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I am a monster. I am just like her. One day I’ll burn, but not now. Now I’ll burn her. I am not five steps out when I see the crow. A dark blur on a branch. It caws at me. I lift a hand, wave to the bird, then carry on.

The smoke curls into the sky behind me as I pick my way back through the woods. I take my time, touching the leaves and listening to frogs and crickets. I am relaxed, lulled by her screams.

“Do you hear that, Nevaeh?” I say to the woods. “Vengeance is mine.”

I WAKE UP IN A COLD SWEAT. I am shaking so hard I bite down on my tongue and taste blood. There was a dream, horrific and violent, in which I burned Nevaeh’s mother alive. I swallow the blood in my mouth and stare down at my hands. My fingernails are dirty—ripped, jagged, and caked in dark dirt. I run to the bathroom. I don’t care if my mother has a man in her bedroom. I don’t care that I’m not supposed to be out here before seven so that he can leave in peace. I need to see myself. My face is dirty, my eyes big, panicked. There is blood on my chin and long scratches on my cheeks. I fill the sink with hot water, and grab the old rag from its hooks. Dipping it in the water, I scrub my face, then my fingernails.

“Oh my God. Oh my God…” I say it over and over to fill the silence of the eating house. Her body burning. Her screams. They were all real. I did that. Again. And it wasn’t an accident. Not the first time, not last night. I killed. I bend over, breathing hard, and then not breathing at all. I don’t know whether to breathe or not breathe. I don’t know whether to stand, or sit, or cry, or run. It wasn’t like this the first time. I killed Vola on instinct when I caught her in the act of beating her child. I planned Lyndee’s murder, agonized over the details, but I never saw her hurt Nevaeh. I could turn myself into the police. It’s then that I remember my mother is dead. It all comes back in a flash of memory: blood, the body bags, the tiny body in the corner of the bedroom. I straighten up, blinking at myself in the mirror.

Someone is pounding on the door. I stumble downstairs, blinking at the light streaming in through the windows. My mother kept the upstairs dark in hopes that her customers wouldn’t notice the fine lines starting to etch their way across her face. Sometimes, when you were up there, you forgot if it was day or night. I make a mental note to pull down the newspaper she used to block out the light.

I look through the peephole and see Mo on the porch, irritated. My blood runs cold. I take a step back, wring my hands, lick away the beads of sweat on my upper lip. He couldn’t possibly know. Unless someone saw me…

Why is it so goddamn hot in here? Hiding is bad. Hiding makes you look guilty. I lunge for the deadbolt and turn it before I have the chance to overthink things.

“What the fuck took you so long?”

“I was fucking sleeping.”

Mo is looking at his phone, his fingers moving across the screen in hyper speed.

“That’s bullshit,” he says. Except he pronounces it bool-sheeit.

“What do you want?” I fold my arms across my chest, to hide the fact that I’m not wearing a bra, and lean against the doorframe.

“I need you to watch my kid,” he says. “Vola’s ma don’t want him, and I got shit to do.”

My heart jumps at the prospect of seeing Little Mo. I’d been too afraid to go over there since … I did that thing. Afraid someone would see her death on my face.

“Yeah, whatever,” I say. “But I’m not your babysitter.”

He looks up from his phone. “Chill out, giiirl. I ain’t asked you to be no babysitter. Just watch him for me as a favor. I’ll hook you up.”

I shrug. Lubdublubdublubdub.

He starts to walk away, then suddenly turns to look at me. “Sorry about your moms. We both lost someone. ‘S fucked up.” It looks like he might want to give me a hug, so I back up a few steps.

Out of habit, I glance at the stairs, expecting to see the bottom of her red robe. The eating house is mine now. If I want to use the bathroom before seven, I can. If I want to stomp around and yell at the top of my lungs, I can.

“I’ll be okay,” I say. “…will you guys?”

Mo shrugs. “Don’t have no choice but to be.”

I wonder what Mo would do to me if he knew about Vola. Maybe, in some ways, Mo is relieved she is gone. Like I am about my mom. But he’d probably lodge a bullet in my skull and call it a day. That is the way of things here: revenge over reason.

He comes back with the baby ten minutes later. There is no diaper bag, no food, no bottles, no instructions. Just Little Mo in his too-big-for-him stroller, his velvety brown eyes blinking slowly like the world has no appeal.

“Let’s go shopping,” I tell him, watching through the window as his father slams the door to the crack house. I mess with the wheel of the stroller for twenty minutes while Mo lies on a blanket on the floor next to me. In the end it’s too hard to fix, so I sling my Groceries & Shit bag over my shoulder and carry him. He’s so still in my arms that every few minutes I peer down to see if he’s fallen asleep. I hear Judah calling my name. When I turn around, he’s wheeling himself down the sidewalk quicker than I’ve ever seen him move. He went back to his old chair, said the other one made him feel lazy.

He slows down when he’s next to us, and keeps pace.

“Where were you last night?”

I stop. “What?”

“Last night,” he says again. “I saw you walking home. You looked … strange.”


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