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288 pages, ebook
First published October 29, 2019
"How are they still alive?" I asked.
"It doesn't hurt them at all," she said, shrugging to highlight how dumbfounded she was. "They just get really red, like a bad sunburn, but they're not hurt."
"What about their clothes?" I asked.
"I'm still figuring this out, Lillian," she said. "I guess their clothes burn off."
"So they're just these naked kids on fire?"
"I think so. So you can understand why we're worried."
Everything was so easy, and nobody cared, and I lost interest…I started to care less about the future. I cared more about making the present tolerable. And time passed. And that was my life.
They were me, unloved...and I was going to make sure that they got what they needed. They would scratch and kick me, and I was going to scratch and kick anyone who tried to touch them.
Because I kept fucking up, because it seemed so hard not to fuck up, I lived a life where I had less than what I desired. So instead of wanting more, sometimes I just made myself want even less. Sometimes I made myself believe that I wanted nothing, not even food or air. And if I wanted nothing, I’d just turn into a ghost. And that would be the end of it.
And there were these two kids, and they burst into flames.
And I had known them for less than a week; I didn’t know them at all. And I wanted to burst into flames, too. I thought, How wonderful would it be to have everyone stand at a respectful distance?
Sometimes, when the kids were invested in something, when they didn’t look entirely blasted by how shitty their lives had been, I’d try to truly look at them. Of course, they both had those bright green eyes, like you’d see on the cover of a bad fantasy novel where the hero can turn into some kind of bird of prey. But they were not attractive children, the rest of their faces soft and undefined. They looked ratty. I hadn’t even tried to fix their cult haircuts. I feared that fixing them would only make the kids more plain. They had round little bellies, way past the point when you’d expect a kid to lose it. Their teeth were just crooked enough that you could tell they hadn’t been handled with care. And yet. And yet.
When Bessie managed to get the layup to bank perfectly off the backboard, her eyes got crazy; she started vibrating. When Roland watched you do anything, even open a can of peaches, he looked like he was cheering you on at mile marker nineteen of your marathon. When Roland put his fingers in my mouth in the middle of the night, when Bessie kicked me in the liver and made me startle awake, I did not hate them. No matter what happened after this, when the kids moved into the mansion with Jasper and Madison and Timothy, no one would ever think that they were really a part of that immaculate family. They would always, kind of, belong to me. I had never wanted kids, because I had never wanted a man to give me a kid. The thought of it, gross; the expectation of it. But if a hole in the sky opened up and two weird children fell to earth, smashing into the ground like asteroids, then that was something I could care for. If it gleamed like it was radiating danger, I’d hold it. I would.