They let the house get taken. At first it was just a juniper that grew as tall as the eaves and started pushing at one of the gutters. The tree had a clear and insistent path (up and out), and there was a regal, piney “fuck you” to anything in its way.
They stopped hacking at the rhododendrons, which had been thigh-high when they’d first had their daughter, until they made an unforgiving cape around the front porch. Squirrels stopped differentiating between porch (for people) and shrubs (other animals). Ravens stalked circles around the house in the morning. Bluebirds flew right up to the window glass, their orange throats ablaze.
It was ridiculous. There were cars with TVs in them and children eating plasticy sugar in the shapes of fruits out of packages; whole human children shouldn’t just disappear. But their daughter, four and wearing nothing but a giant t-shirt one of them had left on the floor by the bed they all usually ended up in, had been in their backyard when they were pulling garlic bulbs and trimming their pink papery flowers, and then she was gone. No movie reel of her departure to unfurl in their minds later. Nothing.
Soon they were living with squirrels. Hell, maybe they were squirrels. An opossum worked its way into the upstairs bathroom, tried to drink from the toilet, and was knocked dead by the lid when it snapped down. They didn’t even bury it. They flung it by its tail from an open upstairs window and into the backyard where it decayed in a cloud of insects until a hawk lifted it to the sky.
They started leaving the windows open and without screens. Mice built nests in rolled-up rugs in the storage room. Banana slugs were yellow question marks in every corner. The ocean was something they could see out an upstairs bedroom window, but they felt sure they would never walk down to it again, down the hill and through the grid of the town and past the flocks of nasturtiums and the water towers and down the path with all the blackberries and bees that were too delighted and busy to sting.
They started sleeping outside, at first in sleeping bags and a tent and eventually just sleeping bags, but not letting themselves lean into each other. They slept intermittently and without ease and then it was fucking morning all over again.
They built a fire in the backyard made of all the stupid fence posts that had surrounded their property. They started pulling wood right off the house and throwing it into the flame, which was taller than their shed. They lay too close to the fire on their backs. The stars were too pretty for them to see, so they closed their eyes for hours without actually sleeping. Animals roamed around them but never touched them.
They wanted to be taken. Let them be taken.
Amy Stuber's fiction has been published in American Short Fiction, The New England Review, The Colorado Review, Ploughshares, The Antioch Review, and elsewhere. She has new work forthcoming in 2019 in Hobart, Arts and Letters, Split Lip, J Journal, Pithead Chapel, and Wigleaf. She is a flash fiction reader for Split Lip. Find her on Twitter at amy_moss_ or online at www.amystuber.com.