This is what I tell myself: she’ll grow out of it, she’s just a kid, it’s part of being a parent. This is what I say regarding Toddy, who loves her lice like family. When she’s without them, she acts like she’s missing a teddy bear or her own birthday party. She rolls in grass the way a dog covers itself in stink, wiggling and twisting until her head becomes a floating hairy hive. You’ve got to see it. She’ll find them in her sideburns, press her middle finger against her skin to trap the creatures, and rather than pinching them out, she’ll push them further in, like she’s collecting a child strayed too far from the house. Of course, the neighbor kids don’t want to get near her, and the school’s sent a stack of letters telling us to take care of the situation before she’s expelled, and sleepovers at the house aren’t possible because our place may as well be haunted. But the kid’s happy. She talks to them, admires them being so close to her head and thoughts—likes knowing they can hear her secrets. As for me, I’m coping as best I can. Just feels like too many summer days are spent with Toddy’s hair styled up with mayonnaise, trying to scare the buggers off for good, knowing it's useless because I can’t trust her not to swan dive back into the tall grass, ostrich her head in the milkweed, tumble into nature a little too sacrificially.
Maybe it was my fault. We were poor. The proper treatment was expensive, she got used to the itching and scratching and bugs bouncing from shoulder to scalp. Maybe she found it easier to come home to a pillow springing with small black fireworks, a towel covered in dead like a battlefield, a car seat reminding us these things travel wherever we go. Maybe she just got used to it. That’s what we do as humans, right? We find ways to turn our consequences into comforts, to say maybe this is good enough, maybe this is what I deserve.
Tucker Leighty-Phillips is an MFA candidate in Fiction at Arizona State University, where he is currently the Managing Editor for Hayden's Ferry Review. His work has appeared at Cutbank, Smokelong Quarterly, Hobart, and elsewhere. He can be found on social media at @TheNurtureBoy and online at tuckerlp.net.