“Under the Shadows” by Nika Cruz

Nika Cruz


This is what happened at the foot of Cradle Mountain
on those 600 acres when my stepfather washed his
lithium down the basin and started hallucinating again.
He took the farm cats down the back paddock one by one
and cut off their heads. And now he was sure they were
back stalking him by the hundreds disguised as shadows.
He started hiding in the chicken coop, squished in the
corner, his face pressed into the diamond wire. My mother
would coax him out with a flashlight, he’d crawl toward the
bright beam and follow it limp and drooling to the house.
Sometimes he’d fall asleep as soon as she got him to bed,
other times he’d creep out, find my mother chopping
vegetables, curl at her feet and beg that she take the knife
to him. Cut me small, he’d plead, I need to be in pieces
to escape thi
s. She’d try to get him to the doctor but when
she picked up the phone he’d lunge at her screaming, and
one day he tore the wire from the wall. That night when
he fell into heavy sleep my mother took thick gray masking
tape, wrapped it quietly round and round, taped him to the
bed. He didn’t stir, she blew him a soft kiss, pulled on her
gumboots and green housecoat, I’m going for help, she
whispered and headed down the dirt track. She didn’t know
how long it would take, but she stepped out into the pitch
black. Under the shadows, the night creatures rustling, she
kept going, flashing the small light in her hand.

from Rattle #27, Summer 2007

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