Tantra Bensko

Oh, no. Not again, says the little girl, swirling around inside her mother’s coffee cup. It must be morning.

The fidgets come like birds. The rust colored curtains decorated with images of giant fingered citrines, on the closed windows, bluster. She looks at the mysteriously moving curtains out of the corner of her eye, never certain what she’s seen. She’s been catching them at it for years, and doesn’t ask anyone. Because maybe it’s her eyes, or worse, her brain. Maybe it’s her mother’s hatred of her, because she’s so pretty, that gets in the curtains. Even though she tries to be her mother as much as possible. Maybe it’s herself that gets in the curtains. Or maybe, somewhere, wind comes in from some neighbor’s air conditioning …

Caffeinated adrenaline moves up the spine like pain shouting into sunny-tailed fireworks. Sleep falls out, and dangerous cliffs, and boys.

And a scruffy man shaking ominously with extra strength that makes everything around him vibrate like a mirage, walking along toward her on the other sidewalk as she’s walking to school. He’s breaking something sharp — more and more sharp — on the sidewalk. He’s swinging it against cars, and signs, and bricks, and sharpening it, honing it as a better tool to kill her, most likely. He’s yelling something incomprehensible, sounds that sharpen themselves on the sky into daggers. She looks down and he’s saying, his face turned toward her, “In the blink of an eye, I can make a white girl shy.”

She runs back home, and throws her textbooks down on the floor.

“That happened, Mama. I felt something like a pigeon in my throat when he said that. And he kept breaking the stick thing shorter and sharper, and it was so loud. I didn’t turn or raise my head to look at what it was. I think I would have died to see it.”

“I know, Hon. I saw it out the window.”

“I wanted you there, Mama.”

“I was there.”

Sometimes, she finds round stones in the backyard, and nearby alleyways. She has yet to wonder if her mother has put them there for her to find. She cracks them open with a darkened hammer into crystal caves. A geode garden growing miraculously.

The little girl is only little sometimes.

Sometimes she is in her mother’s veins, calcium ions acidic sticking to the walls screeching about her father putting himself into some woman. He goes inside them somehow, like he went inside her mother. And they turned into her, some kind of extension she has yet to understand. They say it will happen to her, too, one day. A man will go inside her and then become another little girl. The coffee leaching the calcium, the travels of the blood, the branching of the veins. Her brain.

“Was that you, Mama, who made the scary man on the street so strong? Were you there inside his muscles, shaking them at me, cursing my throat? Did your spirit travel inside him and make him break that thing over and over, stronger than one man could be?”

“You shouldn’t ask so many questions. Oh, you.”

“Was that you?”

“Oh, you!”

The birds that hit the windows left imprints, and feathers. The mother has painted the windows to look like pterodactyls to scare death away. The little girl holds the birds in her hands and warms them when they hit. She holds them to her chest so they can hear her veins. The movement of her blood keeps them alive, and sometimes, she keeps them a whole day. Sometimes only moments. Sometimes they seem dead, and she sends the secret blood through her hands into them, and they scramble up, open eyes, fly away into the trees. They become so strong, with her inside them for a little while.

Sometimes the little girl is very big.

And bird mites burrow in the skin, making trails, tiny worlds, passageways, caves, niches. They make anyone who steps a foot into her house suspect, unless he wears bags on his feet. He might catch the mites and spread them to all their friends. When a boy comes to the door and you give him bags for his feet, you are never visible to classmates again, other than being something nasty to slough off the skin, to shiver around, sit away from, and laugh at with friends in the cafeteria. Birdie.

The father let the bird mite take-over happen. Why? To make a moat of mites? So no boys would ever do more than look in the windows, through the giant translucent wings, pushing their noses against the glass, their cheeks sideways, their eyes curling over themselves, and rings of red around the pale skin flat? Years of bird mites, so she could never go to school, never hold the hand of a boy to her heart, never have a child to take care of, other than her father.

The little girl is no size at all.

The house is full of birds in rib cages. One bird to a human rib cage, on brass stands. The rib cage bones are smooth from so many hands polishing them lovingly. The birds look, and look, and hop. They scatter features and directions. When you look at them, the birds pulse inside the rib cages, aging into ochre discolorations. The brass stands closest to the fireplace are slightly dulled by smoke. But they take on the most shine when the wood burns. The father brings in more and more wood. The wood never ends. After the sticks burn smaller and smaller, he brings more sticks in. The father starts the fire. He sits in his chair, face shadowed, flashing yellow-orange, and stares at her, scratching his skin. It’s OK to scratch. He has mites. It’s OK.

The little girl is curled into a ball.

She is her own geode. She pushes herself against the sharp points of the golden yellow crystals all pointing toward her in the little cave curved so much like her. She snuggles against them, and feels their secret mineral power pulsating into her. She becomes bigger, so big her skin pushes against them all the way around, her flesh indenting. Balls have no end. They just give birth to what’s already in them, round, with no place to stop, ever.

She becomes so powerful with the secret golden light of the geode, she opens up out of it into a dance of the geode flowers. Ravell is playing on the old stereo. Her father and mother watching her dance are sitting on the couch by the fireplace, lit by the flames dancing their features into shadows. She becomes less little, as she stretches in every direction her body wants to go. She doesn’t tell it what to do. It keeps stretching beyond her skin. Into the invisible, where she likes to live.

Her parents clap, sitting down, as she stands, flapping her arms like a bird, a bird whose life she has renewed by becoming inside it, or like flower petals of the day and the night sped up in time, and changed, forever, in eternal space.