Lizzie sits in a room because everything is a room. Right now, the room is a field and the field is corn. The sun is slow and turning the wheat, its chaff, golden.
Lizzie waits for a runner. A runner is defined by action not shape. The final square of the field remains before the combine harvester cuts it. A rabbit. Laura says no fair because she always bets on the lesser option, always calls heads over tails. Two more runners and Laura starts a comeback: the combine stops, there’s a fox in there.
When the field is cut for the day there are long low banks of straw and the game now is being the best at blending in. Someone shouts dinner. Laura doesn’t move because moving means losing. If you lie in straw long enough the prickling stops and becomes normal soft. Lizzie waits for the soft, whispers are you still there to the bank two rows over. It’s okay that Laura’s hair is more the colour of mud than wheat— Lizzie has lost the game but Laura doesn’t break or is asleep or hungry and walking back for food. It feels good, the straw, and easy to lie in. Lizzie feels sad for the stalks all torn down, all used up. Most of what she knows about harvest is timing, and most of timing is the wait. You wait for the turn from green to yellow, but if you wait too long other things come for the crop—rain, wind, hungry things. Harvest the sickly, weedy fields last.
The grain all gone, chaff litters the ground. It’s not really the straw that itches but these husks, Lizzie thinks who can blame them as they creep around her. When they braid corn dollies for Church their hands will get smoothed from the straw. Now, her skin is clogging—getting more golden, more papery. It’s so easy to lie down. A cocoon of something that could be safe.
Laura kicks, coming? Lizzie is still not from stubbornness, but the blanket of chaff closing on her skin. Another kick does not shift it. Laura kicks harder, catching dirt, if you don’t hurry up, I’m not giving up shit. Lizzie opens her mouth to object and feels something like a cobweb bridging her lips. Her tongue flicks. The blanket tightens.
Laura slouches towards dinner. Lizzie tries to unfold upwards but I won, you owe me. The chaff eases to her skin; Laura is vanishing into the horizon. Pulling more upward Lizzie feels her skin doubled. The sun is slow to drop beneath the gate but Lizzie is still there. The corn chaff ripples against her and against her again. It’s so easy to lie down. Lizzie feels something empty inside her move like a fence realising it is not really solid. Maybe hunger. The sun gives up and the chaff, its softness, sinks unbroken into her skin.
At dinner Lizzie’s new skin stays no cleaner than her first. When Lizzie eats everything gets mulched inside like diesel. A fork won’t stay in her hand but slides out again and again until Lizzie tries her luck with her hands. Slow down you’ll choke but the food doesn’t do anything but slip down, flavourless. Lizzie thinks this is the best thing she’s ever tasted like she is tasting everything: the spaghetti, the softish mud of the plate, the buzzy electric light making lemon notes on her tongue. She eats and eats, chewing the napkin, chewing the water glass, the jug on the table, the tablecloth.
Laura does the dishes as the loser until Lizzie starts in on the dirty forks in the sink. Are you fucking kidding, cookie monster? Laura shoves Lizzie back with a shoulder and crumbs spew out her mouth. Laura flicks water at her, gross, you pig.
Lizzie’s belly is the skyline of a trash heap. The things inside her feel smaller now, and only moving gently. When she sinks in the good armchair she starts to smooth out. A nice curve stretching out her stomach and catching flashed reflections from the TV. The TV is showing the weather forecast, it’s always showing the weather: it’s harvest time. Laura is finished in the kitchen and tries to squish in the good chair you got big, what got you big?
Lizzie has only seen pregnant women outside the school gates and can’t remember her mother swollen with Laura. I don’t know, I was just hungry. Laura says you’re gonna get sick, goes sing-song better out than in! But it doesn’t feel the soup of vomit, Lizzie thinks, it is warmer, more solid. Eyes strung into the TV’s line of cartoon suns, Lizzie bleaches them into a single plane, a stretch of yellow that pulls right into her gut. Let’s go back out. Laura attempts to wriggle further into the chair, it’s dark, why? Lizzie yawns because I’m tired and it’s hot in here and I want to sleep, don’t be whiney. Laura pretends to punch her in the gut you just want to chew grass like a dog and throw up, pork.
Lizzie doesn’t push her sister, pulls herself up, slowly, slowly and walks back out to the air. She’s ungainly big but whistles in happiness, full and happy. It’s difficult to be a sister, Lizzie says out loud to the gate, stopping to catch her heavy breathe before crossing onto the stubble. Like last month, there could have been honey if she’d stopped Laura from kicking the new hive. Lizzie had meant to knock the hive with her foot in a way to suggest both caution and respect, but Laura had not learnt either. She had not bled, just swollen from a million tiny stab wounds. Sometimes when their mother had spoken, it would be about the bees leave them alone, leave them alone. Listen, your father ate honeycomb. And then the bees left.
When Laura was still the same height as her they swapped beds at night as a test. The nights when neither of their parents noticed was a victory, as if they were better for maybe being something bigger than one girl. Seeing the banks of cut wheat wane Lizzie understands everything wants to be part of something bigger. We cut wheat to make flour to break bread. But it is dark and largeness is a weight that Lizzie, despite her swollen belly, feels too small for. It’s so easy to lie down, Lizzie thinks but the straw is colder now, and quiet. The field takes some of her burden, but Lizzie hugs her stomach as if she can stop what’s inside from coming out. It is difficult not to understand her body as the same bag of ball bearings rubbing together that still hangs on the back of the kitchen door as a threat.
Tomorrow when it grows light the men will already be outside harvesting again. Even the dog days are too short for work. The end of summer, everything litter. Lizzie sings herself sensible slowly, slowly, slow-ly, slow-leee-slow to crumple herself into the ground. Her skin a watery feeling, the field glassy on her back, she works into the dirt, all the way into the dirt. It’s so easy to lie down, Lizzie thinks, and she does. A kind of sleep creeps soft through the stubble. An inhale does nothing, an exhale spills one grain, two, three grains, four. Spills grain by grain until she is all spread. A light starts to break and there is no breathing body. Now the morning, the combine brushed out for dust, the engine roils, the men work, the men cut. Lizzie stands a stalk among sisters, waiting to be harvested.
Caroline Crew is the author of PINK MUSEUM (Big Lucks, 2015), as well as several chapbooks. Her poetry and essays appear in Conjunctions, Salt Hill Journal, and Black Warrior Review, among others. Currently, she is pursuing a PhD at Georgia State University, after earning an MA at the University of Oxford and an MFA at UMass-Amherst. She’s online here: caroline-crew.com.