Psychopomp Magazine Fall 2013 - Page 6

THE TWO DAUGHTERS

by John Colburn

At that time I lived on the edge of town in a small house by Yellow Woods with my two daughters, who were always hungry. I never seemed to have enough food for them. They were growing into young women who ate more and more and sometimes they stood in front of the open cupboard doors, peering in and growling. Their shoulder blades stuck out. I shopped and I gardened and I cooked but there was not enough. Eventually they took to hunting in Yellow Woods while I was away at work. Imagine my surprise to come home and find a dead rabbit hanging from our clothesline, blood gathered on the grass. What was happening to my daughters?

When asked, first one then the other replied simply “We were hungry.” Then they would shrug or turn on the TV or sulk in their bedroom. I watched the way they looked at each other, as if gauging how far the other had given in to a wild force from beyond the horizon, each daring the other to go further.

It was summer and school was out. Sometimes they didn’t go to school anyway, my feral daughters. But in summer their boredom often escalated into rage and their bedroom turned brutish, swamp-like, musty. I was glad they managed not to eat each other.

The oldest liked to dig little graves and bury effigies. The youngest liked to spy on the people and animals up and down our road. I thought they might not be popular at school.

One night I was awakened by the sound of a window creaking open. I got out of bed and walked in the quiet, dark house, stepping cautiously through the gray hall. I looked in their bedroom—empty. Out the window I saw my hungry daughters disappearing into Yellow Woods. I called their names but they didn’t turn around. I didn’t know what to do. The night felt strangely oversized—a giant night. I could hear tree frogs gathering strength in unison.

I took a flashlight from the basement and shined it into the woods but its light only emphasized the darkness all around. I walked into the woods. I could not hear them. I called their names and wandered until I was afraid I might get lost. Occasionally I heard moving animal sounds but darkness amplified every little noise. Eventually I found myself facing my house again. I convinced myself that my daughters would return any minute, so I went inside the house and turned on all the lights. I began cleaning. There seemed no other way to wait. After cleaning each room, I turned off its light. Room by room, the house was extinguished. I waited.

Finally my hungry daughters returned. Their faces were different—painted in dazzling colors. I watched them climb back through the window, out of the dark blue morning and into their little box of bedroom. I surprised them by turning on the light.

“Father!” said the oldest daughter.

“Turn off the light,” said the youngest, squinting.

“Where have you been?” I asked.

The two girls, tired and ragged, sank down into their beds.

“We haven’t been anywhere,” said the oldest, and the youngest nodded. I noticed some

2 | Psychopomp