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Bobbie and Her Father

As she’s done every morning for the past ten years, Bobbie sits on the living room couch, watches Forensic Files, and eats protein powder. Her father’s face puckers sour when he watches her eat the white mix straight from the plastic tub with a spoon, but Bobbie eats it industriously, happily. She just wants her stomach to be full.

Because her dad left early to teach his classes at the college, it’s a surprise when she hears a knock as the front door. He doesn’t come home for lunch to check on her anymore. Bobbie does what her dad has told her to do, always: turns up the volume and continue to watch.

At the very corner of the black out curtains, Bobbie can see a sliver of outside. There’s sunlight, the green tree out front open in the heat of summer, and a blonde woman. The woman has sun-worn skin, the kind women with strained necks and bleached hair have on The View and Good Morning, America.

Bobbie has never spoken to another woman before. She reads books and watches TV by and with women, which seems like a kind of conversation, but much slower and one-sided. She likes how women get to wear beautiful costumes in films like in Cinderella and Moulin Rouge. That’s all she knows of women in real life: they tend to be prettier than men and wear nicer clothes.

Bobbie hears the woman knock again. Immediate, quick raps. It’s not like when Bobbie knocks on a door and it shakes in the doorjamb. This woman is gentle in regards to her own strength.

She would like to see her, Bobbie decides. It wouldn’t have to be more than a moment.

So Bobbie mutes the TV, wipes the powder from her hands on her jeans, and stands up. She lurches uncomfortably to the door. One of her legs is longer than the other. It doesn’t trouble her too much, except when she’s in her room, trying to dance to YouTube videos or Spotify, doing little more than tiny hops before she remembers that the people in Dirty Dancing, Strictly Ballroom, Save the Last Dance, Center Stage, Step Up, and La La Land can leap and fly. She cannot.

She opens the door.

The woman standing in the doorway has her fist lifted, ready to knock again. She startles when she sees Bobbie. Her eyes go wide briefly and then she smiles. “Oh, you must be Bobbie.” She puts her hand forward. “I’m Nancy. Your dad’s told me so much about you. I’m an adjunct in his department.”

Bobbie nods and looks at the hand. It, and the rest of the woman, smell like the lilac soap dad sometimes buys from Bath and Bodyworks. It takes Bobbie a moment to realize that she wants to shake. This is something Bobbie knows she will have to do delicately. So when she puts out her hand, too, she doesn’t take Nancy’s. She waits for Nancy to take hers. It’s easier that way.

“Hello,” Bobbie says. “Nancy.” Another person’s name feels so strange on her tongue.

Nancy has a grasp like the weight of paper. Her skin is shockingly soft. She shakes Bobbie’s hand and looks at her with a prim, straight mouth. Her eyebrows rise incrementally and then reassert their position on a lower strata of her face above her eyes. Then she pulls her hand away because, Bobbie realizes too late, she was waiting for Bobbie to do it first. “Is your father home?”

“No,” says Bobbie. On her palms, she feels sweat break-out. She’s nervous that this person has pointed out he isn’t and feels a dull whistling in her ears.

Nancy nods. “He hasn’t answered his phone, so I thought I’d drop by, but I didn’t mean to cause any”—Nancy pauses—“distress.”

The sweat on Bobbie’s palms is now like slime. “I’m not distressed.”

“Oh! Yes. Yes, of course,” Nancy says quickly. “I’ll catch up with your father later. I hope you’re feeling alright, today. He told us about the accident.”

Bobbie doesn’t know what that accident would be. “Yes,” is all she says.

“Well, I have to be going.” Nancy backs away. “I’ll catch you later, alright? Bye!” She waves.

Bobbie wants to wave back, but her arm only cooperates enough for her to raise it.

Nancy climbs into a blue car, a Honda minivan. The commercial she sees for it has a lady singing opera and glasses of champagne. She’s not sure what any of that has to do with cars. Bobbie’s never been inside one. To her, they’re just giant bugs with beautiful shells. She imagines their insides as wet and lightly damp, like guts. Nancy seems more like someone who would like opera and champagne than bug guts.

When Nancy is gone, Bobbie closes the door, and runs to wash her hands. After, she uses hand sanitizer. There’s an itch on her palm where the paper light touch seems to linger.

“No germs,” she mumbles as she lets one of her hands cradle the other.

