Two Step
by Teanna

i two step

He said, Papa said, you came to us and you were a blessing to us and here, this is the grave yard and here are your little brothers and sisters and they all welcome you, child.

And at night the ghosts of her brothers and sisters came to play and she was sad, sometimes, because she would grow up and leave them behind, far behind.

Years passed, and she cleaned her boots and picked up her bag and kissed her mother's cheek and hugged her Papa and left, passing the graveyard and her sisters and brothers would not come out to play, that last time. one step, two step, moving on.

ii behind the rest

Somehow she is left with him asleep, lines in his face telling a story of pain beyond pain, and she opens a window and leans out, smoking a cigarette, ashes falling and she thinks about ashes to ashes and the tiny grave for his son. No ghosts are here tonight, only the ghosts in their heads.

He stirs and she turns around, meets his eyes. There is nothing in those eyes.

"You shouldn't smoke," he says - doesn't know what he's saying - and she nods.

"Yes. Trying to quit," she lies. "Want one?"

Elbows on the windowsill, blowing smoke out into the night, there but far away.

iii one fingertip too long

"Really," her roommate at the Academy says, "I never joined for the guns and the shooting. I'm an office rat. I wish you'd stop with the smoking, Monica, it's really annoying. That is tobacco, right? You're not - at the Academy! - no. Nah. Anyway, wouldn't be happy if I had to kill someone, shoot someone dead."

But her dead always visit in the night, pale faces telling her what they've been doing "since last we met", fighting each other for space by her bedside. Telling her (okay, yes Mama, I promise) to stop smoking.

And when (onwards in time, now) she has killed people, sick and twisted men who came at her with knives and guns, they come too, they sit by her bedside and complain about how she made them dead, and they say, they'll wait for her.

iv a hole

She found him in his garden. Digging a hole - digging digging digging. And she, always with the cigarettes, always, she fumbles, nearly drops the lighter. She's wearing the suit she wore at the memorial service. (she left Luke a small branch from a Judas Tree, the leaves newly sprung)

"Barbara said you were here."

He keeps digging. She inhales, once, twice. Barbara hates her, her smoking, her clothes, the Judas Tree branch, the fact that Monica has seen Luke, walking around their house, a shadow.

The fact that she never knew John until Luke their son was dead.

"She doesn't hate you," says John then, "but she wants to move on, and you're still here."

"I should remember to close my mouth sometimes," she says, sharply, angry at herself for once.

"No. No." He keeps digging.

"...You need a place to stay?"

He stops with the digging. Starts to say something. stops. again. And then, finally:

"Sometimes, you know, I just can't move, I have no strength, I can't even talk. It's too heavy, breathing is too hard."

She nods - there are, after all, no words. They stay like that, for some time.

v a hole in the box they carry

Dana fusses with her child's - William's - blanket, wraps him up, unwraps him.

"I had a dream." she stops, but her hands keep fiddling. There's a corner that she folds and folds again, again.

William has pudgy arms and the tiniest fingers and. she saw him being born.

"I dreamed about a white tree," says Dana, and her hands leave the blanket, she cradles her son's head, a blessing.

Monica puts her hand in her mouth and bites down hard, hard. The blood tastes thick, and it trickles slowly down her arm.

She saw this child into the world.

vi pours sugar in the road

Her lungs burn, burn, and she is back at Quantico, Marshall on her tail, and if he catches her she's dead, dead, only then it was still an empty gun and that night (though it was forbidden - forbidden), she would be pinned beneath him, her body on fire, but not her lungs.

The man behind her now is John and he's not as fast but she's not trying to outrun him (never again) but this time, if she stops, she will die.

As she runs she reloads her gun and she thinks, if they could only find a place soon, to take a stand. And she thinks that she doesn't want to die like this.

John's breathing is so loud - or if it's her own - maybe they only have one breath between them now.

And there's a fork in the road up ahead, and she thinks this may be their chance. But a shape in the corner of her left eye, and all her brothers and sisters are running alongside her, alongside John, and all their faces -

vii pours dimes in diamond jim

Her doorbell rings, once, and she doesn't need the peephole, because it's him. A plastic bag in his hand - that's all he has. She looks inside it and it's two guns a dollar bill his wedding picture baby shoes and a piggy bank.

"I'll drive over, in the morning, get you some clothes," she says, and he doesn't hear, can't hear. He brushes his teeth with her toothbrush and she cries, later, in the bathroom.

They play poker to pass this night and all the other endless, sleepless, nights. The winner puts the money in the piggy bank. One night it overflows.

"It's the college fund," says John, "we're sending Piggy to Yale" and she wants to meet him as he must have been before Luke. But, no, the child sometimes leave the shadows and stands over his father, reading his cards.

viii two months to fill him in a hole

She coughs, her lungs not keeping up, the race is over, she smoked too much, there is no air. She missteps, nearly falls. Nearly. John, behind her, yelling something that she cannot hear, it's past time, it's been too long.

And yet, she doesn't stop. She runs on, her lungs exploading, her body on fire, she runs. Outruns them all.

Stands by the grave of a child (again)

Shoots a man (again)

Picks a branch from the Judas Tree (again)

Still ahead, one step, two step. Still, she runs. Two steps, still.


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