WE MUST FEED THE CHILDREN
john oliver hodges
The girl was cut open in back but Suck June did not want to touch her. Suck June did not want to put her on but I knew how this was done. My mother sculpted stuff, so I explained, said first there was clay. Somebody poured hot liquid rubber over the clay. The girl was like the rubber monster faces they sold at Spencer’s Gifts. There was nothing to be afraid of, but Suck June would not touch her. What made them look so real were the feet, the toes, you saw the toenails, the wrinkles and the prints, like on the toes and on their fingers. In their palms were the lines that come from when you were a baby inside your mother, making fists. And there was hair. Somebody had put hair between their legs before the rubber dried.
The boy was also cut open in back. I took off my sneakers and slipped my legs into the girl and put her on like a pair of pants. I brought her body up over my head, stuck my arms into her arms. I had already shoved a stick through the girl’s eyes and mouth so that I could breathe and see. I walked around, making Suck June laugh. I knew I looked hilarious and gross. Halloween was three days away. I knew what I would be.
After seeing me like this, Suck June changed her mind. She poked out the boy’s eyes and mouth, then pulled off her dress and shoes and climbed into him. We ran through the trees, up to the top of the Indian mound where trees didn’t grow. Up there, in the sunlight, we saw each other. I had my own small pair of breasts and Suck June had a little dangly thing between her legs.
Suck June said she saw her dad washing his thing in the sink. Her dad’s thing, Suck June said, was like a turkey neck that jumped off the ground and bit him there and wouldn’t let go. Suck June said one time she saw her parents in their bedroom connected to each other at the turkey neck. Suck June was acting weird, not like the regular Suck June. Normally Suck June was shy and did not say much. Suck June did other things too that were weird, like screaming at the sky and waving her arms.
On Halloween, about the time it was getting dark, Suck June and I went down to the woods and stripped to our underwear and put on our costumes. We headed up to Windsor Way and rang the bell of the first house with a pumpkin. Trick or treat, we said when the lady opened.
Oh my, the lady said, and covered her mouth. Where did you get those ornery costumes?
These ain’t costumes! Suck June shouted, and turned and ran. I ran after her, laughing. We ran several houses over.
Trick or treat, we said.
This time it was Jelly Belly. We knew Jelly Belly from selling mistletoe at Christmastime—we’d go around the neighborhood, Suck June and I, with a red wagon filled with mistletoe, dragging the red wagon from house to house, selling our mistletoe—but Jelly Belly did not recognize us. After looking us over he called into the back. Mary, come quick. You got to see this. Hurry, I want you to see this.
Mary came to the door, and she did the same thing as that other lady, lifting a hand up to cover her mouth.
We already said trick or treat, Suck June said.
Dear Lord, the lady said.
That’s pretty good, Jelly Belly said, laughing, his belly wobbling. He was the fattest man we knew. We’d talked about his fat after selling him that mistletoe, how it must be a terrible pain to walk with all that fat hanging off of you. Suck June had said that she wouldn’t want him to hold that mistletoe over her head and kiss her. That’s when we made up the name Jelly Belly. Jelly Belly was not giving us our candy.
I believe these two deserve the blue ribbon, Jelly Belly said.
Who are you? Mary said. Who do you belong to?
We’re dead children, Suck June said.
The lady brought her hand back up to cover her mouth.
Jelly Belly held out the bowl of candy. Go ahead, he said. Get your fill.
We reached in with our rubbery hands and grabbed up a bunch of Mary-Janes and Tootsie Rolls. They were still watching us when we reached the street, where the lamp shined down, making us glow. There were some other kids coming along—one was a queen of hearts, a walking card—and when they saw us the card tipped over and bonked its head. They got up and hurried by, very fast. This was fun. People were afraid of us. They did not know what to think about dead children.
Suck June said it was too bad we did not always look this way. Wouldn’t it be great if we could go to school like this? Suck June wiggled her turkey neck and shouted, Suck my dick! I tried thinking of something I could shout about the new me, but I did not know the words. Lick my breast! I shouted, but it was not so grand as what Suck June had shouted.
A dozen houses later Suck June and I decided to make this the best Halloween ever. Our pillowcases were already heavy, but the trick was to get enough candy so that we didn’t run out until the next Halloween. So we found some sticks and hid in some bushes. We waited for some other kids to come by and then, with our sticks raised above our heads, jumped out screaming our slogans: Suck My Dick! and Lick My Breast!
It worked like a charm. The witches dropped their bags and ran like hell. We chased Batman and Robin down and stole their plastic pumpkins. An hour later our pillow cases were filled. We left our candy in some bushes then went to the house on Hawthorne where we knew there was a big box filled with Butterfingers. Some of the people in our neighborhood were too old or lazy to keep answering the door so they just left the candy outside with a note: Take Two.
Suck June and I dumped the whole box into our pillowcases. We were getting close to the graveyard, so Suck June said we should feed the dead, that in doing so it would bring us great blessings and our dreams would come true. It sounded weird to me, but in Suck June’s house was a little shrine with pictures of old people that were long dead. There was always incense burning around it, and sometimes I would see a slice of cake on a plate there as we walked by to get to her room and play card games such as Crazy Eights, War, and Go Fish.
