Her father was a Darkseller.
A childhood spent mostly on the road between atlas pages that crisscrossed the country. Motel rooms and cramped backseat bedrooms. Horse was her one true friend, and he could never magic himself into the steed that would steal her away from this nomadic life.
She was forbidden to touch his business affairs which all lived in a mustard yellow Samsonite. It held her mother’s Tupperware with its corrugated starbursts that reminded her of summer picnics on the lake. Ants would travel the ridges, their tiny black bodies dotting the bright orange like moving seeds. They would be drunk on pools of watermelon juice left sticky on the lids, signaling their tribe Here is where the good stuff lives. Now the plastic held powders and smelly grass that turned her stomach queasy. Vials of amber bottles rattled in the rushed fabric of the dividing board which separated that plastic from the cash and wood-handled revolver living in the paunch of pocket on the side along with a jingle of just-in-case bullets.
Mamma was unceremoniously in the ground in Missouri. A gnarled tree and simple white cross were the only markers of her passing. Not even her name was left. She wanted to leave Horse with her, but Urchin’s father wasn’t going to buy another goddamned toy.
He called her that so often that she was sure this was her real name. “Annie, baby,” must have been a secret between her and Mamma.
Being a Darkseller’s daughter was fraught with the misfortunes of the human condition. That’s what father said when they ran out of money and found themselves in supermarket parking lots to sleep. Never use the goods: it’s the cardinal rule and only bedtime story she was told.
At all hours sleep would be interrupted by knocks on the glass. Sometimes they were the loud, angry taps of a policeman’s torch. Eyes full of pity when she opened the door, dirty dish-blonde hair drool pasted to her face. What’s your name sweetheart? You okay? Get your dad for me? Questions that never had any right answers to break her spell. Or worse, they ignored her completely as they shouted for him to move on.
The vampires came all skinny and itchy demanding her father “give them a break, man.” Couldn’t he see they were suffering? They would tell her he was a doctor or savior. That he had the heaven white powder that would save them from misery.
What do monsters need heaven for? She wondered.
Some were embarrassed she was there at all. What the fuck, man, why you got the kid here? Exposing her to this life, low. Never stopped them from trading putrid wads of dollar bills for Tupperware salvation.
In the lowlands of the south, they turned down one of the small dirt tributary roads that lead to dilapidated plantation houses. The deer brown face of a home with its straight-lined porch of a smile frightened her. The long windows of the second story: the unblinking eyes seemed to hold only secrets. Holding Horse tightly to her chest she begged her father to turn around. He sped a cloud of red dust, rocketing them forward.
Two caramel colored teen boys in softened hand-me-down overalls wielding very real shotguns greeted them at their car.
What’s your business here, mister.
Here to talk to your mother, son.
We ain’t got no mom, mister.
He raised the barrel to her father’s chest.
Look, kid. Tell Queen Mab that her and I got some something to discuss.
Lots of men are wanting an audience, and it don’t mean nothing.
Urchin, out of the car.
She got out holding Horse by one leg feeling pretty small at her father’s hip.
He maneuvered her in front of him like a human shield.
A fragile bird of a woman opened the front door, shattering the gusto of armed adolescence.
Okay, boys, let him through. Wash up for supper.
Well, Walker, what have we here? You thought about my offer.
I’m here ain’t I.
Let me see her. She bent down and took a long sniff. Her breath hot and sour.
Barely any innocence left, she said at last.
Unsullied I swear. Not my kind of predilection.
There is more than one way to corrupt youth, Walker.
Still worth something.
Debt cleaned from the books and some of my finest home cooking.
You can stay for dinner then you best head out. Long road ahead of you. Let’s see about getting you a bath, young lady.
Queen had found her a pale blue dress with tiny wildflowers embroidered along the bottom and a Peter Pan collar boasting bluebirds. She combed her blonde hair and gathered it into a single neat plait tied off with a ribbon.
We shall see about shoes in the morning. She promised with a smile. I think you will find the Queen’s house a little more homey than life on the road.
Her father stood in the doorway looking squarely at his shoes.
Look at her Walker, sweet girl under all your filth. She needs a proper place. Queen gave her a knowing wink; we will be friends, she seemed to be saying.
Gimme a min, won’t you?
Not too long we serve supper on time. Her footsteps on the stairs clicked with a slight spring of girlish delight.
Look, kid; she’s got a mean streak deeper than that catalog smile she’s shining on for you now. Stay clear of her bad side and stay polite like I taught you. ‘Yes, ma’am’ goes a long way in these parts.
He didn’t stay for dinner just took a brand new suitcase the same color as her dress and drove away.
The pace of life churned to a halt.
