by BRANDON TIMM
Failing deodorant hung thick around Lisa as she fought through the surging crowd around the zoo’s tiger exhibit. God, she could taste the people baking in the sun. Their sweat, their excitement, every expectation gliding salty over her tongue as she breathed. Of course the carnivores were the real draw. Who cared about fruit bats or toads or the elephants and their pumpkins? They wanted to see blood, hear the crack of bones. She wanted that too, admittedly. It had been nearly a decade since she’d been to the zoo’s Big Feed: once a year, the caged animals were fed whole what they would prey upon in the wild. Nothing living, though, the meals already dead and thawed before consumed.
Kaylah pulled her towards the outdoor enclosure’s rail. A young mother with a crying child sighed defeat before leading the child towards the shade near the Congo Café. Lisa knew that exhaustion. How had she managed two young girls back then? She could barely leash seventeen-year-old Kaylah now. And there were so many children today. She watched a laughing father disregard the warnings and hold his child above the railing. She couldn’t help but imagine the child falling into the enclosure below, and for a moment, she imagined giving that man a push. Just a little shove, so he’d understand the danger.
“Well?” Kaylah asked, fanning a hand out like a Price is Right model towards the prize tiger-viewing spot before them.
“Yeah,” Lisa said, sidling up beside her. “Good snag, Kay.”
“Right?” Kaylah ran her tongue ring across her front teeth.
“For Christ’s sake, don’t do that. Ruin your teeth.”
“Whatever,” she said, turning away.
She probably wanted to run away. Again. Any small conflict and Kaylah’s instinct was flight. The night before, as she was heading to bed, Kaylah had said casually that she was going to the zoo. “I’ll come with you,” Lisa said, but Kaylah tried to persuade her to stay home—it wasn’t a big deal and it was going to be hot anyway, and crowded. It felt like being pushed away, excluded. Really, she didn’t worry about Kaylah skipping class, though she should have; already she’d missed too much, so much that she might not be able to graduate despite her good grades, her better grades. Everything felt tenuous. She worried about what might happen if her daughter went alone—another pregnancy scare, or Kaylah delivered again in the back of a police car, the bite of exclusion notwithstanding. But hadn’t Lisa been there with her daughters, watching the animals too? “Well,” Lisa had said, toothbrush clenched against her cheek, “if I don’t go I can’t call you off of school. Who knows what you’ve got planned, Kay? It’s really the only way I can be certain.”
And yet she wasn’t. Everything was a trial with Kaylah, to see what she could get away with this time.
Nearby, on the back of a golf cart, a display counted down the minutes until feeding began.
“T-minus eight minutes,” Kaylah said. “This is gonna be puh-ritty cool.”
Below, in the enclosure, was an island of grass surrounded by a deep, dry moat that made it impossible for the tigers to escape. There was that tiger that managed to escape from a zoo out west, though, leaped out and killed a man. Lisa smiled leaning on the rail, stretching in over it to touch the hot concrete on the other side. They weren’t too far away, the tigers. They paced behind thick glass on the far side of the enclosure, the two of them, all muscle, menace knotted beneath orange and black fur.
Kaylah moved dyed-dark bangs from her face and stabbed them behind her ear with the steel bar through it—an industrial, for her freshman report card with straight B’s. Lisa quickly learned the value of allowing metal to pin Kaylah down: a tongue ring for her driving test; a lip ring for an ACT score of 29; and the most recent, a septum ring for a 2000 on the SAT. When they went to get the nose ring, Lisa squinted and ground her teeth, as if she were the one about to be punctured with steel. After it was done Kaylah laughed and said, “That was nothing, Mom. I’ve been through worse.”
She hadn’t been there the first time her daughters saw the tigers. Dean had called her from a payphone while she was in bed, sore and swollen from their fight the night before; he’d taken them before she’d awoke. “If you follow us,” he’d said, “if you even think about calling the cops, I’ll kill them. I swear to fucking God.” She’d heard the rage rattling in his throat, a growl, heard it still some nights before she leapt from bed to check Kaylah’s room.
She blamed herself now for not leaving sooner. She’d thought about it back then, had lain in bed beside Dean, half asleep, feeling the heat from him naked beside her. She wanted freedom, dreamt of open doors and wide spaces, but she winnowed that dream over time until it was broken and subsumed into her flesh and bones, a pinch in her body, a murky frisson that ached in her joints. After he was gone it would sometimes flare inside her still, running sharp down her arms to curl her fingers when she heard children laughing, or screaming, as they do sometimes when they’re playing.
