A Winnebago pulls up. A woman’s distant cousins get out and knock insistently while she frantically throws toys in the garage.
Her daughter is spending the night at a friend’s farm in a neighboring county. The girl and her friend climb a wooden gate and fling their thighs across an unsaddled mare.
The woman serves iced tea and speaks of being promoted to nursing supervisor. Her cousins cross their feet at the ankles and chatter on about kinfolk – all dead, ailing, or soon to die.
Every counter and corner of the friend’s kitchen is festooned with plastic marigolds. The girl covets her friend’s winding staircase, the numerous candy dishes made from blown glass, and the abundance of sausage and biscuits. The friend’s mother frequently breaks into fits of seizures (insulin reactions); whereupon, someone (husband, neighbor, or child) calmly appears as if on the set of a sitcom and hands her an Oreo cookie. She convulses and sways, Oreo crumbs and spit flying from between her clattering teeth, until the seizures subside. Stop staring, the girl’s friend pinches the underside of her arm.
When the woman hustles to the kitchen in search of soda crackers and pimento cheese spread, the cousins pull a child-sized bobby sock from between the cushions. They’ve already seen a girl’s pink Huffy in the garage anyway. At dusk, the cousins have gone, and the woman lights dozens of votive cups in candelabras spray painted gold. The woman shifts her feet faithfully in the center of the rented room that she herself decorated. She turns methodically like the vinyl under a needle – Issac Hayes, Issac Hayes, Issac Hayes.
The girl lays in the bottom of a bunk bed, terrified of an acrid smell she thinks is penicillin. Her friend snores deeply from the top bunk, occasionally whimpering from the beating she took for riding the horse on the highway. The girl doesn’t remember the shriek of tires or the burnt rubber smell that cut her respiration for a good ten seconds. Instead, she sees the horse’s white and grey-spackled coat flash before her eyes. Its trembling flank barrels towards her, as if she had been in the car that almost hit them, as if she hadn’t been there at all.
Mia Leonin is the author of two books of poetry, Braid and Unraveling the Bed (Anhinga Press), and the memoir, Havana and Other Missing Fathers (University of Arizona Press). She teaches creative writing at the University of Miami.