Paper boats

They huddled in the farthest reach of the yard. A barbed wire fence sagged behind them, tangled with cockleburs, burst like piñatas. There was a rust-patched swing set in the middle of the lawn, all odd angles and sharp edges, and beside it, a decaying sandbox, a placeholder for Tonka trucks and an old Barbie, its plastic scalp gushing nylon hair. A blob of sunshine painted the trees from the street, casting lazy light upon the lawn, already brown from neglect.

I wish we had a pond,” said Elani. “We could make paper boats.”

There was a spurious coldness around them, familiar. She rubbed her hands against her jeans and shivered.

They’re not hard to make,” said Efrim. “I guess we could do that later, after chores. When Daddy….” He didn’t finish. When Daddy left to be with his friends, or whatever it was he did. Efrim never saw any of his father’s friends. None ever visited or telephoned, and Eldridge never talked about them. Daddy did things that were grown-up and private, and he always came home angry. Sometimes he just stayed that way. It usually started on Saturdays, and the degrees of anger were unpredictable. The cold space around Efrim and Elani brought them together; sometimes, it was their only warmth.

A deep rumble from the house, his voice, escalating. Some sounds were curses, some just incoherent noise, overflowing agitation. And Mama, backing into another room, or the kitchen counter, arms already protecting herself, unsure if she should cover her ears or her belly. It was the old familiar, and though Elani had been spared the worst of it, Eldridge’s voice was a haunting fury that followed them both every day, in everything they did and did not do.

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