The eldest boy ate insects.
Became himself a scuttling creature across the varnished floors, stalking spiders, beetles, silverfish that believed the child a tempest come collecting overdues on misdeeds or missteps, distinguishing neither one from the other, all sins being equal. Such delectation the boy took in the hunt — and so soon from the womb! Meanwhile, Mom shadowed him hunting a fleeing cricket, her dirty bare feet padding upon the rotting wood, his dirty bare knees and hands knocking. And when Mom caught up with him she snatched one chubby leg and pulled him out from under the bed. A cricket leg hung from his toothless grin. Mom screamed. He learned to stop grinning.
The youngest boy ate dirt.
Squatted on a grassless patch beside the old house where the eaves overflowed detritus, down of baby birds and oak twigs and seed pods carried miles on Midwest winds and settled into that long rusted cup. He’d grab a handful of dirt and shove it into his mouth as if the pebbles were peas and the dust-mud a porridge of leaf mold. He’d chew. Rocks grated baby teeth. For quite a long time — before Mom found out and scooped the mud from his tongue — his older sister watched and listened to him eat, seeking to understand the body’s need for what’s unpalatable. By twelve, his sister was anorexic. By sixteen she was dead
The youngest girl ate duck shit.
Back then they called it poop, as “shit” was nothing but a parent’s cussword, a name for mistakes and miscreants and lives gone to it. The family raised birds for laying and trading and eating. Chickens boiled feather-clean in big pots. Broken-neck ducks hanging from the smokehouse rafters and ducklings shipped to town crowded in wooden crates. Birds ran uncaged on the scrubby lawn, and the girl toddled after them, popping fresh shit into her mouth until her secret habit was discovered. Mom claimed the birds stank and sold them all. The girl, though, will ever after recall a warm feather scent as the exaltation of surprise and hope. She will spend long hours of most every day of her adult life snuggling under a damp feather duvet, sucking her thumb.
Debra Di Blasi is an award-winning author of seven books, including Prayers of An Accidental Nature (Coffee House Press) The Jirí Chronicles (University of Alabama Press/FC2), and Drought (New Directions), recipient of the Thorpe Menn Literary Excellence Award. Her fiction is published widely in notable journals and anthologies of innovative writing and has been adapted to film, radio, theatre, and audio in the U.S. and abroad. She is a former publisher, educator and art critic. More at: www.debradiblasi.com