When he gets home, her father puts some leftover frozen tacos in the microwave for dinner. She knows this because he shouts it upstairs.

She’s excited to tell him what happened today. Happy. In her bedroom, she murmurs to herself, rehearsing.

Then the taste of blood fills Bobbie’s mouth. It’s not because she has bitten herself, though that used to happen all the time, before the nerves in her tongue reasserted themselves. No, this is just a nosebleed. The blood drains down the back of her throat and runs over tongue, too close to spit for her to tell the difference until she feels the weight of it, the viscous fluid oozing like a thick syrup. Bobbie spits the blood into her bedside trashcan and wipes her nose with a tissue. The tissue comes away with frayed, red spots like the dark roses on the bathroom wallpaper. Bobbie gives a great, withering sigh, and goes downstairs.

In the living room, there’s a swell of inspirational music and the tinny voice of a narrator on the television.

Her father sits on his chair, his chin resting on his fist. Without looking up, he says, “You want to watch something on Hulu? I’m bored with this, anyway.”


He turns toward her and sees her nose. “Ah! Not again.”

“I think we need to do some work, tonight,” she says, using his word for it. Work.

“Got it. Work! Come on.” He stands. “Garage time, kid.”

Bobbie follows him, which she hates. He moves so fluidly, on legs that have grown on and with his body. She lumbers. Her gait is clumsy. To ask for a replacement foot would be a cold, cruel thing, she feels. Her father does not like to say how he found the pieces that make up the entity known as “Bobbie.” She doesn’t want him to say it aloud. She’s relieved it’s one of those things neither of them talk about. To give it a name would make it too real, more real than the televised court TV shows Bobbie began to watch when she became too advanced for Sesame Street.

Dad asks her to sit on the slab in the garage with her spine straight. Bobbie says, “No, it’s fine. I can lie back.”

“You don’t need to,” he says as he pulls on his green surgical gloves. He selects a scalpel and washes it in the sink.

“But I can look up through the ceiling,” she says, lifting her chin toward the skylight. Over the haze of the street lights outside, she can see a star or two. It’s her favorite thing.

Dad smiles. “Sure, hon.” He pauses. “Painkillers?”

She rolls her eyes. “I don’t have pain receptors in my face. Except for my mouth. Don’t you believe me?”

“I do, I do.” His eyebrows knit together. “Just, you know. If you’re hurting, at any time, you have to tell me, okay?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Exactly what I like to hear,” he says, and pulls on his paper mask. He consults the x-ray of the skull—Bobbie’s skull, pieced together with time and effort, each segment of bone a slightly different gray than the others—and leans toward the nose cavity. “Just a minor adjustment,” he murmurs.

Bobbie looks to the black matte sky, each star stuck in it like a tiny diamond. She wants to ask her father if she’ll get a chance to leave one day, but his answer is always, “Sure. Of course you will. I got this far—we got this far, right?” but he never gives her a firm date.

Her father leans over her with a pen light, his scalpel raised. “You can close your eyes any time you want, kid.”

“I know.” Bobbie keeps looking toward the sky, even as a bit of blood runs up the bridge of her bulbous nose and into her left eye. Her vision is momentarily darkened by the shadow of that blot of liquid. Her father leans down and tenderly wipes the blood away.

“Gotchya,” he says. “You know, some people blink.”

Bobbie always forgets to do that. She pulls at the corners of her mouth, still a thing that takes enormous effort. It’s so much easier to keep her face blank, but because her dad smiles at her, even through his mask where she can only see it in the shape and crinkle of his eyes, she smiles, too. “Thanks, Dad.”

He opens up her face as easily as cutting through saran wrap. He does the talking for them both. “When I was a surgeon, it was stressful. I had a lot of difficulty with it. Kid, your old man isn’t cut out for the kind of decisions I had to make. It was life and death.”

Bobbie knows that if her father had a choice, he would remove death from the equation altogether.

He stitches her up with clear thread, as if one more scar on her face would somehow be painful to her. One less scar wouldn’t give her the ability to dance or go outside. It will just be another line on her skin when she looks in the mirror and brushes her hair before bed, alone for hours in the dark, pretending she sleeps the way he sleeps.

When he removes his mask and turns to wash his hands, Bobbie decides it’s time to tell him.

