The bell clangs.
“I’m coming,” Henry Klackum calls from behind the backroom’s curtain. He sets down the amber bottle and the brush dewed with paste. On the wide, pine table sit twelve more bottles dressed in crisp, white labels—all inked with his daughter’s sunny smile. Henry unties the garters around his arms and smooths down his sleeves. He frets with his cuffs’ leather ties until they lay straight. He stops at a square of glass dangled from a nail on the wall. He winds the ends of his mustache to needle-point sharpness.
The bell jingles again, more fitfully.
“Yes, yes,” Henry says. He snaps at his daughter. She crouches on the stool by the vat. It’s shiny and copper and the width of two men with enough depth to swallow a child. A syrup—sweet-smelling and brassy in the lamplight—mulls inside.
Annabelle does not move. He grabs her up. The paper dolls in her lap fuss to the floor. She makes no noise about them but plunges a finger deep in her mouth and tucks her head beneath his chin.
Henry passes through the curtain and blinks at the brightness. After the windowless backroom, he forgets sometimes how brilliant the world up front can be. Morning gleams through the front window and strikes the rows of colored bottles. Reds and greens and golds flood the floorboards in watery squares.
“What can I do for you?” Henry calls into the brightness. A woman drops her hand from the bell above the door and turns. She cuts a dark hole in the luminance: black skirt, black blouse, black satin gloves. Her cheeks are narrow, and set deep above them, her pupils beat, large and black.
She feels familiar despite this mourning, though Henry can’t say how.
“What can I do for you?” Henry lifts Annabelle to the counter so that she might watch the colors flutter along the floor. Also, with the wheat-white curls of her mother, Annabelle often delights the customers.
“My daughter…” the woman begins, then stops. She clutches her hands and stares. Behind her, silver canisters reflect the row of buttons down her spine.
Henry leans forward. “Does she suffer from cough? From fretfulness? Sour stomach? Toothache?” He pivots to the shelves behind him and touches a stoppered glass with powdered Spanish flies. “Balm of a Thousand Flowers. Or Kerosote Tooth Compound, or —” he rounds back on the woman; his breath hitches and the veins in his wrist flutter, “—or my own specialty, Klackum’s Cure.”
The woman’s eyes jerk wide. “Have you no conscience? After what you have done?”
Henry draws back. Briefly, the colors on the floor spin. He touches the tip of a finger to the counter.
“I don’t know what you could mean,” he says.
“I mean your…potion…made my daughter sick. Now she’s gone.” The woman’s lips, scaled and pale, tremble. A pebble-sized cold drops into Henry’s stomach.
“You’re mistaken, Madam. My potion cures people.” Doesn’t he have tins of pastel-colored thank-yous, scented in lilac or cinnamon or cedar, extolling its virtues: smoother skin, better dreams, calmer stomachs?
The woman thrusts her hand into her pouch. She pulls out her fist. Her fingers unfurl. A red-brown vial catches a blade of sun, and his daughter’s inked face smiles up from the label.
“You gave me this. For her sleeplessness.”
“That is mine, certainly. But that is a cure, not a poison.” The knot on Henry’s bow tie presses into his adam’s apple. He will not run a finger beneath the knot. Not here.
“And yet she’s dead.”
“But of a sickness. Not of the tincture. She must have had a phlegmy cough. Or stomach sickness. A fever.” There is a rasp in Henry’s chest, a foe from long ago. But now it reminds him: he could not kill anything.
The woman shakes her head. An auburn tress unspools from its pin. “It was only nightmares she suffered from. You said one or two teaspoons. I did just as you said. But she didn’t wake up.” The woman’s voice edges toward a howl.
He remembers her now. Mrs. Winslow. The last month has deepened the lines above her brow. She wore a walking dress then with navy pinstripes. The coat pinched her waist, and he’d admired her slenderness and how cool she appeared despite Minnesota’s musty heat. She’d spoken quietly of her daughter’s midnight screams. He’d assured her he had just the tonic for night terrors. He’d gone to the back. He’d siphoned a portion of syrup from his vat into his special bottle. He’d added extra morphine for the sleep and saffon to bury the smell. “One teaspoon,” he’d told her. He did not say two.
“My elixir had nothing to do with your daughter’s death.”
“She was just three.” The woman’s fingers twist about each other. He hears the whispered hush of their rubbing. Henry covers his daughter’s cherubic hand with his own, as if to still the woman’s. Annabelle squirms beside him, her eyes quite blue above the fist she sucks.
