All the children whose mothers threatened to take them back to the orphanage were left standing at the bottom of the stairs, fast-packed suitcases in hand, facing the door with hope for the first time in their short lives. Someone (not their mothers) opened the door for them and they all (every single one) stepped through and into the bright sun. Blinded, some of the children went mad and were never heard from again.
The remaining children walked east toward the ocean, guarded by armies of armadillos during the day and concealed at night under blankets of bats. They slept tucked in a hug of mangrove root after eating ice cream mangoes and were watched over by key deer and swamp rabbits who gave up some of their lettuce to the children for breakfast.
The children knew to keep the siren call of the manatee, which sounded a lot like a pinky swear made with your very best friend, on their left and the line of palm trees ushering them forward on their right. Some of the children cried as they walked, each tear attracting a tiny tadpole as it hit the asphalt, while others complained about the blisters on their feet and the weight of their suitcases until (when they weren’t looking) someone came by and strung a balloon to their fingers and the handles of their suitcases, allowing them to float along the path, and some sang songs that spilled out of their mouths like bubbles but filled with candies to eat and small toys to play with on their walk.
These children who had never been in an orphanage stopped by one along the way to see what it was like. They didn’t (in fact) like what they saw, so they freed the orphan children who followed along after them, singing and complaining and crying in turn.
When the children whose mothers threatened to take them back to the orphanage arrived at the ocean, the adults on the beach stared and whispered and threatened to call the Division of Children’s Services, but the children knew what they had to do and got to work, first fashioning a giant castle in the sand, with spires and turrets and dungeons galore (where they put any adult who looked like they might cause trouble) and a drawbridge that reached far across the ocean to a distant land.
Then, two-by-two, hand-in-hand, these children whose mothers threatened to take them back to the orphanage they had never come from in the first place (and the actual orphans they’d liberated along the way) walked across the sea, never once looking back.
Staci R. Schoenfeld is a recipient of an NEA Fellowship, grants from the Barbara Deming Memorial Fund and the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and residencies from the Ragdale Foundation and Albee Foundation. She is a PhD student at University of South Dakota, assistant editor for poetry at South Dakota Review, and an assistant editor at Sundress Publications. Her poems appear in Mid-American Review, Washington Square, and Muzzle.
Artwork: Rob Woodcox