The sky was huge with bats fluttering through the moon. The gravestones glowed, and so did we, our pale costumes ghostly and strange in that light. We went around setting Butterfingers on the tombstones and marble slabs. It was creepy. I felt like we were doing something wrong. There were these misty streams wandering around and it seemed like the dead bodies were in the mist, floating, watching us. When we entered the children’s section of the graveyard I became scared and said we should keep trick or treating so that we would never run out of candy.
But we have to feed the children, Suck June said.
People can’t eat anything when they’re dead, I told her.
That’s not true, Suck June said. Dead people are people too. We must feed the children.
So we went down in there where the kids are buried, and set Butterfingers next to the Hotwheels and Barbies and dump trucks and flowers scattered above their bones. At the bottom of the hill was a fresh grave, the rise of red earth looking sad and lonely against the backdrop of rickety trees. Suck June dug a little hole in it and, after peeling the wrappers off several Butterfingers, stuck them in and buried them over. Hold your breath and close your eyes and make a wish, she said.
I wished that I would become invisible to everybody in the world but Suck June. I told Suck June about my wish, then asked her what her wish was.
If I tell you, it won’t come true, Suck June said, and pulled the upper part of her costume down so that it dangled from her waist. Her breasts were in the moonlight. They weren’t anything. I pulled down mine, and we sat next to the child’s grave eating Butterfingers. We ate a whole bunch then got back into our costumes and started walking. As we reached the road a police car pulled over and the cop hopped out real quick. He sort of jumped in our direction, and we froze. Suck June dropped her candy. The cop walked faster, like he’d locked his focus on us, and I took a step back. The cop walked faster still. Run, I said. We turned and ran as fast as we could. I was entering the children’s section when I heard Suck June shouting, Suck my dick! Suck my dick!
I stopped. I knew I should do something, but what?
Suck my dick! Suck June screamed.
I ran back to where the cop was holding Suck June down in the grass. I saw him yank the costume down to her waist. That’s when she stopped screaming. We were in trouble. Running away wouldn’t do, so I walked over there by which time the cop had taken Suck June’s costume entirely off. He was holding it in one hand, looking at it, while pressing Suck June down in the grass with his other hand. When he saw me standing there he said, Take that thing off, goddamnit!
I did what he said. He then yanked Suck June up by the arm and she flopped around like a Raggedy Ann doll with black hair. He grabbed my arm and hauled us both back to his car where he locked us up in his back seat. Suck June was crying. I told her don’t worry, but in a few minutes there were three more police cars at the graveyard and the cops were asking us questions. They wanted to know where we found our costumes, and we told them it was down in the woods by the creek.
The cops took us to Suck June’s house first. As soon as the car pulled into the drive, her parents hobbled out in their robes and sandals, their faces hard and afraid of bad news. When they saw their daughter get out of the car, wearing only her underwear, it was a true Halloween spectacle. Her parents turned into ghouls for a moment, their mouths hanging open and seeming to drip green slime from their corners. When the cop told them that nothing bad had happened to Suck June, that Suck June had been terrorizing the neighborhood dressed in valuable evidence needed for the solving of a double murder case, the ghouls dried up and disappeared. It was her parents standing there once more, and they did not look happy. We were, after all, only nine, and already a cop was bringing us home to our parents.
As the cop pulled out of Suck June’s drive, I saw her mother, who was only a little bit taller than Suck June, scowling at her and scolding her. I turned my head to watch as the police cruiser headed up Lothian Drive. I like to think I imagined what I saw next, but in my heart I know it happened. Suck June reached up a hand as if to protect herself, and her mother slapped her, knocking her into the monkey grass. Just then the trees blocked them out.
My own parents were thrilled. My dad the famous communist took it as a metaphor for America, a Machiavellian switching of skin, he called it, where upper class children were gutted and used as masks to conceal the parasite eating away at the capitalist system. Those kids are better off dead anyway, he added, and said that Suck June and I were little miracle workers, weren’t we? We’d raised the dead. As for my mom the sculptress, she wanted to know every little detail. She grilled the cops in our kitchen as I put on my clothes, and then the cops took my mom and me down to the woods where, by flashlight, I showed them where we found our costumes. The case was fresh still. Suck June and I had screwed up what would have been an informative crime scene.
The next night on the six o’clock news they said our names, mine and Suck June’s. The newsman did not say a word about how we danced through Waverly Hills wearing the naked bodies of murdered children, nothing about the feelings we’d had, that strange power that we felt when dressed up in skins that were not our own, or the plastic pumpkins we’d robbed from Batman and Robin, or the Butterfingers we fed the dead children.
It was exhilarating, hearing our names mentioned on TV. I felt famous for a few days, but Suck June was barred from seeing me. She told me not to come over anymore, not to talk to her. Whenever I saw Suck June in her yard, she would not even look my way. My wish had come true in reverse. To Suck June, I was invisible. I should have tried harder, but later, in high school, Suck June drove her mother’s Honda to Lake Jackson where, using a length of garden hose and some duct tape, she fed herself the fumes that would break her heart.
John Oliver Hodges lives in Oxford, Mississippi where he is earning the ole MFA from Ole Miss. His creative works (stories, photography, poetry) are forthcoming from The Literary Review, The Chiron Review, Redivider, and SALiT Magazine.