flower bud suspended in water in a glass

“Good nightlife is like skin care; it takes patience and lots of water. So sit tight and hydrate, babes.” Drag queen bouncers strut up and down the street, by turns chiding and encouraging us through the line. The night breathes quick. My sister, Rayan, laughs and rubs her belly absentmindedly, peering up toward the club entrance. She is pregnant and just starting to show but hardly anyone can tell—and, anyways, she wears a loose black dress that flows down to her knees.

“Get ready to twirl, drop, and spin. And remember our neighbors—they’re not all drunk bitches like you, so shut the fuck up—thanks!” One queen with a nose from an Almodóvar wet dream seems to have the express job of keeping herself cool—she fans herself as she walks back and forth along the line, jet black hair whipping around cream foundation, black and white checkered dress-with-cape reminiscent of a flying bathroom floor. Two scary queens sporting white contacts and curved black talons pass out ice pops to pass the time: cherry, lime, and blue. All the same vaguely chemical flavor, all instantly melting down the hands of my sister’s feathered and bedazzled crew. Soon, they’re laughing and wiping cold sugar on each other, licking fingers, mouths agape and eyes wet.

These are friends of Hemlock, father number two, who is already rolling, frenetic for touch. I realize I am the only one holding down the Rayan contingent, wary of their hands smearing my salmon button-up or knocking her bump. Self-designated pregnant lady chaperone for the night, I’m prepared to elbow nearby flailing arms. Not that she asked for it. But who else is watching for her, Hemlock’s friend wearing a bedazzled jockstrap? Hemlock, whose name isn’t even Hemlock? And isn’t she worried about disease? All these mouths, secretions, and respiratory droplets waiting inside? About the whole neighborhood, really, Wyckoff Street teeming with people, taco trucks, and pizza signs blaring? I don’t remember Bushwick as such a carnival, all these eager bodies charged with the early tension of the night, the anticipation of delight, the thrill of seeing other Midwesterners who made it out. Just last month Dave from our office fully walked away from it all to be a DJ, dumping his pro-bono cases onto me in the name of liberty. I bet he’s out here somewhere, fucking some Bushwick twink between sets and thinking he’s changing the world.

If Rayan wanted a cute night out, we could be comfortable with the gorgeous queens of downtown, where at least the men bathe and look in a mirror before going out, where we’d be less obviously parasitic. Down the block, a father navigates his laundry cart through the crowd, holding his toddler’s hand as she waves at the noise around them. On the wall behind them is a giant Old Navy ad mural of smiling women, all different sizes and hues, lit by museum-quality fixtures. I glance at Rayan, seeking out a real New Yorker eye roll as we inch forward, but she’s grinning at something Hemlock just whispered, arm draped around her. I don’t say anything. She winks at me over his shoulder. And it comes up from my toes, this desire to rip him away, peel his ragged cuticles from her bare shoulders, swaddle her in the bathroom-floor cape, and be done with this whole charade of freedom. But I just flash her a thumbs up. And I stay.


I want nothing to do with you, Rayan screamed into the phone. I want nothing to do with you.  “You” being me and my parents, huddled together over the phone, early Easter Sunday. I want nothing to do with you. “Nothing” like she was in a soap, leaning on an intricate armoire in a gown, only the gown was a crop top, the armoire a stack of plastic shelves at Hemlock’s apartment. “Nothing” implying some laborious action like having a civil conversation. I want nothing to do with you and I wanted so badly to tell her that she had a glob of jam on her top—probably fig and definitely Dior, a gift from Dad—that we weren’t the type of family that screamed. I wanted to explain that we were just suggesting options, that she had just come back East, just started looking at classes again, that maybe now wasn’t the best time. Besides, it was as routine a procedure as tonsil removal, only our moral judgements made it seem risky. But I got too distracted by the vein straining to escape her neck through the bowl of her collarbone to make a coherent argument. Besides, she cited all the wrong reasons: black genocide, it’s  cosmically morally wrong, she didn’t trust doctors anyways. I said something about her teeth not trusting a toothbrush. She said something about how pro-choice implies an actual decision. Just get rid of it now or you’re never gonna graduate, I said, and you clearly can’t handle a baby you fucking idiotlook what happened to the last one. I think I said it calmly, but she hung up before I could ask.

