Rachel McKibbens

Easter 1981

1. We found our Easter baskets hidden on the windowsill, and of course, had to count. We laid everything out on the coffee table, examined our chocolate bunnies in their blue sugar bow ties, counted each red jelly bean to see which one of us father loved most. My brother held up a large chocolate egg, turning it in the light like a jeweler. I panicked, scoured through the plastic grass, accused him of hiding it, then shook out the basket one last time until all that was left was inescapable surrender. One missing piece of candy, thirteen daggers to the heart. But what child could understand what happened next? My father ordering us to search our baskets, again. The woman I would never consider a woman nearly killed for her assumed thievery; a rib cracked against the door frame, wrists broken for the face she tried to protect. My brother licked the sugar from his fingertips as I, the unknowing accuser, sat on the porch watching the neighborhood children bounce past our door in their clean clothes, holding their parents' good hands, knowing how it feels to be loved the most. 2. We knew it couldn't be any other car but hers. The malicious thunder of it, rolling up the street. A biblical outlaw. A fiend unleashed. Our mother dropped by to spy on us, didn't realize it was Easter. She kept the car running and swaggered down the sidewalk, stopping in front of us, her legs spread, a hand on each hip. Is that the bitch screaming in there? She asked. We nodded our heads. He hits her too, huh? And I saw that she was pleased. Finally, I had something. Something she could love me for. He does it all the time, I said, You should have been here for her birthday.

What Comes Next

I. I cannot explain why I made him read the letter back to me, required his voice recount each crime, demanding explanations when we knew there were none. What I do know is this: I wanted him to learn the bottomless dark, to follow the trail of words down into the hole — hair slap closet please needed him to see how it was written, in the neatest penmanship, so there could be no mistake, no doubt each admission was as hard to write as it had been to live. II. It is the same dream. My brother and I inside a big house, fifteen stories high. We are on the top floor, feeling around an unlit hallway, trying to find a room to fall into, but every door is locked. And it isn't until we've reached the bottom that a door finally opens. When we get outside, we remember we have nowhere to run to so we have to turn around and go back inside. III. It was late, everyone was sleeping. I was on my way out when a small hand risked everything, and passed an envelope to me through the closing door, my son's voice in the hallway said Here. As I read it, all the years came back to me: the crow bar. The field. The man with the soft white hands. The boy in a jar. The severed thumb. The girl on the floor, biting off her tongue — a life staring back at me, baring its long and yellow teeth, asked What will you do now? While the voices in the letter asked When? IV. The moment you can look at a man and see he is no longer your husband, when his face becomes a father's clockwork mask, turning itself past recognition, his voice a coward's hands dripping mud from the grave he's dug, what other choice do you have but to defy your history, become the god riot of your own small and meaningful world? V. Two children are walking up the road. They've followed a bread trail all the way here. I open the door. Their faces, dirty and waiting. Their bad posture tells me they know what comes next. The older one, the girl, when she speaks, always has her eye on the knives, but the boy just eats and eats, tells jokes all night long, laughing. And as he sleeps, the girl sits up in bed beside him. She never sleeps. She is certain this is a world that would do nothing to protect him, certain she knows exactly how this ends.

Rachel McKibbens lives in Rochester with a lumberjack and their four children. She is a 2007 New York Foundation of the Arts poetry fellow and a 2007 Pushcart nominee.