The two boys were twins left by their junkie mom years ago when they were five. Traded for a half batch of home cooking. They were both called Hank because it didn’t-much-matter to Queen which one of them came as long as one of them did. Queen didn’t like boys anyhow and only agreed to the twins because she found a quaint charm to having a matched set. They slept in identical beds in a spartan room that was littered with army men, spinning tops, and marbles. Stratego and checkers were their prized possessions as they could be counted on to hold the boredom at bay.
She’s gonna call you Sunshine. All the girls before you were called that.
There had been three that the Hanks knew about, but they only remembered the last one. Each one had lived in this room with its princess bed and gauzy curtains. The wallpaper had a few scenes from Cinderella, the blue castle and pink fairy godmother. Then there was the prince slipping the glass slipper onto her foot as she demurely looks away. He leads her into his excellent coach, and she seems a little sad her head down and eyes closed. The perfect girl’s bedroom with soft toys and a dollhouse that matched this house.
Queen loved fairy tales. She would sit in her plush red chair and gather the children kneeling at her feet. Rapt attention was required as she acted out all the different characters. The Hanks had heard most of these stories before, and they picked at tufts of carpet waiting to be dismissed. Sunshine would lean her cheek on Queen’s lap. Queen’s fingers smoothing down her hair and stroking her neck.
This is the sweet part of the dream, Sunshine would whisper to herself.
There were lots of men like her father who turned down that dusty red road. Always with beat-up cars, sometimes women with stringy, greasy hair sitting beside them picking invisible bugs off their skin. They stood on the front step to the porch waiting for her to give them a paper-wrapped package. Sometimes, if they drove a nicer car, they got a baby blue American Tourister Train Case with the red, white and blue luggage tag. They peddled their darkness across the continent, and she was their Queen.
The cottage of the dreaming was where she crafted her potions. She would bring lovers to their knees weeping poems of broken hearts trying to forget the taste of bourbon that burned down their women. Lawyers would pay her tribute in silver coins so that they could ignore the people they had schemed. Families ruined for crimes that racked up fees that kept such men fat, their hands trembling constant indiscretion. Soldiers fresh from war wanting the screaming of mud-slain enemies to stop and the jungle of their minds to be cleared for dreaming. Jump boots and silver dog tags clinking as they found her at the end of straw-shaped dollar bills and in the needle-pinned spider bites that sent their minds sleeping.
When such madness is made in kitchens, darkness requires Sunshine. So Queen kept her close, sniffing her hair and preserving her baby soft skin with pink lidded bottles of oil. Teaching her cat’s cradle and dressing her in mary janes with lace socks. Nightly prayers were said wishing for God to preserve Queen, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to the children.
Something’s wrong. Sunshine screamed unable to take her eyes off the bloody sheets.
Hysterical sobs confirming her worst nightmare that despite her constant sweetness she was still going to die. Maybe the Hanks, who knew she was the favorite, had cut her up in the middle of the night.
The reassuring clicking of Queen running up the steps.
What’s wrong, darling? Sugar soft and comforting.
Sunshine had to get away from the blood. She instinctively curled into one tight corner of the bed. Rocking manically. A kitten drowned and revived only to find a place of perpetual fear.
Innocence gone, Queen said coldly.
Yanking her from the bed by her hair. Shoving her down the steps into the living room.
The Hanks stood in the hallway trapped between the living room and the front door.
They had seen this scene before with the last girl. She had begged to stay but Queen locked her out of the house. The Hanks tried to sneak food out the window to their once sister which earned them three painful purple stripes from the broom. After two days on the porch, hands bleeding from pounding the doors, urine staining her white knee socks, blood still on her dress, she gave up. Walked down the dusty red road and disappeared into the landscape.
They didn’t get too attached to this new one, keeping mostly to themselves as she careened towards womanhood never knowing the fate to befall her. Queen never did send them to school. The Hanks often wondered what happens to the girls who only knew jacks, skipping rope and dolls. Was the world kind to such children?
The new one was pleading.
Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. Sayeth the lord. As you are no longer a child.
A promise that would never unseat itself from Queen’s mind. She would give her a baby.
That afternoon decided it. The Hanks would do it together, taking turns. Queen insisted that it be done with sweetness. She would make a child, purely, without the animal rutting of men. Coaching them from the sofa, she demanded the lover’s caress and many kisses. Mostly it was messy wet tears and terror.
No longer welcomed in the place of frozen pubescence, they were relegated like puppies to the yard. The woman-now and the Hanks wedded to the small cabin in the back.
Queen bought a rocking chair for the porch feeding Sunshine mother’s milk from glass bottles awaiting the next Darkseller who would buy her wares.