Roasting red peppers curled through the air as her caramel curls hung around her face. Her eyes were fixed on another small insect inching its way along in the wide world. But it wasn’t just any insect that attracted her, no, it was Pill bugs that fascinated her. She could spend hours tracking their long journeys on the grey cracked sidewalks around the house. They had the habit of grazing near the sun burned red mulch near the corroded wooden fence to the left of the house. She always attempted to count the hair thin legs that scurried their round black bodies around. They had seven arcs on their shell if you excluded their heads. Seven, the same number of colors in a rainbow. A colorless rainbow.
Then there were snails. She loved snails too. Her head would tilt slightly to the right as she watched their long necks bow when she plucked them off the sticky ground where they slithered. Once the kid next door, Carl, decided to torment her by throwing a handful of salt on a snail she had been tracking for 20 minutes. The snail’s body sizzled into a pile of bubbly foam. Carl thought he’d get a scream for his malevolent enjoyment, but only one tear glided down the edge of her left cheek. She covered the dead snail with some dirt she scooped from under the mulch and plucked a leaf from a weed that grew out of one of the cracks on the sidewalk. She would have put a flower, but there were no flowers around the house. Not even dandelions grew here. There was something about these creatures that intrigued her. Any bystander might say it’s just a kid thing, but to Sammy they were something more. Maybe it was their miniature size or the way they curled into a sphere. Maybe it was that uncanny feeling that crawled over the back of her neck when she gazed at one too closely.
The foot came out of nowhere and carelessly crunched the poor pill bug that longed to get to the other side. Where was it going? Sammy’s ears rang with anger and sorrow for the pill bug. She glared at the foot dressed in a black chipped heel with a gold plate that hugged the roof of the foot. The white crusted foot’s heel seeped out of the heel strap as it swayed and then tapped with another strike to the flattened bug underneath. What was it like to be a pill bug in the world Sammy wondered.A spec with no purpose but to solely cross sidewalks that led to sudden death by feet without souls. The shin on the foot leaned toward Sammy’s face and nudged her on the forehead. Sammy’s eyes peeled up just slightly enough to see that red liquid wave around in the glass held by the unsettled hand.
“I made food, if you’re hungry.”
Of course she was hungry. She ate a bowl of Sharkies Frosted O’s at seven in the morning with sour tasting milk that had been sitting in the lightless refrigerator for over 2 weeks now. It had made her stomach burn but no one was making breakfast. No one ever did. Unless Phil was staying over, but even Phil didn’t get breakfast. He just got bitter tasting coffee from the little pink liquor store on Sunny Drive and some butterless burnt toast every Sunday morning.
One of the pencil thin heels scrapped the cement as the foot shifted the weight of its body from one side to the other. Sammy looked down at the remains of her fingernails. She gritted her teeth and pressed her dry lips together.
“Sure,” she muttered and like an obedient dog she rose from her spot and followed her master with her pride and anger hanging between her shuffling feet.
Inside, the smells from the old metal pots hugged the air with a taint of clorox and cheap perfume seeping its fingers through the embrace of sweet and spicy cooking smells. Someone was definitely coming over. Someone new. Phil was old.
Everything inside the house was layered with months of neglect. It was impossible to breath without inhaling the remains of that night. A mixture of nibbled nails and lost hair clung to the bottom of her shoes as she dragged herself through the stained carpet. Ma vacuumed and swept the floors every day, but this wasn’t Ma. This figure was gray toned. This face had two blind brown eyes that glazed over everything. It had flaked dehydrated lips with slabs of expired red lipstick on them. Her stringy hair hung behind her ears just below her frail jaw line. Her body had grown layers. 7 layers. Layers of long nights, layers of liquid, layers of smoke, layers of pills, layers of hate, layers of guilt, layers of them.
Sammy sat down on the once white chair with a paint chip on the right side. The white color was covered in months of hamburger grease, spaghettio’s and unshowered fingerprints. It still wobbled like it did 2 years ago when it was first set up and left without a screw in the 4th hole at the bottom. Daddy hated these chairs, but Ma loved them and so he loved them too. Or at least until that day. Sammy, blinked hard in effort to crush the memory out of her head. She looked at the living room covered in remnants of dozens of nails and screws and that hole.
Why wasn’t it covered? Sammy spotted bugs crawling from it all the time. Not pill bugs or snails though. It was black spiders and giant roaches that creeped along the edges of the hole. The roaches darted for the kitchen. The kitchen was the worst. 2 years ago it was cleaned 3 times a day. Dishes clattered the sink and the stove was always baking chocolate chip cookies or apple pies. The stove was degreased from steak dinners at least 3 times a week. The pantry had treats Ma and Daddy would stash away for Sammy and Sophie. Oh Sophie. Poor Sophie and her toothless smile. Sammy gulped the pain down to the pit of her empty stomach.
Sammy missed Daddy and Sophie. She missed Ma too. Sammy knew things would get better, but the concrete cracks were too wide and she kept slipping into thoughts that made her remember and cry like she did that night.
The plate slid in front of her. Steak. The heat rose from it and hugged her. A rainbow outlined the steak. Sammy, eyes glued to to the steak, frowned. She felt sick. The steak, sizzling in all its perfection made her nauseous.
“It’s ok Sammy Lou, eat it”
Sammy Lou? Now she was really sick. She hadn’t been called that in over a year. Something was off. She looked desperately around for a clue, but nothing was there. So she picked up the fork and stabbed the little square of the moist steak and stuffed it into her mouth. She chewed slowly to savor it and slowly she felt better.
She heard the heels clatter towards the shelf near the window. The shuffling movement lasted a few seconds, then music broke the silence. Mellow and soothing tunes buzzed around her and the act was uncovered. She swallowed her meat anyway and moved through the plate in a few minutes. She felt a hand on her head and felt it curl its fingers around her waves before walking away. She wanted to go after her, but her feet rooted to the floor and she sat there lifeless. Her mind traveled through the short years in a heartbeat and she could see them as it was just before that night. Life was good then, they just didn’t know it until one went looking for something they shouldn’t have. There was Daddy with his arms wrapped around Ma’s waist resting his chin on her shoulder. They were calm but they both felt the storm coming, they just didn’t know it would shatter their home into pieces.
Sammy flinched then looked down at her plate. There was one small square of steak sitting there, looking at her. She looked up and turned toward the hole. Daddy’s fist had been colored in red, Ma sobbed in the corner, and Sammy had held Sophie who had fallen asleep through it all. Sammy wished she had fallen asleep too. Maybe Daddy would have taken her too. Maybe she would have went flying too. Sammy picked herself up and dragged her legs to the room at the end of the hallway. She pushed the door open but didn’t walk in. She didn’t have to. The corpse wasn’t Ma, it was a pill bug. Its legs stiffened around its shell. Its layers flattened beneath the sole of the world. A blind insect simply trying to get to the other side until a fresh apple core blocks its path. The sweet juice drew its attention distracting it from the heavy traffic coming its way. Seconds of indulgence in the sweet things fallen from the old tree ended the poor pill bug’s travels. Sammy tilted her head to the side for a moment. She felt a layer form around her chest, then turned and walked away. She opened the front door and the world had become a blur, but she had to walk. She placed a foot onto the sidewalk, then the other. She looked down and shuddered. There was nothing left to do but scurry, and so she did along the old gray cracked path.