“Why are you crying, Mommy?” her other daughter, Michelle, had asked when Dean finally brought them home the next day, smiling as if nothing had happened. “Is it because you didn’t see the tigers?” Michelle had said. “That’s okay, we’ll go again. Don’t cry.”
“You okay?” Kaylah asked absently from behind giant sunglasses, small rhinestones set in tortoiseshell sparkling in the sunlight.
“I’m fine.” She peeled a hand from the railing to thumb sweat from her lip. “I’m fine,” she repeated, fishing a bottle of water from her purse. “It’s just hot out here.”
“You didn’t have to come.”
“Have you decided?” she said, deflecting the conversation. “What you want done next?”
A week before, the college acceptance letter had come for Kaylah, and a day after that, two more, one with a partial scholastic scholarship. She’d given consent then, for whatever Kaylah wanted.
“I was looking online,” Lisa said. “Maybe the base of your neck? Or, if you wanted, maybe a nipple?” It made her nauseous to say, but easier to accept. Deciding the worst stole its power to harm her.
“Gross,” Kaylah said curdling her face. “No thanks.”
Lisa allowed herself to smile openly while Kaylah flashed tongue-ring steel behind her teeth.
“I was going to bring it up later, but—”
Kaylah unfolded a piece of paper from her purse and handed Lisa the sketch of a tiger. It was stepping down from an undrawn precipice, its ears high and at ease. The cat didn’t seem violent or even powerful. Instead, there was a nobility in its grace, a patience, the cat’s closed mouth and forward gaze calm, calming.
“I found a shop up this way,” Kaylah said, “that will do minors if their parents are cool with it.”
“Did you draw this?”
Kaylah scoffed. “No way, Mom. I’d mess it up. I want to get it right here.”
Lisa watched her daughter rake chipped nails across the left swath of her back and side.
“I don’t know, Kay,” Lisa said, staring at the picture, turning it as if her opinion might change with the perspective.
“I’ll pay for it. I’ve been saving. And,” Kaylah said, digging again into her bag, “it would be a special tattoo, with Michelle in it.”
A small Ziploc baggy with no more than a corner’s worth of ash dangled from Kaylah’s fingers.
“They mix it with the—”
“When did you take that?”
“Absolutely not, Kaylah.” She snatched the Ziploc bag. Carefully she pushed the ashes into her pocket, the bag ballooning against her fingers. A pinch arced between her elbow and wrist.
“You can’t do this,” Kaylah said.
“Like hell I can’t.”
Kaylah snatched the drawing from Lisa’s other hand and without folding it stashed it away. Kaylah’s mouth was pressed together so tightly that her tongue-ring seemed to pierce both of her lips.
This was it. This was the reason. And how could Kay think this was fine, that it would ever be fine?
There was a sudden chorus of cheers and clapping from the parents and their children. Below, two keepers strode across the green island in the tiger enclosure, one of them pushing a red wheelbarrow with a small, blonde calf in it that looked as if it were asleep. Lisa watched the keepers, tried focusing on them, but she seethed, heat flushing red across her chest and up her neck. Knots formed on either side of her clenched jaw. The two keepers gently lifted the dead calf from the wheelbarrow, one cradling it behind the head before they laid it softly on the oval stone, the dinner table.
Lisa turned fully to look down at the calf on the stone below. She didn’t want to look at her daughter, couldn’t stand to. She opened and closed her hand, stretching the ache from it as she watched the keepers back out of the enclosure. The crowd began counting down from twenty, the dark-haired keeper flashing a smile and a wave before closing the service door. There was the grind of steel then, and the two tigers entered the enclosure. They seemed born to the situation, moving with smooth, predatory grace towards the calf. One of them stopped to sit like an oversized housecat beneath the shade of the tree, its tail calmly flitting while the other glided up to the calf. She sniffed at it, then licked the broad side of the dead animal, her tongue wrenching the fur up to stand on end.
There was silence. Lisa felt her heart in her throat like a fist, heard it purr in her ears. She was aware, suddenly, that she could leap into the pit. That she could stand up on the concrete and dive over to join the tigers. Kaylah leaned over the railing too, her elbows hyperextended and the wings of her shoulders pinched. She looked small. Lisa reached out for her daughter reflexively but stopped and let her hand hover in the heat. She could imagine it, pushing her daughter in the pit with the tigers, Kaylah circling the calf, laying down beside it to wrench a mouth’s full of meat from the corpse.
