“Small Bodies” by Alexandra Reisner
A six-year-old child’s eyes are set only about three feet off the ground, which is probably why the girls saw it first. We were coming from the tennis courts when I noticed two or three of them crouching. “What is it?” I asked as I knelt to see what they saw.
It was a mouse—a baby—on its side in the grass. Its head was touched with blood, but still its sides rose and fell with breathing. “We need to save it!” shouted Rebecca*, a thin yet surprisingly muscular spider of a child with long bronze hair and long bronze legs she used to climb all over my back.
We made a circle around the mouse while the girls shouted “Help!” and I looked on half-serious so no one would mistake it for a real emergency until someone important showed up and radioed for a maintenance man. He came, a teenager steering a golf cart with garden-gloved hands. The girls looked up as I explained: 1) we found a mouse 2) it is living and it is hurt and 3) is there anything you can do, please? The boy looked bored. Without a word he lifted the mouse, its thread of tail pinched between his thumb and forefinger, and flung it into the trashcan on the back of his cart.
I worked at this summer camp only once, between freshman and sophomore years of college. Among the girls, Corey and Emma were our group’s de facto leaders. Already cliquish at six, they spent free time brushing their hair. Another girl, Alexa, was beautiful but quieter in it, with a hum of a voice and gentle presence. She shied away from the other girls, clinging to my co-counselor Diana and me. I worried that she wasn’t going to make friends so I pulled away, but she only cleaved to Diana ever more fiercely.
I don’t remember how we found out. I do know that instead of releasing our campers to their buses that day, we each delivered a few girls into the care of the drivers. I took Alexa last because she wanted to hold my hand the longest. By the time we reached her bus, the driver was pacing. She grabbed the child up in a hug and swung her onto the bus. “I was so worried!” she said to both of us, and then only to me, “I heard it was a little girl.”
It was a little boy. As another group sat under a tree, a several-hundred-pound limb—appearing healthy but rotted within—dislodged itself and fell. It scraped up a few children, including an eight-year-old girl. It killed her brother, seated beside her, age four.
The following morning, we awaited the arrival of a grief counselor. There was a man with one sleeve of his shirt pinned up, empty, but he was only another counselor’s boyfriend, dropping off the lunch she had forgotten at home. We were asked to ask the children to draw something they remembered from the previous day at camp. Some of our girls drew what they had not seen: a child pinned beneath a broken tree. They drew red for blood. Most of them drew the swimming pool or tennis balls. Rebecca—and I wanted to take her up in my arms then—drew (soft grey and curled fetal) the poor, living mouse.
* Children’s names have been changed.
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Alexandra Reisner Artist Statement:
Alexandra Reisner is a writer shaped by the waters of the East Coast, Gulf Coast, and the
Danube River. Her work has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, PANK, and elsewhere. She
serves as the very occasional nonfiction editor of The Gambler and procrastinates by fostering
dogs, designing jewelry, and making lists.