I grab onto the warm, polished wood of the crib to watch the small body sleep, and I’m ambushed by the memory of the scars on my brothers’ skin, of how the pale wormlike shapes gleamed with seawater on summer afternoons.
I could never bear the soft clink of belt buckles in the men’s room. It unlocks the strange coldness behind my knees and everything returns: the smell of the peroxide, the squirm of the two older boys as it foamed and trickled down their freckled backs.
Don’t worry, we can take it – we’re big, Eddie.
A fearsome pair, the twins, impetuous and tall. I learned how to walk between them while hanging from their shorts in blissful pride.
And listen, don’t let the mean old man make you cry now.
Then comes the night when the house quivered with fury. Then comes old man’s voice, the cries, the thuds – all one roar carrying even now in the back of my mind. I cowered inside the womb of our blanket fort, beating the decision into my head.
This is what happens, Eddie, promise to never even give yourself the chance.
Yet somewhere along the way I took a careless turn, and here we are. I’ve never been so at odds with myself as that day at the hospital, when I first held that tuft of silky hair. It streamed through my fingers, leaving me with empty hands and my heart in my mouth. I was never built to withstand such certainties.
Ed, you big softie, we never knew you had it in you.
My head grows giddy and all my muscles scream. My body is poised to run and yet I’m still here, planted firm.
Those who are about to watch you fuck up salute you.
Clio Velentza is a winner of Best Small Fictions 2016 and her work has appeared or is forthcoming in several literary journals, such as Wigleaf, (b)OINK, Lost Balloon, Jellyfish Review, Atticus Review and People Holding. Find her at @clio_v.
Photo by: Ana Prundaru