Empty Shell
Meg Pokrass

Fleas are feasting on our ankles. Eucalyptus branches are piled thick under our beds to discourage them, yet the fleas have conquered. Both dogs are biting themselves sick. On my way outside to feed the turtle after school I almost trip on an empty shell. Screaming, I run inside. Ralph is gnawing at the itch on his rear. He backs himself into a corner near the aprons, exhales dry staccatos, nuzzles the wall. Bad Ralph! I scream. This was the third turtle.

Before bed Jamie, the little mutt, tickles like tall grass near my ankles. I’m itching madly, ready to tear off my own skin. I think about the empty turtle shells and a shiver gets stuck inside my brain.

I wonder how much longer we’ll live here in this house with an adequate yard. We move to a new house almost every year. Sometimes I forget which school I’m in and confuse the names of my teachers. I pray instead of playing marbles at recess.

Mom buys and sells houses for a big company. She’s an “ethical realtor.” She’s good at what she does in the office. She got a mug at Christmas that says “Thanks.” But still we don't have our own house—one we can keep.

I'll wake up and Ma will start in about the dogs. She'll call them criminals. I’ve seen the way she looks at them desperately—as though they are symptoms of disease.

Yet, in the winter, once we've all stopped itching, Ralph will surround my shoulders with his paws. I'll call him “my love,” recite lines from Romeo and Juliet to him. Ma’s face will pink with color. She’ll get her camera. We’ll laugh.

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