My sister Sara and I were laying in the grass behind our apartment complex, staring up at the morning sky. It was cold and my nose was red. I wasn't wearing a jacket. We could see our breath slip from each other's lips. We were mouthing a smoke language back and forth. Sara exhaled a single syllable, but I didn't notice. I was looking past her, at something else. My two brothers knee deep in the swamp, splashing at one another. I could barely tell them apart from where I was. Two faint figures dancing together in the dirty watered distance. I raised myself to my feet and walked closer, their splashes turned to pushes, and before long I saw Marcus fall to his knees and the mud drag him under the water.
Jack ran towards the complex, his red converse now some odd shade of brown, his pants waterlogged, his wet skin glistening in the sun, his face distorted and scared.
I looked back at the water. Marcus’s little arms were causing agitations on the surface as they frantically reached toward the sky. I just stood there, the wind scratching at my bare legs, watching as his arms slowed, disappeared and little bubbles emerged in their place. And then those slowed too… until there was just one. One final bubble resting on the surface, not popping, tragic, beautiful.

T and I are lying in bed. It’s snowing outside but we are barely dressed anyway. Tucked safely under the covers. I have my legs wrapped around him and my head resting on his chest. His olive skin is glowing in the light coming in through the window. It makes my pale arms look funny. Pallid and weak – almost ghost-like. I look up into his eyes, hoping he won’t notice my distance and say, “tell me something... something I’ll only forget.” I lay my head back down and look out the window. The snow is starting to leave traces of its existence on the tops of decaying bushes, the windshields of cars, the window ledge. He runs his fingers through my tangled hair and says, cows don’t have upper front teeth yet they graze for about eight hours a day.
He says that “Mr. Mojo Risin” is an anagram for Jim Morrison.
He tells me that cattle were mutilated in Colorado. How apparently their hide was peeled back and their organs were cleaned from their ribcage. He says that the people of the area think it might have been the handiwork of aliens and are now trying to create an extraterrestrial commission, which will have it’s own UFO welcoming committee.

I listen but don’t say anything. Instead I just keep watching the snow.

He tells me that Adolf Hitler was Time Magazine's man of the year in 1938.

The air in the room is stuffy and stale from old cigarette smoke. My nose is clogged and our sheets smell. Thin brown sheets I bought for us from a discount store last October. He’s just as obsessed with violence as I am.

I was the youngest of three, unless you count him, which makes me number four – barely. We were only seconds apart. Identical,inseparable, and soon just one and the same. My family didn’t know how to cope, so they didn’t. They just pretended he was never there in the first place. My mom gave me all of his clothes and the new shoes she had bought for him. A pair of brown boots, both meant for a boy and two sizes too big. Once, late one night, my mom crawled into bed
with me. I let her cry into my ear and call me by his name.

I was left to live in a non-existent shadow.

When T asks about my past, I tell him about my older sister and her new job or I show him old sepia prints of my parents at their wedding. I make my past like the best movie I’ve never seen. I tell him about birthday parties that never happened and how good it smelt at Christmas time. I tell him too much in hopes that he won’t ever dig deeper.

He kisses the crown of my head and says, your turn. Tell me something.
You always tell the best stories. What was the one about your uncle?
Or was it your cousin? What happened again? He’d swim laps in the
swamp in the back of your house, in the winter?

I close my eyes, hoping to not allow the thoughts to linger long enough to register in my mind. But it’s too late.

I see that small girl in a yellow dress, me. Barely six, standing at the edge of the swamp, Watching. Staring. A young boy’s pale cheek reaching just above the surface of the water, an insect crawling over the sun-dried area – now only a scaled down island.

That boy being my other half.

I see my father running through the grass and into the water. I watch the brown waves splash at his bare thighs. He is only dressed in white underwear. It’s winter but he can’t feel it. I watch him swim to the floating boy, my dead twin brother, and drag him back to the shore. He pounds at Marcus’ chest, my father’s fists now turned white, his lips blue. Nothing happens. He pushes his face onto my brother’s. And still nothing happens.

