Alice in the War Years by Kyle Hemmings

It’s summer, a season of forgotten berries and a neighbor’s neglected hyacinths. Today, the sky is the color of peeled potatoes but the sun manages to make eyes at Alice, here and there. Mitch, a half-blind boy with down-turned eyes and a forearm of beetle-shaped scars, is teaching Alice to do “The Doolittle Drop,” a dance he invented. Alice hops on one foot then the other while Mitch keeps time by clapping his hands. The sound reminds her that somewhere bombs are dropping. Mitch’s mother serves refreshments and there is the pop and fizz from cola bottles, as if the world, for a moment, can be saved, remade to be playful, even frivolous. Alice looks into Mitch’s face, but his eyes, dark, tiny, almost otherworldly in their filminess, make her uncomfortable. She thinks about her brother on a Navy destroyer surrounded by Japanese subs, sharks, anonymous starfish. At night he speaks to her in a breathless voice as if treading water for days. Mitch rocks his head side to side and asks Alice which movie star has the best breasts. It’s something his brother is always talking about. Breasts. Alice says Hedy Lamarr, even though hers are small, like Alice’s, but otherwise, perfect. Someday, Alice thinks, she’ll be an actress too. She will play Hedy’s spiteful younger sister in love with the same man. In the end, they will both lose, and the man, a war veteran who talks in his sleep, whose sentences trail off, words becoming elusive as frightened fish—he’ll lose too.

Kyle Hemmings has work published in The Airgonaut, Sonic Boom, Red Fez, and elsewhere, He is co-editor of Yavanika Press and his latest collection of text and art is Amnesiacs of Summer.

Photo by Frank Zhang