Saturday morning the little gray house woke early. The sky was still dark, with only the only the edge of the horizon, the bit of sky just above the slanted roofs of the houses and the tips of trees from the wooded area at the end of the dead-end street, were beginning to show a faint tinge of pink hue.
Octavio slept still. He would stay home with Amorey, or if his boss called, he and Amorey would be going out on a drywalling job in Wall Township. Octavio did not seem to be as involved in Necroworks as Helene was. He worked intermitendly and when he did he often brought Nita and Amorey along. Rachel was frightened of Octavio and the way he alternated rapidly between stoic disintrest and short bursts of rage. Still, she felt an acute jealousy, a feeling of not really belonging, when Nita would come home talking excitedly of her day spent on a jobsite, helping to float grout or watching as Octavio hardwired a light fixture.
Helene and Octavio rarely spoke to each other, and Rachel was now certain that Helene's permanent bedroom was the living room couch, but Octavio did speak to Nita. Octavio and Nita were close and Rachel craved such a relationship. She had that with Nan, but Nan wouldn't come get her and Rachel hadn't called her again since that phone call. Nita and Octavio stayed up late watching cartoons on AdultSwim. They played games on the computer. RPGs, Nita had called them. They both even wore their hair in similar style, a low ponytail at the base of their skull.
Nita was very different with Helene. The three of them carried crate after crate outside, a repetitive march back and forth from the van to the pile in the living room. Nita did not make conversation with Helene as she did with Octavio. She passed her mother looking at the ground, and when they did speak it was for administrative purposes only.
"Should we get some blankets so the boxes don't fall?"
"Should we bring some Coke? How long does it take to get there?"
"If you're gonna sell jewelry shouldn't we get the case?"
Nita and Helene seemed only to connect over witchcraft. They both loved that altar. She'd seen them both stop and fuss with the water bowl filled with herbs, or solemnly mutter what Rachel supposed must be a prayer, while gazing with adoration up at the large winged statue of Isis.
Loading the boxes took a very long time. Rachel grew sick of the path she traversed. Up the dirt driveway, up the paved walkway, open the screen door, across the square of tiles, onto the carpet, grab a box from the pile that was shrinking far too slowly, turn around, pass the TV and the dark hallway, back over the square of white subway tiles, open the screen door with an elbow or a hand if you could spare it, back down the walkway, step down onto the dirt driveway, up to the van, find a free space to load the box or crate, repeat. Then repeat. Then repeat again.
After thirty minutes or so, the process began to take on a meditative quality as the three of them worked in silence. Rachel enjoyed the sensation of the cool morning air on her face and arms, a coldness left behind by the retreating night.
It was now four-thirty eight AM. Rachel red these numbers in red digits on the alarm clock situated on top of the television. She didn't think she'd ever been awake at this hour before. What ab strange thought. She had never in her life, to her knowledge, been awake at this hour before. It was almost as if she'd never existed at Four-thirty before. Sleeping didn't count as existing. A person had no idea what was going on when they were sleeping. For the very first time, she knew what went on at four-thirty. She knew that the air was cool and the moon still shone in the sky. The world didn't know yet whether it was night or day and so the transition caused it to be a little of both. Four-thirty was a day-night hybrid. Birds were awake. They had taken it upon themselves to decide it was morning. Ignoring the stars still vivid in the sky and the darkened houses, they chirped and stirred in the pine trees. It was as if the earth was waking up and birds were the planet's alarm clock, one without a snooze button.
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***Long-listed for the Watty's 2018***Rachel lives in constant fear that she will burst into flames. She can feel the heat building in her gut. She keeps buckets of water under the bed. She keeps them to fend off the flames that her body may create...