The day Lisa left Dean, she took the girls and got on a bus at the corner by the gas station, and when they got off she called her sister from a payphone to come get them. She didn’t have a cell or much money, and no extra clothes, nothing. He’d stepped out to buy cigarettes and left the front door open wide, and when she saw it she gathered her daughters, took them by the hands, and left, Kaylah asking “Where are we going?” and “Where’s Daddy?” Kaylah was nine, and Michelle was six.
Lisa’s sister had wanted to celebrate, so they’d stopped to get ice cream. “About time,” she said, holding the door open for them. The AC’d interior of the ice cream shop had felt reptilian against Lisa’s face and neck. She’d always been a fuckup. Getting pregnant. Married. She was a dropout that had to be rescued by her younger sister.
“He’s going to find us,” Kaylah had said, lapping at a stream of melted ice cream on the back of her hand.
“Kay,” Lisa said, scooting closer to Michelle on the bench outside. “We’re having a nice time.”
Kaylah shrugged. “You know he won’t stop.” She had her father’s dark eyes and Lisa’s thin blonde hair, thin lips; a downturn at the corners of her mouth gave her a severe demeanor.
Lisa tried saying, “Let’s go to a movie,” as if Kaylah might forget for a moment.
“Won’t stop. Not until we’re dead.”
Lisa reached across the table and slapped Kaylah. She dropped her cone in her lap and looked up at Lisa surprised, blinking, until she took off and ran inside the ice cream store, towards the bathrooms, towards the payphones.
That was how he’d found them.
“I’m sorry,” Kaylah cried, after Dean had come to her aunt’s home yelling, beating his fists against the front door and howling until Lisa came out. She’d meant to be strong, to tell him to leave, but already she’d been shaking; she’d never seen him cry before. He slugged her once in the face, in the stomach, and threw her to the ground by her hair. Lisa remembered the ripping sound of scalp, the heat of blood, thick and rich in her mouth, and her tongue searching for a chip of tooth while he reached into the apartment for Michelle there by the door. He took her daughter and drove recklessly out of the parking lot with her unbuckled in the front seat. Lisa heard the crunch from where she was down in the grass, the hard squeal and scream of steel on steel in the road beyond the row of apartments.
“It’s my fault,” Lisa remembers Kaylah crying. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Lisa didn’t realize she was yelling until she heard her voice ricochet shrilly off the walls of the stone façade behind the tiger enclosure. Lisa hadn’t paid attention to what Kaylah was doing, waving her arm over her head, until he was behind her, Dean smiling.
“This is why you wanted to come alone?” She fled from the enclosure just as the tiger took her first bite. Lisa saw it now at the edge of her vision, the cat’s face buried in the calf’s gut up to its ears on the golf cart television. She pivoted away from the screen to face Dean. “How are you even here?”
He looked at her with a confused look, the one he’d put on if Lisa cried, if she showed him the black fringed yellow bruises he’d leave her with. The bastard, she’d imagined that same look when he got the annulment papers in prison.
There was the murmur of conversation rising from the crowd as the second tiger joined the feeding. Someone hoorayed, and the crowd chuckled.
“I told you,” he said, shrugging, running a hand over his short, buzzed hair the same length as his beard. She could almost hear the scrape of it. “In that last letter?” The small upturn of a smirk made her head buzz.
“You knew,” she said, turning to her daughter, Lisa’s flat hand half raised without her knowing. Her daughter flinched. After a moment, Lisa let her arm drop. “You knew.”
A year after he went to prison, the first letter came in the mail. On the back of the envelope was a pen sketch of a rose with a ribbon wrapped around it that said, I miss you both, and, I’m sorry. Lisa didn’t open it. She’d shown it to her daughter the next morning, before school. “I want you to check the mail every day you get off that bus,” she’d said, pushing the small bronze mail key towards her daughter. “If you see anything from the prison, and I mean anything, you throw it out. I don’t want to even see it in the trash.”
“I was sure you were getting my letters, sweetheart. None of them came back,” Dean said, sliding his hands into his low slung jeans. He was larger, leaner, muscle gliding beneath skin. The stretched collar of his white shirt showed the thick of his shoulders and neck, and the veins in his forearms were large through his skin even from beneath the tattoos now there. Those were new: thick, black rings from wrist to elbow on his right arm with script and images sandwiched between, among others: a familiar feline shape on his neck, and another on his collar bone she thought she recognized but only in a hazy, half-memory, and there were more that she could see as only shadows beneath his thin shirt.