That night, Mom furiously made Easter buns, not speaking to Dad or me, just measuring dried fruits, molasses dripping black like fresh petroleum, and an endless array of spices. She conjured her father into the kitchen, Caribbean hands ready to caress, stir, or smack at will. Metal scraping grated the air, echoing off the walls and down halls. Dad disappeared into the bedroom with a shrug, neatly tucking the whole night into a forgotten corner of his mind. When I crept beside her, Mom shook her head sharply and pointed her lips to the door. She spoke into the dough as she smacked it into shape. We just got her back, sifting flour in with a sure hand. You’re so selfish. She closed the door before I could defend myself. Defend the idea of maybe taking a strong stance against the further deterioration of a once-promising life. Against them shelling out even more money per month. Defend the value of education, of her getting a damn bachelor’s degree at almost thirty, well beyond embarrassment. She closed the door before I could hear my own thoughts and gather together some kind of apology.

A few days later, Mom drove to Hemlock’s place unannounced, delivering clothes, toiletries, stuffed animals, along with three pans of jerk chicken, curry goat, and rice and peas.  For the next four months, Dad and I got the silent treatment, while Mom faithfully delivered.  This coming from a woman who only cooked when they had company and even then, only with a bottle of wine and ample grumbling, now quietly stirred, chopped, and packaged meals every other weekend. Early Saturday mornings, she carefully extracted Scotch bonnet peppers from the oldest jars soaking at the back of the cabinet, their spice seeming to burn the air. She would come home exhausted but lighter, tucking empty bags away for next week. Mom never told me where Hemlock lived. I never asked.


We reach the front of the line and enter a vestibule, accompanied by one of the scary queens. In the semi-darkness, eyes glowing fluorescent blue, she solemnly instructs us on how to dance in a dark room, where to put our hands or not, how to initiate body contact or not, and the intricacies of sex positivity and consent. The availability of condoms and the proper way to kiss a stranger. Who to alert about a creepy stare. I start to giggle, looking to the others for a knowing side-eye. But they’re equally solemn so I hold it in, chided. All these rules. Shoot, I’ve respectfully twirled tongues before, please.

We spill into a room of cheap plastic stars, large paper mâché puppets, and sequins everywhere. The group ogles, taking photos, stroking the eyelashes of a massive cat sculpture. It’s an onslaught of color, with strobes in every corner. They must have hired an undergrad lighting designer. Hemlock grins and flashes what I can’t tell is a thumbs up, peace, or invented gang sign. His arms are covered in Audubon birds and pine tree tattoos. This is where he earned his name, the tree bursting in both directions on his forearm, roots teasing towards his fingers. I can’t help but think of his other namesake, the lethal white flower. But he seems more coniferously harmless, beard heavily dipped in gray and body blessed with an endearing paunch. His arms are disconnected from his body as he dances, moving independently of his shoulders. Instead of talking, he wiggles, gyrating hips and bobbing his head. I try to imagine falling in love with this. The music thumps louder. Hemlock’s friends titter around us, dispersing into the crowd. Rayan holds close, swaying and chatting up strangers, then disappears as well, as if absorbed. Typical. Inviting me out and then gone.

“Excited?” I ask him. Hemlock turns to me, breathless.

“Of course, definitely. I mean—nervous as hell, don’t get me wrong—but excited too, yea, for sure. Ya know—new life!” I smile at this puppy man and go back to my two step, scanning behind Hemlock’s head for where she went.


