by Paul de Denus

They pass a house on trips home from the city, seen from the sleepy car, blotted in darkness. It is a penitentiary shaped monstrosity wedged on a country hill, a block of black rooting from the ground like a jagged tombstone against the jaundiced moon. He imagines it an asylum. The monotonous hiss of traveling wheels whisper lies, the lies he wants to believe to be true. 

“That’s where mom and dad got you. They’re taking you back. They are.”

His whisper echoes against cold air.

“You’re adopted.” 

It’s a tease, that’s all, the kind of thing a terrible brother will do. Karen sits an arms length away, an untouchable mannequin. She is quietly singing. 

‘found a peanut’— ‘found a peanut’ ‘found a peanut last night’ 

The slow tune seeps from her throat, a deep sweet sound, distant like a siren’s call. It weaves mournfully, the dim campfire lyrics leaking into his head, building a terrible crescendo. 

‘called the doctor’  ‘called the doctor’  ‘called the doctor last night’ 

His stomach aches. He leans against the icy window. His parents are seated portraits, their faces lit in wavering yellow light by the occasional passing car. 

‘died anyway  died anyway — died anyway last night’ 

Her silent song saturates the air, distant highway wheels tapping along like running feet. Karen is quiet. He can feel her smiling. A breeze of cold air tickles his ankles. Down the well below his feet, faceless dogs snap and tug at his pant leg. He believes they are not crazy enough to bite. Not yet. Dry mouth sounds strain to escape his lips 

Father, stop the car — mother, please — make her stop smiling. 

All he can do is wonder if the house on the hill might be where he belongs.


Paul de Denus likes to publish excerpts from the novels he has never written. That was one of them.
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