Rob Cook

Three Children

The three children in the room with me changed shape at least once an hour. The oldest boy grew tractor tires where his feet had been. The middle child was full of holes through which I could see the sun going down. The flesh of the youngest turned to newsprint, her arms marked with all the eyes you find in a newspaper, and she told us she was thinking only of Funky Winkerbean. I kept to myself because nothing about me ever changed. I could only come up with the same words each time the children turned into something. That’s good, I’d say.

Oranges grew in the walls and the floor was soft and grassy like a trail through a meadow. The oldest boy rolled around in circles, making mud out of the floor, because that is what his father taught him to do. I tried to comfort the middle child — all the colors of those setting suns were heavy inside him, and he was too weak to make more than a whimper. When the furnace broke it hurt the children; the red pipe in the corner had, until then, been keeping us warm. The girl flickered like a television and was full of voices that told us there was no money left. Soon we would have to buy food with whatever remained of our hair. Soon we would need to carve berries from the insides of bricks.

The oldest boy turned into a dying cat that purred only when you stroked its tail. He curled by the red pipe, and I pressed food into his mouth so he wouldn’t die, and because he was wet with his own urine I washed him in the tub. He’d lost so much flesh he ­didn’t remember to be afraid of the water. Then he slumped in the corner like a drenched sock and did not move again.

The middle child, filled with holes where the sun was now gone, turned into a lamp made from the cartilage of the moon. The parents, who fled weeks ago with a pack of wild dogs, left me in charge. Watch the children, they said, make sure they don’t follow us. And the girl knew this and cried until I gave her a key so she could move to a different room where the coyotes had eaten the last of the furniture.

The red pipe huddled against the cat looked like a tree in the moonlight. I could see the dippers and airplane lights passing in the torso of the middle child, who was developing the antlers of a beautiful man. The woods surrounded us with the whispering of its moles and wandering foxes. The clouds picked up and I lost track of the children, who were changing under the leaves falling in the breath of frightened stones. The refrigerator walked out to the swamp and vanished, and the framed pictures grew wings and flew away into the pasture where the antelopes were burning the last of the fence. I kicked the raccoon biting at my boots. Maybe it was one of the children. It was then I knew I had failed, and I hugged my jacket and followed the raccoon through the dark lamps of the trees to where the mountains began.