The ear was long, floppy, and a poor imitation of a rabbit’s. Its stuffing had crumbled out decades prior, leaving behind a grey piece of cloth. The base had been stitched closed regardless of it being unnecessary. The tip had been pierced by a needle so that a thread could attach the ear to a red ribbon. The red ribbon was currently tied to the wrist of a woman laying on her bed. The cloth ear was clenched in her tight fist. The only presence of stability in the woman’s shivering body.
The girl stepped out of the car and into the dry heat with her mother’s help. She pulled her small hand away once her feet found stability on the dirt road, looking around to see where the fence had gone. It had been tall and white and she and her cousins had recently been given permission to paint flowers on them. She had decided upon roses. Her brother had teased her for picking something so boring but she had cried and stuck to her idea. Her cousins had picked flowers like daisies and lilies and even chrysanthemums. Her brother had wanted to draw birds after claiming he thought flowers were boring. Yet she picked roses. She liked roses.
Her sweat had soaked through her nightclothes and was starting to seep into the duvet at her feet and into the mattress beneath her. She had curled up, fists to her chest and knees inches from her face. Her blood was loud in her ears and surely frothing from the force with which her heart pumped. Her feet, with their toes twisted rigidly amongst themselves, pointed to the end of the bed.
The girl found what was left of the fence while her father talked to the men with guns. Most of it was broken and laid out on the grass. She walked to a piece of it, her shoes making a scuffing sound due to her feet not lifting high enough off the ground. One hand was gripping a stuffed animal so the other reached out for the fence. Her mother noticed her then and summoned her back with a quick, but gentle, tug on the shoulder. While the girl was pulled away she saw strange, blackish grey marks on the piece she had been reaching for. She saw it on some other pieces as well and quickly recognized where else she had seen the pattern before. She frowned and looked up at her mother to ask her why cars had been driving on the fence. Her question was interrupted by loud honking down the street. She jumped, shuddered, and hugged her mother’s leg.
Her husband kept a hand, just one hand, on the curve of her back. In the middle where her spine was most prominent. Through the wet cloth and hot skin he could feel the bony protuberances of her vertebrae. He could feel her shivering through his palms. He listened with strained ears to her fevered muttering, only comprehending words here and there. The little he heard was enough to keep his hand on her back despite the ache in his wrist and forearm.
The girl’s father picked her up and carried her through where the gate used to be. Her mother strode at his side, a hand on her daughter’s back while she looked around. Sirens and honking broke the forced silence every few moments. Each time was an assault on their frayed senses, making the girl hug her father tight and making her father hug her back tighter. The man that led them had no one to hug, save for the large gun he held with his finger on the trigger. The girl looked around from her perch in her father’s arms, not really recognizing what she was looking at. Many windows had holes in them or were shattered entirely, leaving nothing but shards in splintered frames. Doors were either closed or hanging on their hinges. Walls were on the ground or had gaping holes in them, letting everyone see the mess of the homes inside.
Her dog had learned long ago that, when she was like this, she did not want his innocently rough nuzzling and licking. She wanted presence, the slightest touch, and nothing more. So the dog sat on his haunches at the side of the bed with his snout resting on the bed. His wet nose ever so slightly touched her bare elbow. His humid breath washed over the skin of her arms, further cooling the glistening sweat but completely unfelt by her. His ears would perk up at any sound that made it past her muttering and his tail would sweep the floor for a moment. Then he would be still. Breathing, just breathing, on his owner.
The girl was set onto the ground, near where their stone wall used to be. The wall had been up to her father’s waist and he had built it around their house with the help of his brothers. The girl hadn’t liked the wall since she couldn’t see past it without standing atop a stool. She liked it even less as it was now: in countless pieces of jagged rubble. Her mother kept a firm grip on her shoulder so she wouldn’t wander and get hurt. While she looked around, trying to understand what had happened to her house and all the other houses, her father argued with the man with a gun. The man was standing in front of their house’s front entrance while shaking his head at her father’s pleas. Finally, when her father took his wallet out, the man with a gun got out of the way.
The room was dark but it wasn’t an abyss. Light from the streetlamps, moon, and stars drifted in through the slits in the window blinds and suffused around the room. It settled on her bed and the crumpled up duvet. On the nightstand to the bed’s right that held her husband’s book and a lamp that had remained off throughout the night. On the cream colored walls that contained no pictures and no paintings. On her husband’s broad shoulders and back. Not on her.
Their door was on the floor in a hundred different pieces, adding to the dust and clutter of their mosaic floors. The rose tile pattern the girl had asked her father to put in the floor had lost its red glory and looked pale and withered. She heard her mother saying no amount of washing would bring the roses back and that almost made the girl cry. Her burgeoning tears were halted and shocked back into her when the sound of more sirens broke through. The screeching noise that seemed to come from everywhere at once echoed off the few walls that remained. When the surprise faded, the girl began crying with fresh, burning tears and only stopped when her father picked her up. She buried her face in his hot, sweaty neck and did not look up as her father and mother continued to look around their home. She held her stuffed animal with her pudgy hands, hugging it to her father’s back so that it could be safe too.
The woman cried. Deep, heaving sobs that took more air from her lungs than was allowed in. They dragged her into a world where reality and nightmares were one and the same. The rabbit’s ear disappeared. Her own crying did not reach her ears. Her dog disappeared. Her husband’s shadow, that had been serving as her blanket, turned dark. The sweat disappeared. She saw black though her eyes were wide open. Only black and nothing more.
The noises that came this time to scare the little girl were not honking or sirens. They were the loud, sharp, and rapid noises of guns being fired. They were the roars of engines. They were crashing and shattering as houses were turned to ruins and ruins were turned to stone. They were the sounds of her mother and father screaming. The sounds came with smells this time. Fire, smoke, broken stone, and fear all assaulted the girl’s nose and she began to have trouble breathing through the sudden appearance of dust clouds. Her father turned to run back out through the front entrance and saw the man with a gun get shot through his head, his blood painting the dusty roses red. Praying that his daughter hadn’t seen that horrific sight, he turned back to face the way he had been going. Their home had a back door that they could leave through. Where they went after could be decided then. The little girl was jostled as her father ran. A deafening crash as something large hit the wall to her father’s left. The girl reached out with both hands towards her mother, her stuffed rabbit dangling precariously. The wall came crumbling down on the girl and the father. Her mother stretched a desperate hand out.
She clenched the rabbit’s ear.