“Your friend Nancy came over today,” she booms. Bobbie doesn’t mean to do it, but sometimes, if she doesn’t focus, she’s very loud.

Her father instantly spins to face her. His eyes are large and the pupils sittings in his irises are black dots. That gaze cuts to the garage door. “Did you open the door?”

“She knocked.” Bobbie’s heart gives a stutter in her chest and she presses her hand over it, afraid. She’s gone into cardiac arrest once before.

His face is now like Bobbie’s face. It’s so still. “You talked?”

“I said, ‘Hello.’” She reaches her arm out, so it hovers between them. “We shook hands.”


“I didn’t shake hard,” she says. “I let her do the shaking. And I washed, afterward, in case of germs.”

“Oh.” He presses his hands to his forehead, slides them down his face, and makes a shuddering sound like a horse breathing out. “God damn. She was serious.”

“About what?”

“I have a photo of you on my phone. She saw it the other day and started asking about you. Nancy has a kid herself, so, we talked some about that.”

Bobbie feels a flutter of happiness. It makes her feel good that her father keeps a photo like that. She considers him, thinking back to all the shows she’s seen. The idea of the question rocks her insides, but she realizes it’s the obvious thing to ask. “Are you dating?”

He startles. “What? No. Just a work friend.” Here, he hesitates. “I told her you were in a car accident some years back. She was just curious and I wanted to be polite.”

“Oh.” Bobbie looks down at the scares roped over her arms, the patches of skin that don’t quite match with each other. Under her clothes, her torso is far more patchy. Bobbie sometimes looks at it in the mirror, her two, different, teardrop breasts hanging over a stomach pale as a field of snow, scar tissue like pink jump rope. When she watches movies and reads, or right at the moment where she listens to music before she jumps up and hopes her dad won’t hear her rattle the floor, she doesn’t feel tied to this body at all. She likes that feeling.

Her father shakes his head. “I said you didn’t leave the house much because of the nerve damage and you have difficulty remembering your childhood.”

Bobbie did have a childhood. It was just in a body that didn’t belong to a child. “Did you mention the germ thing, Dad?”

He regards her.

She elaborates. “That I can’t leave the house until you figure out the bacteria thing? That maybe she shouldn’t come at all?”

His shoulders go tight. “To be honest, that’s, well, that’s always been an educated guess.”

Bobbie feels the pressure in the room change. When going outside wasn’t an option, she didn’t find she wanted it very much. She can feel the desire shift, the way tectonic plates shift beneath the Earth’s crust on the Discovery channel. “I could always leave?”

He holds up his hands, as if in surrender. He attempts a smile, the kind that’s supposed to calm her down. “I mostly wanted to be better safe than sorry.”

Bobbie staggers upward. She stands in front of him and looks down at his face, a man so egotistical, he named his daughter after himself. He thinks he’s so powerful, he decided he was too good for death. As she looms, she can see her father’s eyes go wide. It would be easy to take his head in her hands. If she pressed hard enough, she could crush it like a melon.

But she would be sad, afterward. Worse than sad. Like the black bird that flew into the attic that one time, the bird she tried to take into her hands so gently and failed, there would be no going back afterward, no matter how long she cries or how wetly her tears sluiced down her face into black, still feathers.

Bobbie steps back and then goes to the door. “I’m going to go to bed now,” she announces.

“Kid,” her father says, and it’s so soft, it makes her ache. “Wait. Come on.”

But her anger burns so much brighter at that moment. “I don’t like being your kid,” she says.

As she lies in bed, she wonders if she should just go outside. But what would she do? Touch the grass? Inspect the rusted swing set? Touch the tall, wooden fence? Walk down the street in the dark until someone saw her and screamed?

When the sun comes up, she smells pancakes, bacon, and eggs. Her father is in the kitchen, scooping them onto a plate for her. His neat hair and restless face indicate he has not slept.

He looks at her with an unabashed smile. “Here you go. All for you.” It isn’t an apology, it’s a doubling down. This is who he is, she knows. Stubborn.

“I’m not hungry,” Bobbie says and starts to go back to bed.

“That’s unfortunate, kid,” says her dad. “I was thinking about eating all of this by myself.”


“They’re coming by this evening,” her dad says before she reaches the door. “Nancy and her kid.”

She stops. “They are?”

“Yeah,” he says. “It’s about time you had more than me to talk to, you know?”

