Because we did not trust the mother who drowned and then returned, we three took to doing everything together. Thus, when one of us was most vulnerable, the other two took up the guarding role. If the youngest needed to use the toilet, the oldest and middle one stood in front of him with their backs turned, surveying the bathtub (in case mother came snaking up the drain) and bathroom door (in case mother broke through the lock with an ax), until he was finished and could look for himself. If the middle one needed to bathe, a curtain was drawn around the bathtub and the oldest and youngest stood so that one was at the side of the tub and the other was at the foot. If the oldest needed to close her eyes, then the middle one and youngest watched the sleeping closely in case mother came creeping across the wall with something sharp in her hands. We three walked around the house holding hands, the oldest first, then the middle one, then the youngest. We were a chain of bodies and mother’s eyes turned black the longer she watched us. She smiled. She pretended to be glad that we were such close siblings. But we knew she was looking for a break. She watched to see whose hand came loose first. She wanted a weak link, a child who was still torn between loyalty to sibling and loyalty to mother. But this mother did not know us well. We stayed together no matter what. At dinner, we sat in a straight line, three chairs pushed together and although it was uncomfortable—our elbows often knocked together as we lifted our forks and used our knives—we did not make a larger space between us. Because it was difficult to hold hands while eating, we linked arms, thus freeing our hands so that we could spoon food into our mouths. Father tilted his head to the side as he looked at us. He said it was nice to see us getting along. But he wondered if we might like to have a bit more room. He said one of us could come to the other side of the table. We did not move. We would not allow one to go without the others. Father resumed his eating. Mother only watched us. She gave us more mashed potatoes. She threw meat onto our plates. She overfilled our water glasses. She watched as we sputtered on our meal, as we choked down several bites, then came close to throwing up. We could not leave the table until mother or father stood. And so we sat. Mother grinned until her teeth caught the kitchen light and she did not move. She taunted us. Her eyes said she would not stand until she was certain our arms would come away from one another. But father did not know the rules of her game. He finished his meal, ate the bits of food left on our plates, then stood up. He left the table and so we stood as well. Mother glared. She pounded her fists against the table. The plates jumped. The cups knocked over. Food and drink spilled onto the floor. Mother pointed at the mess. She demanded that we pick up what spilled. She thought our irritation at having to clean the mess would break us apart. But we kept our arms linked and scooted around the floor, picking up the large pieces of food, draping napkins over the puddles. We cleaned everything, then brought the dishes to the sink. Mother did not know what to do. Her game was ruined. We faced her, our three bodies against her one, and despite our numbers being more, we still felt much smaller compared to her. Mother dared us to leave the kitchen. If we walked through the door normally, then we would have to turn our backs to her. Anything could happen when we did not look at her directly. We turned so that we made a little circle with our fronts facing out. We walked slowly, shuffling along, the oldest leading the way, the middle and youngest side-stepping. In the circle formation, we were all able to watch for mother. Mother glared. Her eyes narrowed so that the whites looked black. When she opened her eyes again, they were bright red. She cracked her fingers until the bones sounded broken. She walked after us but her steps were slow. She took her time lifting her foot and putting it down. She chased us with her growling. We made our way into the tight hallway, twisted around, and went the rest of the way to the living room. The circle became a line once more. We sat on the couch, one-two-three, all together, and mother stood in the doorway, looking down at us. There was nothing she could do. We proved that we were inseparable. We were three siblings and we would not be reduced.
Alana I. Capria is the author of the story collection Wrapped in Red, the novel Hooks and Slaughterhouse, and the chapbooks Organ Meat, Killing Me and Lilith. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Fairleigh Dickinson University. Capria resides in Northern New Jersey. Her website is http://alanaicapria.com.