Fiction · 03/14/2012

Inventory

Our grass is long enough that you wouldn’t see me from the street. Blades scratch. Redden the skin. It’s maybe an allergic reaction. Every night a headache knocks me flat. They might kill me. Three MRIs and no doctor knows where the headaches come from.

We have chickens named after queens of England. They cluck around the neighbors’ yards. I can hear them. We have no fence. Our chickens flee the half finished coop. We have cats, all of them, the dog, hamsters, guinea pig, fish, a snake. We’re unsure if the chickens count as pets. We don’t know if we’ll kill them or eat just their eggs.

There’s that thin pine cold in the nose. It’s fall ending. Blanket bundles. Incubate each pet in my headache heat. The idea is that we each get one kind of pet. I wanted the dog. Mom wanted chickens. Sister got the guinea pig. The thing is still gnawing on bark somewhere upstairs. Still in the piss rank cage she doesn’t clean anymore. The animal outlasted her need to care for an animal. It’s the pets who live too long that accumulate, become furniture, become family, end up eating generic dry pet food.

On the lawn I count stars and lose my place and recount and it never ends. I make up constellations. I name them after our pets: The Liz, Timon, Mary, Raphael, The Mimi.

Our house was made. Someone built it or had it built. Up went the garage, the shelves, tools, footwear for every weather, jackets on hooks nailed into the wall. Up went bedrooms. Up went surround sound entertainment stuff. Up went solar panels on the roof.

This throbbing around my eyes writhes me. Headache pressure crushes my tear ducts. I’d knife it out if I could. Not really. I press my thumbs into my temples, my forehead, my brow. I think if I died now it would be simple. Pressure builds an aneurism. Pop. Clean death, you know. I haven’t yet grown much in their hearts. Which is what they do, the family. They grow you up through them. They try every day. Pull the pillow off my face. Pull me from the couch. They ask the same questions at my brothers, sister, mother, all. Until it’s us asking. They wake us for eggs. We sop eggs with bread.

These chickens cluck nonstop around the yard. They wander. They sometimes get scared, maybe from a coyote, and flee up into the shorter trees. Then we all grab at them for an hour. It takes that long to get chickens out from trees and back into the coop.

Look at the house. It’s tilted. You can tell from the way the porch posts lean. There was someone who built it or had it built. And we fill it. I’m not sure how many families lived in there before us. Some. It was a house built for bodies. For shelter…. Inside we have everything. We have couches, beds, chairs. We have made our bodies’ imprints in each surface. There are stains. Our skin does flake, sure, around in the cracks. We all share that afghan in the living room — smells like Aunt’s cigarettes with stains from coffee and wine. We sew up torn jeans. We use nails, glue, caulk, staples, thread, spit, oils for food, for metal, oils for bodies…. And they huddle closer each year. Those who will see old age. They’ve signed contracts through touch so that always new youth will slip hot water bottles in their sheets. They’ll shiver on each cushion. Braid together their collected wigs and hair plugs. Tucked at night in twin bed rows. It’s some kind of comforting. They’ll rub plug strands on their noses, watch these stars through cold glass panes.

I dig away some grass. I press my face into the cool dirt.

The kettle whistles inside. It’s going hard. Probably spurting hot water all over the kitchen. You can hear someone run for it, their thumping feet.

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Ryan Shea writes from Boston. His fiction can be found in past issues of Lamination Colony, The Lifted Brow, and New York Tyrant. His website is ryansheastuff.com.