Neverland By Christina Dalcher

Licorice-flavored steam rises from the bath. At home we have normal bubbles from a pink plastic bottle, but Gran picks elderflower leaves from her tree in the courtyard and boils them until they stink nicely and make my nose twitch like I’ve somehow turned into a rabbit. When I’m shriveled like a fig left out too long in the sun, Gran drains the tub and rubs my skin with the world’s scratchiest towel. It tingles and it tickles, both at the same time. Gran never uses fabric softener.

Gran has three sausage-shaped dogs that never make any noise. They come waddling into the bathroom, lapping at my toes with rough tongues. I giggle and squirm and stick my arms up into the silk nightie I get to wear whenever I come for a sleepover. I ask her if silk is magic. She says she doesn’t know, but she thinks it is.

“Time for brushies!” she says, leading our parade out of the bath and into her room. On the way, my feet stick to the plastic carpet runners and make cha-cha noises every time I lift up a heel.

We take turns, sitting on the big bed with the sausage-dogs. Gran’s hair is a soft, gray waterfall that spills down her back. I count to one hundred and then we switch. The stiff bristles graze my scalp and pull a little. She sings while she brushes because she says singing makes your hair long. I say maybe that’s why Mommy never lets her hair grow out, and Gran laughs. I hear bells when she does that.

Later we eat tiny sausages from a tin. They taste like raw frankfurters. Or baby’s fingers. The dogs lick my hands clean.

“Beddy-byes,” Gran says. She tucks me in with a hot water bottle covered in kitten fur, which she says is mink, but I know anything this soft is really made from kitten. We sing a lullaby and make up the words as we go. Tomorrow we’ll sweep snails from the house and tug carrots and beets from the garden and afterward I’ll go back home for dinner that isn’t made from baby’s fingers and baths with regular bubbles from pink plastic bottles. We’ll never have any pets at home, not even the kind that don’t make noise, because Mommy says she’s allergic.

Christina Dalcher is a linguist from the Land of Styron and Barbecue, where she writes, teaches, and channels Shirley Jackson. Find her work in The Airgonaut, The Nottingham Review, and New South Journal, among others. Laura Bradford represents Christina’s novels. / @CV_Dalcher