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Kyle Hemmings

Piranha Men and

Cinnamon Girls


It could be a double murder. The deputy is good at catching piranhas, but at night, he dreams of struggling underwater until he is something else, a squid, a kind of mollusk that never asks questions, lives at the bottom of everything. He enters the barn. The dead girl, bruised and naked, lies behind bales of hay, preserved in their rectangular shadows. The hay, the deputy figures, is piled by reckless hands, cheap labor, negotiated with gold-colored liquor. The day is hot, the air honey-thick and punctuated by dog talk, far-off, the buzzing of other searchers. Crouching. Crouching before her with the skill of a horse whisperer, he imagines maggots festering around wounds, crawling into them. He knows there is some clue here that, if discovered, can make her undead. []

The girl, he concludes, was not meant for this world. She loved cinnamon and cool water and wore dresses with white or pink petals.

He remembers or conjures her.

She was deaf and at the opening of a door, her eyes grew like sunlight. She could paint with her fingers, the shapes of things that came and went. Her father believed in the miracle of old world elixirs, crushed them with pewter and heavy hands. His voice was like grounded glass when instead of a miracle, his daughter remained listless and distant, in the unsettling shades of her flowerings.

At night,

the deputy thinks, she watched a distant fire within her, drew the shape of crackling embers, what her father left her with. Gluttonous for more clues, the deputy feels that she reminds him of a doll, the one his daughter had, the vacant eyes, the rose of small lips, partly open, an impossible stillness. In time, the daughter, the deputy’s, became that doll, the stiff smile, the necrotic tissue and scar of suppressed tantrums. She became a beautiful zombie and disappeared in a quaint village of married hermaphrodites who grew strange flowers and never forgot their first doll.

He sinks next to her

the doll girl with open wounds, picks her up, hay and dust falling from her forgotten lives, [and] carries her to the river. He is careful not to catch the thirsty eyes of other hunters, the skull-thrust chase of dogs. In the water, he lays her down, thinks that here, under it all, a thousand Goldilocks are kept safe and wavering.

and wavering.

The body does not sink at first, but floats, and the deputy is confident that by following along the banks, he will find her murderer. The body floats over the reflection of laurel oak, dogwoods, the sky like a forever gypsum wall, past the edges of sediment and moss. Downstream, she glides over the body of a man the deputy believes is her father, and at that point, she sinks, lies still next to him, their underwater selves now dreamy, forgetful, at peace. [Perhaps] he wished to reclaim what was his, or the thought of himself as something damaged, so easily breakable. [Perhaps] the deputy looks up, listens to the sound of barking dogs, hungry for anything, the subtle shift of scorched earth, and decides that with the heat, it will rain very soon,    and