Mavis couldn’t help that her boy ate dirt.
Alex, she told Roy, does not have a problem. He’s eccentric, she said, over the rotting fence. He lives in his own little world! she laughed, to hide the wrenching in her throat. She watched her son kneel by the azaleas and scoop a handful of soil. She watched him bend his lips to his hands, the way he might one day mouth a lover’s body.
Alex Donald, you quit that right now, Mavis yelled across the yard.
Maybe it would’ve been easier if she weren’t alone. Two years ago, Clive was struck by a feral bolt of static when Alex was barely three. He worked for Sprint, up on the poles. He hung in his harness for fifteen minutes, blood pooling like pale lichen in his face and shoulders.
There was a crash-pad, Mavis said. What the crap does that do, if he’s already dead?
I’m sorry for your loss, she expected Roy to say. That’s a real shame, or, you’re in my thoughts and prayers. Mavis was used to these platitudes.
Sinkholes, Roy said. Those are a real problem.
Here? Mavis peered into her fallow, dandelion-strewn lot. She bought this place with the insurance money. Kids need a yard.
Everywhere there’s groundwater and erosion. Pavement ain’t like your trees and vines. Your kid’s eating dirt again.
Mavis didn’t look at her son. Let’s go inside, she said.
In her bedroom, she took off her blouse.
I have tendonitis, Roy said.
That won’t stop us.
As she kissed his navel, she asked him to talk about water tables and inundation. She wanted to hear about houses sucked under the earth, roads trafficked by subsumed asphalt. Roy couldn’t think about much with her tongue between his thighs. He stood shivering like an aspen as she took him her mouth.
Between the azaleas, Alex lifted a palm of garden soil to his lips. He smelled the inner life there, a dusty and comforting smell, like a favorite sweater. Between his teeth the dirt was cold and bitter and his saliva turned it to a wet paste so when he swallowed, it almost choked him, the drowning what he most desired.
Jules Hogan is a writer from the blue ridge mountains, currently pursuing an MFA in fiction at Arizona State University. Stories and essays can be found in the Yalobusha Review, the Sonora Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, and elsewhere. Follow them on twitter @seektheyonder.
Artwork by: Elliott Engelmann