She spits fierce into the dirt, palms me a goodbye. Most days, she leaves me home to paint and goes flying. The dog whines from the porch. On tall chicken legs, our house ambles in a southerly direction. Everybody has a job to do.
Me, I paint the things that don’t have names yet. Baba’s old work shirt smells like turmeric, and I have to roll up the sleeves. I smear umber and burnt sienna into owlets, minnows. Cobalt becomes horses with the longest legs. Even the wings lifting from the live oaks have a color: heron blue.
I think the pictures I make might start breathing. I paint the scalloped hen-of-the-woods I saw yesterday, leaving out the boy from school who pushed me down in the leaves, the bark-scrape.
The marsh gets loud at dusk. Tree frogs gather on the windowpane, hunting with tongues out. Baba comes home late, cooks fiddlehead ferns in a pan slick with butter. Tells me stories while acorns drop ghost-handed from the roof.
I don’t have to brush my hair if I don’t want to, but I do have to be strong, like well water, like iron. Before she claps the light out, Baba points to the crack in my ceiling: a thin red stream of ladybugs. I want to believe that what’s coming for me will be good.
The house walks itself in circles, spiny feet scratching at the red clay. I don’t call for her to come back. I swallow the howl that lives in my mouth. Everybody I know is just a person.
When that boy finds our house, Baba will lock me inside, spit tobacco juice in his eye, grind his bones for our breakfast while the frogs scream in victory. Every creature gathers at the window, watching. The sky is permanent rose.