Bobbie stares, trying to parse what he means. “Now?”

“No time like the present!” her father says a little too loudly. He seems scared. “You should have started talking to people ages ago.”

Bobbie feels her insides palpitate—excitement, or something like it. A tremor of fear soon follows. “I talk to some people. Like, online.”

“This is a little different.”

Bobbie panics. She wants to ask how she should act and if she can iron her favorite dress, which has flowers, and wear that. Is she supposed to wear make-up like on TV? If she asked her father to pick some up at the store, would he do it? Would he know what kind to get? Instead, she asks, “What are we going to do?”

“Oh, you know. Dinner. Normal stuff,” he says, as if he’s an expert on normal things. “Nancy’s going to drop by some books for the department and I’m going to pretend she couldn’t just scan them and send them to me via email.” He begins to talk more quickly. “Then we’ll probably have a drink. I think her son’s fifteen. I forgot to ask. I should have asked. She didn’t say.”

Bobbie can see that the armpits of his shirt are damp. “Are you okay?”

“Yes!” he snaps at her. “I’m great. It’s going to be great. You’ve been feeling okay since the handshake, right?”


“Good! That proves you’re fine,” he says. “But I don’t regret waiting for you to meet people. I don’t. Now is as good a time as any to start. Field data, right? I think it’s like that. We did a test and now we have results and you’re fine. This is going to be really, really nice.”

Bobbie watches the sweat that dribbles from his forehead. Carefully, she sits at the dining room table in front of the pancakes. She begins to put some on her plate, looking up at her father as she does. “I’m going to eat now,” she says. “You should, too.”

“I’m not hungry anymore.” He runs his hands through his white hair and Bobbie watches it stick out in many directions. “Look, I got some chores to catch up on until they arrive. I’ll be in the garage.”

He rushes out of the room, leaving Bobbie with as much breakfast as she could want. She doesn’t feel particularly hungry, either, especially as she sits at the table where strangers will sit in a few hours.

Despite her father’s insistence on being in the garage, he rushes into the house several more times during the day to talk to her. “Do you think the shower curtain needs to be washed?”

Bobbie frowns. “I don’t know.”

“I’m going to do that.” He leaves again.

Later, he finds her in the laundry room, where she’s ironing a pair of black jeans and a loose shirt. “Is that what you’re wearing?” he demands.

“The dresses all felt too tight,” she says.

“Fine,” her dad says with a tsk.

Bobbie can hear him in the kitchen, suddenly and inexplicably swearing at the garbage disposal. “Why are you breaking now?” he yells at it, as if it can answer.

Now Bobbie is nervous. “Do you think you should do work on me?” She emphasizes the word “work” so he knows what she’s asking.

“Work? No work. There’s no time!” He runs upstairs.

They arrive early, right before the sun sets.

Nancy knocks, again, in that way Bobbie recognizes. It makes Bobbie want to smile, though she doesn’t. She’s too nervous to remember which muscles she has to move.

She hobbles to the door, but her dad charges in front of her to get to it, first. He’s changed into a collared, light blue shirt, but his buttons are wrong. They aren’t aligned with the right holes.

“Nancy!” he shouts as he throws open the door.

Laughter. She actually laughs at Bobbie’s father. “Wow, Rob. Bit too much coffee today?” She reaches forward and pulls him into a hug.

Bobbie watches. On TV, when a hug is a little too long, that means the people doing the hug are interested in dating each other. How long is a too-long hug in real life?

“I’m so sorry,” says Nancy, stepping inside, “but Travis can’t come today. He’s decided to be with his father this weekend.” She shrugs out of her camel jacket. Bobbie watches, fascinated, as her father takes it and hangs it up in the closet. He does it like they have guests all the time.

“That’s good!” Her father stops. “I mean, not good that we won’t see him. Good that he’s with his father.” He pauses again. “It’s good if you think that’s good, I mean.”

Nancy snickers and smacks her father on the arm, lightly. “I get what you mean. You don’t have to overthink it. And his dad’s fine. We’re still friends and all that. Travis is the one who’s trouble.” She shifts her attention to Bobbie. “Now. How are you?”

Bobbie nods.

Behind Nancy, her father motions quickly at his mouth and throat.

Bobbie realizes she should also probably say something. “I’m fine.”

“That’s great!” A dimple appears in Nancy’s cheek as she smiles.

