opal one—insect smallness, brown-gray girl, who scurries on spindly legs. so busy crossing empty spaces, sometimes she doesn’t breathe. thus the miniature hiccups. staccato sounds that lurch from her throat. pinprick hiccups. and pit-pit patters, raindrop feet pocking patterns on the floor. little daughter. watch her flutter. little daughter. watch her twirl. she darts. she spins in circles. so pretty when she’s flitting. a blur of brown-gray limbs that look like wings. but when she sleeps, her features crumple. eyes and nose so close together. forehead furrowed. wrinkled chin. scrunched little face like a moth. edda thinks opal is more ruby’s daughter than hers. edda—sews seams with the sight of her fingers. sews robes for all the priests. for prayer. for choir. for blessing water in baths of birds. edda with thread spinning under her fingers. toes tapping the pedal that powers the lever, that moves thread through the needle. the needle sharp. the needle thin. all that sewing, and opal always whisking away. past the edges of edda’s glasses. to the peripheral fog of muddy eyes. such frenzy. like edda’s sister ruby. whose voice was always zip-zip zipping. throat erupting with words. a pulse that buzzed in edda’s ears. and only ceased when ruby took glass on her tongue. melting it with her breath. the vaulted roof of her mouth bending it round. unlatch the lips. to release the rose-colored lens. that mends the muddy eyes. that colors the world. until the glass outlives its time. and the eyes get muddier still.
father babcock—singing his way through all the hymnals. kneeling in pew number eight. the singing such work he’s split a seam in his robe. the flesh of his elbow pokes through. he sings to sister maurice who rubs oil into the altar. he sings to crucified jesus. and onedimensional mary, piecemeal, soldered with lead, spider-line crack splitting her face in two. three sheep on a hill behind her. the sun intersects the hill, shines green on the bald of his head. a cap like peter pan. all he needs is a feather. bathed in the green of the window. singing a string of hallelujahs. a moth cries for help in the rafters. he looks but can’t find it in all the wood. opal one—fond of the big machine’s rumble. purring needle. warm light from its tiny sun. when she comes close to her mother’s fingers, edda blows at her shadow and opal is swept away, suspended on breath from her lungs. whisked to the window. where two little girls excavate worms from the dirt. opal might like to uncork a worm from the ground herself. but she is not a sister. so she stays inside and goads the needle. with her nine-hundred thread-count flesh. today too close. the tip of the needle catches her skirt. leg stitched into the seam, sewn into the robe. dark in the crease of the hem. ecclesiastical velvet, a mask that muffles her tongue. saliva leaks into velvet. cloth transposes to moss under her head. edda—furious whir of the needle. manic winging of opal’s legs. the buzzing resurrects ruby. ruby five years dead. poor ruby. glass in her lungs, shards splintering into her blood. remember ruby clenching her fists. remember ruby pursing her chin. everything tight because everything hurt. because glass was etching her insides, burrowing into her organs. little razors under her skin. but edda didn’t believe her, told her to stop her clenching or she’d grind her teeth to nubs. she was always shushing her sister. saying still those pulsing lips. now no sister to shush. only snot erupting from nostrils. spittle caught on her tongue. sogginess steams her lenses. and she doesn’t see opal under her fingers. hears the thread knot. hears the cloth catch. then in the silence. the wind through the window. a bird in the mulberry tree. antoinette—mud. mud. mud. squishy squish in the hands. scrippity scrape on the legs. sands the bump of the elbow. rubs fur from little girl arms. softens the skin. eases the itch. covers sister’s rosy smell. rosy sister squeals, keep the dirt to yourself. so dirty sister does. mud on the worms instead. worms weave through the tines of her fingers. stretch over her palms like cello strands. their bellies smooth on her cheek. the pentamerous beating of hearts seeps into her skin, does jigs on her tongue. where’s opal? dirty sister needs a partner to dance to the rat-tat-tat of the worms. gone from the window. nobody’s sister. drop a worm in the jar for opal. opal dances alone. edda—tangles and knots under her fingers. the pit-pit patter gone. floor space quiet. except the breath of the dust. everything still like rubble. except the bird perched in the mulberry tree. spreading her wings. puffing the fringe of her throat. hysterical chirping. manic scissoring beak. tizzied creature. like opal. dear god. where’s opal? has opal turned into this bird? oh ruby. sad suffering sister. edda’s comeuppance earned. come back, edda calls to opal. the tree shifts its branches. the bird startles, leaps out of the tangle. the sky swallows her up. edda lurches. thinks exit. but her leg is snagged in velvet, velvet caught under the chair. cheek slams to the floor. rose-colored lenses splinter. eyes begotten by ruby. bowed by the might of her tongue. a shower of rose-colored seeds disperses. color leaks from the world. and edda escapes the house.
