It is a hazy and humid morning here in Brooklyn. A squirrel just tiptoed down the fire escape, the same squirrel that last summer chewed a hole in the screen, entered our kitchen, uncorked a bottle of Beaujolais, drank half, and passed out under the sink. Following is story number nine. Thank you for reading.
The well was dry. Betsy stared down into it. Blackness, and a vague stink. Her sister, Theresa, had been lying to her. Their parents had not enlisted in the army to fight in Afghanistan. The email Theresa had left open on her phone on the kitchen table was written by a psychiatrist at the hospital where Theresa, it turned out, had committed their mother. “We are still sedating Donna every day lest she once again attempt…” was as far as Betsy had decided to read in that email. She was good at abruptly willing herself to not do things. Like a few years ago when she had been playing Bengal Tiger with her dad, trying to bite and scratch his throat, and each time she did he lifted her up to the ceiling and threw her on the bed. After the third time she didn’t want to play anymore, but he seemed to want to, so instead of saying she wanted to stop—which she wasn’t always good at—she leapt at him a fourth time, and when he threw her, she willed herself to land on the floor and broke her arm, “a hairline fracture of the ulna, and children’s bones heal quickly.” She also was good at retaining in her memory things doctors said about her or her parents or sister, and could call them to mind at will. “Somatic disorder!” she yelled down into the well, and pictured her mom lying in bed holding her stomach. “Impulse control behavioral problem!” she yelled, and thought of the red heart Theresa had etched in her own right thigh with a utility razor. “Cirrhosis of the liver!” “Who’s up there?” the voice at the bottom of the well said. Betsy did not reply. “Can you throw me down the rope?” She didn’t know of any rope, having discovered the well only two days ago in the middle of the thick gray-brown brambles in the empty lot beyond their back yard. Betsy heard footsteps coming through the tangle of barbed plants behind her. She turned around and saw Theresa. “Don’t let him up, he’s fine down there. Come on inside and have dinner.” Theresa walked back toward the house and Betsy followed. Her sister was supposed to be away at college this year but had stayed home, gotten a job at the mini-mart, and was taking care of Betsy. Theresa was wearing shorts. Betsy watched her strong legs with their thick, pale scars in the shape of hearts, peace signs, and letters of the alphabet that didn’t spell anything. Betsy looked down at her own skinny legs on which she saw a sparse network of shallow scratches from the brambles. If their parents were soldiers, then so were she and Theresa. “Theresa?” “Yes, darling?” “I’m nine years old. You don’t have to lie to me anymore.”