My father looks up at me, his eyes rimmed with red, and tells me to leave, to beat it. I run behind a tree and listen to my father. He sounds like a wounded animal. I can hear muffled cries and screams and the sound of his fist on my brother's chest.

I stop myself and open my eyes. The snow is still there. Still falling. This boy I've been sleeping with for the past three months is still pressed against me. I can feel his heat. I don’t answer him.
Instead I say, "tell me something else. Please.”
He runs his finger down my back and says that pretzels were originally invented for Christian Lent. The twists of the pretzels are to resemble arms crossed in prayer. He says that alcohol beverages have all 13 minerals necessary for human life.
He pauses and tells me that he loves me.
I pull myself tighter against him. I can hear his heart beating.I listen to the thumps until I finally say, it was my father. Did I mention he did it in nothing but his underwear?
August lost one shoe sprinting after the train and the other throwing herself up into the open boxcar. Before the door squealed closed behind her, she nodded a thank you to the old colored who’d cracked it open and reached out his arm. There was no light inside the car, just slices of sun sneaking in from between wood panels. She pushed until she managed to create a space for herself on the bench closest to where she was standing. Sharpening her pocket knife the night prior was one of her better ideas, she thought.

Her sweaty feet felt spongy as bare skin touched floorboards, sucking up scads of dirt that formed as mud between her toes. She had hoped it was mud. For her scrawny thighs were pushed so tight together by the folks jammed into the car that she couldn´t see below her knees. Whatever the substance was, she knew it was going to stay, for no ventilation would reach such a place. Making out scarce more than shadows, she scanned the other travel thieves. The way they were piled together on each other’s laps and standing in face-to-face intimacy it was impossible to tell where one began and another ended. The little ones were left to the filth of the floor, including babies hid under the makeshift benches.

The stench of alcohol rode the breath of the drunk next to her as he swayed and shifted, shoving her right shoulder into the splintered wall with each rocking movement. Within hours her side was rubbed raw and embedded with splinters that left red-brown stains on her shirtsleeve.

On the farthest wall, in-between wood and flesh, there was a slat warped and broken enough to offer intermittent sight of the world flying by, and every so often a wayward whiff of fresh air would reach her nose. Until a few hours into the trip, when a boy no more than three soiled his romper. He was so tiny and helpless. But some fella who couldn't take the smell anymore pushed the boy right through the damaged slat, never to be seen again. The sad part not being his disappearance but the gratefulness of those closest to the slight improvement in smell and space. The mother´s lone cries quickly blanketed by the hoots and hollers of the rest.

The drunk next to August grunted, “The wee had the quick step. Good riddance to ‘em and that rank smell.” He pulled a bottle from inside his shirt and took a swig before passing it to the man slouched sleepy-eyed across from him. To which he returned a slurred, “I´ll drink to that,” spilling most of the booze on his chin.

Narrow eyes and a long face from that side of the car looked cursedly at August. They belonged to a homely woman nursing two babies, one on each tit.
“Name´s August. Is that what you´re lookin´ fer?”
The woman pursed her lips but paused, as if changing the order of thoughts.
“What´cha plannin´to do with that there toad sticker... August?”
August pet at the knife resting on her lap.
“If I was a damn sawbones, I´d go ahead and make me some slow belly out of that there,” she replied, pointing to a pig pushing between the legs of a couple of young boys sitting on the floor nearest the woman.
“But seein’ that I´m not, we´ll just have to wait an´ see; won’t we?”
The woman looked away in disgust, trying to start up a conversation with anyone that would listen. She caught the eye of a sad excuse of a woman dressed in throwaways who stood looming barely an inch away.
“What a mouth on that young girl. Can´t be more than fourteen years old.”
“Ain´t nothing more than a motherless harlot of the streets. Pay no attention.”
August tried to ignore their words, whispering to herself, “Sickens me listenen’ to people with not a wit between ‘em.” She pushed her fingers into her ears. Although, she could still hear.
“Look at them freckles and that fire red hair. She´s as Irish as the drunk gorilla beside her.”
“Damned from birth, she is.”
The woman sat back, removed the little ones from her tits, and looked justified in her ignorance, now that she found someone to agree with her.

