So you get in your car and immediately it pricks you asleep, its tentacles of seatbelts entangling you. There are kids in the back or not, also asleep or too young to know they ought to be. There are birds singing somewhere, but if you roll the windows up, you can’t hear them.

There was an unidentified man outside your window. He left sneaker marks going all the way around your house to the backyard. Was he looking into the sinkhole back there? He left a note on your windshield under a windshield wiper. I don’t know what it said; he wrote it in another language. I don’t know which one.

There is something large and pulsating about the way the air can wrap itself around a person flying bicycle fast downhill.

But maybe your house is on fire? Should you go check?

When you get to the rough part of the neighborhood you remember to lock your doors. You congratulate yourself on remembering so well that now you even remember to lock your car doors before you get to the rough part of the neighborhood so that way you don’t look like you’re afraid or racist or classist or something; you don’t have to deal with someone seeing you click the lock down, with someone seeing the growing look of apprehension/horror on your face as you drive through the rough parts of the neighborhood where the little homeless children push grocery carts full of dumpster food and buildings crumble if you drive by them too quickly.

Every character desires something, but I don’t know what’s left for you to want. Do people still use the word covet? Maybe there is something you covet. Maybe you want that bicycle fast feeling with no locked doors and no AC and no worry that your house could be on fire or that someone could be sneaking into it.

There was a woman in your bedroom and she left through a window she broke with her fist. She told me it didn’t hurt to break the window, but it hurt to lie on your bed and look up at the ceiling and tremble through your nightmares.

There is something new and improved about you today. I don’t like it.

All of this gets to be too much, maybe, and that’s when you feel like you’re an ocean and your blood is some fucked up tide rising.

The child in your bathroom left an instruction manual for a unicycle. You should check it out. I think you have what it takes, really, to construct a thing like that. A thing so ridiculous. How did the child get into the bathroom anyway? No signs of forced entry. Did you leave your front door unlocked? Are you losing it? Here’s a bottle of this kind of medicine and here’s a bottle of another kind, try them both, see which one straightens out the tide of your blood.

I’m checking the oven. I think it’s okay now. You can come out. You can come into the kitchen. You can open your eyes. You can unclench your hands. You can look at me. You can feel safe here. You can put down that knife, that gun, that cleaver, that hatchet, that machete, that rifle, that revolver, that razorblade, that bird skull, that instruction manual, that handful of dirt, that steaming tray of food, that canister of pills and that canister of pills as well. You can leave them there on the table. You can regard them with longing. You can be an enemy combatant. You can back away slowly. You can get on your knees, motherfucker. You can put this bag over your head. You can let me try to love you. You can say you’re sorry. You can take a nap in my bed. You can eat that, it’s ready, I think, please try it.

Yes, the world is ending.

It’s okay to feel perennially culpable. It might even be normal? There was another man outside your window, but a different one, and outside the bathroom window not the bedroom, but he was trying to hoist a small child up, a child with unicycles in her eyes, so maybe the kid was the same as before, I can’t really tell. All children look the same to me.

You’re getting into your car, and as soon as you click the lock down you feel immensely sleepy. Are you narcoleptic? Here, have you tried this medicine, or this one? There is a sinkhole in your backyard big enough to swallow an apartment building. Aren’t you afraid of falling in? Doesn’t it just make you catch your breath?

What is it about you that is making you look this new and this improved? I know I said I don’t like it, and I meant it, but I can’t stop thinking about it. You shine now. And you’re lemon scented. Quivering in your sleep in the car, sleep driving to the grocery store, sleep shopping for dinner, sleep sleeping in your bed, unaware of the intruder-child lying next to you.

I did read the note. It said nous sommes seuls ensemble. I released it from my clenched hand into the wind so it would drift into the sinkhole, but a bird swooped it up, tight in her beak, to use in her nest.

Are you dreaming about sinkholes, unicycles, flocks of trilling birds, shining your weapons, the car trip home from the store, the uselessness of the pool covering over the sinkhole in your backyard, skinny children pushing grocery carts of rotting food, your garden overgrown with weeds, the differences and similarities between weeds and flowers, armies of children falling head over feet over head over feet, your own nagging sense of culpability, the fact that the world is being smothered around you, like a teenaged girl in a horror movie?

There will be a woman hiding in your trunk this morning and she will be me.


–“Detainee” was previously published in Spring Gun.

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M.R. Sheffield

About M.R. Sheffield

M.R. Sheffield has work published or forthcoming in Epiphany, Pank online, Blip Magazine, and the Florida Review. She hopes her cat never realizes he’s a cliché.