Waiting Until it Disappears Again

“Dip your toes in the pools of blood,” they said. And so, he did — dipped his toes — yet with the utmost care to not dip his toenails for fear that the blood might stain his nail beds for weeks afterwards. His mother would see his red toenails and worry that he had developed some strange fungus that only boys can get. She would blame it on too much time spent playing in the field.

But James loved the field, loved to sit alone in the grass and watch the clouds drifting through each other like little exhales, like rabbits, like chimpanzees with party hats. He loved how quiet everything was, and yet so loud with the shushing of the wind and the squeaking birds and the rustling of some dog on a faraway leash. But today the boys from down the street had found him in the field. He wondered how they had found him and felt his heart rattling as soon as he heard them coming, but still he couldn’t move and so he let them come.

They had chickens in their hands. Dead chickens, cracked at the necks, and he wondered where the boys had found them. James hadn’t seen any chicken farms nearby. The blood dripped down their hands and the boys smiled with caramel in their teeth.

“What’re you doing here?” one of the boys, Robby, perhaps, asked.

James could feel the damp grass beneath his jeans and he pulled his legs in tightly toward his chest. “Just, uh, watching.”

“Watching what? You loser.”

The boys began to prance in a circle around James, the chickens high in their fists and the caramel glistening in their phantom teeth. Their hands were blood-covered by now, and they threw the chickens in the middle of the circle next to James to let the blood drain out.

“Dip your toes in the pools of blood,” they said after a few minutes. And so he stood back and shook his head no, but the boys said, “do it,” and so he did – dipped his toes — and quickly his thoughts drifted. He thought of the tin can where he kept his rock collection — it was painted blue with yellow stripes and on stormy nights he would hold the can in his hand as he lay in bed and shake the rocks around until he fell asleep. But now the tin can was gone, packed away in one of the boxes for the tag sale, his mother had told him, because they would be moving in just a week or two. And now the field was gone, even as he sat right in the center of it, the field was gone. And the boys were gone too, back to the cobblestone patios and their mothers’ arms and their golden retrievers and their glasses of orange soda. Now it was just James in the grass with blood on his toes, and a bunch of dead chickens, and the rest of it was gone.