She aimed two fingers at him. “Don’t you give me that sweetheart bullshit.” She was shaking.
“Sorry,” he said, looking over her shoulder at her daughter. “My fault.”
“You’re goddamn right it’s your fault!”
“Will you just stop?” her daughter’s voice rose, broke. “Please?”
“I can’t believe you, Kay,” Lisa said, recognizing some of his tattoos. They’d hung from their refrigerator a lifetime ago, pictures of tigers drawn by Michelle after that second trip to the zoo—her last. Lisa thought they’d been packed away, forgotten.
“Hey, now. Come on, this isn’t her fault,” he said to Lisa, tilting his head.
“Stay out of this.”
“I tried telling you,” her daughter said.
“You tried telling me?”
“If you were reading the letters anyway,” he said, putting his hand on Lisa’s shoulder. She swatted his hand as hard as she could and liked the sound of it, the crack of skin on skin, and the sting of it against her knuckles.
“I said stay the hell out of this.”
“Let’s go,” Dean said, backing away, his hands raised. Lisa saw a black band tattooed around the third finger of his left hand, mocking her. “Let’s leave your mother be,” he said, looking at her daughter.
Lisa was vaguely aware of people watching them before a gathered “ooohh” rose from the crowd, a tiger pulling the bowels from the calf. She reached for her daughter’s wrist as Kaylah walked past her.
“You can go,” she snarled to Dean, spit flying ugly from her mouth. She left it hanging from her chin. “Get the fuck out of here.”
“No. Daddy. Stay. Mom—”
Lisa let go. She lunged. She felt the meat of him against her hands, the familiar heat of his chest, and heard his grunt. She shoved him again and heard her own grunt, low and rough in her throat, the hiss of her breath being pulled through teeth.
Her daughter pushed fingers into her thin, black hair, knocking her sunglasses to the concrete with a clink; she shrank: she crouched to scream into her knees. Lisa felt a sharp rattle inside, like nails loose in her chest. “I always fuck things up!” her daughter yelled, pulling at her hair.
It was Dean who went to her first, putting his hands on her daughter’s shoulders. “Now you’ve done it.” He scowled at Lisa, shook his head. She would put her fingers through his eyes.
“Stop!” her daughter yelled, rising, turning, running away from the calf on the screen, from the teeth and claws pulling meat and skin from bone.
“Kay, come out. Please?”
Her daughter had run into the Congo Café. Lisa followed her inside just as she shoved into the bathroom ahead of the women and daughters queued up to use it. Dean waited outside.
“Look,” Lisa said to the stall door, “I’m sorry for snapping. It’s just—”
“That I mess everything up?” she heard her daughter’s voice say. It sounded so far away. The future was more uncertain to Lisa then. Her daughter was almost eighteen and it wouldn’t be running away any more. She could leave in secret to be with Dean because Lisa didn’t get it, whatever it was that day. She felt powerless, and that hollowed her out.
“No,” Lisa said, pressing her head to the stall door. A toilet flushed off to the side, and she waited for the hand dryer to quit before she continued. “You didn’t mess anything up. I was just—” she unhinged her jaw, pushed it forward until she heard an old wound click in her cheeks “—I didn’t know, and I was surprised.”
“Will you let him stay with us?”
Lisa sighed a relief, and they both laughed.
“At the zoo.”
“Okay,” Lisa said. “I’ll try.”
They walked past the stares from the line, Lisa mouthing sorry to a few women. Dean stood near the Gorilla Grill, looking up at the menu. Grey sparked in his hair and beard. When her daughter got close, he reached out and pulled her into a hug. He kissed her hair.
Dean smiled at Lisa over her daughter’s shoulder. She bit the inside of her mouth until her teeth met and she tasted blood.
“Are you hungry?” Kaylah asked, pulling a twenty from her purse. “My treat.”
“I haven’t had a good burger in a decade,” Dean said, smiling at the boy taking his order who nervously told him to hold onto the receipt to pick up the food. He pointed at the NOW SERVING display above the counter with big red numbers on it.
Kaylah lead them to a table near a window that looked out on a playground of animal-shaped objects that children crawled over. Lisa brushed salt and a few forgotten fries onto the floor. “So,” she said, trying, “how long?”
“Five days today,” Dean said, putting his arm along the back of the booth. He beamed. “Been counting the hours ‘till I saw my girl!”
