'You want eggs, Boo?' Jack calls out real gentle 'cause Boo was deep in her colouring and you didn't want to disturb that beautiful bubble expanding around her head like a halo of blown glass. Strawberry field girl, smile like a new moon. Jars of meadow flowers all around her little altar of personal peace; arterial spray poppies and cornflowers and the dandelion heads ready to Cinderella into a thousand wishes at midnight.
I'm busy stitching up a sleeve torn up bad on barbed wire. Red and blue checked squares sacrificed to sweet corn we browned up on the grill, watching Boo while Jack is cooing china blue babies out of his feral harem by the pond. She don't need an eye on her all the time as such, but sometimes she breaks the chain of her long dreaming and lifts up her contradictory body to go dancing by the river, and Jack's blood goes cold every time because she can't swim and the river means she is in a sad place. Sometimes she is up a tree and he hums to himself gettin' his hands in the greening vegetable soil of their patch because his girl is making a nest up there; talking to birds he'll never know the names of. The sky means she's happy as a woman can be trapped in the changeling baby brain of an old car accident that scythed her mind away.
Even her hair is a dandelion. So soft and corn-blonde wispy, like a breath would blow it clean away from her skull in Rumpelstiltskin reels of spinning gold, leaving just that valley of indented flesh where they took the smoking pieces out. She wears white dresses stained at the hem with smudges of bleeding grass, and no other colour. Jack finds careless summer shifts at the thrift, shed like snakeskin by girls ripening into autumn and buys them for her, armfuls of calm, cloud white.
'These are some coin of the realm,' I say, my mouth still working at the yolk explosion, my mind on Boo and soft colours of duck egg and cotton worn thin by limbs tumbling in sunlight. The eggs are lavish protein and I listen to the weary cells of my morning body say grace. Hallelujah.
Jack places a plate of eggs by Boo, her wrist is a swan's neck nodding over the paper for all ages to colour in by number. He jerks his head towards the door and I follow him with thread dangling off my arm into a sun slipping off the noose of early morning; roaring off the sides of the trailer, frying the grasses dry. We sit by the ashes of the night's fire and Jack twists the heavy metal ring he forged himself for their wedding round and round his finger.
'She's a little funny about food right now, can't tolerate a lot, but she loves the eggs.'
'Good for the baby, duck eggs,' he says.
I go dead-sand hourglass still, like the whole of my being has to be suspended for this telegram to be pressed into my hand. Suddenly I've got a black hole where my mouth used to be so I decide to see how much matter it sucks in.
'You think I'm sick, huh?'
'It wasn't...like how you're thinking.'
'You don't know what I'm thinking.' Twisting the red thread hanging from my sleeve over in my fingers like I'm plaiting a thin dribble of blood.
'No, I do, see, I know what anyone who sees her would be thinking. But it wasn't like that.' He picks up a half-burned stick, pokes the ashes. 'She'd come down from one of her trees, and she was singing. She pushed her dress up and smiled at me, and her face, Natty,' he looks up at me then and his eyes are wet watercolour hazel. 'Her face was like...like a star had fallen to earth. She was so happy.' He stares off toward the riverbank, where the sadness lived. 'So happy.'
Behind us there is a vague angel, weightless in prairie cotton, and Jack rises from that circle of sour and dead fire and holds her 'cause Boo just wants to reassure herself there is one solid thing left her in the world. And then I know where the grey pieces of that surgical valley went; to the hands of a man who molded them like butter, heart-shaped.
Written by: Natty Mancini
Photograph by: Karen Zhu