Survival Town, USA


Stephanie Lane Sutton


In the desert, the scientists had doll houses. They parked cars in the driveways. They stuffed the cabinets with spam and deviled ham. They placed a hundred mother dolls. The mothers were serving dinner, watching TV, dressing the children for school. They wore print dresses of gingham or floral while men split atoms like golden beads.


Nevada was heated until it was as hot as the sun. The houses exploded like fistfuls of feathers. The sky tore like cheap fabric. The scientists said, Good work. They went back with hazmat suits. They sifted through the rubble. They opened the cans of meat and stuck their pinkies inside. With rulers, they measured the patterns of flowers burned onto the mothers’ skin.




Dad says you’ve got to flatten the earth before you can raise a barn on it. He brought out metal tools with wooden handles and blades in different shapes, one to kick up the clots of dirt, another to smooth the pockmarks.


He took my plastic arms away, replaced them with aluminum the color of milk. They came wrapped around an alloy baby who glistened like melting ice. At night, it glowed yellow and green. The baby burned holes over the nipples of my dress, but Dad wouldn’t buy me a new one.


He piled the wood on top of me, said it would be safer there, until the men raised the barn up. Dad said they were waiting on these special kinds of ropes. You tie one end to the sky, one end to the frame, and let gravity do the work. It’s something about the split fibers, the magnetism of it, but he said it was too complicated for me to understand. Let the clouds take care of it, he told me.


A few nights in that pile was a wood bath. I started to feel splinters soaking into me. My skin was like a plucked chicken’s skin, feathery stubs itching me all over. I kept scratching until my fingers and wrists started growing bark and I couldn’t move them anymore. Dad said it was fungal. He talked about the town that would come up around the barn, the doctor on his way from out East, an apothecary’s cart 30 miles out from here. My skin got more calloused and grainy. Then I couldn’t stand anymore. Dad said when the barn was done, he’d save one rope for me and tie the other end to a cloud.


For all the ripening I did, that damn baby never grew, until one night, he split open. With that shiny shell cracked, his insides looked like the insides of an acorn, all stuffed with dirt and rooty twine. When Dad saw it, he sort of smiled, and said Manifest, but I didn’t have the skin to hear him anymore.