“I’m sorry. For your loss. She’s gone to a better place.” Henry repeats the message scrawled on sympathy cards. There were other condolences sent after his wife’s death in childbirth, but this is the only one he recalls. He reaches across the counter and pats her fingers once, twice. It’s best to stop her hysterics before they come to full manifestation. What if she doesn’t leave? What if she insists on his guilt and begins to wail? Perhaps the Federation of Women for the Pharmacy Control Act influences her now.
Annabelle suckles her fist. Her pudgy knuckles shine with spit. The woman’s eyes move to his daughter’s curls. She pushes a finger through a milky coil.
The rasp in Henry’s chest tightens. He smells not the lavender on her sleeve or the earthy humidity of her breath, but the iron scent of blood Father brought home every evening.
“Leave,” Henry gasps.
The woman withdraws her hand. She blinks, as if just coming awake. Henry’s eyes flicker to Johnson’s Sleeping Tonic in the sapphire-colored bottle on the shelf behind her. She has taken something which sweetens her breath and dilates her pupils and confuses her senses. Certainly this explains her madness.
“Go home. Have a rest. You’re tired, Madam.” Henry steps around the counter and presses his hand beneath her elbow and turns her slightly; she does not resist. She drifts through the watery hues on the floor. The bell chimes her dismissal.
In that thin moment, when her black shadow crosses the glass, Henry glimpses himself peering in. It is a different him. A version of himself he never became. He blinks. The woman and the reflection are gone, and there’s only the red-bricked mercantile across the street, the chittering warblers flocked on gate posts, and Annabelle, standing on the counter, circling his neck with her arms.
That evening, Henry stirs the mulling syrup with a paddle. The bottles have now been neatly labeled, and the flat scent of paste clots the backroom.
“Peekaboo,” Annabelle says. She clambers up on the three-legged stool besides the vat. She balances on it, squats behind the vat, then leaps up and shrieks at her reflection in the syrup. They’ve played this game for months now, but Henry finds no will for it this evening.
He moves behind her to pull her down. Her spine knuckles into his chest. She breathes and each knob tides against him. How solid and robust she feels against his frailty. He’d been a sickly boy. The humid, warm-blood smell of the stockyard soiled his lungs. On the day he was charged with bringing Father his forgotten lunch, Mother was forced to still the flutter in his chest with Maidencare’s Lavendar Syrup from page ten in Stratmore’s Guide to Tinctures. He had no heart to tell her that it wasn’t the dead beeves hooked on the monorail to drain, or the ropey visceral bobbing in the killing floor’s ditches that rasped in his lungs, but the scorn in his Father’s eyes when he grabbed his lunch pail from Henry’s quaking hands.
“Peekaboo,” Annabelle leans forward. Her reflection floats on the murky syrup. Henry pokes the paddle at it. Eyes, nose, lips break apart, then drift back together. Annabelle claps her hands and squeals. She ducks on her stool, below the vat, then pops up again.
“Peekaboo,” she screeches. Her reflection returns. Henry pulls the paddle through it again. Her features scatter, but when the image floats back together, it’s not hers. The eyes are almond and sloe-eyed, like a kitten’s.
“All done.” Henry yanks Annabelle from the stool. Her mouth puckers; she blinks hard. He pulls down her tin with the paper dolls. While she fusses with them, he feels on the shelf for the soft-shelled case of pocket pharmaceuticals. He opens the box. He draws out a vial with tiny, white pebbles. He softens one beneath his tongue. Just a little arsenicum album. It will relieve him of the vision. When he looks again into the vat, only lamplight shimmers there.
The next morning, Henry busies himself by scrubbing bottles furred in dust. The mail comes. He tucks the orders for his cure into the cubbies behind him. Today a request from London. Impossible, though exciting. The postage alone would be untenable. Other letters, those laced with feminine loops and perfumed in lilac, he sets on the counter. The bell sings. A solicitor seeks comfort for his cough (Kimball’s Pine and Tar Tonic). A night-watchman begs relief for his bunions (Behring’s Antitoxine). A dull woman who cannot meet his eyes despairs over her pocked cheeks (Harkwell’s Blackstrap Molasses).
Henry is funneling arsenic into an embossed jar when the bell sounds again. There she stands.
“I told you yesterday to go,” Henry says. He glances at Annabelle. She flaps her paper dolls in the corner.
The woman says nothing, but the black in her eyes stretches like a tunnel that seems impossibly long considering the depth of her skull, the length of his shop, and the width of the street beyond.
