Our garden grows ripe and strong, even if the soil is bare,
around the head of Mrs. Long, that Daddy had left lying there.
It’s hard thinking of a person as an “it”. I don’t think we do it until they’re in pieces. If it’s her whole body, we say it’s Mrs. Long, even if she’s dead. Somehow, we have more respect for a person when they’re whole, even when they’re no longer breathing. When it’s just her head, we say “it’s” there sticking half out of the ground, shriveled – it was always kind of shriveled – and pale. But it’s not Mrs. Long anymore – that’s what Avery says.
Daddy killed her, you see. He killed Mrs. Long, because, he said, he got tired of her asking about the rent. We moved into the house just a year and a half ago. Since then, rent has been the least of our concerns. We need to eat, and that takes work. Daddy isn’t a good man. My brother says he’s not a man, at all, but of course he only says “yes, sir” when Daddy tells him something. It’s like that for a long time, and you really mean the yes at first, because one day you’re eating Gerber from a jar, you’re fishing with your Dad at the lake, you’re being swung around by your arms, pushed on the swing, tucked in at night, and then you lie there, after years, and you think it’s not how it’s supposed to be – and the good things can’t make up for it.
I think Avery is already thinking like that, that Daddy isn’t good, but I think I was there first. We can’t whisper at night. Daddy has always been strict. We can’t whisper over our chores, and we can’t whisper at the dinner table. You play with your older brother, when he lets you, or when he wants to try out a new game, but you don’t really know the deep place in him the way it lies down in your own stomach – you don’t know that about your brother, when he’s all balled up inside like Avery, like anyone probably would be, because life at home is something you can’t even tell yourself about, let alone anyone else.
I know I don’t know the world. Like they say, I’m just a kid. Daddy says that all the time. He says I’m too young to know what I feel, to know what I’m talking about, to know how things work. But I think a lot when I’m supposed to be asleep. I do know that somehow other families pay the rent. I know, from when we used to go to school that other kids have moms, and they have Dads with regular jobs, like welders or engineers, and I know they don’t have Mrs. Long in their gardens. You can’t have a world full of Mrs. Longs lying around fertilizing potatoes, because then there’d be nobody left at all. Maybe in graveyards – maybe that’s what graveyards are – people fertilizing the world for the rest of us – making sure there’s enough to eat – and maybe my family, we’re like a graveyard too. I always think we don’t say much of anything that Mrs. Long isn’t saying, even if she can’t say anything at all.
Daddy says we’re leaving in a few weeks. We’ll go find a place that’s friendlier. I never noticed anyone being unfriendly, but Daddy says they all are. He says that about every place, though, so where are we going to go? At night I lie there, and I think maybe Daddy will put me in the ground, or he will Avery. I hope it’s me, if that’s how it goes, because I don’t think I can live without Avery – I don’t think I can live, just me and Daddy on our own, even if Avery and I aren’t best friends. Who has a friend when you live in a graveyard?
I had this idea that I would dig a hole in the garden and hide down in it. I’d cover myself with dirt, but Daddy’s smart. Whenever we played hide and go seek, he always found me. He always looked at me for a minute before he started to count, like he was telling from the way I stood there where I would run and hide. I could hide from Avery, but not Daddy. And if he found me, then I might have to lie next to Mrs. Long, and I’d become an “it” too, just like her. I think I don’t want to be an “it” just yet. I haven’t done anything much, haven’t seen anything, haven’t tried anything. They’re right, Daddy’s right, I don’t know the world.
If I could do anything I want, I think I’d work in a carnival. We had one once, like there is now, in town, and Daddy took us, but we didn’t get to ride the rides. Daddy got mad at the ticket man, and he got mad at the man running the shooting game, and he got mad at the hot dog man too. Daddy says carnivals are a way of stealing money from parents because they love their kids. But I don’t think Daddy had enough money for them to steal. It wasn’t his fault. He hasn’t been able to work in a long time, at least not more than washing dishes at the diner along the highway, but he says one day we won’t have to work the way other people do – we’ll grow our own food, like we do now, and we’ll take care of our own place, and we won’t depend on anyone for anything. Daddy says we have to learn to be independent.
