In the little rust-red house, there were six rooms if you counted everything but the closets and the tiny laundry area sandwiched between the kitchen and the backyard. The only room I ever thought I owned, though, was the wood-paneled bedroom across the hall from the bathroom. Then my brother was born, and my little sister moved in with me. Then no room in that house was mine.
I spent most of my time outside where no one owned anything.
I don’t mean the backyard. That belonged to Dad. He built the chicken coop. He built the pig pen, the turkey pen, the shed. He hoed the land to plant the vegetable garden. He dug the big hole that became the catfish pond. He built the bridge that went to the island in the middle of that pond. He built the deck from which we jumped into that muddy water to swim with those catfish, also Dad’s, and whose whiskers tickled our toes.
I don’t mean the garage. That was where Dad kept his tools and his leftover wood scraps. The garage was where he hung deer from a hook in the ceiling and stripped them of their fur and guts.
I don’t mean the front yard, either. Dad owned the rock garden with the aloe that we rubbed onto scorched skin. He owned the oak trees, the chinaberry trees, the juniper trees. Those were his stakes in the ground that held up the smallest of those trees, uprighting it after a hurricane tried to knock it down. Dad owned the dirt and the grass. He owned the ditches that filled with water and crawdads every time it rained.
Truth was that Dad owned every room in the house, too. No room had ever really been mine.
No room in that house had ever really been my mother’s, either, not that I concerned myself then with what my mother did or didn’t own.
I spent most of my time in the woods behind our house. No one owned the blackberry bushes that scraped my legs. No one owned the banana spiders that spun hardy webs stretching from tree to tree. No one owned the ticks or the chiggers or the snakes. No one owned the lightning bugs that blinked on and off at dusk. Although flags toothpicked it, I didn’t believe yet that anyone could really own the moon.
Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award (November 2021); and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction (forthcoming in April 2022). Her work is included in Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50, and will be included in the forthcoming Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review.