It's considered a good thing when families stick together.
But when they stick too close, sometimes they get stuck.
But when they stick too close, sometimes they get stuck.
Better Homes and Gardens by Matthew Lyons
Lem and Zaara move to East Chundleton because they hear it's nice and because no one there knows that they're brother and sister. They buy a house in the middle class part of town because nobody talks to their neighbors there. Their child is grotesque and malformed, an enormous broken-glass mouth ringed with eyes and hair and too many nostrils. Its bites cause infections and it's not long before it's banned from another three daycares. The sounds it makes are enough to give even the grownups nightmares.
They host dinner parties with their new co-workers and pretend they can't hear the thing, locked in its crib upstairs. Zaara pours wine nobody drinks, Lem tells jokes nobody laughs at. They try so hard to be normal. Later that night, after everyone's gone, they drug the child asleep and have angry, violent sex in the dirty kitchen. When they're done, all the plates and glasses are broken, and they're both covered in tiny shallow cuts that won't stop bleeding. He tells her he'll buy them new ones soon.
In the dark, under the covers, Zaara tells him she's afraid that it's always going to be like this. She starts to cry, and the noise of it is enough to wake the child up. Lem gets out of bed and goes to the shower and punches the tile walls until his knuckles split and break all over the eggshell white. Thin red swirls around the drain and he doesn't come back for the rest of the night.
The next morning, the child is gone, the lock chewed clean off its pen. Zaara gets the gun from the shoebox in the closet and stays home from work, looking at old pictures of their parents in the 70's. They looked so happy back then. So in love. She wonders how long it's been since Lem loved her that way and when he doesn't come home after work she realizes it's been a long, long time. She drinks herself into a desperate oblivion on cooking sherry and leftover wine and does really unsafe things with the loaded gun. Yells at the bare walls, all the awful things she's always been afraid to say. She's vicious, she's on fire. She gets herself off thinking of somebody who's not Lem and she doesn't even feel bad about it this time. She gets her last pack of smokes out from behind the TV and inhales them all, filling their nice midrange suburban home with cancer stink, and when she stubs the butts out on the Formica in the kitchen, the countertops bubble and blacken.
When Lem finally comes home, he's mottled with sweat and black soil, holding a bloody, squirming plastic grocery bag in one hand and a box of new dinnerware in the other.
Bite marks all up and down both his arms, frothy with pus. Blood creeking down his forehead from behind his receding hairline.
Tears in his eyes.
He shakes the bag at her, says something like got the little fucker then barfs pink potato salad all over the floor. Falls to the floor weeping I'm sorrys, clutching his wounds.
Zaara locks the child away and cleans up the mess and takes the whole weekend to nurse her broken love back to health. He tells her that the thing killed two of the neighbors' dogs and that he had to hit it with a brick a couple of times to get it to hold still long enough to bag up. She rinses him off and bandages him tight and runs her fingers through his hair, over the slices in his scalp, tells him he did good and kisses his temples and eyelids until he falls asleep. She does her best to forget all the things she said when she thought he wasn't coming back, but they're burned into her now.
She falls asleep to the sound of the creature beating its little fists against the bars, savage and abominable. When it screams, it screams in their father's voice, a booming basso profundo that shakes the walls and stirs their intestines, announcing all their hateful secrets to the world, all the things they never told each other.
The calls start coming the next day. Maybe someone at one of their offices figured out how to search for names on the internet, maybe someone from one of their old towns finally found them. They've done it before.
It doesn't matter, really. Result's the same.
They're found out. So they have to go.
They sell the house at cost, pack everything up, they don't even have to talk while they're doing it—by now they're basically pros at this. They know what needs doing. They tick off little mental checkboxes as they go. The whole thing takes less than a week.
Then, at the last second, Zaara hesitates.
Standing there beside the packed-up car, watching the clouds gather over the road out of their new old neighborhood, she realizes she doesn't want to go with them. She wants to stay and fix it and live this version of her life, the one where she can just be her, without Lem or their animal. She thinks about her life without all that baggage. She can't have that here exactly, but maybe somewhere, soon. All she has to do is disappear, and she's good at that. She thinks that maybe she's been disappearing for her whole life.
Lem lays on the car horn, startling her out of her daydream. She nods to herself and gets in the car and pulls the road map out of the glove compartment, scanning for places that are far enough away. Behind her seat, in the plastic pet carrier, the child screams that she's a traitorous cunt and she pretends like she can't hear. Sings a funny song in her head, hums along as loud as she can. Lines on the map. Pay attention to the lines on the map. She drops a fingertip at random on top of a knotted clutter most of the way across the state.
Rungerville. Rungerville works. Rungerville's probably great.
Lem and Zaara move to Rungerville because they hear it's nice and because no one there knows that they're brother and sister.