Wheat spaghetti in a pot of boiling water. A steamy windowpane. Outside, the grass is white with evening frost. Tommy runs through the yard toward the house, tongue wagging. My older sister is coming for dinner with her clown baby. Yes, her clown baby. Her caregiver called to tell me so. I reminded her to tell my sister to keep to the sidewalks. Safer. The clown baby likes peas on its spaghetti. It thinks the peas are eyes and that the spaghetti is watching. My sister thinks this, too. She’ll scuff her boots on the brown welcome mat but she’ll forget to close the door. Starving birds will gape on the power lines, consider the opportunity, decide against it. The feeder on the back porch is empty. No more sunflower seeds. No more anything, not even clawed bits of newspaper. If you feed them year round, some birds won’t migrate. The gray squirrels have gorged their cheeks, readying themselves for winter. Before my sister arrives with her clown baby, I’ll remind Tommy it’s impolite to stare. Even when she holds her fork funny. Even when she chews with her mouth open. Even when she swipes at the invisible birds circling her head. He’ll know she’s only protecting her baby. He’ll know because I’ve told him before. After his father used the words “fucking retard” because his favorite white mug was now painted blue. Because he didn’t know the clown baby only drinks from blue mugs. Because he didn’t know anything about the clown baby and didn’t want to. Ever. After his father kicked chairs, slammed doors. After the sun slipped behind the hills and the rooms echoed with the loudness of empty. When the word “family” still meant something, at least to me. Now, though, I keep my eye on the pot of spaghetti. I stir it with a wooden spoon. I know it’ll be ready soon. Tender. I wipe my hands on my apron and keep my eye on the front window, too. I want to make sure my sister hasn’t lost her nerve. She’ll return home if she has, and her clown baby will cry for hours if it’s hungry. Sometimes she forgets how long it’s been since I stopped feeding the birds. Those with enough strength have moved on. Only the desperate and weak continue to linger. I see them at the Texaco station pecking at cigarette butts. I hear them scuttling in the eaves looking for crumbs, warmth. I feel one bird in particular watching us in the parking lot of Stop & Shop. I imagine it hunkered low, beak flexing sadly. Tommy rides in the carriage, pretends it’s a tank. My sister’s clown baby waves at strangers. I look straight ahead at the claw machine just outside the automatic doors, unwilling to lessen its shame with a forgiving glance. For this bird my feeder will remain empty, and I have to go now because my sister is skipping up the walkway with her clown baby.
Mel Bosworth is the author of the fiction chapbook When the Cats Razzed the Chickens (Folded Word Press, 2009), the novella Grease Stains, Kismet, and Maternal Wisdom (Brown Paper Publishing, 2010) and the novel Freight (coming 2011 from Folded Word Press). His writing has appeared or is forthcoming in elimae, PANK, Per Contra, Wigleaf, BLIP Magazine, Annalemma, decomP, Dark Sky Magazine, >kill author, Emprise Review, and Night Train, among others. Mel lives, breathes, writes, and works in western Massachusetts.