Line the little crosses outside Mother’s window so she can see them. Little boys wander. Little boys play soldiers. Little boys play Indians. Tuck their little bodies into the earth where Mother can watch them grow.
             Father makes the boxes and Mother makes the burial gowns. Ruby watches her mother dress the little baby boys and cradle them and they are almost real, more real than Ruby or the sunflowers or the sky. Mother pulls them into her chest and smiles while she rocks them. They belong to the crook of her arm.
             Would Ruby like to hold the baby?
             Father pulls Ruby back with his too-large hands. Little baby boys make no sounds. Little baby boys won’t be warm. Little baby boys blue like the sky above.
             Father lets Mother keep each boy until the sun sets.
             At dusk Father cleaves the boys from Mother’s arms. Into the box. Into the belly of the earth. Sky above turned turquoise and fuchsia.
             Summer, harvest, pin oak leaves and frost. Six is arriving. Father plunges the shovel while Mother screams. His boys are made for earth, his only girl made to bear the weight of them.
             Would Ruby like to hold the baby?
             Yes, yes, mama I want to hold the baby.
             Pull the baby in close. Hold the head in the nook of her arm. Arms as stiff as her baby doll. Legs as stiff as her baby doll. Tilt him forward. Open, eyes, open.
             The hills curl around them. Father makes the box and Mother makes the burial gown. Ruby rocks the baby and rocks the baby and rocks the baby. Father cleaves the boy from her arms.
             Snow, frozen earth, cracks in the hard clay. Father packs his rifle. Father packs his boots. Fire floats along the border. Boys ride horses to the flames. Boys belong to causes. Boys belong to armies.
             Thaw, charred timber, mud sucks at their boots. The boys return in boxes.
             Mother knows the price of boys and when their house burns Mother will teach Ruby how to build it again and build it stronger.
             Ruby lets coneflowers grow along the little crosses. Purple as the sky. Little girls be brave, brave as your mother. Little boys be meant for the earth, let your blood water the prairie and come alive again in the red of sunset.

Natalie McAllister Headshot.jpg

Natalie Teal McAllister writes stories about dirt: the dirt under our fingernails, those stories from our childhood we can't escape, the land we came from that still lives in the enamel of our teeth. Her flash fiction appears in Longleaf Review and Pigeon Pages, and her short fiction has appeared in Glimmer Train, No Tokens, Midwestern Gothic, and Flyway, among others. She is a 2017 and 2018 Tin House Summer Workshop participant and a graduate of the MFA program at the University of Kansas.