Please like me, Bobbie thinks. I don’t know what you and my dad think about each other, but you have to like me.

“Let’s sit down,” says her father and begins to walk to the kitchen and the dining room table.

Nancy doesn’t see him go in that direction. Instead, she sits on the couch. She pats the place next to her and looks at Bobbie. “Why don’t you tell me all about yourself?”

“Like what?” Bobbie has to remind herself to sit next to Nancy carefully, because one time, she threw herself down on the couch in a dramatic slouch, and one of the legs broke.

“Oh, I don’t know.” Nancy is wearing perfume. Or maybe it’s the smell of her shampoo. Whatever it is, Bobbie thinks it’s better than the way Blow Pops taste or the way sheets feel after you pull them out of the dryer. “Like, are you really named after your father?”

Bobbie shrugs one shoulder. “I guess.”

Nancy raises her eyebrow at her father and then turns her attention back to Bobbie. “What do you like to do?”

“Watch movies.”

“What are your favorites?”

Bobbie’s mind goes blank. “Ones with dancing, I think.”

“Like musicals? Oh, I used to love The Music Man! You’d probably think it was a bit sexist, I guess, but the songs are just so fun.”

“I’ve seen that.” Bobbie looks at her knees and sings her favorite line from, “Goodnight, My Someone.” She doesn’t look at Nancy, but she makes sure to sing clear and loud, like they do on TV. When she looks up, Nancy’s mouth is open.

“You can really sing,” she manages. “You have such a nice voice!”

Bobbie wonders if she’s saying that because that’s what she thinks or if she’s too surprised Bobbie started singing at all to say anything else. She glances over at her dad, standing at the kitchen door.

His face is carefully blank. “She’s real good. She sings in the shower all the time.”

“That’s what people do,” says Bobbie, feeling her embarrassment rise like a wave. Then she wonders if that is what people do, because she knows so much on TV isn’t real. So she turns back to Nancy. “Right?”

Nancy’s eyes crinkle the way her dad does when he smiles. “I do. If people try really hard, they might even sing as well as you just did.”

And Bobbie knows she’s telling the truth. If there was any danger of Nancy not liking her, it’s evaporated. On the inside, she feels light, like there’s air where her bones should be.

There’s another knock at the door. It’s louder, this time, and rather than wait for someone to answer the door, the person on the other side opens it and wobbles in. It’s already unlocked, after all.

The person who comes in is shorter and younger than her father but recognizably a man. He’s also thinner, his cheekbones poking out of his hungry face. Handsome. He has a lazy smile. When he sees Nancy, the smiles stretches wider. “Mom,” he says and stumbles forward, landing on the carpeted floor in a kneel. For a moment, he reminds Bobbie of Robin Hood about to be knighted in the Disney movie before he’s revealed to be a fraud, but no one’s holding a sword and he doesn’t get up from the ground.

Nancy inhales sharply and stands. “Travis.”

“Yeah, I’m here,” he says, trying to get up. He falls down, instead, and giggles. “I made it. I told you I’d make it.”

Teenage boys are strange and wild and violent. That’s what the news says, anyway. She didn’t realize how heartbreakingly cool and gorgeous they were, too.

“Travis,” Nancy says again, but lower. “Can you come outside with me for a moment?”

But Travis’s attention is elsewhere. He’s looking at Bobbie’s father. He rolls onto his knees and finally stands up. “Hey! Hey. Rob, right? You’re Rob. Are you, like, trying to fuck my mom?”

The silence that sits over the living room is uncomfortable, but Bobbie is also deeply relieved. It’s difficult to worry about acting just right when you’re not the one distracting everyone.

“We’re co-workers,” says Nancy, tightly.

“Yeah, but you text, like, all the time.” Travis tilts forward but doesn’t fall. “Right?”

For a moment, Bobbie thinks he might have legs that are different lengths, like she does. It would be a relief if he did. She stands to get a better look.

Travis reels back when he finally looks at her. “Whoa! Nice mask.” Then he stares a moment longer and his smiles drops. “Oh shit. Whoops. Sorry.”

“Travis!” Nancy takes his arm and pushes him down on the chair. “Sit here. Right now,” she snarls. “You don’t move until you can stand straight. I’m calling your father.”

Travis grins. “Tell him I say, ‘Hi.’”