August pulled a piece of looking glass and a match from deep within her shirt pocket. She lit the match and looked at herself. Her reflection was shadowed, warped and crooked. Her copper colored hair, grown long enough to reach her mid back, was tucked up underneath an old beat up bowler hat - hoping to resemble the anonymity of a boy. Her big grey eyes skeptically looked back at herself. She admitted that her eyes were too large, even queer looking sometimes. And that freckles collected to look like dirt underneath them, along her cheek bones. As she looked at herself, she wondered what her mother looked like at her age and what her sister would have looked like. Her mind drifted as did time.

It was at a Sunday sermon, after the potato crops started going bad. Her and her sister Callie were chasing each other around the churchyard. Callie kept on running, her long dress dragging in the wet grass with faint squeals leaking from her mouth. August stopped short. An older man as thin as the fabric covering him lay one the ground a few feet in front of her. His body face down and full length. Callie ran up behind and let out a scream. August turned and stuck her hand over her sister´s lips.


Callie struggled free, and August turned back toward the man. She nudged at his side with her foot. Callie tugged at her sister´s sleeve, “He dead?”
Her hand quivered with excitement against August´s skin.
August lightly kicked at him again. “Nah, ain’t dead. Just saw him blink.”
Callie crouched down and pulled the man over so that his sunken face peered up at them. A handful of ants crawled over the man´s cheeks. Callie eagerly examined the body, “Fur Fuck sake. He is still alive.”

Callie scrambled to her feet and ran down the towpath, leaving August alone with the body. She just stood there, completely transfixed by the image of the withering man.

Within minutes, Callie slipped back up to them. This time she stood behind the man, her hands holding something up over her head and behind her back.
August broke her stare and looked up at her sister. “Whatcha got?”
“Da said there weren't no extra for starving Catholics.”
August watched Callie slam the rock down hard onto the man´s skull.

August jerked in her seat. Adjusting her thinking to the present, she saw that the drunk beside her had fallen into a loud sleep. A little boy, head poking through the gap in the sliding door, was yelling something that only sounded muffled by the time it had reached back inside of the car. No one seemed to care. August watched, interested to see if a sly hand would reach out of the dark and push.

The boy pulled his head back into the car, his skin and hair whipped and raw from the wind.
Still disoriented by her memories, August mistakenly thought the boy to be her little brother. She shook her head hard. It was just a mind trick. The boy standing in the small pool of light was a stranger.

The little boy reached for the sleeve of a stilt-like gangly fella, whose eyes were closed as if asleep or pretending to be.
“Mister. What is them! Mister, look! What is them things?” He pointed through the opening in the door at a field of large bright orange pumpkins.
Four more children pushed their way to the door. Their mouths opened as wide as their eyes. two boys pulled off their hats and twirled them above their heads.
“Will they have such a thing where we´re going, mister?”
The stringy fella gave in and opened his eyes.
“Them are pumpkins. Now leave a man be.”
“Pumpkins,” the children said in unison.
“Pumpkins! Pumpkins! Pumpkins!” They chanted and stomped their feet.
“We gonna´ have so much to eat where we´re headed, ain't we? One of them could feed us all, couldn´t it, mister?”

August´s mouth watered. She hadn´t eaten since the small slice of bread she had the previous night. She knew hunger all too well, having lived with it most of her life. Her thoughts floated and drifted trying to get away from the rumbling in her stomach, and eventually they landed back in Ireland.

She remembered the three boys that she and her sister saw out in the fields one day mimicking cows. There they were on all fours chomping grass, green saliva stains on their lips and chins. Her sister stood on the porch mooing and calling out to them.
“Come here, boys. We´re almost out of milk. Over here... Moo! Moo!” She was laughing so uncontrollably that eventually August laughed too. Their father came out of the house to see what they were carrying on about. His laugh hearty. August heard it like echos into a deep barrel. The laughing and joking continued long after the boys had disappeared down the dirt road. It was wonderful, she thought, just wonderful.

