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Katrina Jones by Danielle Davis

Katrina Jones is a woman-child who walks barefoot around the yard, scrutinizing the ground as she steps. For badgers and wolverines, she says, because they like to hide in their holes. Sometimes you can see her crouched in the mud next to the creek behind the house, sticking her long fingers into the crawdaddy holes and humming softly, because badgers and wolverines like to hear music. She says she read it in the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Her toes are short and knobby and worn to calluses like leather along the bottom. They are covered with small cuts and almost all infected—angry red dashes like burnskin that dot the mud-colored flesh. The cuts are from the twigs and sticks fallen from the front yard oak. They lie like dead snakes in the dirt or hide in the clumps of yellow grass that remain of the lawn. I tell her to put on shoes, as I doctor her cuts with alcohol. I tell her in a language she understands that sticks are more dangerous than wolverines and that she should not step on them as she shuffles through the dust. She only looks at me with eyes like the sky and says why? They’re just feet. Then she asks me where the grass goes in the summer and I murmur that it hides because it’s afraid of the sun. Days later, you can still see her pondering this, first looking up at the sky, then to the dirt clouding up under her feet.

If you ask her who do you think you are she won’t answer in a way you’ll expect, unless you know her well. She won’t say a girl, or 25, which is her age, or even brown-headed. She’ll tell you something like a ballerina (and then she’ll do a little twirl for you on her tiptoes) or Methodist, even though we don’t even go to church, never have. Usually, though, she’ll answer simple but breedable, followed by a giggle like she’s told some secret she wasn’t even supposed to hear. She doesn’t know what it means, only repeats it because it’s what she hears our Daddy say sometimes to the young men on the porch.

Whole town knows how she is, those that live here anyway. See her at the grocery store or walking some road on her way back home. Barefoot, of course, and not even looking where she’s going with her head thrown back as far as it can go, just laughing occasionally at nothing in the sky. But she’s pretty and sometimes forgets to wear a bra, then goes strolling or skipping into town with her breasts rolling inside her dressfront like melons in a bag. They’re big enough even the mean boys who used to throw rocks can’t help but notice. Big enough to make them forget that emptiness in her face or the way her eyes rarely focus on anything in particular, like a child. Men come all the way out to the house to ask Daddy about her, ask whether or not she’s marriable. We usually get at least one a week, but sometimes they come in pairs, always forgetting to keep up the conversation if she walks by. Daddy just waits and licks his lips as he watches their eyes slide over the way she rolls her hips.

I tell her she better stop that, walking that way, before Daddy finds someone who’ll marry her. Sometimes she cries when I mention she’ll have to leave here then, and we won’t ever see each other again. I warn her that men don’t care about her, just her hips and if they’re wide enough for babies. But she just pokes her hipbones with her long fingers and frowns at them. They’re just rocks, she insists, like yours, and then she points to mine. Rocks rolling in the dust, she says, rolling among the snake sticks and bush grasses.

She brought home a bird once, whose small corpse lay in the shade of the house under a windowpane. Its neck was broken and it smelled like wet dirt and clover. She sat on the back porch with it for hours, in the rope hammock, cradling it to her chest and humming a little tune to it as low as her voice would go. With one finger she stroked the back of its head as it lay crooked on her forearm. She asked if it could see the sunset and described the sky in purples and greens and oranges that weren’t really there. When she fell asleep, I eased the bird from her fingers, its body still warm on one side from where it lay next to her heart. I buried it behind the barn before Daddy got home. For days afterward, she walked around the house asking if we’d seen her baby. Of course I didn’t say a word, but Daddy just smiled and said no, but that he bet he could find her a new one if she was good.

Katrina Jones is not a woman-child, but an element. She is a wind that brushes along the bare dusty back of the dirt in our front yard, kicking up clouds of dust as she passes. She whistles to birds in a language only they understand and sometimes they answer her back, in chirps and small clicks of their beaks. She tries to imitate those noises but can’t. She calls to the plants to rise from their hiding places and dances with the sun to show the grass it has nothing to fear.

But in our house, she’s the creak of a stair or the well-worn splinter that never breaks away, never gets caught under your skin. She is a humming that drifts gently in and out of rooms as you read or wash dishes. You can’t call her because she is never really there, passing just close enough to disturb the air you breathe, and when you turn around, is gone. She is a sigh in a quiet room and the whisper of hair on a pillow.

When she is gone, I know the sun won’t bother shining here anymore. The dust will settle and the badgers and wolverines will remain in their holes. Birds will fall silent and remain untouched beneath windowpanes without her there to pick them up.

Danielle has had dark fantasy and speculative fiction published by several people with excellent taste and has a current novelette, “No Room for Valor,” published at JukePop Serials. You can find her on WordPress, Tumblr, Twitter, and beyond under the handle “LiteraryEllyMay.”

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