There on the screened in back porch. Steel mesh screen rust smell damp on her tongue just after the sun goes down. Gumdrop standing there just tall enough to see over the whitewashed lathe and through the screen that keeps skeeters out. White flannel nightgown with tiny pink roses and matching rose button right at her throat. She’d rather be wearing pajamas with pants. She doesn’t have to tell me. I know what she knows. She wants it that way.
No sense in keeping secrets. I am one of her alters. That’s what they call me. An alter. Makes no difference, been called a whole lot worse by a lot better people. Shrinks don’t know shit. Gumdrop calls me Harley, so that’s who I am.
Gumdrop there standing on a box of Aunt Obbie’s one quart Bell canning jars, everything is full of whatever color it’s supposed to be. Gumdrop can’t see the jars on account of she is standing on them, but she has the colors memorized. Orangey yellow peaches sliced up and bright with pink pit rims smiling through the glass. Fuzzy coated golden apricot halves too chewy to suit her taste. Half pears whose color’s a whole lot quieter than their flavor, they are her favorite. And them slimy brown prunes. Prunes, old wrinkled plums with the pits taken out and shoved in sugar water to try and make up for what has been done to them. Gumdrop loves plums, hates prunes.
There inside, lemon yellow French daybed all curlicue and girly. On top of that, pillow with a worn-thin to gray pillowcase edged with robin’s egg blue embroidery. That’s where Gumdrop remembers being last. Head sunk deaf deep into that feather pillow half her size, when Uncle Bill came to tuck her in.
Uncle Bill. Silver Butch Waxed flat top and starch stiff perfect cotton pajamas. Teeth crowded all the way up to crooked in his too small mouth. Teeth the color of corn cob once the meat’s been gnawed off. Eyes that same yellow where the whites should have been, and barely set back in down-droop wrinkled sockets. Almost made Gumdrop feel sorry for him. She started to lower the canvas sleeping bag she had pulled up to just below her nose. Thought she’d lower it just enough for a kiss goodnight, but Gumdrop smelled the mix of Butch Wax and Old Spice and remembered how much the scruff on his face scratched her up last time. Scratched up places that got no business being scratched up. She pulled the red flannel lining back up and ran the soft across her lips.
He patted her on the head instead.
“Good night, sleep tight, don’t let the bedbugs bite, Jonni.” Uncle Bill said. Called her the name she was born with. I wouldn’t let him call her Gumdrop anymore. Not after last time.
“Are bedbugs real?” Gumdrop asked, but not out loud. Sometimes she didn’t know if anything was real.
Except Green Man. She knows he is real. Real because Green Man is always the color he is supposed to be. Gumdrop standing there on that box of Aunt Obbie’s one quart Bell canning jars looking outside. Outside everything grayscale and dead still. Especially out in Dark Corner. That’s where Green Man always starts. Dark Corner where side hedge and back hedge meet. The only thing between the porch and Dark Corner, is the clothesline. Four silvery white lines lit up neon by a near full moon. Silvery lines even parallel from each other and slung with equal slack from t-post to t-post, across Dark Corner. When Green Man comes a running, Gumdrop hunkers down but it won’t matter.
Green Man is always green. Much as Gumdrop tries to remember, it’s more and more like she can’t forget. But that’s not right either. Can’t say for sure. Known him since she was three, but never really gets a good look. Green Man always visits middle of the night. Every time, Gumdrop wakes up feeling like she will never forget and she swears this time she will remember. But she always falls back to sleep and by the time she wakes up again, he’s gone. She forgets what she’s supposed to remember until the next time he visits.
Dark Corner slingshot-straight toward Gumdrop. She knows he can’t see her. Green Man can’t see her because he’s got no eyes. Green Man doesn’t need eyes to know where she is. He just knows. He comes running from Dark Corner. Green Man long, slender, nothing but green. Arms a foot too long and no hands but he’s carrying a knife. I know that. He’s got a knife. And all she can do is stand there. I stand there watching green handle, silvery blade and can’t do a damn thing about it. Every single time, I want Gumdrop to move. She just stands there. And her heart, I feel it beat in my Adam’s apple.
Green Man running so quiet, running so fast that when I close my eyes and open them again, he’s all the way around to the screen on the side of the house looking in, and it’s me he’s seeing. Me standing there on Aunt Obbie’s one quart Bell canning jars. Not Gumdrop, but me, Harley. Green Man Looking at me with them no eyes.
