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by Al Kratz

Sydney likes to watch her little brother with his exceptional brain play in the oil stains out on the driveway. He dangles toe to toe around the black edges, calling them fire or volcano or shit.

Step shouts out the storm door, “Stay out of the oil, Moon Dirt!”

“Goddammit, don’t call him that!” Mom yells.

Step laughs, wheezes, and then says, “Hey, what can I do about it? That boy’s always got one eye on the moon and the other on the dirt.”

No matter how hard her brother tries and she’s seen it in his wild eyes, he does try, he makes a believer out of her before he ends up in the oil and she wonders which one he’s stuck in this time: flames, lava, or shit.

He drags the stains into the house and Step asks, “Moon Dirt, why you got to make a mess out of everything?” He says it like he actually thinks this will be the time her brother has an answer.

While she bathes her brother, she’s not mad at him at all. She’s not thinking about how she’d rather be with her friends. She’s not thinking about when their real dad left, how she heard him say he had always wanted a son but not this kind of son. She’s not wondering why she couldn’t be the kind of daughter to keep a real dad from leaving. She’s not thinking of when Step calls her brother Moon Dirt and laughs until he chokes, how she prays it will be the fit he doesn’t make it out of.

Instead, she thinks about her other chore: preparing Step’s meals. She considers it her experience with the elusive consistency of saliva or the wing of a dead bug. She scrubs her brother’s body from oil-shit-stain-lava-black to an ice-cream-cloud-white, so clean she sees her permission to believe in just about anything.

When he asks if they’re all clean now, she says they sure are.

He asks, “Is Mom clean?”

“Without a doubt,” she says.

“Is Sydney clean?”

“Of course I am.”

“Is Moon Dirt clean?”

When he calls himself that name, it’s their secret. It’s how they talk about superheroes.

“He’s clean for now,” she says. She rolls a chunk of oil and dirt she’s scraped from his knee into a ball the shape of a vitamin or a sweat bee or maybe a black-eyed pea.

“What about Step?”

She puts the chunk of oil away for future use because, in her brother’s eye on the moon, she sees he already knows the truth. And in his eye from the dirt, she sees her permission to lie.

Al Kratz is a writer from Des Moines, Iowa. He’s also a reader for Pithead Chapel and fiction reviewer for Alternating Current.