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Bones in the Belly photo

The air in the bedroom sags with mist that won’t touch anything. It hangs around the built-in bed, and stationary lamp, and my sisters and Ma. I can’t be in there. The noises are terrible, and the haze smells like evergreens. It makes me homesick. Ma says that’s just the vapors, and Pa yells to keep the damned door shut. My sisters moan like rumbling stomachs, and Ma spits sobs or slams her fist against the fake wood walls, her thwacks sound underwater. The flimsy panels pop and smack against the RV’s metal insides like air bubbles bursting

            I lay down on the floor with my back against the toilet’s accordion door and stretch my arms and fingers up above my head until I can feel the moisture seeping out from the bedroom under the crack, then I pull my fingertips down until they are almost touching it, but not.

            Pa drives and drives and won’t stop.

            We are going forty-five miles per hour because the road is wide and straight. I hear one of my sisters retch. I plug my nose, and close my eyes, and listen to the water whoosh in the toilet and the wheels spin away the asphalt. Ma has been crying for two days.      


            I ask Pa: where are we going, but his face is a screwed-up bee sting and he doesn’t look at me or answer. The hair on the back of his fists is growing. A fly gets trapped in the tangled knob on his wrist but he doesn’t shoo it away. He just drives, and the fly dies.

            Carpeted steps lead into the RV’s driving cabin. On the second step I am eye-level with Pa, and I watch the edges of our headlights and imagine we’re traveling through outer-space. Swallowed up in total silence, there is no temperature to feel, or piney smells to cry about. Space is easy and empty, until twin suns come barreling toward us at speeds that shatter our teeth, and Pa’s horn screams us awake.

            There’s a buck skull cinched to the RV’s grill with bungee cords. It’s an eight-pointer that Ma and Pa hit when they were first married and driving toward their honeymoon in the mountains. I was there in Ma’s belly, and even though their old RV was banged to shit and the deer was killed, I wasn’t. I’m special, like the deer, Ma says, which is why Pa keeps it tied to the grill, and Ma keeps me with her always—in her heart.

           When I crack open the bedroom door to peek, piney mist pours into my eyes and makes me cry. Ma’s face looks thirsty. My sisters groan in their sweaty sleep. Pa yells to keep the damned door shut. I go to the kitchenette and pop open one of the cabinets for a cup, but Pa a hits a bump in the road and everything swings; orange, yellow, and lime plastic saucers and cups go flying. The cabinet door comes over and thwacks me in the mouth.


            The plastic sack sticks to my face as the ice melts; I am in the animal loft. To count them I have to sit up, and then everything spins and the animals look like they’re racing. There should be twelve in all, unless my sisters have snuck one into the bedroom, which they aren’t supposed to do. Ma’s cough is close. It sounds like just before an asthma attack. I stick my fingers in my ears, but it’s too quiet. There’s no whirring.  

            I crawl across snake and lion and I almost squash the head of cheetah on my way to the window. They’ve been in here forever, so when I touch them dust puffs up and makes me sneeze. I try to hide it, but I can’t, and the animals look at me sadly, so I turn them toward the window and we all look out.

            We’re at a fueling station. I can hear Pa talking to the man who pumps the gas, and there’s a big yellow sign glowing against some long pines. Through all the needles, I can almost see to the trunk of one tree, and it’s possible that an animal lives there, like maybe a squirrel, and I wonder if the squirrel comes out, or if it prefers to stay in its wooden hole.

            Pa always sits in the driver’s seat and Ma and my sisters are always in the bedroom, but I can hear someone moving in the kitchen so I crawl backwards over lion and snake and turn to stick my eyes and forehead past the edge of the loft.

            Ma is standing at the door to the RV, petting the handle with the fingers of one hand and covering her mouth with the other. I feel like I’m not supposed to see her so I try to hide behind tiger, but when I look out Ma is staring right up at me. She puts her finger to her lips so that I won’t say anything, and I don’t, and then she looks back toward the bedroom where my sisters are crouching in the doorway like little ghosts. She nods at them and they creep toward her until they are right behind, at her hip. They hold hands and look up at me. I wave at them and press my finger to my lips so they won’t say anything, and they don’t. Ma and points to the spot on her chest where, underneath her dress, her heart is beating, and then she points at me to tell me I’m in there, with her always. I nod to show I already know, and she frowns.

            When Pa turns the engine Ma opens the door quick, and the click of the latch is so quiet and the engine roars so loud, and he doesn’t hear the screen yawn, or see them jostle the steps as they tumble out into the bright white day.


            When I tell Pa we’ve left them, he looks at me for the first time in weeks. I’m in the passenger’s seat because the back of the RV is hot as fire and stinks of ash. I want to roll the window down for air, but the window won’t go.

            Pa’s mouth sags like he’s a dead angler fish when I say it: they’re gone. His eyes glow like they’re blind. Two shimmery strands of spittle stretch like fangs across his mouth, they are shaped like little men with their arms raised as if they would keep his jaws from snapping shut. I would laugh, but I’m too afraid.

            I can smell smoke coming through the air vents, and deep from Pa’s chest I hear cracking, like his bones are breaking clean through. The air gets hotter and the vents blow a smoky wind, so cold and strong that I can’t breathe at all. The RV begins to shudder as if it were cold too, it shakes so hard we’re spinning, and Pa’s arms and legs flap and flail. I close my eyes and scream a scream too loud to hear until something behind me explodes thrusting a blast of air up and through my skin. Then I feel like bones.   Everything rattles except me, doors slam, and I think I hear other screams in distant rooms, and all around animals howl and screech. The RV expands, grows louder and bigger and becomes the roaring.

            Pa is gone. The RV isn’t traveling, but it’s moving. The walls pulse and the air is filled with vapor mist. I yell to keep the damn door shut, but no one answers. The ceiling drips with phlegmy pink ooze, and the only sounds are the muted rumbles and pops coming from the walls. Everything I touch sticks to my skin and starts to burn and bubble like acid, so I tuck my fingers into my armpits and climb into the driver’s seat. 

image: Emma Sovich