Callie was da's favorite. Both girls knew it, and both accepted it. Whatever he did, wherever he went, Callie was stepping at his heels. His very own real life shadow. Physically, however, they couldn´t have looked more different. Where her father was long and lean, she was short and pudgy. Her father had a head full of thick black hair, and she was stuck with thin, lifeless auburn strands. He had piercing dark eyes, and she had emerald green. Nonetheless, she was fascinated by him, and she hung on his every word and deed. Nightly she´d sit in the tub for hours scrubbing herself raw, but never did she rid herself of even a single freckle. She wanted skin like his, a face like his, mannerisms like his. She dreamt of going to England someday, where he was born and raised. She constantly talked about losing the layer of filth she called Ireland.

She even took to his side when he´d go pronounce the deceased. Afterwards, she´d come home reeking of sickness and run up the front steps to put another chalk notch on the railing. Raving to August about it.
“47 today. We reached 47.”
She´d look at August hoping to see the same excitement in her sister´s eyes but never finding it.
“Maybe you're just too young to get it. No sense in that brain yet.”
She continued, “Like I was saying, we walked three miles to find this girl in a ditch. She looked as though she hadn´t taken sup or a bit in weeks. Her ma was kneeling by her side flooding the whole ditch with tears. You should´a seen it, August. Da baptized her Protestant. Then he gave her a sip of warm milk.”

August stood there drawing pictures with her feet in the dirt. Not saying a word, trying not to listen. Callie went on anyway.
“And the ma said she was walking her to the graveyard. Imagine walking to your own grave!”
Callie mimicked the scene as she jumped around the porch.
“When we walked up, she reached out for us, her little arm stretched upward. Her skin just hangin’ loose on her bones.”

Callie started coughing from deep within her chest. She bent and placed her hands on her knees as she caught her breath. That was when August noticed how pale Callie had become.
August looked up nervously, “Sissie?”
Callie’s coughing subsided, and her breathing became less labored.
“Aren´t you glad ma repented for her ugly sins? So we don´t have to suffer like them starvin´ Catholics.”
With that, she skipped into the house, leaving August alone with only the echoing of her words. She knew then, that Callie had caught the sickness.

It was less than a week later that August found her sister in the backyard dead. She had been bedridden and sick with the fever almost since that day on the porch. She had begged to be let outside, but their mother had refused. She never was one to obey their mother. August stared at Callie’s face, eyes wide and lips frozen in a puckered position, as if whistling for an animal she didn´t own. Her body had grown stiff from the cold. August tried to drag her across the yard to get her back into the kitchen, fearing she’d be eaten by something. She was rigid, heavy. August tripped and fell to her knees on top of her. Tears filled her eyes as she whispered:
“O Lord, who did suffer
The bruises, the wounds, the loss,
We stretch ourselves
Beneath the shield of thy might.”

She stayed there, afraid to leave her sister alone, whispering those words over and over. She didn´t know what they meant or if they were the right ones, but as night crept up on them, they felt right.

August felt something dig into her ribs. She opened her eyes as the drunk jabbed his elbow deep into her side.
“Shut ya yap. I´se tryin´to sleep and you is over there mumblin´ crazy talk.”

Her eyes felt tired and heavy. The sun was setting and the cracks between the wood were growing dark. Soon the only light in the car was the intermittent lighting of tobacco. Most of the children had fallen asleep. The boxcar grew quiet and the strangers surrounding her were now only silhouettes. The dark silence filled August with a building anxiety, as if the walls were growing thicker, squeezing the breath out of her. She felt the sudden to move, to run. She jumped up, stumbled to the doors and slid them open. The ground looked distant, the surroundings moved fast. It made her dizzy. She closed her eyes.
“One… two… three.”

She jumped.

