I designed the burrow at night. I couldn’t sleep. My wife was so warm. She clung to me, our sweaty bodies sticking and unsticking until I flopped on the sofa and watched late night television. I wore pajamas. Opened windows. Installed air-conditioning. Even when we didn’t stick, I imagined sticking. Sweat and skin. I heard the sucking as our bodies came together and pulled apart. Then, I discovered my enemies. The sticking, a blessing. How else would I see the narrow shadows that encircle our house? Hear the low scratches that deaden the night air? Find time to construct my burrow? Here, I am safe. Here, I can rest. Here, my enemies will gnash their teeth while I offer counterattacks, silent and fiery, violent and wrathful. I am a chemical engineer. I make chemicals. My enemies don’t know chemicals. They don’t know water. No assumptions. They could know anything. They could capitalize. Anything could happen.
I took a leave of absence. Coworkers thought it best. They commented on my dark circles. Rumpled shirt. I don’t iron. My burrow keeps me busy. My shirt was always dusty. My hair, already graying, took on the hue of dust, and dust entered the creases in my skin until I was gray. My wife said nothing. I tried to lay with her, but the sheets became dusty. She laundered the sheets without complaint. I was gray. I grayed the sheets. She was clean. I abandoned the bed. My burrow was far more comfortable, and though dusty, safe. My son no longer wants rides to Little League. I
showed him the burrow, at night. A moment of weakness. I know. I wanted him to see. He seemed confused. He said nothing, receded instead. He talked. I told my wife it must be a dream. I don’t dream. Dreams require sleep, and even in my burrow, I don’t sleep. I don’t shut my eyes. It is cold. Sometimes I hear my neighbor’s car. Could be anyone. I grab my knife. Scrabble through tunnels. Jim. Sells insurance. Wife stays out. I see her. Jim has shifty eyes, should have a moustache. I tell him whenever I see him but he refuses to grow the moustache. He is clever. A worthy opponent. If, indeed, he is. I could destroy his car. Something in the gas tank. He knows. Or doesn’t.
My wife has a tattoo. A schooner. All I can think about is the needle jabbing her calf, reshaping the muscle, how it transformed her leg into something new. A mutilation. It is exciting, this willful manipulation of flesh. Perhaps my burrow is a mutilation. I have reshaped the earth. Will
it rebel? Nothing is static. I know this. Am I a part of the
metamorphosis of things? Or an outlier? Unaccounted. How does the equation balance? My enemies are dull. I have filmed them, tracked their presence—the bend in the grass, the mud on the sidewalk, the silence that should be sound. They are cunning. Cunning but dull. My wife would
understand. Maybe. She has no dust and sleeps like a cow. But I am here.
My son takes a bath. My wife steams vegetables. Water is everywhere. I consider the soil. We never thought to install sprinklers. Here, beneath the bounty of the hydrologic cycle, our garden grows, despite years of neglect. I slide through my burrow, exploring the chambers—escape routes, emergency stores. The tunnels are damp. My wife bought me a new shirt. Wrinkle free. It is bright. I try to keep it from the mud but there’s too much. Jim mows. I rumble with the gasoline engine. His shoes are old and
worn. I don’t wear shoes. In a moment of panic, I could slip and my escape might become a trap. My son can hide. His shoes are silent. A man can drown in the ocean or a bathtub. I consider the molecule. Two-thirds hydrogen. Water surrounds us. We breathe it, drink it, shower in it, cycle it through our bodies. No one comprehends the dangers, not even as we pipe it into our homes. We are not wary. The sky gathers in clouds. Our neighbors call their children. I watch the shiny reflector of an approaching bicycle. Each person thinks and acts, and analyzes this
correspondence, and the resulting armistice leaves nothing more than a static form, crystalline, our state of grace. Perhaps water is my enemy. Can water blot out light and waver in shadows? Can water bend grass? Leave these little signs?
