When the siren first sounds, I am grateful to be settled in the basement, or perhaps the siren sent us to the basement during dinner. It smells like lavender dryer sheets, and my tongue works a shred of chicken loose from my molar. Against my chest the baby is asleep, or I am wishing her to be.
“Is it a regular thing, these sirens?” I ask my husband. I haven’t lived here long enough to know.
“Not every day,” he tells me. “In the summertime more often, but not every day.”
“We should spruce up the basement then,” I say, kicking a spider trap behind a bike I used to ride.
“A comfortable basement says defeat,” he says. “I prefer a musty basement. Less aggressive.”
The storm is far worse than predicted, the kind with rain that hits like lemons against the gutters.
Upstairs, my seat at the dining table faces the window, and as we were eating, the hard rain rattled the panes to get our attention. Dinner had been soaked in silence, punctuated by clinks and flickering lights. With surgical grace, I flayed the chicken breast with the tip of my knife, certain the glass would blow in and slice me down the middle.
Now, in the windowless basement, my morbid concerns have turned to structural collapse, quick snaps of bone, and drowning. How much faith do we have in this house?
My husband is rocking the baby in a chair that does not rock. I swipe my index finger through her mouth to check for life, and she motors all four limbs, on her back, crawling at the air.
“She can’t be nameless much longer,” I say. “It makes people queasy.”
They coo and overcompensate for our apathy—“Oh you . . . you sweet one . . . you sweet button you . . .
you angel”—tapping her forehead as if expecting hollow sounds.
Down here our discarded furniture tries in vain to impress us, but the colors lack life. Red does not look like red, blue is brown, and so on; I imagine a blood transfusion, the colors drained or diverted to the bungalow next door. We could be anywhere.
The rain batters us from all sides; we are inside a drum. Upstairs the cat yowls, enraged to be banned from an occupied space.
“Don’t let her down, she’ll attack our ankles,” my husband says.
“But she’s going insane,” I say.
And he says, “All the more reason to ignore her.”
I climb the basement stairs, two feet on each step. I’ve never been one to neglect feral things, but when I open the door, she hisses and bolts from me, a blur of white, leaving behind a dance of muddy prints. For a moment, I want to follow her. What if she knows the way back?
“No cat,” I call from the steps.
“She’ll survive,” he says.
I sit on a cooler, and my husband waltzes the baby up to me like a puppet. “Survival is life without kindness,” I say, and rip my t-shirt fast along the side seams. Knotting the cotton arms together, I construct a sling for the baby and allow my husband to tuck her inside the folds.
He hums a tune, and says, “Come on, you know this one. You know the words.” He knows I know the lyrics to only three songs: “Happy Birthday,” and two popular Christmas tunes about bells.
The siren sounds again like a beast in mourning. While my husband spins on one foot and then the other, I dip and sway. The baby gums her fist, eyes closed tight.
As the rain falls and the wind cracks tree branches, we wait. We stare at our phones in the dark, the blue light throws the basement into black, and my husband occasionally types with his thumbs. So much technology, and we type with our thumbs. We scroll through our newsfeeds: We heart political articles to document our rage. Our friends two states away share pictures of peach pie and videos of themselves looking wistfully up and away—as if a good witch floats in pink across the sky.
If I knew a whole lullaby, I would sing it. Cradles swinging from tree branches or bright little stars. When the rain is less, the baby develops hiccups that cause her whole body to spasm against my chest.
“Let’s go up,” I say. “It’s been long enough.”
“Yes, should be better now,” he says. A pause and then, “The siren could go all night.” A small lick of water pools by the washing machine and creeps toward us.
“This warning system is flawed,” I say.
“If it were perfect,” he says, “it would scare us to death.”
“Baby needs a diaper change,” I say, patting her bottom. Water ponds around our feet, and my husband readies himself for what’s up the stairs beyond the door.
“Someone should feed the cat,” he says, “or she’ll eat our eyeballs in our sleep.” He hesitates up the stairs, and I nudge past him, shoving the door open through what feels like a wall of wet dirt, roots, and decay. Everything smells liquid. Thick patches of moss spread along the windowsills and blanket the floorboards. The baby stretches and fusses in the earthy, damp air. Vines twist around table legs, weaving between chair backs and open shelves. In the dining room, water weeps through the crown molding and an army of branches pierces the hallway from window to wall.
Wildlife scurry and slip over the busted sills, while beside us, the cat gnaws on something soft.
“Is there any chicken left?” I ask.
“Only what’s left on the bones.” He pulls the platter to him and rips a loose wing from the carcass. He holds it against my mouth, and with the baby slung low between us, we gnaw the meat off with our teeth. Tendons and all.
Rosie Forrest’s flash chapbook Ghost Box Evolution in Cadillac, Michigan, was published by Rose Metal Press, and additional works have appeared in Dogwood Literary Journal, Literary Orphans, Hobart, Wigleaf, SmokeLong Quarterly, among others. Rosie has been a writer-in-residence with Interlochen Arts Academy, and she holds an MFA from the University of New Hampshire. Nashville, Tennessee, is now home, where she serves as the Director of Community Engagement at OZ Arts Nashville.