opal one—mother crashing down. mother gone the house. opal all alone. hung from the weave of scalloped threads. stitches pierce the toes, and cuff the bone to the cloth. lick the dark cocoon. lap the velvet smooth. fed on the juice of the tongue, velvet blooms into a coppice of moss. mossy meadows creep. over brown-gray skin. weasel under the arms. wrap wreaths around the womb. hold the daughter tight. rock the daughter still. cup mossy hands to her eyes, but leave the ears unblocked. let her listen to the rattle of rose-colored seeds. shells split open. seeds let loose a chorus of tiny screams. helen—shaking a jar of worms. the glass blurs pink with skin. antoinette holds the spoon that does the digging. antoinette with dirt on her tongue. dirty sister. wash her down with the hose. then tack her to the clothesline. hung by her dirty hair. dirty sister points to edda. edda rushing down the road. to see the jar of worms. is that opal? she asks the children. antoinette shakes her head no. edda looks at the sisters. exactly the same. except one holds a jar of skin to her chest and the other holds fistfuls of dirt to hers. helen leads, and an- toinette follows. they walk and edda goes too. quick little heel-to-toe steps. a parade marching. cobbled road to cobbled church. father babcock—such a day. a moth lost in the rafters. edda’s opal lost in the clouds. terrible trouble. what to be done. first, the abducted girl. ripped through a tear in the sky. send sister maurice to staple it shut. then rip a hymn from the hymnal. the one illogically transposed. too many sharps to be sung. scribble message to minor angel. send second daughter. send soon. fold into a bird. set out on the wind. such work, clerical robe splits up the back. never mind. the sewing’s halted. light a candle instead. now bless the fretful mother. bless the jar of worms. and also this: the dirt on dirty sister’s tongue. edda—home again, but no opal. rose-colored seeds sprout rosecolored fruit on the floor. velvet rots to moss on the table. moss spills from metal mouth of broken machine. moss covered needle. moss covered thread. everything tangled. gather it up in a bundle. stow it away in the cedar chest at the foot of ruby’s old bed. chest filled with lace. dowry for damaged daughters. one with muddy eyes. the other with glass in her lungs. lace knit with delicate fingers. fanatical mother. who knit with the bones of birds. her thread the silk of spiders. so many harvested webs. opal one—dark in the thick of the moss. cedar smell feeds belly noises. hushes hiccups. cedar seeps into her tongue. ruby’s room with ruby’s ghost. mother’s voice through the wall. singing the hymn sent away with the bird. opal wriggles around in the moss. moss holds tight to her leg. flexes her toes. reaches her hands through the lichen. gathers fistfuls of lace buried below. pattern of knots in her fingers.
grandmother’s worries like braille on her skin. worried the birds will forget the maps inked on their cerebellums. the clouds slip from their perches. moths knock their spines apart butting against the moon. so many worries wear opal out. smell of cedar swaddles. dear opal. sleep long, sleep well. helen—stars recite insomniac sermons. treetops moan from holding so many leaves. owls cooing to ivy. ivy tapping morse code messages into the brick. helen tiptoes through yards, avoiding pockets of space where language passes through darkness. looking for opals. white rocks with rainbows glittering under their skin. granite pebbles sprinkled in gardens. almost opal. the best she can get. pick prettiest pebbles. put in pockets. bring to edda’s stoop. leave them with other gifts: mulberry pie. basket of fruit. gold leaf bible. and something left by dirty sister. her arm unstitched, fist full of dirt. edda—wakes with ache in her organs. crawls out of bed. feeds ache with rose-colored fruit from the floor. thinks of ruby. glass lungs and glass intestines. vessels of blood a lattice of crystal, brittle between her bones. icicle hair breaking off behind her. feet crumbling on cobbles. glass teeth raining out of her mouth. coffin a pile of shimmering shards. for days, edda watched over the corpse. stroking the shards of shiny sister. finger pricked, sliver of sister entered her blood. grew into a daughter. now the daughter lost. edda goes to the door. but no opal. just offerings. who else but the clouds? hurl pie and fruit and bible back. the sky gives guilty gifts. gather the pebbles. gather the arm with a fistful of dirt. good gifts, come inside and sit on opal’s bed. father babcock—heavy bellied clouds graze shadowed steeple. stones in churchyard shiver. buried bodies call father babcock out. buried bodies wearing church clothes. can’t get church clothes wet. father babcock with wheelbarrow full of umbrellas. pinwheel colors. sister maurice helps wedge them into the ground. look, the graves wear little fedoras. little yarmulke caps. watch out, sister maurice. that cloud’s dripping soupspoons. a fork hits father babcock’s head. it’s edda on the steeple. fist full of kitchen utensils. hurling cutlery at the clouds. a war on the thief that stole her daughter. a daughter made from velvet and glass and guilt. sister maurice, huddle under the yellow umbrella. keep close. we’ll wait it out. a butter knife reels through the air, pierces the sky. gold leaf pages leak out of the clouds. catch one on your tongue. the gospel according to mark.
opal two—damaged girls, it’s time for tea. edda’s gone for honey.
opal two passes the cups. the girls sit in a circle, skirts whispering at
their knees. a one-legged girl pours tea into her hollow stub. the one
beside her (noseless) blows steam away from her cup. antoinette goes
tinkle tinkle. her spoons clink as she sips. earless sister scowls. swats
at dirty sister. topples rose-colored platter from opal’s hands. the cake
goes splat. the platter splinters. rose-colored seeds disperse, fall at
their feet, grow into fruit. earless sister hurls cake and fruit at opal.
the others follow and opal flees the room. pebbles knock in her belly.
seeds rattle in her chest. antoinette chases opal, juice dripping from
her lips. she rounds the corner. but opal’s gone. which door hides the
second sister? the right or the left?
edda—jar of honey in her hands. just in time for tea. but all the
little girls gone. except the one wearing spoons. rose-colored fruit
drips from the ceiling. pink frosting splatters the walls. teacups toppled.
earl grey rivers run around archipelagos of crumbs. where’s
opal? edda asks. opal one or opal two? either, edda says. antoinette
shrugs, and the spoons hit together like bells.
opal one—ruckus in the house. smashing plates. thumping feet.
the door of ruby’s room screeches and slams. now the rattle of mismatched
limbs. a sliver of light at the top of the chest. the lid bangs shut, and a girl falls through the moss. slips through pockets of lace
and ruby’s ghost and grandmother’s leftover thoughts. comes to
rest by brown-gray sister’s head. fingers touch her scrunched little
face. knees collide with spidery legs. opal two licks her sister’s skin.
belly hungry for flesh. just a little bite. from the gauze of browngray
Thank you for reading!
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