WHERE’S MAMA?” BOBBY ASKS.
“SHE went to the moon,” Dad says. He sucks hard on a Marlboro. Most of the smoke escapes out the window. I think of Mom drifting in a silvery spacesuit toward the strange botched face of the white orb.
We three stare out the windows. Journey is Believing on a half-static channel. We all want to sing, but we are more solo than trio. The summer light flickers among the trees in a lone game of peekaboo.
“Look, a ’quirrel!” Bobby says.
“Grandpa’s buried up here,” Dad says, “near Crater Lake.”
“Do the bugs just eat you right away?” I ask. “I think I’d rather be burned, so at least I can fly in the form of ash.”
“Ew,” Bobby says.
“No, it takes a while, but maybe it feels good!” Dad laughs. He scratches his beard and little white skin-flakes speckle his black T-shirt.
Bobby and I are archaeologists in the summer heat. We pretend we are in India. We joke about the mysterious items we can carry in the pockets of our official-looking vests: knife, lucky compass, Band-Aids, Astronaut ice-cream, a pencil and pad, and harmonica. Maybe we will discover the true length of brontosaurus neck and find an impossible fortune.
“A dinothaur egg!”
Bobby is six and still has the magic in him. He keeps it alive for both of us. My father drives a rusty excavator. He lets me steer it, while I sit on his lap and dig into the fields with the giant lever. I can smell his whiskey breath as I watch the huge scooper unearth acres of mud, trash and history.
We dig fifteen considerable holes.
Bobby and I wonder under our flashlight-night-forts about what our mother does on the moon.
“Iz berry cold dere huh?” Bobby asks.
After dinner, my dad lets us take our dog French Fry outside. We jump into the holes. We talk to the generous earth. The blind earthworms are sweet-pink and gentle when we disturb their darkness.
“What’s that French Fry?” French Fry makes a twitchy, panicked face when I ask. He barks in patterns of three. “Woof, Woof, Woof.”
“No! Fench Fy! No!” Bobby yells.
He’s a yellow, wiry mutt who likes how his voice echoes against the upturned earth.
“Bronosorus was uge. Him woulda liked to nap in this hole.” Bobby tries to use his “bonculars.” He likes the idea, but they are more blur than epiphany.
“Imagine him snoring!” I say. I open my eyes wide and snort like a pig. Bobby laughs real loud and snorts too.
When you still have magic it is easy to laugh. Everything is another reason to be new.
We climb in and out of the holes. We pant as we try to bring our bodies from the craters. The sun sinks further into its decent. The long brown expanse swallows. We go on like this, each night, well into a scorching July.
One night, we slide into the deepest hole farthest from the house. We crouch down like we’re running from the sun.
“I smell tweasure!” Bobby takes out his small flash light from one of his pockets and moves it around the walls of the crater.
“Getta, Getta,” he yells, “Look!” He can’t say Greta yet; usually I’m Sissy.
He points at a shimmer blinking from the far side.
“You did it!” I say.
There is shine in the mud. French Fry barks in his sharpest triple yap that brings up his front legs like a bucking bronco.
I see the glittering string in the dirt. “Pull it Getta! Bobby jumps up and down. He’s been waiting all summer for this. I dig my nails into the dirt, but it won’t release.
“I try. I try.” Bobby pokes it with an axe fashioned out of Legos.
He bangs more, harder. I yank. French fry barks. An angelic strand begins to loosen. We hold our breath, like you must, when you unbury.
Our treasure is tangled up—in dirty hair, crisp with old sticky mud, party-girl hairspray.
Time goes honey slow when we realize our alive bodies/this dead body are sharing space.
“I’m ’cared Sissy,” Bobby says and moves backward, picks up French Fry.
Barking stings in my ears and my heart slaps the inside of my body. I see dried blood in the hair. A heat lightening rushes into my cheeks.
I imagine my mother lost in star-hungry universe.
The dinner bell rings, a longing echo ghosts through the fields toward us. Daddy whistles us in like goats.
We clamber scared, hard and fast from the hold of the hole. French Fry makes it out first. He’s looking down at me, barking.
“No French Fry,” I yell. I clasp my hands to boost Bobby out. He waits for me at the edge like a dirty angel. I tremor, startled like when I learned the man in the moon looses his face, and then it miraculously returns again. I have no upper arm strength and the roots are too weak for climbing.
“Woof, Woof, Woof.”
Bobby and I both yell, “No French Fry!”
My heart beats seventy times per second, becomes a hummingbird, gives me weightlessness. I am lifted out, away from the pretty, tangled chain, the woman who died wearing it, toward my mother, her chicken pot pie, golden crust, white plate, warm gut.
Still at midnight, cops encircle the hole. I watch from the curtained window. French Fry shudders. Bobby restlessly sleeps warm at my side. My father hangs the keys for the extractor in the wooden box by the door, a coffin for keys.
If my mother were here she would be washing dishes real slow like she was bathing my brother when he was fragile and cross-eyed.
When the cops leave their red lights whir through our windows creating fleeting images on our walls as we try to sleep, hummingbirds darting toward a hibiscus, perfect for pinning in a pretty girl’s hair.
Amanda Chiado’s poem “Armor” is part of the 2019 Visible Poetry Project, animated by Marc Burnett. She is the author of the chapbook Vitiligod: The Ascension of Michael Jackson (dancing girl press, 2016). Her poetry and short fiction appears or is forthcoming in Entropy, Cheap Pop, Paper Darts, Best New Poets, Witness, Cimarron Review, Fence, and It Was Written: Poetry Inspired by Hip Hop, among others. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart and Best of the Net. She is the Director of Arts Education at the San Benito County Arts Council, is an active California Poet in the Schools, and edits for Jersey Devil Press. amandachiado.com.