I learned about independence too. It means you don’t say yes when someone comes to take your land or live in your house. And I guess Daddy thinks he has a right, when Mrs. Long threatened to evict us, to be independent. I got a book about the War of Independence from the library, just the one time I got to go, and it’s so late now that we probably owe more than the rent on it, and Daddy never took me back to return it. He said the librarian lady was looking at us funny. Daddy doesn’t like it if you look at him funny, even Avery and me. That’s why he slaps Avery sometimes, because he says he’s looking at him funny. I think Avery just looks like that, but he tries not to cry, and most of the time he doesn’t, and Daddy pats him on the back and says that’s right, that’s being a man.
I wish I was a man already, because then I could get my own place, and I could grow my own food, but sometimes I think I would eat at a diner too. Not the one where Daddy works. Another diner, one that I picked, in a different town, with a carnival and a library, and a school, because I Iiked school. I learned a lot when I was there. And now it seems like all I’m learning is planting potatoes, and I don’t get to learn why the world is the way it is, like why we call a person an “it” when they’re in pieces but not when they’re whole.
I made a plan, though, and I think it’s a pretty good plan. I think I might go through with it. I’m going to tell Avery about it when Daddy goes to work washing dishes. We can talk then, and Daddy can’t say anything about it, because he’s not around. He knows, though, sometimes, if we whisper, even when he’s not there. He just looks at us and he knows, and he says we’re hatching a scheme, and then he makes us work extra and sometimes we don’t get supper that night. I think that’s another reason Avery and I hardly ever talk. It’s like Avery’s made of glass, and Daddy just see’s right through into his brain, and knows what he’s thinking. It’s just like you can see a little bit, if you look really close, into Mrs. Long’s brain. But I don’t like to do that. I think it’s mostly not there anymore. The bugs ate it.
I’m going to tell him, though, because I need his help. I think what we have to do is we have to dig out Mrs. Long and take her to the carnival. They have all sorts of things there, and one of them is an exhibition of human heads. I was looking at it, the one time we went, and I didn’t get to go in, but it sounded really good. You have to pay for a ticket to get inside, but I think maybe if we bring them a head, if we bring them Mrs. Long, they might let us stay on, and tomorrow’s the last day of the carnival. I found a flyer out by the mailbox when Daddy sent me to get the mail, and I didn’t bring it in with the mail. I dropped it and it blew away. Sometimes the wind just takes away your secrets, and you’re glad because, if you don’t have secrets, then you can’t hide from the bigger secrets. I don’t know, I’m just a kid, and I don’t know the world. I’m just me, just like Avery is just Avery, and Mrs. Long is Mrs. Long even if she’s an “it”.
So, Daddy has to work tomorrow. He’s putting his money together so we can get out of Dodge, though they don’t call it Dodge here. Someplace is called Dodge, someplace else, and maybe that’s the place we ought to go, because Daddy is always wanting to get away from it. If we go to Dodge, with the carnival, we can think about what to do next. And anyway, Mrs. Long was a nice lady, at least that I saw – she asked for the rent, but she only smiled at Avery and me when she came around, and I think I want to to see she gets to go too. Dodge and a carnival is a better place than lying there with the potatoes.
I hope Avery will go with me. I don’t know what to say to the carnival people. Here’s Mrs. Long. Can we go with you to Dodge? Avery can talk better than me, when he wants to. He doesn’t have to talk to me, if he doesn’t want, but he can talk to the carnival people for us – talk for us both. He knows more of the world. He always says so. Avery will know what to do. And anyway, he’s still in one piece. He just lies there in the garden, but he’s not an “it” because he still has both his arms and legs. Avery is still Avery. And so I’ll talk to him, and then we’ll go.