Today is butcher day. Clover drags her impossible tongue over the salt lick, slips it into one then the other nostril. Our dog, Blackie, burrows into a bone from last night's roast, her teeth clunk low and wet until the marrow offers. Neither notice the white truck back into the driveway, hear the crackle of my father unfolding the enormous blue tarp, smoothing it flat against the concrete floor of the barn. My father pours grain into a bucket and gives it to my sister, who unlatches the fence and steps toward Clover, her boots slip and slurp in the muddy field. Clover sways her slow and heavy hips toward my sister, lowers her head to the grain. The handle of the bucket eeks as her tongue sweeps the grain into her mouth.
Today we are eight and twelve, and don't yet know there is never enough time to be forgiven. In a couple months, our neighbor will force his penis into my sister's mouth. In five years, she will be raped so brutally nine stitches will be needed to make the one back into two. I will misunderstand these things, call her a slut, tell everyone about the ½ in our sisterhood I'd never before thought to mention. She will learn to be quiet, and understand a man only by the things he can't help himself from doing. But today I watch her feed Clover one last meal. And when she is hoisted onto the butcher's hook, slit open, and that intricate and beautiful system of life releases onto the tarp, we hold hands and stand so close the tiny hairs on our skinny legs rise and rest as one.
The Last After
Rain slicks the stairs into liability.
The mother clutches the railing with one hand, its paint flecks
her glove. The top stair receives her foot like playdough. Her infant
daughter grunts, frees a fist from the swaddle. Her tongue clicks
against the roof of her mouth. Before the mother
can will it otherwise, milk surges from duct to capillary to nipple,
wastes itself on the cottony cups of her bra.
He has asked to see her one more time. Before
what, she isn't sure. She has seen so many
afters with him. Face down on their wedding
night, sure she would rip in two. Neighbor
girls hurried away from hopscotch and jump ropes
and blowing bubbles so big gum stuck
to their eyelashes when they burst. His younger sister,
hunched like a haunted to the It's a girl.
Inside, he serves lukewarm coffee while she nurses the baby.
He cracks shells and clinks almonds, which he says are good
for milk production, into a bowl beside her. She
hesitates, having read somewhere they contain arsenic. Or
was it ammonia? The daughter pulls her head from her nipple
as if she has something to say. The mother positions
the baby on the other breast, its mouth receives the nipple,
and the milk bursts into her mouth like the answer
to a question someone finally asked.
Kami Westhoff teaches Creative Writing at Western Washington University. Her work has appeared in journals such as Carve, The Madison Review, Meridian, Phoebe, and Third Coast.