His mother married a latch-key. Before it cranked
in the lock, the boy and the neighbor girl played all afternoon
in bed, tented the sheet over their knees,
pretended to be dead, then he
would be father and she mother to toy families fashioned
out of plastic houses, stuffed animals.
His father didn't come home on time,
so the woman made a bonfire of his books, who were her enemies.
She and the two children squeezed
past each other in the hall lugging stacks of books to the patio.
She barked commands, her skirt slapping
like a flag in the March wind, blouse billowing, going slack.
Before she lit it he came home. She beat his chest and pulled his hair,
then fled to her bathroom. The neighbor girl ran out.
Next door, after supper she thought of them, the squares
of winter light, bluish in late afternoons, trapezed
across the floor. They played there,
migrating with this faint geometric warmth. They watched
the sun scrape the building tops
quick as a belt striping low across sky.
Then she came home,
drew the curtains like a magician, disappearing
the world of parking lots, neighbors, school.
That night, the neighbor girl listened,
hunched in her room by the wall that was the wall
behind the boy's bed. She could not hear
the boy. She waited for the noises
of his apartment, furniture scrapes, shouts, the tiny roar
of a live studio audience reaching her
like a cord let down a well.
What had he done
this time? Where was that voice coming from?
Someone spread-eagled on the carpet in the master
bedroom, a back painted with the belt strokes.
She made a tent out of the sheet, and a strong quiet
fell on her like a smell. If she could stay still long enough,
not scratch or flinch until some grace
came over her--the future would arrive
as suddenly as a light flicked on, and fill her
with her share of height, weight,
and hair, and she would get up and walk a woman.