Steven Tarlow: Teaticket Road

The retarded boy leered at us all summer
from his tricycle. He wouldn’t leave us alone.
We feared him for this persistence
and for his soft gray teeth; we loved him
for the smell he carried of summer rain.
As soon as we saw him, leaves
of rain seemed to spatter the ground.
Their underside smell rose through
the pine needles and settled
in the pine boughs near the attic.
Every night it seemed to thunder
in the attic; we sniffed at the sulphur
and reached up, half-asleep, to touch
the rafters when they hummed.
In the woods out back
an invisible dog pack gnawed
its way towards our cottage, leaving
behind a blood-streaked bag
of steak bones. The babysitter pointed
to the bag when we begged
to hike along the dirt path
through the woods. We grabbed
our broomstick muskets and shot her
till she hugged her sweater holes
in disgust and clucked her pretty teeth.
Then she marched us down the basement stairs
and left us there with the mildew.
We felt for it in the green light –
each day it seemed the dark measles
had spread another inch.
They moved like the tide in the clam bay
below the retarded boy’s house.
What if they crept into the kitchen,
you worried. What if they reached the attic
and climbed onto our cot legs.
Instead, the babysitter would climb to us
in her fog of perfume, all mussed up
from a hot date. She rolled down her nylons
while the static growled
from her transistor. Soon, that meant,
the thunder was coming.
The air outside was bracing itself.
As we faked sleep, her finger lolled
on her calf, her heel, the ball
of her foot. I held onto the cot
but you only giggled. I felt
your laughter go out along
the power lines that led
to the boy’s house, perched
over the bay. I felt the tide move
toward us, bringing its smell of rain,
the smell that made the mildew
creep up from the basement.
I listened for the wild dogs.
I knew they must be out there,
at the edge of the yard, sniffing
and hunched together, eyeing our leftovers.

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