“I had nothing to do with her death. She died of sickness. Many children die in their beds.” Henry slaps the counter. “Do you see these?” He pushes the pastel-colored, floral-scented envelopes across the counter. “Each one thanking me for Klackum’s Cure. Smooth skin. Restful sleep. Cessation of heart palpitations.”
Mrs. Winslow presses a thumb over the lacy “H” on the top envelope.
The door opens. She turns. A man steps in.
“This man sells poison,” she slides the envelope back to Henry. The man pauses. He pulls off his bowler. His gaze shifts between them.
“Pay no attention. What can I do for you?” Henry waves the man forward.
The man steps up, but the woman makes no room at the counter.
“Perhaps I’ve—Quite possibly I’ve got the wrong pharmacy,” the man says, but he looks at the woman, not at Henry.
“Nonsense. Is it the cough? Ill spirits? This bottle, here, Tompson’s Tincture, made with lavender. It will soothe most maladies of the mind.”
“No, no.” The man twists the hat in his hands. He rocks back on his boots. His heel crushes a paper doll with ink-drawn pantalettes. Annabelle wimpers. “I think the place I want is on Marshall. I’m quite sure it is.”
When he is gone, Henry lunges around the counter and snatches the woman’s wrist. He squeezes that slender, pulsing bone, which has the delicacy of a sparrow. The sinews stretch like twine beneath his fingertips. “Do not come back here. I will call the constable. Do you understand?”
“It should be you the constable is called upon,” the woman says. Saffron sweetens her breath. She does not resist when he drags her to the door. He stays in the window to make sure she does not linger on the walk and dissuade more customers. He watches the severe line of buttons down her back until they sink into the bonneted, buttoned, coated, careless crowd. He has helped them all. Nux Vomica to treat their hangovers. Vertrum Album for their cramps. Rhus Tox for their chicken pox, their mumps, their gout. Mercurius corrosivus for their burning throats. Colocynth for their constipation and Bryonia alba for their pleurisy. You don’t have to be like him, Mother had said, and soothed Henry’s achy throat with cotton dipped in goat’s milk. He had stumbled upon a kitten, nearly strangled by the wind-slackened rope where Mother tethered their laundry. “Finish it.” Father pulled the knife from his belt, worn to a spike from quartering livestock, and pressed it into Henry’s hand. The kitten twitched on the line, like the carcasses hung to drain. But instead of rheumy, near-death eyes, the kitten’s had taken on a pleading burnish.
Henry bent and vomited over Father’s knee.
“You’ll learn,” Father said over the whip of the knife and the wet howl in the kitten’s slit throat that echoed Henry’s own.
At night, Henry can’t sleep. It’s too noisy. Annabelle lies coiled in the trundle beside his bed, and her breath rattles grit across the floor. The wind whines through cracks and the silver maple raps along the roof. Henry listens for the bell. He begins to doze, then bolts upright. A burst of breaking glass below him. He yanks the key from his crumpled trousers.
He creeps down the stairs, his hand on the wall, his toe feeling for the tread below before he rushes onto the next step. He fumbles the key at the backroom door. He gets in at last. Moonlight punches through a vent and lights up the stool, the crates, the drapers table and jars of powder. From the front room comes the sharp-edged snap of glass and the softer, whisper-cry of silk.
“Mrs. Winslow,” he calls and grabs the paddle leaned against the vat. He lifts it and moves aside the curtain.
Moonlight blazes across the shards scattered on the floor. Something flutters in the corner. He rushes into the chaos and swings.
A crow bangs against his window. It thuds to the ground, stunned by the paddle, then flaps up again. It screeches and knocks more bottles with its beating wings.
“Out, out,” Henry ducks and fumbles open the front door. The bird loops the room in frantic arcs before the night air calls it out at last.
Annabelle stands at the curtain. Her toes peep pale and button-like from beneath her nightgown. Moonlight spins off the jagged glass at her feet.
“Stay there.” Henry throws out a hand. He picks his way across the pooled tonics and shattered bottles, their daytime reds and greens and blues just grey in the pre-dawn.
All day, Annabelle perches on her stool by the counter and squawks at customers about the bird that came at night. Henry sweeps the glass, but the powders whiten cracks in the boards, so that he has to mop the floor with water from the pump outside.
He checks every window and vent for an opening. He can’t think of where the crow would come from. Despite this dense, August air, he rarely leaves windows open. Though it has been years since the stockyards have closed, and the pond which held their refuse has been drained and tiled into a pool, the stench of death still slinks past the windows.
