In the basement of the Children’s Museum in Indianapolis, there is a carousel. Or at least, there used to be. As I descend into the first room, the music starts, and it is that music, only darker. The cheery notes all flattened out and squeaking, a mouse under a cat’s paw. It is a formal dining room. Eight mahogany chairs with red cushions, a huge table, an imposing china cabinet, none of it familiar. The steel cable my harness is hooked to shudders.
The next room is dim, but the smell tells me everything. The first night I worked at the nursing home, I was in the room with Miss Soo Li, and then she was not. Her mouth stuck open; her insides seeped out. There was such a foul smell, and when we rolled her over to change the bed, I touched her arm and my fingerprints stayed. This room in the dark is the same: adjustable bed with safety rails, tiled floors, particle board furniture. The cable creaks and I close my eyes.
When I open them, I am in the living room of my first apartment. Matted shag carpet, PlayStation 2 in the center, and draped on the old couch Dad gave me that reeked of his dog, my work shirt. My first manager was from Bangladesh. He went home for a month every year, and when he came back, we’d gather around with warm beer and watch his home videos. In one scene, he slaughtered a cow, slicing its throat with a huge knife. The cow’s head lifted like a lid, the windpipe gurgled with blood, but still it gasped, trying to breath. When the music stops, it is this noise that replaces it. The floor this time is not a floor, but a mouth.
My lover chases me around the living room.
I dig my toes into the matted shag carpet
as he tries to hoist me up, throw me over
his shoulder. He settles for pinning me
to the tweed sofa. I squirm and squeal
as he tickles my feet, my ribs,
the backs of my knees. I kick at his hands,
playfully at first, then harder
until he pauses mid-tickle to slap my ass.
I pretend it hurts. He rubs the backs of my thighs,
strokes the little crease where leg
and bottom meet. A wet ache consumes me.
I turn my head to kiss him.
My father’s face looks back.
Her lifeless body stirs, broken head
a sponge sucking all the blood
back in, blonde creeping up
the ends of her hair. She rises.
Pulse fluttering, she floats three stories
up to the balcony. Her hands
latch onto the railing. A scream flies
into her mouth. Then, another.
The bullet dislodges, worms its way out
of her knee, shoots itself back
into the pistol. My arm falls gently
to my side, trigger finger uncurling.
My bare feet run backward across
the white chenille rug. She climbs
over the railing. My hand lays the gun
on a glass top table by the door.
She retreats to my lover’s bed, slipping
underneath him. Their lips touch; his hand
plunges into her bra. I exit the room.
The door flings shut. I am wild awake.
Ellie White holds an MFA from Old Dominion University. She writes poetry and nonfiction. She has won an Academy of American Poets Poetry Prize and has been nominated for both Best of the Net and the Pushcart Prize. Ellie’s chapbook, Requiem for a Doll, was released by ELJ Publications in June 2015. Her second chapbook is forthcoming from Dancing Girl Press in 2019. Her first full-length collection is forthcoming from Unsolicited Press in 2019. She is a social media editor and reader for Muzzle Magazine. Ellie currently rents a basement in downtown Charlottesville, Virginia. To read more of her work, visit her website: elliewhitewrites.com.
1. Fear of sleep.