Jessica Lee Richardson
The blue starfish disk in the sky just looked like more sky, but it was not, and it was growing bigger. Shersa should have marveled at the perfect cerulean circle of it, but her neighbors did enough of that, and she had a bigger problem than dusk carving a stenciled globe inside itself.
There was a mouse in her house and she could not trap it.
She had tried everything. Sticky mats, cheese traps, running with cups.
A rattle at the gate. That sky again.
Her neighbors looked like a goat, a pig, and a squirrel respectively. They stood at her property line with nondescript expressions. They were very much human, but it was as if they could zip the human right off and underneath they would be gnawing on a nut.
Miss Howsly was the goatish one, and she shook her head and pointed her features to meet her nose when Shersa told her that, please, she couldn't think about falling through holes in the sky just now.
Miss Howsly looked up at the indigo coin and shooed Shersa with her fingers.
Ginger, her little piglet, was only twelve, but had a penchant for old ladies, and showed up to rustle around each day. Everything about her was square. It must have been whatever she kept in her pockets but her midsection was a rectangle and so were her thighs. She walked like her feet were blocks and chewed gum in a trapezoidal motion. She advocated for traps.
Sidonee squirreled away as usual and primped her hedges. She couldn't keep her hands still. She wiped dust off her fence. Tried to poke in on the conversation but acted like she didn't care.
Since Shersa hosted that hole in the sky interest meeting, they had barely given her a minute. She gestured toward her yellow porch lamp because she knew the pests weren't going anywhere. The three gathered.
"This is just like your research shark," Ginger said looking discomfited by the perfect roundness of the cut in the sky.
"Oh this is worse," Sidonee said snapping her fingers.
"A little mouse? Worse than a bull shark getting loose in your guestroom?"
"She means the sky coming apart," Ginger said. "Focus, Shersa."
"Well if it was your house, you'd worry too. And please stop bringing up the research shark. It's old."
However old, Shersa was still embarrassed about the research shark. She had been staying with Mrs. Howsly when it arrived, a bull. Shersa's house had come down with a case of termites. Mrs. Howsly was kind enough to take Shersa in, but she was en route to visit her mother and would be out of town. So it was Mr. Howsly who helped Shersa sticker the dying shark and ship him back to company that loaned him out.
She had honestly learned nothing from that shark and said so.
"Well, that's not true, is it?"
Ginger was right. She learned three things from that research shark.
1. Don't hang a shark upside down, even if you want a good look at his teeth.
2. It is difficult to listen to a creature's breath go from a healthy drum to a sticky ice choke. Even when it's trying to bite your head off.
3. A person isn't much without her neighbors.
"Shersa, you couldn't have even finished your work with the Gordon girl if my husband didn't step in and ship that shark. And we found a bag of dog poo in our compost!" Mrs. Howsley was still angry with Shersa for sharking and pooing up her house.
"I thought the bag was biodegradable!"
"It wasn't! It was just green plastic."
"Where is Cara Gordon these days anyway?" Sidonee toed arcs into the dirt. "Remember when you thought she had no face?"
All three of them wheezed at her.
"Well she was hiding it!" Shersa said. "She was hiding her face!" But it was useless. They started hitting each other with laughter.
"How could she be alive with no face?" Ginger went into stitches again and they all followed suit.
"Have you never read the news?" Shersa said. This conversation wearied and embarrassed her.
She worked as a mentor to university students "less suited to the traditional milieu." This meant many different things, but often it meant working with people who have disabilities. When Cara Gordon showed up with her head tucked down in her sweater Shersa had completely frozen at first. She had not been trained to accommodate for this. Then she gathered herself and set about assisting Miss Gordon, face or not.
"Cara Gordon is thriving in her Greenhouse position, thank you very much," Shersa said. Eventually the little prankster had popped her head up out of the black sweater. There she was with a twisted grin on her jubilant and very much existent mouth. Her very much existent eye winked. Her first word to Shersa was, "Jackass." Then she asked if Shersa could hook her up with her receptionist.
