When my girls beheaded our chickens, the warm blood melted holes in the snow so that we could see the dead fall grass. I hadn't anticipated the mess or the girls' reactions. Chrissy swore off meat. Nina carried feathers around like they were toys. I promised I would no longer compare them to the Amish children. No more splitting wood. We'd turn the heating on. We'd buy our meat from stores—the sliced, sandwich-shaped kind. I'd get them each a Barbie and toss out the chubby knock-offs I found at Goodwill.
I thought they'd forget the way the dead chickens had kept running, my hands too slick with black blood to grip them, and the way the other animals had been drawn to the spot of execution. The sheep dogs sniffed the snow and then hid from us in the barn. The goats lay down in the middle of the ring, their tongues hanging from their mouths.
But three weeks later, they told their father.
Child Protective Services called me before he did. "Your ex-husband claims you forced your children to kill their pets?" a woman asked. Livestock, I corrected her. But Ryan had brought up the heating, too, and the distillery I had made in the basement, and how one of the apple jelly jars had exploded in the canner and sliced Chrissy's cheek open.
And they never came back. At least, not alone. Not without a police officer, in full uniform, too, his badges shiny and blunt, like a star a child cut from foil. I don't use tinfoil anymore because looking at it makes my stomach heavy, the way I feel when I miss a step walking to the cellar: a sudden reminder that something is gone.
I wonder if the Amish know about custody battles. Or if they even noticed that one day my daughters were here and the next they were not. I think about asking them as I walk to Left Neighbor's shop.
Left Neighbor is a little chubby, has four children, and sells jelly. Her family was the first to build a house on our hill, where our farmhouse [End Page 12] had been alone for decades. Nina didn't like their black outfits. She thought they were witch-like. She would hide behind me as their buggies clopped by.
Today, though, Left Neighbor's daughters are the ones hiding. It's a game for them. "Hide from the English," I heard the littlest one say as I slipped inside the whitewashed shed, and then a series of thumping footsteps. I know the little one's voice. She's the only one with a lisp.
Her mother is behind the table, braiding yarn into a scarf as bumpy as the turkey jerky Corner Neighbor sells. She doesn't stand up to greet me anymore. I'm a regular.
"Good morning. Good morning. More jelly?" she asks.
"Please," I answer. I've brought my own basket. I bought it from Right Neighbor. "Maybe mint this time?"
Left Neighbor turns to lift a green jar from her windowsill. "You eat a jar a day?" she asks.
"It's really good."
"Oh, not that one," I say. "Can I have one with a twine bow?" She looks at my face just long enough to nod, before turning back to the window. "Chrissy loved playing with that twine," I say. I don't tell her that Chrissy used it to tie her dolls to twigs in a game of Burned at the Stake.
As I pick three dollars from my purse, the table jiggles. I smile at Left Neighbor. "Someone's having fun under there," I say. The girls giggle beneath us, and I think maybe one pats my foot, but Left Neighbor just nods again.
I'm heading to Right Neighbor's shop when hands reach out from behind the cheesecloth curtain and flip the sign to Closed. Right Neighbor's hours have been sporadic for a few weeks. I wonder if they're celebrating some holiday I don't know about. Or if there's been a...