Lisa felt a knot tie itself inside her gut.
“I’m sorry,” Kaylah said, as if any of this were her fault. Kaylah sat down beside him. “I told him you knew.”
Lisa nodded, rolled her tongue around in her mouth.
“Why didn’t you just tell me?” she asked.
Kaylah shrugged and looked across Dean and out the window, at the children. “I know how you feel about Dad.” She turned towards him. “She hasn’t gotten any of your letters.”
“No shit?” Dean said.
“But you have?” she asked her daughter. “You’ve gotten them, right?”
Her daughter nodded her head and Dean jutted his chin out, rolled his bottom lip under his teeth. An eyetooth was missing. From a fist, Lisa hoped. From a boot.
“I told her to throw them out,” Lisa added.
Dean leaned his elbows on the table and put his hands together in a ball, as if he were praying. He pressed his balled hands to his forehead and she saw his mouth move from beneath it, saw his neck begin to flush pink then red. She swallowed hard, an old fear catching in her throat. “I never thought you stopped hating me, and I get it. Why would you? But I thought you’d maybe—” His voice cut, began to break. Kaylah added her hand to his and he nodded. Lisa wanted to pull her daughter’s hand free. Instead, she sat on her hands and watched his wide, thick tongue slick his lips. “I just hoped you’d realize I’m wrecked too. Just a mess, Lisa. It’s always there, inside,” he said. “I prayed every night for you to find peace, and for our girls. I spent a lot of time with that.”
Lisa felt her nails in her own flesh, digging into her thighs. The sound of grinding teeth screeched in her head. Murderer.
“Daddy drew this,” her daughter said, laying the sketch of the tiger from her purse on the table. She smoothed it out. “It was his idea.”
“A guy from—” he cleared his throat, put his hands down. “A buddy of mine runs a tattoo place, said he can get me certified, get me set up. I did a lot on the inside, really cut my chops.”
“I love it,” her daughter said, spinning the picture around so she and Dean could see it. “I think it’s perfect. Mom’s not a fan.”
“No?” he asked, eyebrows raised. “I could probably do it. I think he’d let me. Would you like that, Sweetheart?”
Screaming came from outside the window, the high-pitched sound of fun and having it.
Lisa looked up at the NOW SERVING display and saw that their food was ready, had been ready long enough for two more orders behind them to join the list. She jolted from the booth, almost falling out. “Food’s ready,” she said.
“I’ll get it,” Kaylah said, but Lisa was already crossing the faux bamboo floor of the Café towards the Gorilla Grill counter. She carried the two red trays of food, their empty Styrofoam cups, to the island with the condiments. She stood there holding a fistful of napkins—his idea, the tattoo. The image sat plangent in her mind, watching from behind the pump-tubs of ketchup and mustard. Her daughter was showing Dean, like she’d shown Lisa, where the tiger would go along her side and he was nodding emphatically, the two of them smiling, then hugging—hugging! How many times had she imagined it? Him dead? Thrown from the car instead of Michelle, or bleeding out on a concrete prison floor, or choking for air, her hands collared around his throat. And how many idiots fall into zoo enclosures? She’d heard of a few just that year, some lady who fell in with the gorillas just a month ago. Accidents happened. Her face burned watching them. She crashed her hip into the condiment station in frustration and the ashes ballooned in her pocket. She laughed at the thought she had and already she was unwrapping Dean’s burger from its gold foil, trying not to laugh too loud—come and watch the animals eat!
From the bag she sprinkled a pinch of ash onto his burger. She looked around to see if anyone noticed; she knew this was terrible, would be seen as terrible. A man in a safari hat pumped mayo into a cup and grabbed handfuls of ketchup packets. He smiled at her in a crooked, dimwitted way before walking off.
She wouldn’t be able to say anything while her daughter was nearby, but later, when they left the Café, Lisa could whisper it to Dean. This is your fault, she’d say to his horrified face. I hope you carry this with you always. She took another pinch of ash and sprinkled it over the burger’s yellow cheese; she flipped it over and did the same to the brown underside of the patty where there were wilted pickles and thin onions, and then she wrapped it back up neatly. She left all but his burger and their empty cups behind at the condiment island.
Lisa sat the tray with the burger in front of him. “There was a little mix-up,” she said, unable to hide her grin, “but our food will be ready in a second, Kay. No, don’t wait for us. What do you want to drink?” she asked, barely waiting to hear their reply.