“This isn’t funny.” Nancy’s face is a remarkable red. She turns to Bobbie and then her father, her chin trembling. “I’m so sorry about this. Both of you—no, especially Bobbie. I’m so sorry.”

Bobbie’s father clears his throat. When Bobbie looks at him, she sees something like a smile trying to inch its way across his mouth. “I was young once, too. I promise. I used to sneak beers as young as twelve! I was just awful and I think I turned out okay. And Bobbie—Bobbie, you know he’s just drunk, right? He doesn’t know what he’s saying.”

Bobbie thinks this over. The unsteady gaze, the failure to walk in a straight line, all of it, she’s sees renditions of this before in comedies. In real life, it’s stranger, more awkward, like he’s an extra who’s stumbled onto a film set. She looks at Travis again, fascinated, noting the redness in the whites of his eyes, the same pointed nose as his mother, and the greased spikes in his black hair. Somehow, he’s even more gorgeous than before. “I’ve never seen someone drunk,” she says.

Travis looks at her and giggles. “Aww! That’s real cute. It’s fun! Except when your parents are going to yell at you.”

Nancy interrupts. “I’m calling your father and I’m going to take you home. Right now.”

“That’s not necessary,” Bobbie’s father says. The look on his face, she realizes, is something like relief, too. Nancy is so busy with Travis, she has no time to notice the stains on the shower curtain that hangs in the bathroom or anything else her father was worried about. “Why don’t you both stay here?”

Nancy grimaces. “I need to call Ted.” She looks at Bobbie’s father as she slips her phone from her pocket, goes to the door, and walks outside. “Please excuse me.”

“Wait. Nancy! Hey!” Bobbie’s father follows her out.

And Bobbie is alone, for the very first time in her life, with a man who is not her father. She is now more aware than ever of how much space she takes up. She squeezes in on herself.

Travis regards her in the half shadow of the living room. When he smiles, his eyes flatten. He looks her up and down. “Did you know one of your legs is longer than the other?”

She blushes, uncomfortable but also weirdly flattered. It’s nice to be looked at. “That’s how they are. That’s how I was made.”

He giggles again. “Made.” He jumps up, springing quickly. “I got to take a leak. Where’s the bathroom?”

Bobbie doesn’t want their conversation to end yet. She has to ask him more things or say something clever so he’ll be impressed. “I don’t want you to use the bathroom.”

“Wow.” He takes a step back but he doesn’t stop smiling. “What, you want me to pee right here? Kinky,” he says, then brushes past her, purposely sliding his shoulder by hers.

She feels his warmth, an electric pulse that makes her heart beat faster.

“Man, you got that muscle.” He pretends to flex with his arms as he hustles out of the kitchen and toward the backdoor. “You pump zeh iron?” he says in a fake, German accent.

“Yes,” she says as she follows, desperate to keep his attention. “I’m strong.”

He opens the backdoor and turns, grinning. “How strong?”

She thinks of Nancy playfully smacking her father. Maybe that was flirting. Maybe she should try that. Is that what you’re supposed to do with boys?

Bobbie gently pushes him outside.

Travis falls back into the long grass, catching himself with his hands. He looks up at her, squints, and then chokes. He cradles one of his hands with the other and gives out a howl. “Ow! You hurt me!”

The way his face twists gives her a terrible pang of guilt. “Sorry. I’ll help you.”

She stares down at the grass. Just carpet, she tells herself. Maybe the invisible germs in it are real small, you know? Like, they won’t hurt her.

Bobbie steps onto it, toward Travis. First one foot, then the other. She can feel the individual blades hiss along her skin. It’s a surprise. She didn’t think they would do that.

Travis abruptly stops yelling. He looks up at her and grins. “God, that was so fake! Did you really fall for that?”

Bobbie feels an ache in the hollow of her chest. Heartbreak. The rebellious, gorgeous boy thinks she’s stupid. “Why did you lie?” she whispers.

“Because eventually, you’re gonna hate me,” he says. “You might as well start now.”

Bobbie feels embarrassment and then anger as his callousness. It’s like that night in the garage when her father told her about the germs, but so much worse. She takes his arm. The rage moves through her like fire. She doesn’t think. If he wants her to hate him, she will.

“Ow,” he says again, this time softer.

