When it happens outside, there is terror in the way our bodies move, pushing off of one another. The sound is monstrous, more felt than heard, shaking our area. We are inside, but that does not stop us from diving for cover, from dodging what feels threatening and violent. We are the young and we are here only because we are here. The old have disappeared, or they are outside, consumed by what is happening to them, around them. Or they have put us here. Afterwards, we search the area, trying to find another, to see faces, because till now there have only been voices or the beginnings of voice in uneased breathing. My sister, someone says behind me, my baby sister. Where is she? And so then we are searching the area, looking in nooks and under collapsed barriers, trying to coax them out, the children. They keep their backs to us, certain we are the ones that have done this to them. It wasn't us, we assure them; it was them, we point outside. Some begin turning around, opening their mouths, all teeth, want of words. We move to explain to them with our bodies, reaching out our stickly arms, but they run away to a deeper, hidden part of the area, taking their mouths and teeth with them.
There are a few of us, older than the absolute young, but not old. We surmise it is the old and the outside that have betrayed us along with language, so we look at one another reproachfully, then stomp around palms up, confused. Every once in a while we stop our trudging when a word escapes someone's mouth accidentally, and we watch them, looking at the air before their mouth, trying to identify the sickness so we can run over and stuff it back inside. We find thread and begin the arduous process of sewing shut our mouths, helping one another to contain it, because it very well might be what has destroyed the outside. We are careful in our touch, sensitive to each other's sensitive areas of the lips. But compelled, we don't or can't stop there, and soon we're sewing shut our eyelids, desperate to contain it inside us, knowing this is the only way we can win the children back. Blinded and silenced, we lie down on the ground, next to one another, hoping they will come back to see our submission and lead us around, our hands clasped to their shoulders. Listening for them is a lesser transgression, but the way our hands inch closer to the bodies on either side, daring to touch, that is unacceptable.
Andrew Malan Milward is a 2008 graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and last year was the James C. McCreight Fiction Fellow at the University of Wisconsin. His stories have appeared in places such as Zoetrope, The Southern Review, Columbia, Conjuctions, Failbetter, and will be included in Best New American Voices 2010. He lives in Oakland and is a Steinbeck Fiction Fellow at San Jose State University.