I dammed the blood I sat so still reading my book in the tv room. If I am stock-still I am self-sealed. But if he found me, Grandpa would shoo me out. Fresh air he said. It was smells of baked bread and pages speckled with mold inside.

And the smell smell smell of blood, my blood, period blood.

This is a trap I cannot get out of.

“Drama in Real Life” was my first pick in the tattered Reader’s Digests, paging through car crashes, houses afire and river rescues.

Standing up, there was the rush of blood over the dam and the whistle, the tearing of a page inside my book. Rebecca said what’s that? and I fixed her with my concentration until she looked away. A secret is a secret.

We caught so many fish in Grandpa’s boat, all flapping mackerel, their eyes flat and mouths sighing and the smell of gasoline in the outboard. Motoring over the muddy clam flats Grandpa let us dangle over the side on a warm day. He went deep into the cove, full moon tide and flat green. We were mermaids hooked off the side, dragging our tails through the sharp seagrass. When we got out of the water, our legs were streams of red rivers.

I hid in the tv room and read my stack of books, my borrowed hardback collection of condensed tales. The cover of my best Digest looked like blue wallpaper and isn’t a book like a little room, a pretty round place to enter into?

The maid’s quarters were where Rebecca and I slept in a lumpy bed over the kitchen. When not-bleeding I was able to run and move, so we monkeyed across the second floor of Grandpa’s house in our nighties, through the dark room into the pink room or into the blue room, or down the banister to the room where Grandpa slept, the big open room. We peeked in and there he was, a rounded mountain on his back. We folded his hands across his chest.

The dark room had doors only half so high, so we stooped and kept crouched under the hot bare bulb. We pushed books over, we pawed through books like bears, we made stepping stones of books over a roaring river of fire. Stacks of five or six tied with brown string, dusty little ones and a thousand Reader’s Digest collections, each folded in pastel wallpaper, condensed books pressed down to be exactly the same size.

The dark room was warm with mouse poop and Rebecca coughed and begged to get out. I tickled her happy again. I hid Ecstasy and Me under the mattress and took Airport to the tv room.

Grandpa forced us outside without books. We rolled down the grassy hill. That’s where Aunt Marilyn broke her neck on a sled in the snow. The grass was getting too tall and Grandpa forgot to mow. We picked raspberries from the patch and rubbed them around our mouths. I hunted Rebecca through the brambles and whipped her with the vines.

Bleeding, though, I stuck in one place upright. I fixed myself straight over my books, all the weight down. Heavy. Reading. Choking the flood, seeping.

Grandpa practiced his golf swing and we chased across the field, poking the balls with the pointed retriever until the bag was knobby and it took us both to drag it.

When Grandpa took a nap, we licked the thick roll of chocolate skin powder into milk, dipping the spoon and licking again. We yanked the refrigerator door open and slammed it hard or left it hanging and the milk tinged green spilled across the counter leaking a bad smell.

I read Amusing Anecdotes with my chocolate milk.

I tested my Word Power: compress and curtail; reduce, shrink, boil down.

Rebecca was hard to shake. I wanted to be alone in the pink room. Together, we jumped on the beds, crisscrossing the gap like in the circus, like on a trampoline.

A cowboy, I chased Rebecca around the dining room. Rebecca danced the hula with Grandpa’s special wooden salad bowl on her head. Grandpa woke up from his nap.

That is my genuine monkey pod bowl!

He panted and cussed, his face twisted red. He tried to hit Rebecca and we were laughing until we rolled under the table. He kicked at her but we couldn’t stop.

Turn off the turn signal we yelled at Grandpa from the back seat because he always forgot. He delivered the baked bread to the elderly and to the church while I pulled Rebecca’s hair so hard her neck bent back. I scratched her arm and bit her little fingers. She kicked my shins into blue dents. She opened the window and climbed halfway out of the Pontiac. Then we smoothed our tangly hair before Grandpa got back.

In bed, I rubbed my belly, and wondered, where am I? Is my spine straight? Do I even have a backbone? Do I have raised ribs? I counted through my skin.

I bled on the bed. There was one giant dip and we were all night tumbling together to center, banging our knees and elbows and sometimes the blood seeped into the sheet and into the mattress. I covered it with towels. I pushed Rebecca away from the center hollow. Her tiny breaths in the dark. I rounded my back against her.

Our parents called on the telephone but we could not hear them.

When Grandpa took a shower in the mornings, we spied on him through the keyhole. Nothing. I peeled back the shade over the glass to see, fat and pink, drying with a towel. Another page wrinkled and I did not even tell Rebecca what I saw behind the shade. No digest for this feeling.

Grandpa stood in the kitchen saying bad news mountain motorcycle and crash. He said David is dead. He said stupid kids, spitting bits of spit, and I pinched Rebecca because she started to cry.

I forced my collection of condensed books into my mind’s eye, all five books digested down to their bones. Could I name them? All I could see was Color from a Light Within.

I thought, this is Life in These United States.

I thought, what is within is not light.

Outside in the raspberry patch, my pages like Grandpa’s fat floppy belly, damp and soft and unsayable.



Holly Willis is a writer whose work moves across arts journalism, creative nonfiction, poetry and academic prose. She has published two books about cinema, edited two collections of essays related to new media, and contributed to a variety of journals, from Variety to River Teeth and carte blanche. She is interested in writing that explores the interstices.