She, is the one that sits in the branches of the hanging tree. And she picks away at the jagged edges of the tree bark. She has eyes like plastic buttons and she smells like the inside of a scarecrow’s pocket: dry and indistinct. She sits on a tractor tyre that hangs from rusty chains, squealing in the rattling wind. She, is the one that braids her hair with glow worms, as she giggles and fires spitballs at the ravens.
She runs her fingers through the brittle leaves of the hanging tree, and stands on her tippy toes, balanced on the tippy top of the fence posts. And she sings to the sky, paints pictures with the cirrus clouds, and tickles the bellies of the butterflies that flutter amongst the flowers. She stands on one leg, out by the dusty cornfield and plays jumprope with the starlings.
She knows where the little bones are, with bright flashes of light and clanging metal as the shovels broke the earth, and the clumps of dirt were strewn in disarray. She picks her teeth with a bit of a shinbone that she found under a seashell, all whittled thin and chalk white. The bad men put them under there. All the little shoes, left standing in a row: a perpetual sinner’s paradise, begging for absolution. The bad men didn’t realise that she was watching them, absentmindedly scratching at her thigh with cracked fingernails. She languidly daydreams about wrenching out their tongues and pinning them to the hanging tree.
The big ugly one with the glistening face and the hooked nose that he stole from an eagle’s nest: he is the worst of the lot. He would let the other bad men watch, as he slowly unfastened his curiously stained blue jeans. All those pretty little pigtails; pulled out and nailed above the shutters in the barn house. They used to call them their medals and they would boast that there were too many to count. The big ugly one would always go out to his truck and bring out a twisted old rope: the fibres all course and worn from overuse. He called it “Old Faithful” and he would gleefully swing it around and around his head, doing unsightly things with it in his hands, and down by the tattered crotch of his jeans.
There would be shuffling sounds inside the barn house and there were usually muffled shrieks; closely followed by deep bellowing laughter. She could only see little slivers and fragments of what was happening in there, as she would peek through knotholes and the crack under the door. She could never go inside there again, not any more, not after last time.
She could always see chair legs, and pretty little patent shoes. There was a swinging gaslamp that cast shadows across the leering faces of the bad men: they would lick the beads of sweat off their lips, wet and eager as they sucked at their frothing bottles. When it was all over and the moist slapping sounds stopped, the big ugly one would bring out his toolbox, with the sharp things inside.
She couldn’t bring herself to watch after that and she would climb back up into the branches of the hanging tree. Then she would weep about what the bad men did and she would cradle the centipedes that scuttle over the fabric of her crumpled cotton dress. When the cackling and the clanging stopped, she would climb down from the hanging tree and lie on the warm earth in the silver light of the mournful moon, and she would whisper to them down there, under the uneven soil. She tells them that it will be OK. Then, she would make pinkie promises to tell the Sheriff about what the bad men did and make sure they didn’t get away with it. She tells them that it is over now, and the bad men can’t hurt them anymore. She would tell them that they have to sleep peacefully, until it is time to wake up and come and play on the branches of the hanging tree.
She sleeps in the arms of the hanging tree, and she wakes up glittering in dewdrops, a chrysalis dangles from the end of her toe. As the sun comes up over the empty cornfields, she welcomes the birth of a new morning as she tap dances on top of the barn house, engulfed in flames. She is holding hands with the Chemist’s daughter who had been missing for weeks. It is nice to have a new playmate and she skips about the yard, chasing the chickens and juggling their freshly lain eggs. She shows the Chemist’s daughter the friendship bracelets that she made from all those pretty little pigtails. The sun feels warm on their skin, though blackened and bruised. They smile towards the winking sun as its cleansing embrace soothes the darkness that has accumulated around their plastic button eyes.
They giggle exuberantly and play catch with the big ugly one’s truck keys, incandescent golden light glinting on the surface of metal. And they hold their breath and count to ten as they watch as he gently sways in the cool morning breeze, his fingers cut off at the knuckle, with the sharp things they found in his toolbox, Old Faithful garrotted around his neck; that snapped like kindling. There will be no redemption for his sins, as he swings and undulates from the branches of the hanging tree.