Fiction: “A Stranger Never Comes to Town” by Jessica Alexander

My first brother was a cockatoo on the shoulder of a much older woman, who called herself Madame La Cava, spoke bad French, and feigned clairvoyance.

I said, “Know how to hurt what you love?”

He held her hoop earring in his beak.

She said, “Vous voulez me devorer avec baisers, mon canard.

I said, “Become incomprehensible.”

My brother ruffled his wings, made several leaps, dug talons into the clairvoyant’s shoulder. This surprised her.

“You are upsetting him!” she said. “Please, leave.”

 

Because his dad taught biology, Sloan used the word teratoid. And because Cindy’s dad was a fascist, she said, “Kill it.”

The little ones were jigging sticks, without lines, over the dry stream, or sitting cross-legged in the tall grass, making dandelion necklaces.

I rolled the word teratoid in my mouth. Then saw my second brother, downstream from the others, in my mother’s slip. Cindy pulled a rock from her pocket, and aimed at his head. He dropped like a sack with the wind socked out.

 

My third brother was a rock wren, perched in a tree. Cindy and Sloan shot him with pellet guns until he dropped into an old sheet. They thumped him on the sidewalk until the sheets turned burgundy, and a mother at the top of the ravine said, “Dinner’s ready,” and everyone ran home but my brother and me. His crumpled wings thrashed in the bloody sheets, and then he flew into a tree.

I said, “I’m alone now. Please, come down,” which had the hollow sound of something becoming nothing.

 

Because my fourth brother was a bullfrog, my mother kept losing him.

My dad said, “Squirrels keep track of three hundred nuts.”

She turned pillows over, said, “No.”

He said, “She can’t keep track of one.”

“No, they cannot,” she said. “If I had three hundred sons, I’d always find—” She turned a pillow over and screamed.

 

“Maybe it’s better this way.” She stirred her coffee. She dropped her eyes to the centipede at the center of the table. “They will not wet beds, get drafted, or have premarital sex.”

I told her it was not better. It was decidedly much worse. My friends walk with rocks in their pockets. They pelt wings off rock wrens, legs off bullfrogs, skip thumping torsos across ponds. They collect centipedes in glass jars, and when the jars are full, they seal the lids and drop them off the overpass.

“Well,” she said, “they aren’t really your friends then, are they?”

 

Because my fifth brother was a tortoise, with his head and legs inside the shell, I went, “Knock, knock.”

He never said, “Who’s there?”

“Oregon.”

Didn’t care.

“Oregonna get it, if you don’t come out.”

My father looked over his paper at me and frowned. “You’d better go play with other kids,” he said. “Before you get strange.”

 

My sixth brother’s heart was muddy. I put my head to his chest, and heard suck, pump, whish, suck, pump, whish.

 

The little ones became big ones, only meaner. My seventh brother was their revered though absent leader. Rumors abounded. He was in hiding and unrecognizable. He was everywhere. Cindy and Sloan leaned against the hood of a Corolla with cinder blocks where wheels once were. They smoked, argued, gnawed each other’s necks raw. Cindy hurled a tire iron. Sloan caught it at the gut, compressed and uncoiled like a spring up the steps. Cindy’s high heels went clack, clack, clack, then stopped. A water balloon burst. A rock clipped Sloan’s temple. Sneakers slapped the concrete, but the perpetrator was unseen.

“Teratoid!” Cindy screamed, hoop earrings swinging.

My brothers became expletives and superstitions.

 

I walked into a deli in Queens and ordered a spicy Italian. Who should serve me but my eighth brother? He stood behind the register, chest hair crowning an undershirt.

“Who you calling spicy?” he winked. He came out from behind the register. I left the bells ringing on the door he kicked back open. “Know what your problem is?” He leaned into the street, shouted after me, “Your praxis and your pathos is disjointed.”

 

I went home quick. Stood in the kitchen, with my fists clenched. I said, “Mom, Dad, this will not do.” But the kitchen was empty and I knew they were somewhere thinking, in the scheme of things, what is one more accident?

 

 

***

Jessica Alexander teaches and studies at the University of Utah. Her fiction has appeared in Denver Quarterly, Fence, DIAGRAM, and PANK, among other places. She is currently a fiction editor for Quarterly West.

Image: All-free-download.com

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