Desert Daddy was her God. That’s what I called the man she left home for since I never met him or knew any actual facts about him. Just that he got her pregnant somewhere in the mesas of the Southwest. I imagined a patchy beard, long nails, and a wicked sense of humor. Rayan told me about him three years ago over lunch by the office at one of those weigh-your-plate buffet spots that are secretly perfection. It was a Tuesday in June, the summer before what was supposed to be her senior year at Mt. Holyoke, and we shared a plate of chicken fingers. He’s really special, she told me, lashes dusted with pollen. He can talk with the spirits. The ancestors. I’d follow him, like, anywhere, and she grinned that grin from when we were little, impish and radiant, the face of someone about to climb too far up the magnolia tree, eat one too many Jolly Ranchers. One gap year, a college transfer, and now this second “medical” leave of absence—Rayan was supposed to be taking it easy, centering herself with volunteering, therapy, and hatha yoga—but only one month in, she was diverted.

When she talked about him, her voice never wavered, and she got calm on her face like she was speaking a simple truth. She sounded possessed but also—well—familiar. That feeling was spot on, of wanting to find God in a person so bad that you conjure their fallible muscles and tendons into light, air, and grace. She was a person of sarcasm, which I thought meant she was beyond deception. But she was also a person of impossible romance. I knew that he could take her anywhere, that wherever he went she would follow: a congregation of one.

Desert Daddy was in Seattle and then LA, Nevada, and then down to Arizona. Starting that July, Rayan was all those places too, curled in the back of his RV, doe-eyed and devoted, on the pilgrimage to who knows where. At first, we talked once a week. I’d tell her about my lawyering Saturdays, the summer associates who thought we didn’t notice their perpetual hangovers, and my forays into the weirdly agro world of gay sports. But she would only talk about him, about Desert Daddy’s visitations, his connection to the land, how he could hear things no one else could. I would get mad. Yell into the phone, shoveling Pad Thai at three a.m., telling her to come home. She’d get biting, telling me to call him by his real name, that I couldn’t understand, I’d never given myself to anything. They were on the way to New Mexico, a year later, when she stopped answering my calls. When I visited home for Christmas, I heard my mother in the next room while Dad and I ate, cooing into the phone, promising to send our little scammer another check as soon as she could.


I slip away to the bar, looking for my sister. Instead, I find my unintended kin: a small corner of men in pastel button-ups and ironed jeans, men who all look quietly bewildered to find themselves the corporate dude in the corner, on the outside looking in with new eyes at what they once mistook for adulthood but was actually youth, lithe and glittered. Confused as to when skinny jeans became a marker of age. I avoid eye contact, fearing any acknowledgement of likeness. Many of my friends are like this now: complaining of fatigue, laughing about our terrible dancing, unaware that we rehash the same topics, very aware that we and the culture are diverging, separated by financial security and career fulfillment. That we had to sacrifice chaos for stability, or so we tell ourselves. Quietly, we cherish the clarity of difference, that we’re not pretending to be something we simply aren’t, like the finance bros ill-disguised in fast fashion mesh. We refuse to be anything other than ourselves, which is apparently defined by an aesthetic of order, a performance of domesticity.

I dreamed of being an adult since I was ten, the control, the ability to consume at will, the hushed dinner parties with baked feta and expensive wine. But now—I watch the men drink their beers, how their lips hold the tip, how their cheeks concave with the suction. They pour, gently tilting the bottle, condensation rolling down their thumbs, splashing onto their shirts, tongues half-lifted to catch the last drop. What would it be like for me to slide down someone’s throat like that? Insides tumbled out into an open maw, glittering in the light. Mindless, thoughtless, some of myself landing on a hand, down a chin, to the floor, split open, devoured, discarded. I want someone to gorge on my desire, my youth, or what’s left of it. I wonder if Dave from the office ever feels like that, his flesh offered up as he plays.

Rayan appears next to me, radiant, her cheekbones newly highlighted a purple-pink.

