When the man had finished sweeping the patio clean of all the leaves, he picked up the doormat and stood in the middle of the yard and shook the mat over the grass. Out fell dirtclouds and pine needles. Out fell copper coins and matted whalebone and grandmother’s wig and a running shoe missing its laces. The man measured his foot against the running shoe and then wondered what he was doing.
He shook the mat a second time and out fell a young girl in red Christmas pajamas. She sucked on her thumb and rubbed an eye with the back of her free hand. The man studied the girl and realized she was his daughter, lost these past seventeen months. She was covered in dirt and yellowed grass and asked for a mug of hot chocolate please with miniature marshmallows. The man swallowed and coughed in his hand. There was something in his throat, a sudden pain and dryness.
Was anyone else in there with you? the man said.
The girl shook her head.
Did you see Momma in there? Was that where she was taken?
She touched the whalebone with a finger and quickly pulled away and laughed.
He shook the mat and slammed it against the wood fence and the trunk of the lemon tree and out fell broken off pieces of coral reef and empty potato sacks. Out fell paperclips and single sliced cheese. There were other things as well: dented car doors with the windows rolled down, a pair of Poitou donkeys, spools of thread, and a constant dirtcloud settling thick in the air. It hurt to breathe and the dirt was in the mans eyes.
Then he heard a voice, his daughter’s, distant and somewhere beyond the haze. He pushed through fallen bookcases and stepped over cinderblocks and searched the backyard but the girl was nowhere to be found. He could barely hear it now, the voice. The man went down on hands and knees and felt what he thought was a wine bottle. He took it by the neck and threw it straight up, out of the dirtcloud and towards the blue. He waited for the sound of glass breaking.