I should purchase a camera to sparkle with flashlights. My mother owned telescopes. We calculated orbits. Mars, Jupiter. Elliptical collision courses that seemed broad and perfect, so that I pictured orbits for each person I saw, and thought the equations until the numbers and letters
coalesced into nothing. What could I predict? My mother thought I should meet a nice girl. With a superior knowledge of orbits, I told her, I could intersect my perfect other. Doesn’t matter. Enemies interfere with such calculations. So I devise stratagems. Newspapers are full of stories. My wife sometimes snores. Two if by land.
Jim’s car coughs, but doesn’t start. His wife watches. I find a broken mirror, cracked in the elbow of my subterranean domain. I haven’t encountered rodents in weeks. My son remains home—the flu, he says. My wife bakes pies that disappear in minutes. I left my laptop at the office so I can’t play minesweeper or use my spreadsheet to track supplies. The morning newspaper tells me that there is an Amber Alert, and, what’s more, the Homeland Security Advisory System rates today’s risk level at orange.
There are oranges in the kitchen, orange lights in the neighborhood, and crossing guards, for the children, wearing orange vests. When I was in elementary school I was forced at gunpoint to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride.”
We never learned the definition of revolution. My father listened to late night radio. My mother watched him with her telescope while I balanced equations. Now I’m lonely. The burrow, my only friend, waits like a carcass, its many chambers sprawled and reaching, but forever still, and
though I extend its length, add mirrors, traps, false turns, I know that, finally, it will not offer sustenance. Only the destruction of my enemies. Only the eternal safety of my wife and child. Only a moment of rest.
I have trained my periscope on Jim. He fiddles with his engine. He speaks on his cell.
I make a decision.
My wife is where I left her. The kitchen filled with disappearing pies. My son lies on the couch, his eyes closed, a book folded on his chest. I shake him. His eyes are green, like mine, his hair brown, but short. I tell him
about Jim, about secrecy, about the periscope, my suspicions, my enemies, the dust that won’t depart. He understands. There are clouds some days, but some days are clear, and this is more a condition of the eyes than
anything else. I explain his mission, tell him to wait for the cover of night. He nods solemnly. It is the white of his face that convinces, and so I leave him there, with his books and the television, with his dire thoughts. How things change when children must act as adults. When parents
abandon their children to the machinery of vengeance. My son is strong of mind and swift afoot. We are two strands of the same rope. Symmetrically entangled.
I have assembled skulking clothes. Black jeans, black sweaters, black knit caps, black basketball shoes, black paint for our faces and hands. We are invisible. I teach him to flip the flashlights on as we enter the burrow, to flip them off as we exit. In the burrow, we’re haloed.
We watch and wait, periscope swiveling.
The burrow is alight with reflections. Movement, even the most furtive, kaleidoscopes the chamber. My boy’s head jerks at each change, causing shimmers and ripples. I hand him a candy bar.
Jim’s car moves. Hood up. Then a light.
Shhh, I tell the boy, eat quickly. I hand him a knife.
I remove my own knife from its holster.
I’ll go right, I say, you go left.
I told him the plan already but I want him to remember.
I find my exit, sit against the wall, check my watch. Five minutes and the boy will appear, hose and knife in hand. I finger the vials in my pocket. Switch off my flashlights. I take a pair of binoculars from my belt. Open the door. Watch my bedroom window. My wife, as usual, sleeps. I check where my boy should appear. Darkness. I swivel to Jim, his car. I pull myself from the earth. The moon is a plastic doll. Clouds guard its tresses, and Jim waits in the driveway, his wife behind him, backlit by their opened garage. Inside, tools line the walls, benches, an air compressor, bicycles hanging from the ceiling like rotten eggplants. Jim drinks from a plastic bottle, laughs with his wife. Water. Surely. A drop of rain. Then more. The paint smears on my face. Itching. I try not to touch, but must wipe the water from my eyes. When I was a boy, paint dripped in my eyes and I couldn’t see. My mother held me while my father sprayed water into my eyes, yelling, keep them open or you’ll go blind. My mother crying. It stung, but my eyes came clean and I could see.
Jim and wife embrace. Laugh at the rain. Stop.