Dorothy Dreams of Fleeing Babylon
DOROTHY MILLETTE POSTCARD 1 CENT
WASHINGTON STREET, INDIANAPOLIS
Dorothy Millette, raised in an Indiana orphanage, was deemed intelligent and hardworking. The State provided the orphans with meals that relied on porridge and potatoes and lacked protein. Often, the children were “loaned out” as laborers or indentured servants.
Winters I shiver down the Home’s thin stairs into the damp cold where the cellar shelves and bins and crocks hold summer. The August garden. Plums floating in their jars of purple juice. Sauerkraut fermenting. Tendrils of cabbage—tiny white dresses frozen under rock salt. Trees roam the grounds and begin to gather the drifting snow that erases the outside world. Babylon left for the wild beasts. It has been a long time since I ate, and I tremble with desire in the dining hall where the girls and boys eat at separate tables and the cooks lift wooden spoons to see no one takes more mush. Summers stretch endlessly in every direction. We plant and hoe. Beans, cucumbers, squash. The boys with their badly-barbered heads wander through the fields, disappearing into the corn plants that tickle and sometimes cut. I watch the daddy-long-legs wire-walk the stalks. They are my jewelry box ballerinas.
Afternoons promise to last half a century. The little man watches us from his high office window. The leghorn hens peck and scratch the ground. A haze of heat, a mica-glaze, weighs every step. I am a weed. Soil where the landmarks have burned away. I am trying on names, the ones I’ll use when I act on stage. Baroness, streetwalker, serving girl, Greek goddess. I wear the same plain dress to pick the brown eggs. I kiss the eggs and pretend they are my true love. I set them one by one into cartons, each holding twelve eggs, a baker’s dozen. Twelve hopes, twelve futures. Twelve underwater cities, twelve miniature planets. Each yolk a waxing moon inside a waning moon.
Babylon left to the scorpions. I must escape.
Stephanie Dickinson, an Iowa native, lives in New York City. Her novel Half Girl and novella Lust Series are published by Spuyten Duyvil, as is her feminist noir Love Highway. Her other books include Port Authority Orchids, Heat: An Interview with Jean Seberg, The Emily Fables, and Flashlight Girls Run. Her work has been reprinted in Best American Nonrequired Reading, New Stories from the South, and 2016 New Stories from the Midwest.