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slinks001
The mailbox, plagued with rust, stands with its lid hanging slackly from one hinge. It’s the embattled heavyweight boxer’s jaw as he stares up from the mat. Any indication of an address has long since gone. The metal post on which it is precariously perched spirals downward into a spot in the ground which may have once marked the entrance to a driveway, though any semblance of evidence there were ever a path there is no longer discernable. This is where purgatory receives its mail, where nowhere takes its parcels-- if nowhere were so inclined as to care about maintaining a connection with the world at large-- if anyone even knew someone resided here. In nowhere. The gnarled maw of the mailbox has gone unfed for some time, though.
The land is choked with weeds, with grasses and cattails nearly high enough to hide a man if he were to stand among them. The retched foliage sways innocently with the slightest breeze, and the cicadas chirp loudly in the abominable summer sun. The oppressive heat of the morning has laid its heavy hand upon everything, lending the air the illusion of movement and the sun a watery sheen. No one would have cause to plod through this area, the land is uniform in both its ominousness and blandness. The façade masks the fact that this trek across acres of unchanging marshland, should a wayfaring traveler somehow find this place, would lead one to the house which stands defiantly on its stilts over this inhospitable place.
The house itself stands ramshackle in the center of what once was a sizable clearing, though the weeds have encroached upon the house over the years of poor upkeep, suffocating the structure, slapping lightly against its walls. It now stands in what is ostensibly a mud pit. The structure is small, consisting of a single room which could be stridden across in a mere few steps. There is no door on the house, no window glass, but white curtains hang in the windows in a pathetic attempt at vanity. The curtains also cause it appear as though the occupants are surrendering to an unseen assailant. There is not so much as a single fleck of paint on the house, the ravages of both age and nature having taken their toll. The porch is missing many of its floorboards and those that are remaining, along with the wood which comprises the rest of the house, has warped from age and moisture, giving the home an impressionistic slant.
From the porch, through the open space where a door would usually stand, we can see a woman lying on her side upon a filthy cot, her hands tucked under a rolled up sweater which is serving as her pillow. Upon the breast of the sweater is a rocket ship. The woman doesn’t move often, apparently deep asleep, though when she does stir, small puffs of dust spurt from the stained, yellowed mattress, swirling down about her small frame. The acrid stench of mildew hangs heavily in the air. The woman is blonde, petite, and wearing a sky blue sundress adorned with a pattern of small, white polka dots. The material of the dress clings lightly to her damp skin, silhouetting her body clearly. She’s without shoes, and the soles of her feet are nearly black, as though she had trod in ink.
Despite her state of rest, her face bears an expression that suggests disquieting dreams and inescapable distaste with her life entire. Her face, which is young looking despite the lines which have formed during her time spent here, bears a look somewhere between a scowl and a grimace. She tries to hide the fact this place has slaked off many of her tough outer layers, rendering the veneer of her strong front considerably duller, but her countenance is that of someone who has been seized by the shoulders and violently shaken; she’s wary and weary. The struggle to keep it together becomes more and more difficult for her with each passing day.
She awakens with a start as a brown blur catapults through the door and slams against the far wall as if it were fired from a cannon. The muddy mass slides down onto the table with a dull thud and clumsily rolls onto the floor. A sanguine pool begins to form around the grotesque mass, which the woman then realizes is an animal of some sort. A streak of the same hue as the puddle has been left down the wall and across the tabletop. She stares down at it sympathetically.
“Morning, Sweetness,” he says, ducking in through the door and wiping his brow with a dirty handkerchief. The handkerchief is stained pink, despite apparent numerous attempts at washing it. If he feels encumbered by the suffocating humidity, he doesn’t show it; he wears all black: jeans, button-down shirt, baseball cap, and worn, leather boots. He’s a thin man, but he possesses an imposing air nonetheless.
“Who the hell is going to clean that shit off the wall? We eat at that table, you know? You couldn’t just carry the thing like a normal person?”
That’s what she might have said in days past. She can’t conjure the spirit for that kind of confrontation anymore. Instead she slumps back down on the cot and meekly asks, “What is that thing?”
“Muskrat,” he replies, having crossed the room to the basin, where he splashes water over his face and the back of his neck. The water is murky, but refreshing.
“Eating these vermin can’t be healthful. We should get out of here.”
Solemnity falls across his face.
“We can’t do that. You know that.”
She has said something to this effect every day for several months. He has replied with something to that effect each time.