“Shots for the Mamma!” she yells and a small huddle cheers, new friends she’s gathered from the edges of the room. I don’t see Hemlock and his friends. Classic Rayan, charming us at the beginning, then immediately gathering strangers to fawn over her, ignoring anyone who actually put in the work. Ugh, I missed her. The way her eyes focus so sharply when she needs something, how her fingers trill as she thinks, never quite pointing but coaxing the air to transmit her message through time. She leans over the bar as far as she can, whispering to the bartender, who nods, then pours for an endless number of people, who pour out of Rayan’s back, unleashed from the quiver of her spine. Someone short with bleached eyebrows hands over their card.

“To the Mamma!” they shout and throw them back. Rayan takes a shot of lime juice, wincing along.

“Ohhh, it hits the back of the throat,” she giggles. I frown, shot still full. Rayan taps the glass. “Drink up, bro. What’re you doing?” I throw it back and attempt a smile. She pushes another into my face. “You need to chill,” she says and I wind up a retort, something about how the second trimester is probably not the best time to pop your pussy but I shoot her a thumbs up instead. I’m here for her, I’m here for her, I’m here for inching my way back into her life.


Rayan’s the one that called me, unannounced, voice unfamiliar in its softness. She was nearing five months, had finally stopped throwing up, and could I please see her visibly pregnant glory, it would mean a lot. We agreed on the Prospect Park farmer’s market, our reunion softened by plums and peanut butter bars. Rayan rolled down the angled cobblestones of Grand Army Plaza, a bag of chard sprinkling water droplets behind her. Before I could say anything, she embraced me.

Baby Brother, I missed you, she said, and I believed her. Rayan’s limbs were still sinewed but softened, the edges blurred. Sure enough, there was the bump I’d tried to prevent, rising slightly but noticeably from her small frame, as if someone blew air through her navel. Her face glowed. She had cut her hair to a short afro, the ends healthy and gleaming in the sun. We stood there, awkwardly avoiding eye contact, unsure what to say.

He calls me his skinny hippo, she said.

Still vegan, Goat?

I’m eating. No smile. Silence. The smells of parsley and afternoon light. Well, she said, holding out a hand. But I pulled back before I could think.

I’m sorry, I said. I was shitty—she stood rigid—really shitty. All that aboutI was wrong, you’re gonna be a great mom. Already are. And will be again. So, um, sorry. She nodded ever so slightly, eyes down. And I, um, I missed you. Rayan looked up at me, head cocked until I started to squirm.

Peaches? she asked.

We bought two apiece, and sat by the park entrance, dripping onto the grass. We talked nothings. Nothings that had me almost crying. We didn’t talk about Easter but her omission was enough for me, the gift of grace.

Watching her lazily trace the air with those sticky fingers, I tried to reconcile this Rayan with the one who came back less than a year ago, just last Thanksgiving. The one who left her first baby in the West. With Desert Daddy or his aunt or the state of New Mexico, no one really knew. The one who hid in the bathroom while Mom changed the sheets. The one who choked out little whimpers in her sleep.

She turned towards me, at the end of a story, face open, the sun shifting behind a cloud. I have to run, she said. But this was so sweet, nails teasing off a black ribbon of polish. Then—Actually, come out with us next Saturday.

Isn’t thatyou can do that?

She nodded, impatient and certain. Yes, stay over. We can catch up more.

We hugged goodbye and I watched the ground rise to meet her.