Bobbie thinks of her legs, the wrong sizes, and the way her knees sometimes don’t work right. Her nose bleeding when she doesn’t want it to and the smell of iron that always accompanies it. She thinks of her father, piecing her together, making a whole human, and lying to her about what she could do with that human body.

“Oh God,” says Travis, much more clearly. He falls to his knees again.

Carefully, she braces herself against him, placing her foot on his free hand. Then she pulls and twists. There’s a great, wet sound, muscle tearing away from bone and skin breaking away from itself.

Travis shrieks. A real scream. “Fuck. Oh, fuck.” He pulls back and Bobbie, watching him remotely, bored, stays perfectly still.

She doesn’t release her grip, even when she pulls his arm away. The end is a greasy, red, uneven stump, however cleanly it came out of the socket. It’s the same color as her blood, she realizes.

Something about that reminds her that, yes, Travis is Nancy’s son. And she has hurt him. By extension, she has hurt Nancy. She has hurt her father.

Blood jets out of his empty army socket and onto the grass. He howls, pants, and howls again. He looks between his arm and his empty shoulder with wide, glassy eyes, full of tears.

It’s so much worse than the time she killed the bird in the attic because she held it too tight.

“Sorry. I didn’t think,” she whispers, but Travis can’t hear her above his scream. She clears her throat and says, “I can fix this,” with more confidence than she actually feels.

“Travis?” Nancy calls, a wavering voice on the air. She’s probably in front of the house. “Honey, is that you? Are you alright? Did you fall and hit your head?”

Bobbie picks Travis up in her arms, one hand under his knees. For a moment, he goes absolutely quiet. He stares as she reshuffles him and his arm, letting the limb sit on his chest where it quickly soaks the front of his shirt in red. He stares at this in wonder. Then he closes his eyes and passes out.

She runs to the garage, more quickly than she has ever run anywhere. In movies, big people struggle to run quickly and heave and pant. She doesn’t. She’s flying the way she never could before.

Travis’s eyes, when closed, have long, graceful lashes. All at once, he’s gorgeous again.

Bobbie locks the door to the garage behind her. She puts him down on the table and cranks it upward. “If you wake up, just look at the sky,” she says, even as she feels his skin grow cold.

Now that he’s still, the blood has slowed to nothing. It must have been the same blood that was in his face, because he’s awfully pale.

Bobbie puts on her father’s paper mask. She washes her hands, the way her father does, but more quickly. It has something to do with germs, though she’s not sure what. “I’ll take care of you. I did this and I’ll make it better.” She pulls on the green, latex gloves from the box beneath the sink. Then she takes out clamps, a needle, and thread. First, she has to stop the bleeding. She rolls his sleeve into a bunched clump of damp, red fabric above where the rest of his arm should be.

Travis croaks with pain when she puts the clamps onto the exposed tendons. He remains still, like a stone angel.

She begins to stitch, needle in, needle out. At first, he stirs and makes small, aching groans that taper out into jagged breaths and then stillness. On her gloves, his red blood becomes a sticky, light brown.

Outside, Bobbie hears Nancy. “Where did they go?”

“We’ll find them,” says her father, but it sounds shaky. “Oh, don’t worry about the garage. It’s locked. I’m sure they’re not in there.”

Their voices move away. Soon, they’ll be back. Nancy, if she sees Travis laid out on the table and Bobbie over him, when she sees them, Nancy will scream. It will be horrible. Nancy will never like her, now.

In her mind, Bobbie walls herself away. She continues to sew, even though the stitches are jagged and ugly. Even though Travis, under her fingers, feels cool when he should be warm.

Time passes. Bobbie hears their voices outside, again. The door to the garage shakes with a knock, but doesn’t open. Not yet.

“Tell me where the keys are, Rob,” Nancy says to her father.

Her father doesn’t reply.

The doorknob jiggles.

Bobbie keeps her breath even. It’s more important that she make things right, as best as she can. Then, when she’s done, she’ll wait for Travis to move.

Again, the doorknob shakes. Nancy pushes hard against the lock.

If Travis doesn’t move, well, she may not remember the first moments of waking up, but she’s been there from the beginning, right? She’s her father’s daughter and there’s work to be done.

About the Author

Gillian Daniels writes, works, and haunts the streets in Boston, MA. Since attending the 2011 Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Workshop, her poetry and short fiction have appeared in Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies, among others. She can be found at your house party, petting your cat.