Listen to author

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

I have three toes on my left foot. I have a fondness for flat Coke, and want to be a scarecrow when I grow up. To that end, I have a large collection of hats, flannel, black buttons, and straw. I am careful not to set it all on fire.

I am not convinced that I will be a successful scarecrow. I talk to crows, but I don’t think that they are scared. I think that they are laughing at me. I try to ignore them. I collect more buttons. I count to one hundred backwards. I walk away. I sing. I taunt them with bubbles. The bubbles pop, and the crows keep laughing.

I am scared of the dark. I have a collection of lightning bugs pinned to a corkboard. I caught them in a glass jar the summer that I was eight. They no longer illuminate. They are stiff. They smell. I whisper to them. They do not laugh. Their wings flash silver in the dust—ashes to ashes and all that.

Like Grace. She was my sister. She was full of it. Grace, I mean. Handy that that was her name. My mother covered the mirrors when she died, and left me to fend for myself. The mirrors are still black, and my mother rarely leaves her bed. Sometimes I think that she is dead, too. But her chest rises and falls. My father applies Raging Blush lipstick to her lips every morning, to a rather haunting effect. He shops and brings her tea. Earl Grey. Milk, not cream, no sugar. Sometimes she partakes, but mostly not. Why bother?, I think. But I say nothing. I no longer exist. I am not Grace. And I want to be a scarecrow.

Scarecrow is not an acceptable occupation. Honorable, yes, but honorable in the way that garbage collector is honorable. Honorable, but not acceptable. They hoped I would grow out of it. I have not.

As of today, I have six barrels of straw. If I could, I would spin it into gold. But I cannot. Ten years have passed. I have fifty-two flannel shirts of varying sizes. I have thirty-two pairs of hiking boots, some with laces, some without. I have sixty-five pairs of black pants. Thirty-five are covered with crow excrement, tangible evidence of their laughter.

I have a birthmark on my left shoulder like a half-winged bird: red, angry, and doomed to an early death, the blessing of a mocking god. I have collected nine hundred buttons. Eight-hundred-ninety-seven black, and three pearl. The pearl buttons are from the bodice of a dress. They smell like charcoal.

I have twenty strands of blond hair. It is not mine. Mine is red, like the birthmark, and receding, like my father’s. It is one of the few things we have in common now, other than the photograph.

It is black and white. Like the mirrors against the wall. Like my mother’s gown against her white sheets. My father is smiling. Grace is sitting on his lap, wearing the dress. It is too long for her, but it makes her feel like a princess. That’s what they called her. I have caught a fish. It dangles upside down, head first, and I am proud.

My mother cooked it for dinner. I took the scales and the bones and buried them in the cornfield. I flushed the eyes down the toilet.

I caught three fireflies that night. Grace caught ten. That makes thirteen fireflies. Grace was six. I was eight. It was past our bedtime. I lit a match. It flickered like the fireflies. We laughed. Grace twirled around. The wind blew. She screamed, and I ran away.

As fast as I could, toward the house. Not fast enough. Smoke in the air. Three toes on my left foot. Falling again, again, and again. My mother running, fainting. My father racing towards the flames, a wounded animal pierced through the heart. The cornfield an inferno. The cornfield a pile of ash.

Grace is buried in the cornfield now, she and her princess dress, and her ten fireflies still in the jar. The corn grows tall and green again. I watch over her, like my father watches over my mother. When the crows laugh, I sing. I blow bubbles. I count to one hundred backwards. I am calm. I am peaceful. I am grace. But I have never forgotten the screams. The crows will not let me.