School was out for Thanksgiving. Most the kids in the neighborhood were playing outside. Many of them riding their bikes up and down the sidewalks. I liked playing by myself most of the time and much of my play was serious business. I decided that it was my job to protect the ants that lived beneath the sidewalk in front of our house. My front line defense was formed by sitting in the center of the cement square where they emerged from the ground. A tiny sand pyramid had sprouted between two cement sidewalk squares. Their door was at the top of the bitty crater where fire ants poured out into the day like lava from a volcano.
I liked watching them scurry around. Stumble like they were drunk trying to carry pebbles and crumbs bigger than they were down into their home. I liked imagining what it must be like down there, was worried that a mommy ant would get stepped on or run over. Her babies left alone, they’d be scared. Wonder what happened to their mama. So I claimed their square as my domain, which placed me right smack in the way of anyone who wanted to pedal past our house. When kids tried to make their way through I insisted they go around me, which required them to drive on the grass making a few of them crash. Most times they called me a stupid retard then went around. Every now and then someone would try to usurp my position by threatening to run over me with their bike. Refusing to move, my sister and brother would come to my defense; lure them away from me by starting up some sort of game.
Mom was busy in the kitchen getting ready for Thanksgiving. When I went in the house to pee I could smell the sage and rosemary she used in her stuffing. Pumpkin pies baking in the oven. When she wasn’t looking I snatched a handful of miniature marshmallows she’d poured on top of her sweet potatoes. Her beer can sat in a puddle of sweat on the counter. She had the radio on. The newsman was talking about the movie star who was now our Governor. When my mom turned her back to rinse out a bowl I grabbed a handful of the stuffing, jammed it in my mouth. She took a drag off her cigarette then set it in the ashtray so she could stir the stuffing. Smoke blew out of her mouth and nose like puff the magic dragon.
When us kids went to bed dad still wasn’t home from work. Laying in the dark I listened to mom cleaning up the kitchen. Could hear the whispering snap of her beer cans opening, smell her cigarettes. The nine o’clock news was just coming on when I drifted off to sleep.
I woke up to explosions, heart pounding against my chest like a drum. Dark. Dad’s words coming through the wall like bullets, “You fucking bitch, I’ll kill you!” Then something else blows up. Glass shattering, mom’s body thudding against a wall. Crying.
Us kids knotted together in the same bed listening to the battle. Hot. Our bodies feel like we’re melting. Sticky skin. Can’t breathe. Twisted tight together everything including our heads tucked beneath the blankets. Buried alive we wait for it to stop. When it doesn’t we cover our ears real tight. Fall back to sleep.
Morning. Sun kissing my face, birds singing. Like a punch in the belly my mind flashes back to the bombs. Untied, but still in the same bed, my brother and sisters are sleeping. I’m careful not to wake them when I climb off the bed.
Mom and dad are nowhere in sight. I can’t put my finger on it but sense something essentials been erased. A fist inside my chest squeezes my heart. I think mom’s dead. The chandelier in the living room hangs lopsided, the only thing connecting it to the ceiling are black and red wires. No bulbs. Glass all over the living room carpet, couch turned over, TV face down on the floor.
I find three stray cats perched on the kitchen counter. Trying to shoo them away I swing my arm, making them snarl, hiss at me. Growling under their breath, they rip pieces off the thawing Thanksgiving turkey. All that’s left of the kitchen window is a few sharp shards in the corners of the frame. Food splattered, dripping down the walls. Cups, plates and silverware tornadoed around the room. All I can think about is what we’ll eat for dinner.