Silverfish twist through crevices in the Escomb church walls. Alive in the shadows. Centuries of insects slick with Saxon blood. They shimmer across our laps where Dad and I sit on wooden pew benches, alone in the dark, gazing up at the narrow chancel arch. A millennium of war and religion dusts my lips, my tongue. Chokes my throat. My father rises. Pierces the pious air with his fist, meaning, let’s go for a stroll. I take his arm. He straightens. Whistles for his childhood dog, Rosie, who leaps from a steamer trunk full of Dad’s memories. Good pup, I say, bending my head through the low doorway.
Outside, the sky moves like a rat snake shedding its skin. My dead sister sits on a 12th-century tombstone etched with a skull and crossbones. She kicks her bare heels against the skull’s sooted eyes. I’m waiting, she says.
On the far side of the cemetery, Dad spies a young rhino stuck in the Limpopo mud. The river slugs by, watching us with one greasy eye. Hurry, Dad says in Zulu, tossing me a jeep and seven strong men. It takes us hours and rope after rope, but we free the beast. Dad beams about the rhino for his remaining three months of breath. Though godless, you were always the smart one, he says, calling me by my sister’s name.