Dina & Darlene Tunnel Babysit for the First and Last Time—the little girl disappears
The little girl is missing from her bedroom and Dina & Darlene roam the hallways dragging their limbs in worry. What happens to little girls once they are taken from their bedrooms at night? The first few hours of a kidnapping, of a disappearance, is the most vital, their caseworker tells them over the phone, where is the little girl? They don’t know, they don’t know, she was here and now she’s not, they say, she’s here and now she’s not.
“Who lets conjoined twins babysit anyway?,” says one of their mother’s friends, in a whisper that was meant to be heard across the house to their mother’s ears while their mother’s hands were busy stuffing eggs and wrapping pickles for appetizers for her Bridge Club.
She does not confront her friend, she sucks in air and strands of hair through the sides of her pursed lips, draws her chest fully out for a dramatic release and doesn’t, slips into the bathroom red faced and crying from chopped onions gone wrong.
Where is the little girl, Dina & Darlene tell the police she was there and then she wasn’t, they read her a book and then she’s gone, find her, find her.
Things That Happen in Dina & Darlene Tunnel’s Hometown—the most brutal occurrence(s)
There is a bedroom preserved in a museum of the little girl, her things pre-arranged, everything donated from her parents, as if in a time capsule, this is what her room would look like had she lived.
There is a river down the hill where a body was found, a body is found every summer washed up from the ocean. Once a pregnant torso washed up to shore, the baby and bulging breasts safe inside a maternity tank top.
There is a river down the hill from the museum where you can look out of the replica of the little girl’s bedroom and see the river where the bodies are found in July, always July. The river is a museum.
There is a bedroom preserved in time in a museum of the little girl, her things pre-arranged, everything donated from her parents is not actually hers. They had gone to a thrift store and bought things to display. They could not bear to give anything, and they did not want anyone to know that she was a tomboy, wanted to be a boy. And now that she had washed up on the shore, they were embarrassed. Before she had disappeared, they were not embarrassed, but now they are, they should have made her be more of a girl. When the museum asked for some of her things to help educate others, they gave dolls she never owned.
There is a river down the hill where bodies are found in the middle of the summer, you can look out of the window of the replica of the little girl’s bedroom in the museum and see, the arms, legs, head still intact, torso bloated with heat, salt water.
Dina & Darlene Tunnel Ask About a Birth Story—the ways in which we are born
The little girl asked her mother, asked her “what does heaven look like?” and her mother said, “I don’t know, I was never much of a believer,” which was not exactly true, she often pictured her father and her grandparents together somewhere like heaven, doing something like drinking tea or eating fried chicken. She pictured them together the night she decided she was going to kill herself, the night, drunk, she convinced her boyfriend RJ, the little girl’s father, to slit her throat; she took the knife and put it in his hand, on her knees, shoved the blade to her throat, screamed at him to do it, please, please, she is screaming, please, please. RJ puts the knife down on the counter, the little girl’s mother in a fetal position on the kitchen floor crying, why can’t you just do it you fucking retard, why can’t you just kill me. She is thinking of her grandparents and her father, what are they doing right now. I have people to see, she says to RJ. And then, she wakes up the next day. She needs Gatorade but all that is in the refrigerator is coconut water, she gulps it down, almost chokes with her hard gulping. Gatorade would be so much better. She smokes a cigarette. She fingers her newly formed scab on her neck. She goes to Planned Parenthood and she is pregnant. “What does heaven look like?,” the little girl asks her mother, “What does heaven feel like? Does it smell good? What does it smell like? Are there colors we have never seen before? Tell me what heaven is like, mama.”
Katie Jean Shinkle is the author of three chapbooks, including The Sadness of July (dancing girl press, 2012) and As Close to Smiling as You Can Get (The Cupboard, forthcoming), where more Dina & Darlene Tunnel stories reside. Other work can be found in or is forthcoming from Third Coast, Barn Owl Review, Sixth Finch, Blackbird, Salt Hill and elsewhere.