Trees bend in the wind like pipe cleaners. The woman finds the mild breeze reassuring. She is surrounded by grass, sand, and wood.
Today will be a fine day, she thinks. It is a good day to be alone.
The woman picks up her canvas bag and heads toward a path made of corded rope. She will spend the day in the sand dunes, she decides. After all, she has always loved the texture and democracy of sand. When she was a little girl, she had spent many afternoons in a sandbox, entertaining her imaginary friend, Frances. She built a castle with a moat for Frances and then the sand became cold and her mother called her name.
Now the woman has two children, Kora and Maya. They are twin girls in kindergarten, inseparable and conspiring against her. They could be considered terrible girls. Earlier this morning, Kora convinced Maya to drink a bottle of liquid Tylenol. Then they opened a box of matches. Maya broke off twenty match heads trying to light a candle. As the last match jolted alive, Maya pressed the flame to her sticky red tongue.
-Fire tastes good, she said.
Oh, the girls are terrible, shudders the woman. Terrible, terrible.
She rushes down the cord walk as a collapsed figure peers through the tall grass.
-Help, help, says the figure. Help me.
The pleading voice startles the woman out of her fretting over her spawn. The figure appears to be a young child. It sits up. A round face smiles with bright red gums and partially formed teeth.
-I’ve been waiting here for someone all day, it says.
-Where is your mother? Are you here alone?
The child raises its arms and shrugs. The woman gasps. The child has no hands, just tough little stumps that taper down into ugly bone.
-It’s a long story, says the child.
-And where should you be right now? asks the woman. Why aren’t you in school?
-I was thinking I’d go home with you, says the child. Perhaps you have some qualms. Let it be known there are reasons for my deformity. My parents sold my hands when I was five years old. I used to have beautiful strong hands. My parents thought I might be a prodigy at the piano. My mother became jealous of my talent, so they made a decision.
-Not possible, says the woman as she shakes her head. Not since the ordinance forbidding piano ownership.
-It’s true we didn’t own a piano, but we did keep a pet tiger, says the child. We raised him from when he was a baby. He was shy. I was in charge of feeding him. He grew up and his jaws transformed into a drawer full of butcher knives.
-I had better go, says the woman. I’m running late for an appointment.
-When I was two, says the child, I was kidnapped by a cult. They said hands do the devil’s work and they made an example of me.
-I’m late for an appointment on the beach, says the woman as she taps an imaginary wristwatch. A man is going to paint me in the nude. I’m an artist’s model.
-You look more like a mother, says the child. My mother once took me to the zoo. There was a large two story shark tank, open at the top. You could look down over the railing into the water. I fell in when the sharks were feeding. My blood flowed through the water like soft ribbons. It was the first time I really felt alive.
-I have two daughters and I think they are going to poison me, responds the woman. I’m worried about it. Sometimes I take a pill that allows me to stay awake all night so I can keep an eye on them. They are terrible girls. I must stay vigilant.
-What really happened to my hands is this, the child says. They sewed my two-year old hands onto a porcelain doll’s. They sell the dolls in Asia. Real live flesh dolls.
-I took a photo of a butterfly, says the woman. Purple, orange, black and green. These are my favorite colors. These are the only colors I can see.
A mild breeze rushes through the grass. The child stands up and performs a graceful pirouette. After a pretty bow, the child sits down.
-Where did you learn that?
-I fell on the ground and a pretty woman came along and took me home and adopted me, says the child. Her daughters are evil and spoiled and say I’m not real. You’re not real, they hiss in jealousy. They are snakes dressed up in little girl bodies.
-I moved in so close, says the woman, I kissed the butterfly on the lips.
-We were supposed to spend the day at the public pool, the child continues. The woman’s daughters sat on a plastic raft in the deep end. I swam underneath the raft and pushed them off. They fell into the water in slow motion. Their bodies drowned.
The woman kneels down and looks at the child carefully. The child whispers something into her ear and the woman nods.
-Let’s get you cleaned up, she says. There’s water at the beach. Then we can go home.
The untroubled sun casts brilliant shadows of two figures moving quickly across the cord walk. Huddled in secret, they are fluid black terrible shapes. The bending trees are hushed in surprise.
Patty Yumi Cottrell is the author of chapbooks The Drawers and The Jury of Sudden Hands. Her work has appeared in elimae, Everyday Genius, and Wigleaf. She lives in Brooklyn.