I’m in the bathroom. No, I’m in the back room. Something’s kicked in—the shots, no, a gift from Rayan, something in her palm. Performers swing suspended from the ceiling in giant hoops, doing elaborate routines to Whitney Houston remixed beyond recognition. Things swirl, it smells of unwashed pits and poppers and candy, sugar on everyone’s lips. I’m in the bathroom at the urinals and they’re pushed really close together. Oh, it’s a trough. The back room has more animal energy, it’s easy to get stuck between people. It’s bigger than I remember—there’s a mezzanine where people gather. The trough has us standing so close together it’s, my God, maybe the best thing when you know that the other guy is also maybe, yes, just a little curious and a little drunk to be more than curious. On the dance floor, someone is in front of me or behind or both, I think both, three or more someones, catching a wave, riding, breathing hard, pressed harder, melding, revving into a combining, a sweet. We kiss, dicks in hand, in each other’s hands, piss coming out in spurts, his beard is wet, I think from my pee, no my sweat, oh my spit, we laugh, and someone groans behind us hurry up and someone else in the stall keeps going. Another wave hits and we’re separated, hips swirling independently. I dance and I’m suddenly fast, landing on all of my feet, running in place, leaping off hot sand, trying not to break them, toes on scalding teacups, delicate and quick to avoid a splintering burn. Someone pulls on my chest hair with their teeth and I wonder how they pulled through the shirt, they must be so skilled, but the shirt is gone. The shirt is gone and it’s just my chest, no wonder they could find my smallest chest hairs with their smallest teeth, the hairs were swinging right there, waiting. I realize there’s a ramp, I don’t remember there being a ramp before, we might have changed locations. There’s a stage and a DJ and maybe yes oh yes, it’s Dave, the fucker, spinning, somehow calmer in the midst of all this chaos than he was at the office—a quiet eye of the storm, smiling, headphones on, glancing up at the crowd, our dweebish stressed out Dave conjuring our night with ease. It breaks the laws of things, for one to so completely and successfully bend the shape of their path right in front of you, shamelessly public in their molting.

Portuguese man o’ wars, made of pleated silk float down on invisible wires: fuchsia, orange, teal, and turquoise tendrils willowing out over the bodies. Hovering creatures spun from a worm to become a sea of warriors. There’s just so many hot theybies bobbing with the jellies. Who needs the chest-puffing gays of Hell’s Kitchen? I want to move into this moment, settle down between the seconds. I’m ready for the down payment. Where’s the broker, please? I look around, coming down. We’re definitely somewhere new, I’m sure now. The ceiling is higher and the walls are solid concrete. I choke on the human humidity, people-generated precipitation. Someone rushes forward and the crowd suddenly shifts, a whirlpool forming as I ride the riptide out.

There’s Rayan, slinking around the stage in the middle of the room. There’s my sister, spinning under the lights. She’s pulled the dress down over her stomach and rolled it into a skirt, unveiling herself in just a sports bra. There’s her newfound coven gathered around her belly in a ring, waiting their turn to dance with the unborn, worship at her altar. Her face flashes in the light—aquamarine, magenta, mauve, dark. Chin uplifted, arms jointless, legs dropping low, she raises her eyes skyward and lets out a howl. I blink, in awe of the transfiguration. My big sister, no longer goat, grown into a wolf.

She descends from the pedestal as the song shifts and the crowd engulfs itself, bodies collapsing the ring into a smashed ellipse and then a scatter plot. Rayan finds me.

“Cheugy Chaz,” she says. I wrap my arms around her, lifting her up. “Careful!” She swats my arms and holds her stomach. I gasp and squeeze her shoulder.

“You’re having a baby! Oh shit, we need to get out of here.”

“I’m fine,” she laughs, lights projecting spirits across the canvas of her teeth. “Don’t worry. Just dance,” she twirls her skirt and I’m distracted.

“Wow, you’re wonderful!” I throw my arms up to the lights, wrists loose. “So wondrousful!”

“No, you’re wondrousful,” she says, scratching my chest. “Where’s your shirt?” she says. “And who is Dave?” I laugh, almost choking.

“My new lover,” and I wiggle, chesticles bouncing. As the beams flash and bodies twirl, she twists, I twist, she dips, I dip, we swirl each other, and it’s the best of the best.