Henry plucks a feather stuck between bottles. He rubs its shaft between his fingers. Something is happening in the world. He’s heard rumors. Other pharmacists accused of poisoning their clients. One in Northfield dragged from his bed, smeared with stove polish, smothered with molasses, then dumped in down spilled from a pillow. Perhaps he is next.
Henry drops the feather and pats his pockets for the tube of arsenicum album. One extra tablet for the distress of his day.
To escape the stockyard’s rancid fumes decaying every room, Henry used to wedge himself beneath the basement stairs and read Mother’s Pharmacopia and National Formulary. Before Father could drag him to the drains, he left home with the book and slept in a cramped loft, his knees tucked to chin, above the stove in Foskett’s Apothecary. He labored in a closet-sized space with bottles and ampoules and metal siphons and tins of fine, white powders stacked on bitter-smelling shelves. He spent one spring shaking beetles, torpid from morning frost, from ash trees into jars set below. Then he’d plunge them into vinegar before drying them in Foskett’s stove and powdering them between mortar and pestle into cantharidin. This he sold to impotent husbands and women with water warts. He learned to relieve the symptoms of consumption, rheumatism, gout. He could cure a bad complexion or biliousness.
But Henry couldn’t save Lily.
Lily was a firm, sensible presence he discovered at the end of St.Albert’s pew. After marriage, Lily’s handwritten requests to Plunkett’s Wholesalers or Chemists of Minneapolis were straight-lettered and unadorned, not gauzy like the thank-yous Henry receives now. Lily’s only insensible act was dying. Henry became used to her solidness beside him at the counter all day, then squeezed against him in bed all night. On the morning of Annabelle’s birth, he listened below for beastly, birthing groans, but even then, Lily remained stolid. After the high and fitful cries of something new and startled rent the silence, the midwives explained the child had been born, but that he couldn’t come up, not yet. They averted their faces in such a way that made him charge past them, come upon Lily, eyes rolling back, blood wide on the sheets beneath her. He sponged citrus water on her dry lips and squeezed the juice down her throat. He cracked seeds of shepherd’s purse into her mouth. He rubbed kaolin into her skin. He hammered yarrow into powder, boiled bayberry bark and bethroot until dew drenched the windows and hung in globes from the midwives’ lips. Lily grew colder and stiffer until he had to pry open her mouth and pour his concoction into her. Dixon from the funeral home came for the body, but Henry set about stewing fleabane until, at last, Dixon laid a hand on him.
“Enough,” Dixon had said. He pointed to the baby set in the pine cradle. “Others need you now.”
In the next day’s mail, a small envelope catches Henry’s eye. The handwriting slides across in womanly curls. Another thank-you. He saves this letter for last. He pinches the envelope’s corner between thumb and forefinger. He slits it carefully with the tip of his pill separator. Nearby, Annabelle stacks empty ointment tins and knocks them down again.
Henry shakes out an article from Collier’s magazine, dated that August, 1901.
“Mrs. Samuel’s Soothing Syrup kills many children each year due to overdosing of morphine. Congress is poised to consider a law that will prohibit all pharmacies from selling tonic that misleads customers with the false hope of cures…”
Henry’s eyes jerk to the window; surely Mrs. Winslow watches. Fumes of lilac raft around him, and another aroma, more familiar, churns his stomach. Saffron. His own ingredient. Is she taking his tincture now? Was it on her tongue when she licked the envelope, sealing its smell to the glue? The article, the envelope, the condemnation—his frantic fingers shred them in halves, quarters, eighths. The wisp of tearing paper catches Annabelle’s attention. She rushes over. Purple and white confetti drop through Henry’s fingers; Annabelle claps her hands and twirls in the tumbling scraps.
That night, while Annabelle wheezes in her trundle, Henry creeps downstairs to the backroom. His Klackum’s Cure, macerating in the vat, shines in a lip of moonlight. He eyes it warily. He drops another tab of arsenicum album on his tongue. He grabs down a group of spoons, joined by a rivet, and separates out a smaller one. Its silver bowl cups upward, ladle-like, for more precise measurement. He dips the spoon into the syrup. The liquid hits the back of his throat with the prick of a candle flame. The smell reminds him of the compresses Mother pressed to his chest. Delicate, Mother called him. Weak, Father said. Father, of Mandeville meats, who brought death home every evening, crusted on his cuffs, his blood-hardened apron balled beneath his arm.
