Editor’s note: this piece is a follow-up to Anurag Andra’s “Hunting,” published in a previous issue of Literary Orphans.
We encourage you to read the prequel.
The knife breaks the skin, and you press. Membrane collapsing, bubbling in red. The sound of an edge meeting a hard flat. The smell of something yet to be ripe.
The tomato falls in even halves against the cutting board—wooden, musky and firm. You breathe in deeply, exhale. Inhale again, call him. The dark-haired boy upstairs. Peter, you call again. Dinner’s almost ready. It won’t be nice if you aren’t down here.
No answer. You pay it no mind. The silence is normal. He’s tucked away in his room—purposefully minimalist, negligently drab. You’ve wanted to do something with it. Buy him some posters, a desk, maybe a bean bag for the corner. But no, he likes it the way it is, Mom. Don’t fuck with it. Language, Peter.
You cut the halves into quarters for good measure, retrieve the blender from deep in some top cabinet, where nothing’s ever touched. Tomato chunks and other things. A dash of cumin, a pinch of garlic. A delectable curry. It’s a special evening. Or at least you think it is. You’re still unsure.
The smooth puree is a bold shade of orange, you notice. Burst of sensory memory, an immeasurable moment. Fur and meat and fat, spilling between and over the sides of your hands, dripping. It reeked of days gone, you remember. Nausea. You swallow something not there. Your stomach hollow. I just wanted to try hunting, he’d said. He was just a boy. He’s still just a boy.
Peter, you call again, louder now. Are you coming down. Perhaps to speak is to breathe fresh air.
No answer. You wash your hands at the kitchen sink. The scent of artificial lavender. So sanitary. Liquid wobbling in the blender.
Upstairs, each step at a time. Creaking, the wood old and uneven, the carpet a feeble disguise. Slow. Knees arthritic. As Peter grows, your body deteriorates. But this is normal. The way of aging. Motherhood.
Peter’s room. Door closed. Once, there had been streaks of white patched and pulled from the wood. A clean frame now. All that time inside, he never spoke a word about it.
Knock. Hold your breath, let him take his time. Breathe slow. A tremor in your chest. Two knocks. Movement inside. The repositioning and removal of blankets. A creak in the bed. Everything in this godforsaken house. Footsteps, quiet. Doorknob twists.
The doorway and the hallway become one. Peter. A young man now. His eyes, a woodland. You remember his infancy. A tiny thing, he used to be. Soft and wide-eyed. Seldom cried, the way he now seldom speaks. Where did he go.
You ask him if he’s coming down for dinner. She’ll be here soon. He nods.
You ask him if he wants to comb his hair. It’s a little messy, you say, and try for a smile. Nods again, brushes his hair to the side.
You bite your lip. I couldn’t figure out how to skin it, he’d told you those years ago. I’ll be down in a little while, he says now.
Down the stairs. Easier this time, but you hold the rail, grip it tight. Knees steady, go slow. The intrusion of memory once again. An animal you once held, or something that had been one. You wonder how old it had been.
The bottom step. The aroma. Tomatoes, garlic, cumin, other things. The knife on the counter. The blender. Your stomach tells you what it thinks. From the kitchen window, the faint glow of orange. The sun begins its farewell. Your heart feels larger than it ever has. A child reaching adulthood in a locked room. Thrashing at your chest.
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Slow.
Beads of sweat, your forehead. Wipe the damp into your hair. Lips moist, the skin above and below them too. Dab with a kitchen towel. Breathe.
Silence again. No footsteps upstairs. Nothing from Peter. Nothing outside. Somewhere out there, the grass swaying, the leaves rustling, the trees and everything they surround whispering. What are they hiding.
The doorbell rings. You realize you’ve closed your eyes, and you open them once again. You hear your own feet as you walk to the door. Hands and fingers trembling. Jaw in tow. Palms damp again. The brass doorknob. The wooden door. Immaculate, white.
A girl. Her hair flows neatly in the light wind. Hazel eyes. A warm smile.
Hi. You must be Peter’s mother. It’s so nice to meet you. Amelia. She reaches out a slender hand.
You think to call for Peter, think to shake her hand. Nothing spoken, nothing taken. Her smile fades for a moment. You shake your head, swallow. Say, of course. Come in, Amelia. Come on in.
You step back, turn, and she follows.
You have a lovely home. Her voice is syrup.
The front door still open. Something out there whispers to you. You close the door slowly, and it whines on its hinges. An animal.
You turn to face her again. She’s glowing, amber. She smiles politely.
I love your hair, you find yourself saying.
She blushes, tucks a strand behind her ear. Thank you. That’s so sweet.
You stand together for a moment before she asks, is Peter here.
You swallow again. He’s upstairs. I’ll go fetch him.
Oh, I can go—
Don’t trouble yourself. He’s my son, after all.
You smile. Tight lips rarely quiver.
Climb the stairs, hold the rail. Creaking again. Halfway up, you hear no footsteps. Door closed. He’s just a boy with friends with fathers, you’d told yourself once. You breathe there for a while, those middle steps. Close your eyes.
You descend again. Back to the kitchen. Amelia, you call. Your voice faint. She turns to face you. She’d been looking out the window to the grass.
He’s not feeling well, you tell her. He’s so sorry. Maybe another evening might be better.
She stutters. Are you sure, she asks. I can go up—
I think another evening, honey.
Stand there in silence for a while, wonder if she can hear your heartbeat, that deep, wordless drum. Looking away, she tucks her hair behind her ears again, makes for the door. You meet her there, open it for her.
She starts again, I’m really sorry if I did something—
You place a hand on her shoulder. Of course not, sweetheart. I just wouldn’t want you catching something too. You should go. I’ll check on him.
Okay, she whispers, and slowly, she makes for her car.
Beyond the driveway, the road, and the endless lawn, the trees stand in stoic silence. Between and behind them, other things make their homes.
She pulls away, makes a turn, drives.
The wind again. There’s something out there.
Footsteps upstairs. Creaking. The old wood.
There’s something in here.
–Art by Mick McClelland