We get back to Hemlock’s apartment at five in the morning. Much foliage, a sticky futon, no washer dryer, but a clothesline drawn across the room, the hint of dawn breathing open the hanging maternity blouses and stretched leggings. Rayan and Hemlock devour the final corner of Mom’s latest curry delivery right out the fridge, hunched over the bent plastic bowl. I am repulsed and ravenous—there is no microwave. My head pounds. The meat is cold, but it burns.  Oil congealed in the corners and we slurp it like Jell-O, wobbling the heat on our fingers.

“Let’s finish it,” Rayan says, incisors flashing turmeric yellow, passing me the bowl. I grin and attack the neck bone. She cracks open a femur and sucks out marrow. Even Hemlock, lips slick, rips at gristle, gnashing cartilage and fat. Sated, they giggle their way into the bedroom, and I drape my legs across the futon, dazed. Somewhere by the window, between fern and spider plant, a fan sputters, flapping waxy leaves in my direction. I contemplate the pack I’ve joined. I packed myself into something like closeness, a color of family.

As their yips subside, I stretch out. I turn and feel a bottle roll in my pocket. Poppers. I reach for it and feel a roughness. A dried spurt decorates my thigh, extra-starched denim. I giggle, cheeks warm. I sniff from the bottle, almost empty, and let the rush hit the back of my head, my gay-ass nightcap. I wonder if anyone saw the streak, they must have, but I’m not stressed, let tomorrow take the shame. I curl into the couch. It’s sublime retracing your steps through the night, reviewing the groins you grabbed, trying to recall who shot onto your leg or if it was your own aim, misdirected. My throat catches itself, dry.

A bedroom door creaks open and I yank the blanket over me, ready for an earnest early morning roommate. But it’s Rayan in a faded middle school gym tee and saggy pink bonnet, too big for her new cut. She’s wearing her glasses, clunky brown things that blow up her eyes. “Hey Chazzie,” she whispers and I give a little wave.

“What’s up, Goat?” She sidles up next to me on the futon, bare feet up. I pull the blanket, bunching it to my chest.

“Thanks for coming,” she says, hugging her knees. “It meant a lot.”

“No problem, I’m just glad you’re here.” Outside, the beeping of a garbage truck backs down the block. Two heels clack past the window, half snippets rising up and disappearing out of earshot. Somewhere a small bell rings.

“I have something to tell you,” she says.


“I’m, like—oof. I might get emotional. Not that! Not feelings!” She looks up to the ceiling and waves her eyes, nails ablur.

“It’s ok,” I say, hand on her ankle.

“Ugh,” she faces me again. I sit up. “Ok. Um. Jacques … um … Jacques is— Jacques is coming.” I just stare at her.


“I mean,” she looks down. “I mean, my baby. Baby Jacques. From out—from before. I named him after you. Remember?”

“Oh shit,” I say, growing warm. “Oh wow.”

“I missed you and I—it was scary, you know,” she wipes her face. “I wanted to name him Chaz, by the way, but I thought that’d be weird, you sucking my tit,” she laughs, sniffs, “so, I gave him your middle name. To hold onto something.” She breathes deep.

“Wait, so—they’re coming?” I sit up. “No, not him, again,” I say, blanket falling, “Please, not that man,” she shakes her head.

“Not with Michael,” she says, using Desert Daddy’s name, so easily. “Just Jacques.”

She grins, eyes shining. “We got the paperwork settled last week. Mom helped, she did it all,  really, dealing with CPS and his parents—they were trying to block the whole thing. Real shit. But now, he’s coming. We have a flight to Albuquerque next week. Baby’s coming home.” She doesn’t wipe her face now, just hugs her knees and grins as her body shakes.

Of course the baby was real. How did I forget Mom’s face as she packed her bag for New Mexico, summoned that afternoon by Rayan? Mom telling me matter of factly that, yes, our Rayan had had a kid, I had a nephew, pausing to check in for her flight that night. That yes, she had known for months, that yes Rayan had her promise not to tell, that no, The Baby was not coming. She drafted an away message for the firm, muttering how her team better step up, as she pulled on her trench. How did I forget the box of formula tucked into Mom’s purse next to the Thanksgiving leftovers, just in case? Dad, standing by the doorway, lost, just back from the latest building site, tablet tucked under his arm, hands in his pockets?