-----

As night falls, she finds herself unable to sleep. She has developed habits for the frequent occasions when the machinations of her mind refuse to quiet themselves after the sunlight fades. These habits mostly consist of filtering herself a glass of water by laying a rag across the top of her glass-- using it to catch the silt which plagues their source of drinking water-- then shuffling out onto the dilapidated porch, where she sits with her back pressed to the house, sipping idly at the water, occasionally having to spit out some grit which has escaped her primitive filter.
The dead calm of her surroundings is torturous to her, with no sound present but the unobtrusive clamor of crickets and the faint yet menacing creaks and groans of her domicile. This leaves only one thing for her to focus on: the diminutive hillock of soil, marked with a scrap of driftwood, erected near the corner of the house. There is no epitaph, but both she and her cellmate are nonetheless, every day, painfully reminded as to why it’s there. That mound is their son.
The hummock is purely symbolic—no body actually lies there—but they consensually agreed that it needs to be there. Without it this place may prevent them from feeling anything at all, instill a nagging numbness in them both. The insuppressible, constricting grief envelopes them both every time they lay eyes on the spot, but they’re oddly grateful for it.
She sobs soundlessly into her glass of water, clutching it tightly in both hands. Every muscle in her body seems to be contracted in solidarity; her breaths are heavy and gasping. She drops her glass of water with a thud, having wrapped her arms tightly around her knees, and tries to remember her son’s face.

-----

She awakens in her bed as she always does: not remembering how she got there, but knowing he must have carried her in upon discovering her huddled on the porch, her cheeks streaked with tears. He stopped expressing his concern with her troubled nights after roughly the hundredth time.

-----

Today’s delicacy is a small alligator. He relishes the gutting and cleaning of the carcass, but she has found herself becoming incrementally less willing to witness the act. She moves out to the porch and sits with her feet dangling over the edge. She shields her eyes with her hand as she peers into the sky to see the position of the sun. She tries to decipher the number of hours remaining in the day.
She eats in near silence, shoulders folded into her body. She responds monosyllabically to his polite yet clearly insincere inquiries.

-----

It wasn’t always this way. They were happy once. Thoughts of the days that preceded this hell have begun to dissolve, but she can recollect bits of her life before the incident. Her real life. A tiny dive. She was a server there. He would sit at the same table every day. He read the Times. He ordered black coffee. He was a charming presence; mysterious. She was intrigued. The feeling was mutual. The rest...
The rest is where the flashes of the past become much less frequent and lucid. She was madly in love, she remembers that much. Blindly in love, one might say. Her whole life seemed to roll out before her. Amidst the whirlwind, she had become pregnant, and he was nothing but supportive. How lucky she was, she thought, to find so chivalrous a guy. She didn’t believe in serendipity, but she didn’t know what else to think of it.
Years went by. She doesn’t know how many exactly, but her best guess is four. No, it must have been three. Two? He suddenly didn’t seem so suave, so cool. Paranoia overtook him. She was concerned, but he refused to fill her in on what the problem was. He insisted on keeping the blinds on their apartment drawn at all times and would frequently bend down the metal slats to peer outside. The piles of papers in the roll-top desk in their bedroom were maniacally shuffled at random intervals, as if he were looking for something, then the lid was slammed to conceal them all. She busied herself with making their son lunch, or giving him his bath, or anything that would detract her attention from the feeling of impending doom. Their son was an excellent distraction. He was a beautiful distraction.
Then they had to run; only he knew why. So they ran, all of them. Mommy, daddy, and son: on the lamb from something or other. They packed one bag each with clothes and whatever non-perishable food items they had in the kitchen. The rest of their home was left untouched. Another family could have moved in the next day and been perfectly comfortable. As far as she knew, another family did.
They piled into the family sedan and were off, leaving the city and its machinations behind. He drove and took only the back roads whenever possible. She couldn’t pry any information about where they were going from his lips, but from the street signs she gleaned that they were headed south. Their son would happily play with the few toys they packed him and giggle whenever she halfheartedly reached back to tickle his bare feet. They were on the road together, for the long haul, for better or worse.

-----

He refused to stay in any motels. She found this odd, but what about this wasn’t odd already? So she acquiesced to his seemingly arbitrary whim and slept in the car, both of them with their seats reclined and their son sprawled out on the bench seat behind them.
On one morning somewhere during the second week of slowly, methodically plodding their way along back roads in Bumblefuck, Nowhere, she awoke to find them already moving-- he never seemed to sleep for more than a couple of hours at a time—and their son still snoozing peacefully in the back seat.

He slept for hours.

He slept for days.

He slept forever.

She never seemed to again.
-----

They were both shaken by their son’s sudden passing, though there were days when she surmised that she may have been projecting the ferocity of her grief onto him rather than actually observing him experience it. She felt very much alone.
She had had all she could bear; her compunction in regard to her situation had quickly dissolved into ubiquitous disgust. She could hardly bear to look at the sallow, humorless man whom she was so eager to allow to sweep her off her feet.

-----

She violently shakes her head and presses her palms to her eyes as she stares out the window over the basin. No more thinking. It wasn’t always this way. They were happy once. Maybe. Thoughts of the days that preceded this hell no longer exist. The thread which promised to show a cyclical path is sticky red.

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