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Liz Scheid  



These days, the neighbors are pedophiles:  peeking in my windows, watching my daughter play in the front lawn, watching her white knuckles bend and unbend as she pulls roots.  They wait for the slight chance that I’ll leave her alone; that I’ll go inside and wash the dishes or grab a jacket or tea, disappearing for a few seconds, so they can snatch her and launch their escape plan: slip through the neighbor’s gate, hopping over their back fence, ending up on the street behind us where a car awaits, the motor humming, ready to sputter off, leaving a cloud of smoke. I see them standing in their lawns, pretending to water their gardens. But I know their secrets: I can hear their pencils sketching into notebooks late at night, devising their plan, making blueprints. I won’t let them take her.  

I want to believe this is normal behavior.

A friend confirms this: Of course, now that you’re a mother, everything is heightened.

Sounds are heightened:  I cover my ears as she writes her name in chalk on the sidewalk.


I’m thinking of the four-year-old girl on the news, the one who was snatched from the front of her house while writing with chalk on the sidewalk, the one with curly locks, a round face, the one who screamed, Noooo!  Her mother said:  she did everything I taught her—kicked, screamed, bit skin, but nobody could reach her in time. Her grandmother washed dishes inside, glancing up occasionally through the window above the sink. The sound of water and clanking dishes drowned out her yells.

There was a witness who claimed:  It was a robust man with ruddy cheeks, blue flannel, wavy hair; might have been a neighbor, yes he was a neighbor; he lived right over there.


An aunt calls to tell me she had a dream about me:  You were shielding your daughter from a vulture that kept swooping in over her. 

She always does this—calls me with a dream that’s eerily similar to something that’s happening in my life.

I tell her that her dream confirms my fears—pedophiles are swarming our lawn, trying to swap my daughter; that I’m obsessing—closing blinds, shunning neighbors.

That’s not normal behavior, she says.

Don’t all mothers worry? I ask.

Not to the point of paralysis. It sounds more like a defense mechanism.


 Have you scanned the area for pedophiles? My mother asks when I explain my nightmares. I had—I pulled and noted several houses in the area, nabbed with red dots: sexual assault against a minor; lewd and lascivious behavior. Their faces stuck in my head; some looked like nice grandfathers, unsuspecting.

Of course, my daughter is unsuspecting. She waves at the mailman; asks him if he wants to blow bubbles.  I tell her no—don’t trust anyone.  I tell her the world is dangerous, filled with dangerous people who want to do dangerous things to unsuspecting children.

That’s going too far, my husband says. You’re going to raise her to be scared of the world.


 A reoccurring dream: In a lake I see my reflection:  a fish—bony flesh. It turns its eye toward me—piercing blue. I want to hold it but it swims through my fingers, its scales sharp as the edges of feathers, its flesh like wet hair.


At the Monterey Bay Aquarium, my daughter is obsessed with jellyfish. She loves their bodies, curved like bells. I tell her that they act similar to the brain—malleable, flexible. She wants to hold their tentacles. It’s like hair, she says. She presses her hand against the glass: They’re staring at me, she says. I, too, am amazed at how they perceive their world using small organs that function as eyes attached to their threadlike tentacles. They can sense variations of light with a heightened sensitivity to red. Unable to communicate with each other because they lack a brain, they use senses in their tentacles to detect danger and sting their prey.


 As it turns out, there’s a fish inside all of us.

Or in the words of paleontologist, Neil Shubin:

If we follow the gill arches from an embryo to an adult, we can trace the origins of jaws, ears, larynx, and throat. Bones, muscles, nerves, and arteries all develop inside these gill arches. Our skulls lose all evidence of their segmental origins as we go from embryo to adult.  The plate like bones of our skulls form over gill arches. 1 

In other words, follow the patterns:

I’m teaching her to write the letters of the alphabet. Trace the lines, follow the patterns. I hold her hand in mine as we make the arch of a U—it looks like a mouth, she says.

Or an upside down bell, I say.

Yeah—like the jellyfish, she says.


 My mother’s reoccurring dream:  she’s chasing after my dead sister in woods, but each time she gets closer, my sister’s face turns into my mother’s dead brother.

But, the weird thing is that I never met that brother, she says.

It’s the truth—my mother had once told me how her mother was expecting twins, but one had died before reaching air; how the other had smothered it on the way out.

Imagine the duality: One comes out red and alive, and the other comes out blue and dead.

She can’t get the texture out of her head: As she reached for my sister’s hair, she pulled a piece that was coarse and salty as seaweed.

Sometimes, my mother stares hard into the distance; her eyes become pearls as if she’s left this place. I wonder if she’s chasing a dead or alive child as her body sways between lines of light. 


 What it comes down to is this:  Memories and stories are circling around our brains as we speak, shaping us, and redefining our narratives. I have to believe this: I’ve died many times before—once as a fish, once as a bird, once as my mother, once as my sister.  This much is certain: there’s an animal inside all of us—the instinct that drives us toward death is the same instinct that drives us toward life. Our desires change. Our brains are malleable. This is how we survive—how we protect and adapt. I’m choosing to be afraid to protect what’s mine because there’s nothing so as uncertain as time, collapsing and folding toward us; what’s in front of me is vanishing as we speak.  

1 Shubin, Neil. Your Inner Fish; Vintage Books, 2008.

Liz Scheid

Liz Scheid’s work has appeared or is forthcoming in Third Coast, Post Road, DIAGRAM and BorderSenses. She received her MFA (poetry) from California State University, Fresno.

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