Preemie

by Matthew Dexter Read author interview December 16, 2013

That house was a bad place to crop dust. Someone was always sniffing you out. Dad and Mom made a mockery of letting one slip. The Rottweiler stuck her snout up my crotch every time I stepped into the porch light. We needed to check on Grandma to make sure she was still alive, deliver diapers, and see that she was taking her pills.

The baby bottles in the sink were filled with fire ants, and adult spiders rising from intricate webs in ceiling corners danced from metallic balloon to balloon across the nursery, riding magic carpets of helium borne by the breeze from an open window. The balloons lasted longer than the baby. They floated. The bottles had infant formula in the bottom. If you opened them, you could smell death. Grandma drank them to stay in touch, but Grandma does not leave her bed anymore. She is deaf. The formula gave her diarrhea and abdominal cramps.

Now the nipples are filled with fire ants. The baby has been buried for weeks. Grandma said we must never waste anything. She consumed tins of powdered formula, binging till she puked. Grandpa assembled the crib. Nobody wanted to take it apart. Every pillow in the house is collaged with yellow sweat stains.

Mom and Dad died in a bike accident the night after they heard about my pregnancy. The coroner said everybody involved in the crash was legally drunk. My parents did not drink. My parents did not ride bikes. The bicycle built for two was catapulted onto the roof of the liquor store.

When Grandpa went to identify the bodies, he kept saying they were charcoal. That was the last time the old man showered. He returned to the house and lay beneath the warm water with all his clothes on, weeping. We found him shivering with streams of freezing tears clogging the drain.

Thunder shook the house. The china in the cabinet rattled and the balloons bounced against the ceiling, charged with static electricity. Iron Maiden blasted from the bedroom—or maybe it was Metallica. Grandpa was into both, but I couldn’t tell the difference. Every few minutes the lights would flicker and the electric guitar would disappear into the rain for a split second but then it would return.

The spiders rode the lightning not only for food, but to get a look at what Grandpa had done. He had done many things. There inside the atrium of the house was a horse, with the head of a shark, jagged teeth snapping at the aquarium, illuminated with its black light and fluorescent algae and little eyes peering through green opaque glass.

Grandpa was building an army. The death of his great-granddaughter could not slow his progress. With bloodshot eyes, Grandpa worked behind the cobwebs of the shed. He was finishing a system of peacock feathers that would lift mules through the chimney flue. I had a headache and the eggnog was making my ears burn, but Grandpa kept pouring. He rode that shark horse across the living room, out the door, into the cold splintered lightning.

I think of the spiders laying their eggs inside the tiny pillows that could smother an infant. The termites chewing on wet Turpentine deserve a decent life. The baby detergent bags above the washing machine. The moths are eating the moonlight. The ladybugs have found a comfortable home.

I finger the stitches where they plucked the fear of god from my uterus. I think of Grandma with the crucifix above the bed and the cuts and stars in my pubic area. I think of what the doctors would have said if I had shaved these past few months. I think of the dark places of despair and the coffin built for a baby in the cemetery next to Mom and Dad. I think of the fresh dirt. I think of the coagulated gravy in the freezer and the ice cube tray that we filled with vodka that sunny afternoon. I remember all the occasions he ejaculated on my belly ring, and then the one time he forgot. I think of that green grass in the ground next to their graves.

Soon it shall be my turn to dig for worms. Spiders shall guide me home.

About the Author:

Matthew Dexter lives in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Like the nomadic Pericú natives before him, he survives on a hunter-gatherer subsistence diet of shrimp tacos, smoked marlin, cold beer, and warm sunshine.

About the Artist:

Craig Finlay wants to take a great photo. He hasn't succeeded, but he keeps trying. Photo used via Creative Commons license on Flickr.