Ourselves and Our Claim to Piracy
by J.A. Tyler
We slept that night, though we don’t know how. When Our Mother found us in the garage, pliers in hand and each of us with a tooth pulled, we thought for the ease of everything she might just cut off our heads then and there, leave them beside the jeep, dirty still from the last release of Our Father to the sea.
But she didn’t crop our heads from our bodies. She only looked at us, the look of a cutlass. Our Mother was disappointed. This was our burden.
Our Mother was becoming a ghost. We’d watched the veil of her body for as long as she’d seen us looming into piracy. There was no stopping any of it. Boys would become pirates. Mothers would become ghosts. Fathers would return only a few nights in every thousand. Girls would move into the empty house up the street and boys would fall in love with them, a kind of love only possible in constant rain.
We long to drown in this township’s downpour. We wallow in inevitabilities. In this township, among the grocer and the library and the hillsides covered in spruce, the soil soaked black, we are boys becoming pirates, and we have Our Father to impress, our love to seduce. We make Our Mother sad, parenthetically, and it feels inescapable.
We mutinied against own bodies. Each of us pulled a tooth from our mouths, a permanent move, and we thought Our Mother would find it unforgivable. She is perpetually worried about our limbs, our organs, how many buccaneer words she imagines caught in our throats, how many scars we add to our knees, the state of sadness weeping into our faces. We waited for her to explode, but Our Mother only stood there, quietly agape, then she walked past us as a ship divides a wave, placing a pair of pliers on the wall’s peg board next to the outline of two others, the ones in our hands.
We woke to throbbing mouths, tiny pits bleating for removed teeth. We tongued our gum lines, astonished at our own resolve, elated to share these new smiles with Mallory. We pictured her standing in her driveway, our bicycles laid there, rain coming down. She would come to the front door, arms crossed over her ghostly body, a look of disappointment on her face. How scarcely she believed us as pirates. But then we’d smile. We’d each of us smile the widest smile we could, showing our lunacy and our strength, our determination and our brutality, our pirate potential. We imagine she’d break like water.
Downstairs Our Mother was missing but our breakfast was on the table. She was conspicuously gone just as she’d been from her bed last night, when we assumed she was sleeping, when we’d snuck to mangle our smiles in the garage. She wasn’t there but our bowls were set, glasses filled, and we slogged through, gums all niggling bruises. While we ate, we should have been thinking of Our Mother, of her absence, but we knew she wasn’t a ghost yet. We knew she wasn’t floating near us, translucent, wavering unseen in the air, so there was still time to save ourselves from loneliness, the lonesome future her ghosting would create. So instead of thinking of her, our hearts pounded with love for the other ghost in our lives, for Mallory.
Breakfast finished, we put on jackets and skimmed out the door. Ahoy! we hollered to Our Mother, who we supposed was roaming other rooms of the house straightening the askew or settling in for a day at the tiny light of her sewing machine, making another dress to never wear.
The front door closed behind us and rain fell on our cheeks. We hefted our bicycles from their resting places against the house and lifted off onto the street, riding holey smiles in the wind to Mallory’s house.
In the distance, the house was dark, but the closer we came the more a glow from within began to radiate, growing steadily brighter until we were up the curb and onto her driveway, the light then bursting from every join. It was a sight, the way a house could burn with insistence.
We stood astride our bicycles, calling her name from the driveway, carefully keeping our lips over our teeth to hide the surprise of our new mouths. Our calls eventually upended into shouting, but not a whisper returned to us, not a movement came from within. We shielded our eyes and attempted to see into the windows, through the curtains, looking for any glimpse of Mallory’s silhouette. But then the light went suddenly off. A choked and absolute darkness descended. We were stunned by the light’s silence. We dropped our bicycles in the driveway and went for the front door. We banged and banged, the handle unwilling to give even under our duress. We pounded with our fists but no one responded, no sounds came escaped, no creak of floorboard indicated arrival. There was no soft-shoe of impending steps, no whimper of distress. There was only nothing.
We began making our way around the house, putting our faces up to each window, our hands on either side of our eyes, doing our best to see through the layers of rain, glass, drapery, gauzy curtains. We looked in one then the next, rounding the house, finding only our own dim reflections and the dusky shadows of empty corners.
We were coming past the side yard, headed toward the bay window at the back of the house, when we saw again the near headless ghost of a cat dodge into the bushes, but we couldn’t stop looking for Mallory. So even though we longed to touch its bandages, to see if its body was indeed ghostly, to see if our hands would fit entirely through, we ignored the cat and instead each took a position against the bay window, blinding our peripheries. Inside was an oddly empty and dusk filled house, unadorned, vacuous. But from this window, unlike the others, we could see the bottom of stairs leading upward, where the faintest light came threading down.
We wanted to break the window and climb in. We wanted to shoulder the door until it gave way. We wanted to ram our bodies against the walls of Mallory’s house until they caved. And we wanted to know why Mallory’s house had no furniture. We wanted to know why Mallory’s house had no pictures on the walls, no decorations strung. We wanted to know why Mallory’s house still looked like the empty house up the street, even though she was living in it. And we wanted to know what happened to Mallory’s father. We wanted to know if she had a mother, and where her mother was. And we wanted to know what Mallory felt like on the inside, how her lips would sound saying our names, how much her limbs would weigh wrapped around a boy’s body.
Instead, we backed up in the yard, where the rain was coming down in greater stead, unblocked by the house, and we ran to the front, to the window where we’d first seen Mallory framed that day when this empty house up the street became the house of Mallory.
Stepping onto the wet cement of the driveway, looking upward, we saw her there again now, a finger or two peeling the curtain open. She saw us. We watched her see us. We watched her watch us and in her eyes, instead of the beaming we’d seen before, it was a cold gaze, one of disappointment and forgetting, one of seeing two boys again in her driveway, two boys who yesterday she thought would be pirates of cutlasses and pistols, but who turned out to be only boys, too afraid even to spelunk a cave’s mouth.
But then we smiled, showing her the new gap we’d each made in our mouths, and Mallory’s stare softened, her glow brightened, and the curtains receded with the quick shifting of a girl’s ghostly body headed down the stairs to greet us, to walk back with us to the mouth of a cave, to descend into darkness.
J. A. Tyler is author of the forthcoming novel The Zoo, A Going (Dzanc Books) as well as several earlier books of poetic hybrid. He teaches high school in Colorado.