Her feet missed and her knees met the ground first. Her chest and face followed after. Her body laid unmoving with her head face-down in the dirt. The wind blew through her clothes and bit hard at her skin.
“Yoo dead?”
A colored man with brown knickerbockers and a pale beige shirt pushed at her side.
She rolled over and looked up. He was dark and hard to make out in the night. She pushed to her feet and pulled out her knife. Her right knee split open and the taste of blood in her mouth.
“Don’tchoo be getten’ up. Yoo is hurt. I saw you jump. You a crazy girl. Must have been sometin bad happen on that train to make you jump like yoo did.”
The man took a step toward August, and she showed him the knife.
“I ain’t gonna hurtchoo. Yoo already is hurt. You hit yo head real hard.” He pulled a red handkerchief from his pocket. “Here. For yoor knee.”
He laid the cloth in the dirt between them.
“Saw yoo jump. I comes over to see if yoo still alive.”
August looked at him, unsure of her surroundings. “What’s the name of this place?”
“You sure is a funny girl, jumpin’ and not knowin’ where it is you gonna land.”
She picked up the cloth and wrapped it around her knee.
The man pulled a bottle from his shirt and pushed it toward her.
“Here, yoo´se could use this.”
The taste felt bitter on her lips but warm as it made its way down her throat.

Thoughts were still circling her head, but now a little quieter than before. She had no idea where she was, but somehow sitting in the nowhere town with the stranger made her more calm. The night air and clear sky were good to her. She realized suddenly that she had hardly thought of Angus, her younger brother, the entire trip. He was what was carrying her forward, the reason she headed out west in the first place. And Slim, the colored that moved into their tenement. The one who taught her how to read, the one she grew to love so dearly. The one that caused the fire and left her and her brother out on the streets cold and orphaned. In fact, she hadn´t thought any about her life in New York.

“You a far way from home, ain´t choo?”

“My long dead sister been taken up roost in my memories, mister. Been runnin´and bleedin´and searchin´for almost 365 days for my lil´brother, the one person I had left in this stinkin´world. But then he too was taken... by some Children´s aid somethin´ or other and shipped out west to be sold to a farm family. He´s all I got and it´s my sister that´s been fillin´my mind.”

“Memory is´a strange thang. Can´t change it nor control it.”

She was tired of thinking about what was. Sick of trying to figure it all out, Protestant or Catholic, Irish or American, killer or victim, girl or woman. She felt and wanted all and nothing at the same time.

“I´m August Kirke.” Her knees trembled below her, but she felt strong.
“Named after St. Augustine, you know, cause I was born with a sinner´s heart.”
She looked hard at the shadow of a man, “Can´t change it nor control it,” she said as her eyes followed the tracks leading into darkness.
Her feet stepped heavily along the wooden rails. Headed for the future, but stuck in the past, she turned back one last time, “Cause we all sinners.”
Another one up for sale, daddy. That's the fifth one this week. When are we going to lose ours? Huh, daddy?
Alex pulled back the smoke stained curtain a little farther to peek out at the trailer across the street. She knew what this meant. First came the sign, then came the moving truck and finally it was just an empty shell of old memories.
“23, 56, 113, 54 and now number 89” she whispered to herself. She had been keeping track in a notebook hidden underneath her pillow. Her little feet and skinny ankles hung out from the bottom of her pink nightgown. Her scrawny arms clutched the curtains, pulling herself up to reach the living room window. Her hair still snarled from sleep.
“Get out of that window, Alex. Don't let them catch you staring like that.”
The girl turned away from the window. Her father was folded in a chair that had already molded to his body.
“When is it our turn Daddy?”
The girl turned back to the window. She pushed away the curtains and repositioned her weight to get the best view. A big red truck was parked in the driveway and the lawn was a funny color between green and brown.
It had been two weeks since her daddy left early in the morning for work. Instead he stayed home in front of the television. Sometimes he even cried. She pretended not to see.
The GE factory shut down and with it half the city lost their jobs. Schenectady was slowly becoming a ghost town.