“Don’t be foolish. You’re not your Father,” Lily once said when Henry despaired over the beetles he murdered in vinegar. Her tone anchored him in the weightless hour of night open to demons. She understood that he could never kill anything.
Henry dips the spoon three more times. The warmth loosens his jaw and soaks into his limbs.
He waits. Moonlight grazes the vat. Henry leans in. A girl blinks back, olive-dark and with Mrs. Winslow’s eyes. He swipes at her, but his lazy hand misses and knocks the paddle back instead. He lopes around, to go upstairs and to his bed. His eyes catch the empty bottles, waiting to be filled with Klackum’s Cure. There is the girl again, reflected in their moon-white bellies. She flits from bottle to bottle.
“Go away,” he swats. She slides along the bottles and disappears upstairs. The air behind her reeks of fecal stockyards and childhood, though both have been gone for years. Henry’s chest tightens in the familiar, suffocating way, but he lunges into the stench and finds his bed, where he dreams of sorrow and Mrs. Winslow, whose cries rustle the air until he calms her with the words, it’s a cure, only a cure.
“Papa.” Annabelle bends over him. She pokes his lips with her finger. The sun drops yellow on the quilt and glints off a spoon in her hand. Henry snatches it.
“Do not touch.”
Her lips wobble. Henry presses his finger to still them. This is Mrs. Winslow’s nonsense. Nothing the spoon measured would harm his daughter.
“Never mind. It’s Sunday. That means the ducks.”
Henry reaches for his trousers but discovers himself already dressed. No. Still dressed. He fumbles Annabelle into a blue frock with a thousand buttons. His stomach heaves. He should take Peyton’s Pellets, which cure biliousness, headaches, and coated tongues.
“Alright,” Henry says.
Annabelle trots downstairs beside him. In the backroom, she clambers up on the stool and leans into the vat.
“Peekaboo,” she prods the syrup.
“Not now. Let’s go see the ducks,” Henry says.
But they do not go to the duck pond.
They turn towards the stockyard, except it’s now a tangle of railroads and sheds, and reeks of woodsmoke and machinery. He walks to Second Avenue and the row of squat bungalows with overhanging eaves and low pitched roofs, where Mrs. Winslow lives.
Maples dapple the street with shade, and halfway down, he finds her. She dons grey now. Her hair is pinned punishingly tight beneath her hat, though he remembers the frayed red that escaped its pin.
She accosts church-goers and hands them leaflets. Sometimes she engages earnestly and flush-cheeked with them.
Henry watches from the pocked shadows until he is no longer able to endure it. He rushes at Mrs. Winslow with Annabelle tugged behind.
“I’ve relieved an entire neighborhood of sickness. Rheumatism. Scarlet fever. Anxious spirits. If they died, it was God’s will, not mine. A cure can’t save everyone.” He yanks the cuff of her sleeve. The woman reaches out. Henry reaches back. He imagines their sadnesses, poisons on their own, but like mercury and chlorine, a miraculous, life-saving elixir when tangled together. He opens his fingers, spreads them wide to catch her hand and her sorrow.
She slides a missive onto his palm.
“That may be, sir, but we’ve a right to know what’s in the cure you serve us.” The woman snaps her tiny eyes tight on him. Henry staggers back. She is not Mrs. Winslow at all.
He staggers down the sidewalk, around the corner. Annabelle cries out beside him, and he stops against the brick façade of a tinware store.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry.” He sweats. He unfolds the damp missive and smells last night’s saffron on his fingers.
It’s a plea to action. To write President McKinley about the deplorable and unregulated acts of those who produce, import, compound, dispense, or give away poisons for purposes of health.
Henry drops the flyer. It scuttles into the street and catches on the wheel of a milk dray.
“Let’s go home,” he says.
They pass the pond where short-breeched boys race around to keep up with their boats waving tiny, linen sails. Annabelle cranes away.
“No,” he says and yanks her back. “No ducks today.” Everyone is watching. He feels a derangement of stomach. An early dinner of Rouseau’s laudanum will solve it.
They spend the evening in the parlor. Annabelle sits on his knees while he turns the pages of Sunny Rhymes for Happy Children. When her curls bob towards his leg, he pulls out the trundle and tucks her arms and legs inside. He catches his reflection in the glass square nailed to the door. He has forgotten his bowtie, and the tips of his mustache sag. He winds the greyed, limp threads, but they only droop again.
