A Carnival World

“Yes, Ma.”

There is silence. You open your palm, staring at the rawness out on display.

“Burnt my fingers.”

You’re shaking just a little.

“Run them under cooler water this time.”

The sudden tenderness roots you to the spot. You can’t say anything. Then she’s back, plunging under into the babble.

“Anyway, Ophelia’s been asking about you.”

“No, she hasn’t, Ma.”

You transfer the chicken to a pan, and slide it into the oven, remembering too late you haven’t spiced. You let the gas click into place and sit down on the stool next to the counter.

“Oh, yes, she has. Don’t you tell me I don’t know what I know.”

You lean your head back on the cool counter, closing your eyes. From this angle, your mother’s voice feels like it’s coming from the back of your skull. Your fingers ache where the water scorched you.

“You should call her.”

“I can’t, Ma.”

Ophelia Goldberg drowned in the creek years ago.

“Yes, you can, nice Jewish girl like that. It’d be good for you.”

You were home for the high holidays when it happened. Her mother had called your mother after getting the news. The funeral was the only time you’d seen her face after high school.

“Tell me you’ll call her.”

“Alright, Ma.”

“That’s good, that’s good. And you should call your father, too. You know how he gets if you only phone for me but don’t also phone for him.”

You buried your father a week ago. You clench your hands into fists, then stretch your fingers again. You hate how big they are. These are your father’s hands, not yours.

“I will, Ma.”

Your father sits down on the floor next to you. Blood drips from the hole in his head.

Is this all you can be? he asks.

Your hands ache and ache.


“How much is the course?”

The man at the register is sucking his thumb as he looks you up and down, chewing softly against the tips of his nails. You look at the floor, biting back your revulsion waiting for the answer.

“Afraid I’m not at liberty to tell you that, sir.”

“Why is that?”

He pushes the slim computer out around the desk to face you. Your profile has appeared on the screen. You read the assessment that has been attached. You see the small red icon on your picture.

“I see.”

“Sir, as regulation, I’m going to have to ask what your intentions were for wanting to purchase a firearm.”

“Thought it might make me feel more secure.”

That is a lie. You both know it. You are rushing out the door before the man can bring his hand down to the phone next to his desk. He is calling you. You let the front door of the store slam shut on the words.

Someone will be waiting for you at home, waiting to ask how you are feeling, “sir,” waiting to ask if you’ve had anything to drink tonight, “sir,” and if you’d like to maybe go with them, “sir,” and if you’d like a cup of hot chocolate, “sir,” and if you’ve heard voices again, “sir.”

Your father is looking at you from the back seat. You watch him in the rear view mirror.

“I know,” you say to him. “I know.

In the car, you smash your hands against the steering wheel until they go numb. You try to scream, but the sounds won’t come out. You know you’re not going home tonight. You know you’re not going home for a while either way. You put the car in gear, and you drive back out onto the road.

You hate when they call you “sir.”


“Yes, sir.”

It stinks of tobacco smoke in your father’s garage.

“You heard what I said?”

He knows you did. He’s leaning over you. You look up at him through your one good eye. The stake is still pressed hard over the other one. The cool, soft sponginess of the meat is a relief against your swollen skin.

“Yes, sir.”

“I said you don’t ever let anyone fuck you.”

“No, sir.”