There was an odd feeling of excitement in her wrists that made them cold and numb. Maybe she would tell him at the table after all, remind Kay why there’s a bag of ash in her pocket in the first place.
She picked up the other tray of food from the condiment island and began towards the soda fountain. Her heart was roaring by the time she was done weaving through the hungry people and their kids, ketchup or lipstick smeared across their cheeks, and as soon as she set the tray down to rest at the soda fountain she couldn’t resist. She turned to look, eager to see Dean buried in his food, biting hungrily into the burger.
Lisa felt the blood run out of her, felt her heart flop in her chest—her daughter was taking a bite of it, the burger outstretched in Dean’s hands. They both nodded as if agreeing on something. They knew—she knew. Lisa froze, waiting for them to look around for her, waiting for the angry, betrayed stare of her daughter.
Instead, she felt the cold, rushing bubble of root beer overflowing from her daughter’s cup down and over her hand.
Later, the three of them might have wandered through the rest of the zoo; Lisa imagined it: she’d watch her daughter and Dean from a few steps behind. Kaylah would tell him, for the first time, about the college letters while they stroll through the dim indoor reptile exhibit. Maybe the zoo keepers would be feeding rabbits to the Burmese python for the giggling kids, for the parents bothered by death. She’d watch wide-eyed as Dean lifted their daughter into the air. She’d hear her daughter say, Do you believe it, Dad? Do you?
In the tattoo shop she would tell him—not what she has done, though it would cross her mind once more to ask, very matter-of-factly, Why do we do this, Dean, hurt each other?—that she never wants to see him again, not after tonight. She cannot forgive him. And, embarrassed, she can’t forgive herself.
“We both fucked things up,” she’d admit, finally, despite his arguing otherwise.
In the other room, her daughter would be stretched pale across a teal tattoo chair on her side, a length of ribs and belly laid bare and half adorned with ash and ink; she’d see her daughter’s eyes watery-pink, her fists clenched white, hear her tell the artists she doesn’t need a break, that she can sit through the pain.
It was worth it though, wasn’t it? Lisa would have asked Dean.
What’s that? he’d say, arms crossed, tattoos dark across every ridge of muscle, somehow looking pitiful enough that she would wonder how he made it ten years in prison.
To see our girl so alive?
“How- how is it?” Lisa asked, standing over them in the Café, her voice weak and wobbly in her mouth. She set down the tray with the rest of their food and drinks, pushed it towards the middle of the table. Her stomach shuddered, and she tasted bile on the back of her throat, felt it burn.
Dean nodded, eyes rolling back into his skull, his chewing loud even through his closed mouth. Her daughter pointed at his burger, swallowing. “This is surprisingly good, Mom. You should’ve tried one. I’m, like, fucking blown away.”
“Hey,” Dean said with his mouth full. “Come on, girl. Language. There’re kids around.”
Her daughter put a fist to her mouth, made a silly, wide-eyed face as she looked around, and Lisa watched them laugh and felt cut off and alone. If she tried to reach across the table, they would pull away. A curl of hunger rose curiously inside of her then, as if she hadn’t eaten for days. It expanded in her chest, down her arms and up the back of her neck, and became an ache. She’d never been so hungry, felt as if she’d never craved anything so much in her life. Where had that filling sense of vengeance gone?
“Can I?” she said.
“What’s that?” Dean replied, loosening food from his teeth with his tongue.
She had only whispered it.
“Can I try it?” she repeated, reaching her hand out. He shrugged and handed her the burger without hesitation and she closed her fingers greedily around his. She mouthed sorry to him because her voice had left her.
Dean and her daughter watched as she raised the burger to her lips. She held it there, eyes closed, breathing in the greasy smell of meat, the pop sticky on her fingers, but nowhere—not on the tip of her tongue in her first small bite—was there anything she’d craved. So she took a whole mouthful. Then another, and another after that one. Lisa anticipated a remnant grazing the roof of her mouth, wanted to feel the catch of bone-flake against her teeth or grit along the inside of her tongue, but there was nothing except a growing emptiness that pulsed behind her eyes, like the memory of her daughter who, as a child, stared gape-mouthed in wonder at the animals in their cage pulling apart the dead one mouthful at a time.
A graduate of the MFA program in Southern Illinois Carbondale, Brandon currently thrives in his home state of Ohio and roots for the Buckeyes while working for a logistics company. He was a finalist for the Yemasee 2016 writing prize and has been published in Zone 3. The best and worst advice he’s ever given about writing is that every story is a love story, but not all love is kind love.