My name is Grady and I know what the underside of a trailer looks like. It’s flat darkness sure but it’s north Texas so at least it’s dry, not even sticky to the touch. The air is cool and smells like the sour pile of empty beer cans laying by the propane tank. Those little ant lion holes? Those upside-down cones dot the cold sand all around me. The ground is a mine field of them, the shadowy little death traps. I point them out to my sister. “Like Star Wars,” I tell her. “There’s monsters at the bottom, you know.”
“There’s no such thing as monsters,” she says, but she doesn’t even look at me or the ant lion holes when she says it. She’s watching Mama standing in the night, fretting by the old cottonwood tree, cotton swirling down around her, haunting her like tiny ghosts.
Mama hugs herself and walks over to the chain link fence, leans over it, and stares down the dirt road. The metal squeals a tiny sound that makes the tiny hairs on my arms pucker up. She pats a frantic beat at her upper lip, turns, and walks over to us stiff like. Up next to the trailer now, all I see are her weird shoes, the ones she wears to her job as a nurse’s aide. The ones that smell mediciney and funky and that I know she hates cuz of the way she tucks them at the back of the closet behind her pair of church shoes like trying to hide them from the world. She crouches down and she’s all jittery and wet-eyed as she smiles a shaky smile and says, “Everything’s alright. Y’all just play here for a little while.”
“Mama it’s supposed to be bedtime,” my sister says.
So trembly and shaky, her fingers like twitching dying things snared in the jaws of some monsterish beast. Mama squeezes her eyes shut. “Just do what I say, Arlene.” Her eyes dart to mine and my chest clinches up tight. “And stay quiet. Y’all stay real quiet, y’hear me.” She stands and hurries back over to the fence, staring down the road again. A gray tumbleweed blows right past her and she doesn’t even look at it, even though I suspect those things are monsters. One chased me down the street once so I know about these things.
I feel jittery inside now, always picking up on Mama’s feelings. I worry at the hole in the knee of my PJs, make it bigger, wider. A big hole. “Wish there was a hole we could play in,” I whisper. A hole we could go through. A hole to a differnt place.”
Different,” Arlene corrects me. Always like a little adult, my sister and never much fun. But I’m glad she’s here with me. I don’t want to be here alone surrounded by tiny monsters waiting for me to screw up and stick a finger or toe into one of their death traps. Eating me finger by finger, toe by toe. Eating me away to nothing.
In the light of a dim street lamp, Mama leans over the fence for the hunderth time, her fingers messin’ with the collar of her uniform, messin’ with her wedding ring, messin’ with the chain links at the top of the fence. That messin’ bleeds across the cottonwood-ghost-filled air to me. My fingers pull and tug at my PJ top, my non-existent ring, the lattice plywood that skirts our trailer. The plywood jabs me with a splinter for bothering it. I stick my finger in my mouth and suck at the tiny drop of blood. The splinter comes out and I pull it off my tongue and stare at it, the sharp little thing. “Jails have bars that go up and down, not in Xs like…” I point to the rickety lattice.
“We’re not in jail. And Mama said to stay quiet now, did’ja hear?”
Dull light pierces the lattice work making a pattern of elongated diamonds across the mine field of ant lion deathtraps. A weird, weird prison this. “When Jabba the Hutt threw Luke Skywalker into that kinduva jail place, that rancor monster almost ate him. But the jail ended up killing the monster. It crusheded him. Jails are bad.”
“Crushed.” Arlene moves for the first time since Mama put us under here. She scoots forward and stares out the through the lattice. Sucks in a sharp breath. “I hear daddy’s truck.”
I feel cold and then hot and then cold again. My heart is that scared green Gamorrean guard when Jabba drops him to the rancor monster, running around squealing and shaking inside my rib cage. Arlene pushes away from the lattice, sand rolling over the waistline of her PJs bottoms and into her underwear and that could not have felt good. She grabs my arms and it startles me. Pulls me into the deep shadow where probably spiders and other bad things are.
“Shh!” she shushes me even though I hadn’t made a sound, my mouth being all too trembly numb to work.
Daddy’s truck – I hear it now, a loud thing, a thing you hear coming from far away. A thing that makes your insides shake the closer it gets. A thing that that makes you feel small and beat down and eaten away to nothing and wanting to run from it. A rumbling thing that roars and spits at the world.
I can’t see Mama from this angle but I want to. I want to run out to her and stand in front of her with a lightsaber and point it at the thundering sound and say rebellious, brave words. But I also want a hole to run through, a hole to take me far from here. Wanting both ain’t right. That’s not what happens in the movies. In the movies, you stand up. You don’t cower under a trailer. In the movies, you stick a bony barrier in the monster’s roaring, loud mouth, like no you won’t yell anymore. In the movies, the monster gets crushed by his own jail and you escape. In real life though, the monster roars and rampages and you get stuck in the jail and the jail doesn’t crush the monster but it also kinda does. But it doesn’t, at least not in the way you kinda want it to. I wasn’t making sense now but that’s what happens when you sit in the dark under a trailer in the middle of the night I guess.
Daddy’s truck is close now. Rumbling, growling. So loud.
I look up at the flat darkness looming over me. I know what the underside of a trailer looks like. It looks like fear.