By Josina Guess
From issue 21.2 of Fourth Genre
He tucks me into bed again. “Just remember that none of it is real.”
—Julie Marie Wade, “Still Life with Guns”
I am six going on seven when my family drives across the country in our brown Volkswagen Vanagon. For a few weeks, home is the van that I share with my father, my mother, my older brother and sister, and our dog. We go as far north as South Dakota, as far west as Wyoming, as far south as Alabama, and then we come back home again to Washington, DC. We camp or stay with friends and family along the way. One stop is with my parents’ high school friends in Oklahoma. They live in a house they built into the side of a hill. The wife and daughters all wear long hair and long dresses, unless they are riding their horses—then they wear culottes. They homeschool. They are a different kind of Christian than we are.
As we are approaching their property, Mom tells us not to sing the songs that go with our hand games: Behind the ‘frigerator, there was a piece of glass / Miss Lucy sat upon it and broke her big fat / Ask me no more questions, please tell me no more lies. “These girls are very sheltered,” she tells us. I ask her what that means, “to be sheltered,” picturing a home tucked safely in the side of earth. I wonder if I might like that, too.
Their house is fancier than I expected. It has a room full of animals that the father shot: beaver, elk, moose, white tailed deer, fox, rabbit, otter, raccoon. These are mounted to look real, like the elephant in the Natural History Museum downtown. He calls it his trophy room. It scares me to see them all dead and looking so alive, to know that he killed them all himself.