Whatever they say, those children are not mine.
Nor is the house mine, although it's beginning to feel like it. I haven't been outside in weeks. It's raining and my bones remember what it was like to rest between cold concrete and damp cardboard. A muttered curse. A kick in the gut. The pain of too much booze or the pain of not enough food. To stuff your shoes with old newspapers they have holes in them. Because they're really shoes someone threw away a few days ago, an' maybe they were right because they're rubbish.
Only one reason for me to wanna go out, anyway, and the kids take care of that, though, how I can't figure out, what with them being so obviously under-age.
They're tough kids, I'll give them that. Oh, they know how to talk nice an' say please an' thank you, but underneath it all they're as hard as nails. They'd probably last years out on the streets. Not that they'd ever have to. Is this what kids are like today? They scare the crap out of me, those two. Especially the girl.
She calls me mother and makes the boy do it too, but you can tell that mother is just another empty word for them. A kid needs someone to sign papers for them, sometimes - that used to be my problem, too - but you can tell they've been taking care of themselves for a long, long time.
I found photographs in a drawer once. Four snapshots. A woman. Hair red like mine. Arms around a different man in every picture.
I've seen the garden too. Overgrown weeds all over the place except for that one spot by the shed. Like someone's maybe been digging there. That spot bothers me but I can't say why.
I can't get over the bed. Must have been a decade since I last slept in any kind of bed, and that was some cruel john who got turned on by bruises an' stuff, so I never got to enjoy it that time.
THE MOTHER'S STORY
I drink less booze, because I want to keep my head as clear as possible. I go out the back door into the garden. I find a shovel. I begin to dig. I am not in good shape and any type of activity makes me go light-headed very quickly. I have to stop several times to wipe my brow. I even have to go in once to take a swig or too. Finally the blade of the shovel hits an arm. I brush some of the earth away with my hand. My stomach heaves. I have seen dead people. Street people die all the time, but before I can help myself, a sad foaming mix of Jack and saliva spews out through my lips and into the hole.
I stand for a moment. What can I do? Call the police and go back onto the street? Those kids are too clever to take the rap. Next thing I know they'll be saying I did it.
It's fear of them finding me here that makes me cover the hole again.
I look at the snapshots a lot now. Whenever the kids leave the house. I only saw that it was a man's arm, that time, but I look and look and ask the men in the pictures, who of you lies dead in that hole? And what did you do to get there?
I seem to remember there were bruises on the boys face in the beginning, but my memory is very confused of that time.
'Listen, Mother,' she says. 'We love you very much. We don't want them to take you away again. We'll do anything to make you stay.' She makes her eyes water a little as she says it.
She waits. It's a difficult moment for me. What do I say? I want to stay, but what I know and what they say is different.
She sighs. 'I know you feel like you don't belong here, as if you're really someone else, but it's a disease in your head that makes you say that.'
The boy nods. "Schizo-schizo-fraid," he tries.
"Schizophrenia," the girls corrects smoothly. 'When you were sick the last time, they sent us into foster care..."
"To horrible people," the boy interjects.
"Who didn't really understand us. We promise, we'll take care of you, if we can just stay with you. We want you to get better, but we'll understand if you get confused sometimes."
I don't remember anything about the life they tell me about. What I remember, is my father beating me until I was twelve, doing other things after. What I remember is living off the streets since I was fourteen, turning tricks and living for nothing but the bitter warmth of booze burning all the way down my throat. But that was then.
I've realized that I don't really mind about the recently turned spot in the back garden. I can understand what drives twelve year old girls to do things like that.
Like I said, those kids scare the crap out of me, but I can learn to live their lies instead of my own.
(Cover image by Lucas Kegley. http://www.publicdomainpictures.net/view-image.php?image=69201&picture=back-in-the-woods)