her. It’s like Mama is the porch light and he is the moth. She sends us to bed early. She closes the curtains in our room so that it looks dark, but the sun still peeks out from the sides. When she leaves, we pull the covers back and slowly get up. We go to the window, climb on the bench seat and close the curtains around our bodies, our knees knocking into each other. From here we can see his house, our window lines up perfectly with his living room. We can see a couch, some moving boxes, and a TV.

We want to go over there, see what is in those boxes. He is always coming here. Keeping her up late with his stories, drinking her wine and eating our food. We aren’t sure what Daddy would do if he saw this man at his kitchen table. He says after weeks out on the ocean he still feels like he’s rocking when he’s home on our couch. And when we curl up beside him, the smell of salt and sea and oil clings to his skin.

We sit still for a while, listening. Mama is mumbling softly, her voice hard to hear with music playing. But his voice booms. He says, have you been to Costa Rica? New York? He says, you haven’t lived until you’ve tasted eel from the other side of the world.

We ease the window open, both of our strength needed to raise it up. There’s a bush below, we jump trying to avoid it, but both fall right into it. It scraps our knees. We hold our breath and wait. They are still talking in the kitchen and the music plays on. The yard looks different at night. The whole street seems to have changed. We lay down on the grass in between our two houses and look up at the sky.

The stars used to scare us. What were those things twinkling up in that black nothing? Daddy says they are planets like the one we are floating around on. But the thought of floating makes us dizzy. We hear someone driving down the street, see headlights pass us by. Our bodies molded into the ground; we are invisible. Maybe next time daddy is home we will tell him how we can look at the sky now, how mama has the neighbor over and puts us to bed before the sun sets. And maybe he will stop leaving, stay here with us and tell us stories about the other planets, about floating in space, about black holes, and how we are all made of stars.

Ashton Russells’ work has appeared or is forthcoming from the Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, CHEAP POP, and the Southeast Review. She lives in Birmingham, Alabama.

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