by Samantha Henderson
Dad came home late, and slow pale beneath the soot of downtown sodium and wiped his forehead, and leaned on the back of the chair that's had two, three, new-turned back legs in its forty-year life, and he told us. "The lights. They're cutting half the lights, to save the money and the means. One week before this sector goes dark." Mom's stare burned through him. Her cheekbones carved like weapons, beneath the thinning skin — and all she could say was: "They can't mean it." There's shelter in city center, clean pink brick, and ten square meters for each of us and the smell of the upstairs neighbor's pot roast. I don't need to be told — my grandfather built this house back when the country clamored for metal at any price, building itself, hand over hand. The rear shed first, to live in while they laid the foundation, witchlights embedded in the matrix to keep the fae from crawling beneath. They don't love us: why would they? We don't pretend they weren't here first. That we didn't drive them back, with fire and light to pull steel from the ground. Sometimes they spare a life, But always take their price. The Grovers' boy, four years old and yellow-haired With those gold-brown eyes that happen sometimes. The mother fevered, in bed, and he wandered into a seeming-gentle night. Three days gone, they thought him dead, like Maggie Hollister, and the man who repaired the five-point wires, and our wandering collie, who we found over a week, in pieces. But the boy came back, ungutted, a little hungry, even cheerful. His eyes — flat pale disks like silver coins in his face. Not his sight. He could see as well. Better. More than he ought. They only took the color. I caught Kimmie, sneaking in late, past the time the streetlights snooze, dimming so we can have our safe night. I found her bed empty, and crawled inside like when we were kids. Her sheets smelled like fabric softener, and the musk of old leaves. She came at last, with cold legs, and ash in her hair. I asked her why, how, why, how could you go outside outside the pale circles we forge in the night, as man sets fences against the forest, and steel against the sea's deep? (The fae spared little Jake Grover but his own kind would not. A month, or two, of asking what did you throw in the East River and what's the game you play with Mariah and that flat stare, like old-style nickels — they found him in a center-city dumpster) How long have you dared, how long Before they pull you apart, before they take away your reason, before you're stripped of every sense, before we find you on the border, drained-white and waxy pushed out from dark into light like a splinter from the flesh? She sighs, and gathers me spooning into her body, smelling sharp like wet grass, and tells me: "I do it for the love." Dawntime, I walk the crisp streets. These houses to be given over to the night, lawns razor-sharp as shirt collars, or overgrown with ribbons snakes and God-knows-what roaming in the tall grass. Porches hung with a neat-painted swing chair, or a dream catcher or a string of wishbones, dry and charmed against night's dominion. I walk to where the streetlights end, the houses end where chainlink marks the border, and the brambles begin thick with the berries Kimmie and I gathered once (and were soundly spanked for it), and the mazy elms, and the willows beside the distant river. I lean against the twisted wire, branding my forehead, Listening for the voices we heard, berry-picking. I know we'll lose Kimmie; I know I'll never smell bacon again in cold morning air.
Samantha Henderson's poetry has been published in Goblin Fruit, Stone Telling, Strange Horizons, Weird Tales, New Myths, and Mythic Delirium. Her poetry chapbook, The House of Forever, was published in 2012 by Raven Electrick Ink. She is the editor of the poetry 'zine inkscrawl.
When asked who would win in a poetry cage-match between Shakespeare and Sappho, Sam replied as follows: "Sappho had purportedly given birth and had to hold her own against brothers, with indicates she was kickass and gives her the advantage. But Shakespeare made up words like 'incarnadine,' which gives him power over reality. I imagine that it was pretty even until the third round, when Sappho got the drop on Will with a Petrarchan sonnet and had him in a headlock, that he started to recite hitherto unknown words for the shade of purple on the undersides of clouds that are about to erupt, and the feeling of salty sand drying one's skin after a dip in a rough sea, and the squeak of cheese curds, and the cage split open and they both ascended towards heaven, rotating gently around each other."
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