by Anna Lea Jancewicz
Our mother kept a hole in the backyard. Sometimes she dug with a garden trowel, her hands sheathed in blue canvas gloves printed with little yellow flowers. Sometimes she dug with naked fingers, rubbing the clay against her bare skin as she wept. Every time she cut our hair, after my brother and I had been carefully brushed clean, she gathered the blond hanks from the kitchen linoleum and rolled them between her palms. She carried these small skeins cradled in her apron, out the back door. She buried them there, in the same place where she dropped all of the tiny crescent moons of our nail clippings into the earth.
Our mother was not well. She pinched herself, and spoke to the bees.
Everything had changed when our father had returned from the war. We used to coil our bodies around her in the big bed every night as she read aloud from fairy tale books, but after, when the young girls in the stories were charged with the tasks of picking nettles from midnight boneyards, or spinning gold from straw, she would crumble. Soon she didn’t read to us at all. Instead my brother and I began to coil around each other, orphaned snakes, and make shadow puppets on the wall by the light of the lamp. We made the rabbit that burrowed among the herbs in the garden, the bird that had one day flown into our kitchen and become trapped, beating its wings against the plaster ceiling. We did this until our mother said she could not bear the way the light tore the blessed darkness. Then we lay quiet each night, making the shapes with our hands, only imagining the creatures upon the black wall.
We heard her walking the halls as we huddled together under our quilts.
Our father had hung himself from the rafters in the attic. After, that space above our heads filled, bloated with the bees. The whole of the attic became their hive, thrumming always. Wild honey dripped down inside the walls, coursing slowly. We smelled the sweetness, threatening to embalm us. Sometimes a thick rivulet would form, easing out of a chink, spreading across the floorboards, and we would join our mother on hands and knees to scrub. She plugged the gaps with softened wax and we scrubbed until our knuckles bled. Once, my brother dipped his tiny finger into the sticky amber liquid and brought it to his tongue. He never spoke again.
It was a sunny day in March, cold but bright, when the house burned.
My brother and I stood under the withered apple tree watching the flames dart from the windows to lick the roof. The smoke billowed black and the bees swarmed in a twist, searching. We could see our mother, her dress on fire, her apron, her hair. Her face appeared, framed in each window. Her mouth did not open to form the scream we had expected. Her jaw was set. Her eyes though, they darted like the little bird in the kitchen. My brother turned to me and made his hands into the bird puppet with no shadow, and I nodded.
When the remains of the house cooled, we scavenged her burnt bones.
We buried them in the backyard, in her hole. There was so little of her to carry. We brought the bones to the hole, all of our mother hammocked in our shirts. We used our plain fingers, ungloved, to dig away the loose earth, but we did not weep. We covered her quietly. Our own hair we took back, squirreling it away in the deep pockets of our coats. The moons of our nails we left for her.
The bees were gone. We set off westward on the road, holding hands.
Anna Lea Jancewicz is an editor for Cease, Cows and her writing has appeared or is forthcoming at the Barrelhouse blog, Hobart, Necessary Fiction, Sundog Lit, Wigleaf, and many other venues. Her flash fiction “Marriage” was chosen for The Best Small Fictions 2015. Say it: Yahnt-SEV-ich. More at annajancewicz.com