Failed Renovations

by Bronte Billings

The hole in my house swallows me. My father
told us removing ribs was easy. Still, the foundation
crumbled in when we stripped the walls. The clouds
caved in, a collapsing thunderstorm
of sponged malformations. We aren’t
architects. We’ve never been
a family of building things. I take things apart
pulling at splinters from when I was five
falling down the attic stairs. It was
always the second step, up not down. Never down
like the looks my mother gave us, past her nose
when Stephanie handed the Eucharist back
to the priest at St. Catherine’s. After walking down
that long aisle, alone…she never forgave us. My mother
watched her waddle past our house with her
swollen ankles in the sweltering summer
heat and told me to watch that one. We had
to watch everyone after the empty hospital room. They didn’t
have a name. I called them the never child. I told my mother
the ruddy little boy with wet cheeks and greasy hair  
was praying for the never child, she laughed
which is nothing, just a surface wound. We
should have stayed with wallpaper but the layers
kept peeling away. I hated the rocking
horses left from the merry-go-round. It spun
too fast and I was flying. The colors melted
together like the mold that grew on the sponge
all brown and black filling the holes—I couldn’t
make clouds anymore. The one above
their dresser with the funny lopsided shape
swollen like a tumor, it was the mark I made. I did
try. I learned to wash the stains when I was young. To hide
the things that didn’t matter. My father fixed the hole
with a papier-mâché cast. It was never quite the same, never
matched the rest of the room. We painted
clouds over the seams in baby blue
but we didn’t know what to fill it with.
My mother used it for storage, and I said my
prayers, starting with never. We didn’t talk
about Stephanie or the way she pushed the stroller
with a broken wrist. We didn’t go to church either.

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