All Shersa had to worry about besides the PDA's that soon cropped up with the receptionist Cara seduced on her own, was helping her find an internship. The one she wanted most had to widen the door to accommodate her, but now Cara coaxed the heads of vegetables to peak up from beneath their dirt sweaters. And she apparently coaxed many orgasms up out of Shersa's receptionist too, which was good for the whole team.
"Will you come into the house already?" Shersa said to her neighbors, who were more difficult to get moving.
"Don't you want to watch in case this hole gets bigger?"
The blue was an ache around which a circle of light was sliced away.
"What can we do about it?"
"Sometimes I think it's beautiful. Even though it might end us."
"Sit down out here, then. I'll bring out some tea."
Inside Shersa heard the mouse scurrying like an itch in the walls. She put the water on the burner and chopped up some mint. What to do in the face of the unsolvable but guzzle hot herbs?
She turned around to rifle for a lemon and Ginger was there. It startled her enough to spew mint all over the floor.
"I'll fix your trap," said little boxy Ginger. But then she squinted. "Mice don't like mint."
"No, not good! How are we going to lure them into the trap?"
Ginger bent down and was still shaped like a box in her folded position. She snatched up the sprigs and rummaged in the cupboards.
"What are you looking for?"
"Sweets, they like sweets."
"There's chocolate in the fridge."
Instead of plucking off a square and laying it on the trap, Ginger broke up the whole bar and piled it into a round mound in the center of the kitchen. She looked up and smiled. She was missing a tooth and her grin glinted with absence. It was too late to be a baby tooth, but Shersa didn't ask. Probably that father.
They brought the tray outside together.
The cut out was the size of the sun and looking robust. All around the pines went on with it, vibrating their stillness.
The girls sipped tea, allowing a subtle consternation to slip over them.
"Eh," Mrs. Howsly finally said. They laughed mildly.
"What animal do you think I look like?" Shersa asked. It was, she thought, an innocent question. But all three women squinted.
"What do you mean?"
"Well don't we all look like animals?"
The three women snapped their heads in her direction.
"Do I?" Ginger asked.
Shersa nodded before fully realizing what she had gotten herself into.
"She does not!" Mrs. Howsly shouted. "How could you say that to a child?"
"I'm sorry," Shersa said. "I thought it was a compliment."
"Comparing people with animals is what dictators do!" She shook her goatish head.
"I'm not a dictator!"
Mrs. Howsly sniffed as if she did not believe it. The others laughed mildly.
"Well you are trying to kill off a whole mouse population."
"It's just one mouse!"
Ginger sniffed this time. The others laughed more heartily.
"Well then. What animal do you think I look like?" Miss Howsly asked.
Shersa realized she only had one acceptable answer. "I asked you first."
The women consulted.
"Well she does have sharp teeth." Shersa licked her incisors.
"Slick skin." Shersa rubbed her forearm, which she lathered daily with shea.
"A nose for fear." Shersa sneezed.
The three stared, grinning.
"Clearly a research shark," said Sidonee, who had an intense need to fill silences.
Shersa threw a mint sprig at her.
"Now you must tell us ours," said the three.
"Cut outs in the sky," Shersa said.
It was true. They looked like the sky carved an escape route out of its innards. The stratosphere incarnate. If the stratosphere wished to descend and come apart.
This shut them up. Eventually they left in the endless dusk that spilled the last of its drink on their skin.
Shersa ate the untouched chocolate piled in the center of the room, piece by piece. She listened to the music of rasping feet tunneling through the holes. The mouse had reproduced. Through the window she could see the sky seeing its own absence. A parcel undelivered, a non-message, the home of the gods setting themselves aside finally. It was the size of the sun now, what was gone. A mirror getting bigger.
Jessica Lee Richardson
is the author of It Had Been Planned and There Were Guides, which won the FC2 Ronald Sukenick Innovative Fiction Prize and was longlisted for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Adroit, the Collagist, Sundog
among other places. Lately she's been writing about (and running from) record-breaking storms in the southeast.