Henry lumbers downstairs. He eschews the measuring spoons and dips instead a dented tin cup into the vat. He takes down Bayer’s Medicinal Morphine and dribbles more into the mucket. He does all this with the brown-haired girl watching him from the glass beakers, then the syrup in the vat, then the strip of moon on the floor. He adds saffron.
Exactly what he gave Mrs. Winslow.
He lifts the cup. Even with the saffon, the mixture reeks bitter and yeasty, but he downs what he can in one gulp.
The burning lump of wax flashes, then chokes out. He stretches his limbs on the floorboards, uncertain how he’s got there. His forehead burns. He shivers. He smells chamomile where it dropped last week and soaked into the wood. Mother lays a compress of comfrey bark on his raspy chest. He opens his eyes to thank her, but sees Mrs. Winslow. He struggles onto his elbows to grasp her hand, but touches his wife’s fingers. “Lily,” he whispers, and searches for her peak of blond hair and the button-mole beneath her eye, but discovers only a crust of blood on her sleeve, and when he looks again, it is Father, tapping like a crow at the window. No, the tapping is his little girl, on his forehead with her finger.
“Wake up, Papa,” she giggles. He hears the scrape of the stool, and her peekaboo from far away. Henry tries to lift himself, to see Annabelle’s reflection floating in the vat, but it is only the kitten’s eyes bobbing there, like two dark pieces of coal.
The bell crashes against the door. Henry sways to his feet. Cinnamon and nutmeg and crushed cloves litter the table in frantic patterns. He reeks like a beast. Bile sloshes in his stomach. He leans over to pitch it all into a bucket. But never mind his stomach or his head which grows and shrinks in pain. He is alive.
Henry blunders to the curtain. He yanks it open and stumbles into the glowing front room. The sun sparks off the bottles. Everywhere is bright and stained with color. He lifts a hand to his eyes and makes out a young man in all that scintillation.
“It’s my wife,” the man tells Henry Klackum. “She suffers from sour stomach.”
“I’ve just the cure for her.” Henry sighs. The tips of his unkempt mustache curl into his vision. He winds them, then pulls down his special bottle with the blue-inked image of Annabelle. He exchanges it for three coins.
“One teaspoon, every several hours, until symptoms desist,” he tells the man.
Afterwards, Henry breaks through the curtain into the back room. He leaps the steps by two. He will wake Annabelle. They will walk to Mrs. Winslow’s and convince her of the truth. He will hold her hand against his chest, and she will feel the rasp inside, and know that Henry could never harm anything. Henry will soothe Mrs. Winslow in a way no tonic could. Didn’t he, more than anyone, understand the limits of medicine?
“Annabelle.” Henry plants his hands on the trundle bed’s covers. His hands drop to the boards beneath.
“Annabelle.” His eyes dart from the empty tobacco tin on the sill that keeps her paper dolls to his neatly made bed to the book of children’s rhymes flipped open on the floor, its pages shushing in the stale air. He peers beneath the kitchen table, behind the dresser, and in the bottom drawer where she’s hidden before. She is not in the steamer trunk, stacked with Lily’s petticoats, or behind the gingham curtain that hides Lily’s two decent dresses.
The bell clatters. Henry hastens down the stairway and into the back room. “I’m coming,” he calls, and bends beneath the work table. He looks behind the woodstove and the box of timber.
The bell clangs again. It must be Mrs. Winslow. “Yes, yes, I’m coming.” His feet scatter the paper dolls with a hush. They lie where he awoke. So Annabelle had played beside him. Has he slept longer than a night?
“Annabelle,” he whispers. Henry pivots toward the vat. The paddle’s handle breaks the syrup’s smooth surface. Henry takes a step. Another. Each inch across the room thickens, as if he wades into deepening water. Finally, he leans his body on the paddle’s handle and peers into the honey-colored syrup.
Milky curls bob like petals beneath the syrup’s surface. Dimmed eyes. A nose. A mouth.
“Annabelle,” Henry wills his gaze to the other side of the vat. “All done now. We’ll go see the ducks.” Henry waits. Then he grabs the paddle and pulls it slowly, slowly, slowly through the heavy syrup. He looks for Annabelle to leap up, to giggle, to holler peekaboo before the paddle stops at anything solid.
M.E. Kopp lives in Minneapolis, MN. She is winner of the Jonis Agee fiction award, Northwoods Scholarship, and a Pushcart Prize nominee. Her first novel, under revision, was a finalist for the Shirley Holden Helberg grant. Her work can be found in The Pinch, The Florida Review, and forthcoming in the South Carolina Review.