Slice of Life

52 cards in a deck.

Thirteen years old and miserably self-conscious, plagued by narration. Circles the room three times, cracks the knuckles of his hands in order, pinky to thumb to thumb to pinky, touches ear, cheek, hair, cheek, hair, ear. Rehearses the answer to any question. How dare you have a new shirt. Why did you change your hair. You look different today. What are you looking at, where have you been, what are you thinking about.

No one ever asks.

Sullen drip of a midwinter rain. The walls sweat and everything smells like mildew. Sneezes until his nose bleeds, then pulls out a long red slug of a clot, glistening and bright, his nostrils swelling and closing around it. Hands chap and crack. Knuckles bleed. Dark in the morning, grim at lunch, dark in the afternoon. One of the tall kids pulls a boundary sign out of the ground in a fury and advances on the principal. Good singing voice, high and sweet, but surly.

Always tired. Always so tired.


Ellis is an incandescent center under a brittle shell, pulsing in the cool dark of the earth. He has been seventeen years underground, seventeen years without friends or family, with nothing to do but grow gloomy with recrimination and dizzy drunk on the thin gruel of xylem.

Outside they are waiting; he knows this. Outside they are hungry, sharp-barbed, and dangerous, brainwashed of this shifting terrain. They will destroy him, if they can, or his children, so he waits, and plans, and rages against the day.

Some signal goes out; some hidden sign. He swells forth, strains against himself, rushes forth to vengeance, glory, and survival. Alas, too soon — there should be an army at his back, and summer days, and wings full of heating blood. Instead there is nothing. Gray skies and silence. Some vast insubstantial bulk against the watery light, then darkness.

Ellis lodges himself sideways in its throat, his unknown destroyer, full of spite; death demanding death.


In the white circle of his mother’s arms Ellis is an unlovely child; sour-mouthed, ill-tempered, sullen. His father’s face swims into view, watery eyes under jutting eyebrows over a gap-pored nose and flaccid chin. His mouth opens and closes and inside it is dark and wet and unpleasant. His mother speaks and her voice creaks, rusted raw with the red push of his birth. He hates it. If he had any strength in his arm he would beat her until she fell silent. He tries to bellow and manages a whimper scarcely louder than the creaking of the bedsprings under them. A white hand rises, unbuttons a white blouse, exposing a pimpled breast topped with a bruised nipple. His eyes squeeze shut in baffled fury. His father makes noises, mocking noises, and a horrible ratchety sound he only slowly realizes is laughter. He bites his mother as hard as he can and she runs chapped and callused fingers gently over the tender skin of his head. He sleeps in spite of himself, and in his dreams he remembers everything he was, everything he has lost, and wakes knowing he was born to forget. If he were stronger he would kill himself; instead they mock him and feed him and he sleeps again, helplessly.