Becca Borawski Jenkins
bones of babies
For a week when I was nine, I charted the trees in our backyard. Not flat and plain, not as if they were on a map. I filled my pockets with masking tape and bits of paper. I clambered up the rough trunks. I stepped and reached in every dimension. Each time I identified a hold, I pulled out my marker. "Left foot here," I wrote, "Right hand here," and taped my notes to the branches. Over the course of seven afternoons, I mapped a path to the stars.
In the house, the children forget to remove their muddy boots. They burst through the door and pass their mama before a word can be uttered. From room to room to room, shouts and screams and laughter. And mud—so much mud the mama will never be able to clean. She tries to shoo them out the door, but they never stop coming back in. Their giggles like rivulets, their limbs like salmon leaping upstream. Someday she will be glad when she's on her knees and still finding pebbles.
In the desert, we climb the rocks in search of the Anasazi. I am determined to see the petroglyphs, though they must be much farther than was described. The words of others are never what they seem. My shoulders have turned to ripe strawberries. My husband says we are fools for not packing more water. I say we are fools for not packing any at all. A giant lizard smiles at me and waits for my steps to slow.
At night in my nine-year-old bedroom, their wings pass overhead. The rest of them, too, but I am only present to the whoosh, to the thunder, to the seismic wake their feathered oars leave behind. The giant raptors dodge the stars, they spin on the inner lane of asteroids, they bite the legs off satellites. I cannot hear all the details no matter how hard I press my ear to the cold, wet glass of my window. I tuck my blankets around me and spin the dials on the belly of my Radio Shack Benji, my plush canine radio, my link to the galaxy. I have never been more sad than when my batteries fade.
In the winter, we put on our boots, and our gloves, and our scarves, and our goggles to protect our eyes. We fill our backpacks with snares and imagine our bellies full of food. I dream my synthetic gloves are lined with the love of rabbits. The world is white in every direction—frozen water, frozen time. I cannot tell where the sky slides into the surface of the Earth. It is harder to raise my foot than it was an hour ago. It takes me longer still to set it back down. The pheasants flee as if unaffected. The coyotes watch us with a patience I do not possess.
In the summer, we stand on the edge of the precipice ringed by orange mountains striped with blue, jagged with gray, flecked with silver, and ocher, and white. A child crawls to the edge and peers over. We swear under our breath at his parents, afraid to express our fears out loud lest it knock the child over and send him to his death. Every year, we are told, children fall to their death. Somewhere at the bottom of the Grand Canyon are the bones of babies.
Becca Borawski Jenkins holds an MFA in Cinema-Television Production from USC and has short stories appearing or forthcoming in Menacing Hedge, concis, The Forge, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Syntax & Salt, and Corium. She is also an Associate Flash Fiction Editor at jmww. She and her husband spent the last year living off grid in a remote part of North Idaho, and now roam North America in their RV.