Green man, he has no mouth but he screams angry. I can’t hear him but I can feel the sound from way down inside like I swallowed one of them prickly green balls from the Sweetgum tree. Green Man knows I am here and he wants in. I think he wants to kill me. I hear her scream. Make sure no sound comes out. Here we are. Gumdrop and Green Man screaming screaming things at each other that neither one can hear. Me in between, knife to a gunfight ready.
Green Man’s no eyes looking behind me. I can’t quite see him, but I know he’s looking behind me and I get punched in the gut with sick. I don’t want to turn away from him, but he keeps looking through me, and I am afraid if I don’t, what’s behind me will be a whole lot worse than what’s in front of me. I turn around.
Under the daybed, eyes. Daybed where Gumdrop’s supposed to be. Where I am supposed to be. Green Man behind me outside the screen, and there under the day bed’s a set of eyes. Light yellow white eyes. I want to smithereens-stomp them. But when I think about moving, the eyes follow where I think of going before I can take a step. I stay put.
Green man rattling the screen, could take his knife and rip right through if he wanted to. Now I don’t think he wants in. I think he wants Gumdrop out. Out in the gray. I don’t want to let her go, but I have no say. She wants to go.
Trust me. Gumdrop says without saying it out loud. Trust me.
Nightmare shifts like nightmares do. Gumdrop is back in the daybed. Right there, on her back under the covers. Calm and quiet. She sits up and looks around. Porch gone dark. Everything grayscale. Even the peaches. She gets up and walks right by me to the screen porch door, opens it, and takes two steps down to the grass. Cool and clean on her feet. Moon is full. Night air warm enough she don’t notice it one way or another. My eyes follow her outside. I see what she sees. Feel what she feels. Green hedges, green grass, her red tricycle and little soft hairs on her forearms stand up. Colors outside the color they are supposed to be. Roses on her nightgown, color on her cheeks, gray. Something cool, something sticky just below her belly button. Butch Wax.
Stomach ache doubles her over, acid sharp saliva water building under her tongue. Tears, hot. Pee, hot. Hot like when you been holding them too long. Pee tickles all the way down. Pools under the arches of her feet. Tears burn all the way down. Down and dripping off her chin. Gumdrop’s eyes full of anywhere but here. Gumdrop’s eyes, when they get that kind of full, it makes me want to die. But she doesn’t need to know about that. All she knows is that I’d die for her. Gumdrop standing there in her own pee. Disintegreated.
That’s when she usually wakes up.
Except this last time. The last time on that porch. She didn’t wake up. She didn’t wake up and I didn’t want her to. Not here. Not yet. I am the fixer. I am the fighter. But I can’t fight what I can’t see. So, I tell her to stay asleep. So, I can stay in the nightmare. So, I can end this thing.
I look back to Green Man. Green Man slicing through the screen. My legs they are wet. My boots full of piss. Metal taste in my mouth. My fists opening and closing in on themselves. Yellow eyes slide back further under the bed, but closer to where I stand. Closer to Aunt Obbie’s one quart Bell canning jars and the screen porch back door. Heartbeat’s in my throat, and my ass, it clinches tight. My hands, my eyes, they go cold.
Green man whispers something I can’t hear, but I know what he’s saying. He is talking to me constant. Repeating. Talking to me in words I can’t really hear but when I do I hear Green Man telling me it’s not me he wants. Don’t know if they was out loud words or something I just knew, but he was telling me to run. Get Gumdrop. Run. Run and never ever let her come back.
Nightmare shifts like nightmares do. Grass is cold and clean on my feet. Don’t know where my boots are, but I don’t care. Gumdrop reaches up for my hand. Her whole hand fits in the palm of mine. The second we touch, warm spreads through me, and the sick in me is gone. The hazel of her eyes meets the hazel of mine, and we walk. I turn back to get her tricycle, but the tricycle is gone. The porch, the house, and Green Man, gone. Couldn’t go back if I wanted to. Gumdrop, she never looks back. She just holds onto my hand and leads me under the clothesline and into the corner where side hedge meets back hedge. The sun is coming up. Time to wake up soon.
The pink roses on her nightgown, they are brilliant.