I vacuumed them up, my heart coiled carefully, lips pressed together, and thought of your words the night before as you told me what an older girl had showed you in the bathroom downstairs as I cooked and laughed with the other women upstairs. How to stuff your underpants with toilet paper and "sex" like a boy would. Taking turns: first you the girl, submissive under the small thrust of her hips; then you the boy, copying what takes only a moment to awaken to. "My brain was trying to tell your brain, mommy, so you could come and save me."
I had lain awake through the night while my own memories played over me. The boy who tried to slip his slim penis into me at your same age in the closet of my room. All the times his fingers found me in sleeping bags, holding still so he'd go away. Every time at age fourteen or seventeen or twenty-five I let a man touch me, or enter me, as I floated somewhere outside myself unable to speak. That blankness.
At first I couldn't tell where the maggots were erupting from. Images of endless nests under the floorboards of our house played through my mind as I sucked them frantically from every corner of the room. At last, in the cupboard under the sink, I found the pail of compost and newsprint someone else had secreted there, pale bodies wriggling over its dark edge. I set my jaw and moved it out to the trash, stuffing the vacuum bag in after it, slamming the lid. I went in and washed my hands, made your breakfast and your lunch, drove you to school.
Later I stood over the kitchen floor, grey to every edge, watching for any I had missed, any sign of motion. I wondered if I'd ever be able to stand in that room again without the expectation of something awful just beneath the surface, just out of sight. I filled the sink with hot water and soap, pulled the stiff bristled brush from the cupboard and began to scrub.
I am driving home through the San Andreas Rift Zone, the full moon eclipsing to a ruddy disc over my right shoulder. Over Montara Mountain, ahead on my left, is my first glimpse of the smear of Hale-Bopp. As I hurtle along at seventy miles per hour on the Junipero Serra Freeway, nodding to sleep in the back seat is my almost five-year-old daughter, her body like a question mark against the door She's been battling cold after cold since early December. In the dim light her face looks like the pale curls of creamy iris that have begun to push their way up in the road medians.
My friend Jon, who I've known since birth, calls to talk about birthday parties for our children. We laugh about the Hale-Bopp hysteria and the madness of the world. As we talk I am thinking that he's been my measure of wholeness for as long as I've been measuring those things. In my dreams over the years his golden hair has lead the journeys down rivers, through wilderness, into the skeletons of cities. And that this year his father, who was best friends with mine when we were kids, came out as a closet drunk and is now getting sober.
My father, a sailor who's been known to be a drunk all along, calls another day to give specifics of the comet. Its nucleus is twenty miles wide and made of ice and rock; it has two tails, one of gas and one of dust; it passes the earth once every four thousand years. It's something my father and I have always had, even in the thick silence a morning after one of his rages: the stars, science, chess, music, myth.
Not long ago I had a dream of Jon. He was broken and bleeding, hanging from a harness in a tree. But his eyes were clear and I knew he