A CHILDHOOD IN FIVE ACTS by Suzanne Craig-Whytock

Out back behind the house, there was a rusty old oil drum that Da used late at night for burning stuff. Once Sammy and I found what looked like some kind of animal bones in it, but we didn’t dare ask about the kitten that Sammy had found the week before. This is how I grew up.

I couldn’t help Sammy, I couldn’t save him because he would always cry, even when I whispered, “Don’t cry, don’t.” He couldn’t stop his eyes from leaking like a broken tap, that’s what Da would call him, “Ya fucking little broken tap,” and Sammy would squeeze his eyes together tight, but the more Da yelled at him, the more he cried, and there was nothing I could do about what happened next. This is how I grew up. 

I never talked at school, and my clothes and fingernails were dirty. Ms. Carmody would ask, “What’s wrong, Delilah?” but I couldn’t answer because deep inside I liked her, and I couldn’t stand to see her eyes change when she looked at me, like I was a little broken tap too. This is how I grew up.

Once, I got caught in a tree, and Da looked out the back window and saw me hanging there, choking. He ran out and saved me, and then he took off his belt and hit me with the folded leather over and over and over again, yelling, “Stupid bitch, you coulda died,” until I wished I had. But I didn’t cry, I wasn’t like Sammy. This is how I grew up.

Da was Hephaestus, forging us and pounding our wings until we couldn’t fly and we couldn’t remember ever having feathers. Sammy evaporated in the quench, but I got folded into myself and hammered flat over and over and over again until I was hard as Damascus and double-edged and no longer myself. This is how I grew up.

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