by Layla Al-Bedawi
Layla Al-Bedawi is a writer, poet, translator, and bookbinder (among other things). Originally from Germany, she currently lives in Houston, TX. English is her third language, but she’s been dreaming in it for years. She is passionately involved with Houston’s nonprofit literary arts center Writespace, where she is the director of Writefest, their new emerging writers festival. Her work has been featured or is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, The Molotov Cocktail’s Prize Winners Anthology, Crab Fat Magazine, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter under @frauleinlayla and at laylaalbedawi.com.
Every morning after I set the kettle on the stove, I peek through the blinds to check on the dead who have collected on my stoop overnight. Today there’s an old man with missing teeth and a woman with heels and a briefcase. Fewer than usual. I go to fetch the saucer I’d prepared earlier from the kitchen. I open the door, crack the storm screen a foot’s width, and reach out. I used to worry they might want to slip by me and into the house, but I don’t anymore; I know all they want is the milk. As soon as they see the saucer, their eyes get huge and hungry, too big for their heads, and I have to drop it and pull my hand back real quick before they descend. They can’t harm me, I don’t think, but I don’t like touching them regardless. One time I couldn’t stop myself from brushing my fingertips against a little dead girl’s hair as I was putting down the saucer (her curls looked just like yours back when you were little), and the heart-race it gave me stayed with me for days. I didn’t go near the door for a solid week, which turned out to be a mistake. By the time I took a peek there were dozens of them out there, waiting on me to feed them. The sight was almost enough to make me move out. But where would I go? And honestly, I think I’d be lonely without them. It’s not like anyone else ever visits.
The old guy and the businesslady are on all fours now with their butts in the air and their heads rubbing against each other as they slurp milk from the saucer. It’s disgusting, but I always watch until they’re done. I’ve tried setting down a glass with straws, but they wouldn’t touch it. All the milk is gone before the kettle even boils, and I take a step back, because I know what comes next. They stand up and come close, press their hands and bodies tight against the screen door, and stare at me with those huge, hungry eyes, milk running down their chins and necks. They huddle in close, and then their faces and bodies flatten and distort against the screen. They become thin and translucent, like notices of undelivered mail. Finally they disintegrate, the pressure of their unfleshy bodies against the door popping them like balloons.
I don’t know where they go. Maybe they go to bother someone in the house next door, and on and on down the street, begging for scraps. Maybe the milk is toxic to them and all I’m doing is killing the souls of the already-dead. Or maybe they leave for another world, finally permitted to move on after having found someone to show them one last kindness.