Like Water in a Drain (Quartet Excerpt)

Contrary to later reports, the triceratops was not born in Persia, let alone in the turquoise mines of Khorasan. It was given to her as a gift. A birthday present from an aunt. Small enough to hold in one hand. Big enough to crush a toy soldier’s musket. Under the beast’s bandanaed foot, the lieutenant gasped for his life. His cries reached all the way to the kitchen, into the ear of Mrs. Thoreau who was just then busy with a salad of bell peppers and mushroom. Mr. Thoreau spent more time at the office these days. The blinds were drawn. And slivers of sunlight, the amber kind, like the sheen of a dried peach, were falling in a flourish onto the carpet; they illuminated Anna’s curls, made them glow, made them sing, made the dust mites dance in the beams. This room was once the dining room, where family dinners took place. Now it was a playroom, full of multicolored toy bins placed against the wall opposite the window.

“Mommy, will you come play with me? You can be the Triceratops.”

“I can’t sweetie,” her mother said from the kitchen, “I’m making dinner for everyone. Can’t you play by yourself?”

Anna was six years old, just shy of June. She had a round, pouty face, and blue eyes, whose ostensible affection was only partially veiled by pupils that drew you in like vacuums; and by a short mop of curls that had yet to learn the value of a spiral. There was a natural intelligence and precocity about her; a child apt to cut through the world’s crap. Triceratops in her right hand, Batman in her left, she turned and faced the window, all three feet of her. Outside, a wind had taken up residence on the front lawn. Steadily, Anna looked out over the hill, past the oak tree in their yard where her brother broke his arm, down the street, past the garage door at the end of the block, the one her father’s minivan crushed when the parking break failed and it rolled from one driveway to another, past the wooded rooftops, the moussed-up hair of suburbia, past Indian Creek, the green leaved tree line, and the highway congested with cars. And one could guess by the horizon’s color, that someone, maybe an angel, had spilled a giant bucket of rutabagas into a vat of yellow curry paste and splayed it across the sky. On and on, she looked until it carved off into nothing, like shavings in a disposal, like water in a drain. There where the Earth fell into the void, she played her imagination game. The sky became a vast Japanese painting. She dotted its face with high arching mountains, eagles and beavers, with streams that gurgled the way honeybees dance, and beehives brimming with the Queen’s jelly. If her mind were any indication of her future, she was destined to remain afoot, restless, head in the clouds, a nomad without home, searching for it past the horizon, past the sun, in the blank space, the negative space. But she would find things there, too. Her self, for one. We cannot discount that. We cannot discount that those who seek, inevitably find so long as they want it bad enough. But! If they don’t know what they want… well then… they will get a little bit of everything, a taste of the whole pie whether they like it or not.

“Twenty two,” the Shaman said, breaking Anna’s reverie. She was staring open mouth out the window, a tiny bead of drool making its way to the table. Outside, the island channel shimmered through an open glade. “There are twenty two different types of pie crust,” he continued. “Twenty-three if you include the Zwieback Triple Pastry. My personal favorite, if you don’t mind me saying, is the Alabama Golden Flake.”

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