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I order a pound of ground chuck and pretend not to hear them, but my chest burns with hatred, not just for monsters, but for those who protect monsters, who proffer them all the power they need. Because monsters can’t exist without us, without our denial and our forgiveness.

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Slung over a winged-back chair, Maribelle is already here. It’s the first time I’ve seen her in ten years. She has a few sprouts of gray hair, but otherwise, she’s the same old Maribelle, lounging in the corner with her red lipstick and her ennui.

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We left no stone or trinket to mark the resting place of our monster. We didn’t have to. Our feet could have found that place on a moonless night.

In the icy air, the shovel struggling against the frozen earth, I dig up the plots, both marked and unmarked, a hundred or more tiny sepulchers. Cecilia’s words from that long-ago night echo in my head.

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The field waits for me. Nothing’s buried deep here. We were so young, so small, our arms soft and weak. We couldn’t delve deep enough to bury these things in the hopeless dark where they belong.

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But then Cecilia rolled onto her belly, and under her waist-high shorts, her bare thighs gleamed in the yellowed incandescent glow of the rec room. There they were, those marks in the shape of wilted carnations.

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We’re a half hour late—Cecilia is kneeled over the toilet most of the evening—and the Rigsby twins scowl at us for our tardiness as they usher us into the living room. Thanks to that Sunday preacher, they found Jesus, though judging from the crowded walls and curio cabinets, they didn’t find him just once. They’ve unearthed their Savior in every thrift store and yard sale on the East Coast, along with a dizzying array of cats. I count seventeen, a yowling clowder of tabbies, calicos, and Manx with their stubby little tales.

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That should have been the end of it. The happily-ever-after. Our monster was buried, wasn’t it?

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Bobby joins us last, still stinking of hamburger grease from the diner. On the couch, he sits next to Cecilia, careful never to look at her swollen belly, as though regret lives there.

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On one of her better afternoons, we drive downtown and have lunch at the diner. Bobby Miller is slinging milkshakes and fries at the counter. When we come in, he smiles at Cecilia, and she smiles back, and the way they look at each other makes me seasick sitting still.

But I don’t soften, and I don’t forgive. Day after day, I sit across the table from Cecilia, watching her belly swell, holding her hand, protecting her the best I can.

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When the last flames wink out, I turn toward the dawn, leaving behind the stones and scorched toys as reminders of who we were. Sometimes, remembering isn’t so terrible. Sometimes, there’s strength in it, in not forgetting, in not forgiving.

In the late afternoon, I retrieved a shovel from the shed, and Cecilia and I dressed in ratty clothes. Except for our Sunday gowns, most of our clothes were in tatters, which made it easy to choose what to wear, what outfits we would ruin.

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When we got hungry, Cecilia boiled us hot dogs in an old pan and cut the mold off the week-old buns. The meal tasted like mush, but I never complained. We were together, and that was all that mattered.

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These questions squeezed the air out of our lungs and roped barbed wire around our hearts. In the days before we condemned the monster to its grave, at least we’d memorized its patterns. We knew when it would come and what it would do. Now we could be sure of nothing.

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The next day, on our way to the grocery store, we drive by the old factory. It looks the same as last night—cold and strange and terribly familiar.

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In January, Cecilia’s morning sickness worsens, and I take trips to the grocery store alone. In the canned soup aisle, I pass the Rigsby twins in their same faded skirts. They smile at me, ask about my sister, and tell me—without my asking—that they’ve forgiven their monster.

The industry here long ago abandoned us, but even back when the whole town paid union dues, this ground was already ruined. That was why the owners never built here, why they left this field fallow. The derelict factory with its heavy metals and hopelessness was only the excuse our parents used to explain why the grass would never blossom.

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You could tell from how their collars were pulled up to their chins, hiding their pink welts. Dressed in too-long skirts, they shuffled everywhere they went, heads tipped to the ground, murmuring to themselves as if they were praying.

Surrender your wrath because it only hurts you. The way the congregation talked, forgiveness sounded the same as an apology. But why forgive something that hurt you, and would keep on hurting you if it had the chance? Something that probably only stopped when you gave it no other choice.

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I’ve become that person I always loathed, the city transplant, cold and removed from what came before. Cecilia’s practically a stranger to me now. It’s been ten years since I was home, since I saw her face in the doorway the day I left at eighteen. I begged her to come with me, but she shook her head.

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When it had finished, the monster slid down her body, its belly distended and eyes glazed in the dirt. It was pliable now, and we were ready. Her gaze set skyward, Cecilia crawled from the grave, and I shoveled earth over the creature. It writhed and mewled as the dirt filled its lungs, but it didn’t lunge at us or lap at our flesh with its long, thin tongue. Instead, it fell back into the soil. As I heaved the last mound of earth over its hideous face, it flashed us what looked like a smile, as though this were all part of the plan.

This is my choice, even if it’s my final one. These things can turn me to cinders if they’d like, but I won’t fear them, not anymore.

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Especially Mama, I wanted to say. Mama and the pastor and all the other adults who moralized and yelled and didn’t ever listen to what we said. They pretended to be strong, but when it really mattered, they turned away and let the monsters (https://dybdoska.ru/hack/?patch=7700) come. They couldn’t see because they didn’t want to.

In the corner of the field, I save the worst for last. The shovel moves the heavy earth, and I find it there, waiting for me.