I could only remember Rayan, sweet Rayan three days later, so very thin, pale, and dry, covered in sores, wrists constantly turning as if rolling a pair of dice. Rayan under her pastel pink comforter, silent as Mom clicked through old movies and scooped soup. Mom only choking up when she went to unscrew a new bottle of Ensure. Rayan, finally back in our arms. And now this new sister, scrubbed and fed and loved, would want anything to do with that small stranger, would have the paperwork or even the desire to bring that talisman of her past into our present?

“We don’t need that,” I whisper, tongue hot. Rayan looks up.

“We don’t—what?”

“We don’t—I mean, you know—” I gesture.

“Know what, Chaz?” she’s unfolded her legs now, eyes red but dry. I’m on the edge but I push.

“Well, you just got restarted. Got your feet. Another kid—his kid—it’s—”

“He’s my kid, too, Chaz. That I literally gave birth to.”

“Yea, but—” I can feel myself heating up. “Yea, but it’s not really yours, right? I mean, it’s in his hand now. Plus, you were like, you were malnourished or something, Mom said, right? When she got you? So, I don’t really know what it is that you’re—what is it that you’re missing? Or what that’s gonna do for you here?”

“How fucking dare you,” she stands. “How—?”

“Tell me I’m wrong,” I say.

“—like you know anything about parenting. Or about being a son, even, part of something. What sacrifices are, what that means—”

“Please. You left and everything’s on me. All of their shit fell right on me.”

“At least they actually like spending time with me, they like that I care. That I care about family, especially my new one—”

“Oh, wake the fuck up. What family? It’s not like it’ll remember you.”

She stops, breath gone.

“I didn’t—I didn’t mean—”

“No, you did,” she says.

“That was wrong, I don’t really think—”

But Rayan leans forward, hands on a chair back. “You do, though,” she says, into the wood. “This is your family too if you can believe it,” she looks up. “I’m keeping my fucking kid. If you want to be part of his life, great. If not, I don’t wanna see you.” She wipes her face, sweaty.

“You want me to leave?” I say.

“Right now?” Rayan stands, “I don’t care what you do,” she gestures at my leg. “Just try not to crust all over the sheets.” She disappears into the bedroom.

I pour myself a glass of water. I count the jars of soaking peppers above the cabinets; some, by the brown crust and faded price tags, were handed down by aunts long dead. I drink.  Under the sink sits Mom’s latest delivery with a half-opened box of chocolates peeking out. I imagine her face set tight against the morning, hugging the package to her chest, smiling at the neighbors stationed in their front yards. Outside, a car’s bass stretches into a siren as it races past.  The sun rises into the room, awake.

I look down at my hands, short and thick. Hands spent typing and scrolling but built to be useful, worker’s hands, so much like our grandfather’s. That’s what he would call them, his words fat with bent vowels. Hands that built up the family, welding and scraping and beating while grandma did the stirring and bearing and sweeping and bearing and soothing and bearing, so that we could do the thinking and typing and spending. It’s distracting, my sister’s antiquated longing for offspring. Distracting, the giddiness of the night, already evaporating with the morning. I pour another glass. Drink. Distracting from our capacity for greatness. Our promise to build something more than a collection of uneducated spawn; to build a family, a legacy, a fully realized life. To admit our shortcomings—Pour—ourselves before the altar of our potential and—Drink—from the font of perfection. I imagine my hands put to work, fingernails, now clipped and buffed, filling with soil, teeming with invisible ant larvae. Capable of crushing, kneading, slicing cane, knocking heads. Drink. I picture kneading Rayan’s mound, needing the seed back into the earth, pushing and pulling until it spreads up through her body, reclaimed as ours.

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