Dawn listened to her brother praying when things got loud in November. That's when her father finished touring with his band, The Sickly Healers, and he and her mother fought every night after dinner. Dawn would sit under her bed and listen to music, drowning out the noise with more noise, and sometimes she fell asleep under there. The linens on her bed were clean, but Dawn did not want to get in between the sheets; the dust beneath the box spring felt softer.
The first time she heard Jared praying, she was nine and it scared her. Their father was an atheist and their mother was what she called agnostic, and what their next-door neighbor Tommy had assured Dawn was synonymous with pagan. So when Dawn heard Jared mumbling holy words through the vent beneath her bed, the first thing she thought of was her mother prone on the ground, surrounded by the mutilated bodies of little animals and Jared's angel-winged body hovering above. She hugged her knees to her chest and fell asleep with dust in her eyelashes.
The second time it happened, a week later, she had just drifted off and was roused again by her cat scratching at the window. Dawn let Finn slither inside, and as he wound himself around her legs, she saw a dead chipmunk hanging from his mouth.
"Oh," she said, jumping back.
She walked down the hallway to Jared's room and as she raised her fist to knock, she heard words coming through the door. She put her ear against it.
"Jesus Christ, and Almighty God, have you ever woken up at midnight, wanting a beer so bad you can feel it in your stomach? Because I have, and even though I'm kind of asking you for help, I'm pretty sure you've never had a beer, so I don't really know what you could do, anyway. Amen."
Dawn knocked lightly on Jared's door. Downstairs, there was the sound of glass breaking, and their father's voice grumbling indistinguishable words. Dawn could only decipher one.
There was a gasping sob that could have been the garbage disposal starting up, but there was no continuing roar to drown out the rest of the yelling and scratching of chair legs against linoleum. Sometimes Dawn imagined her dad was just rehearsing a new song for her mom, growling into his fist with one leg planted on a kitchen chair. Her mom would be leaning against the dishwasher, arms crossed over her chest and a smirk curling her lips. Her parents had met at one of the Sickly Healers' first shows. Her mom was in the front row and swears that her dad's sweat dripped down her fingers and mingled with her own, pooling in her armpits.
Jared's door opened a crack.
"There's a dead chipmunk in my room," Dawn said.
"Please, Jared?" Dawn flinched as something hard hit the floor below them. "It will start to stink."
Jared opened his door so that Dawn could see the length of his entire body. He was wearing flannel pajama pants and one of their dad's band t-shirts. It had a hole in the collar, and Jared picked at it as if it were a mosquito bite.
Back in her room, Dawn poked at the chubby little body of the chipmunk with her toe, while Finn sat on her windowsill licking his paws.
"Yep, that's dead," Jared said. He had come in behind her and was staring down at the body with both hands on his hips. "You just want me to toss it out the window?"
"Jared, I heard you praying in your room. About beer."
Jared picked up the chipmunk by its tail, his hand wrapped in the bottom of his t-shirt. "I think mom is pregnant," he said.
Dawn sat down on the floor and stuck her legs beneath her bed. She rubbed her shins with her hands and then stuck her fingers in the thin film of dust on the floor. She drew pictures without looking at them, outlines of phantoms and spirits and faces of people she would never know.
"What's that have to do with beer?"
He leaned against the windowsill, setting the chipmunk beside him. Finn batted at it with his paw.
"Because, like – I feel bad for mom. Do you think she was glad to have either of us? Do you think any woman is glad to push a baby out of her vagina?"
"I want a beer to drink in her place. I'll numb the pain through psycho kinesis."
"How are you going to do that?"
"I've been practicing. I can make God come into my body."
Dawn looked at her fingertips. They were caked with globules of grayish dust, the same color that had begun to seep from the part in her mother's hair.
Jared touched the chipmunk with his bare fingers, squeezing its sides like he was testing if it was about to explode. "I don't know if God can be in two bodies at once. We might need an offering."
"What, like that?" Dawn swiveled from beneath the bed and pointed at the chipmunk between Jared's fingers. He stopped squeezing it.
They cleared a space on her floor, rolling the knitted rug off to the side and pushing a stack of books out of the way so that a square of bare wooden floor lay clean in the moonlight now beginning to stream through Dawn's bedroom window. Jared set the chipmunk in the center. Finn continued to sit on the windowsill, like a sentry guarding this sacred act.
Dawn stared at the dead body between her and her brother. It was on its side, and she just now noticed that its stomach was slashed open, and bits of its pink insides were beginning to drip onto the floor. She gulped.
Jared sat back on his haunches, his fingers a temple beneath his chin, and closed his eyes.
"Now we pray." Jared cleared his throat. "Oh dear lord, please accept this gift from our cat, and use it to provide the uses of your body for both me and my little sister. We promise to use your powers for good, and not for evil, unless evil to you means reading minds or teleporting places, because I've always thought that would be pretty cool, and I'll probably do it if I can."
Jared opened his eyes and stared at her. He nodded his head in her direction. Something shattered in the sink downstairs.
"Dear God," Dawn said into the warm space between her knees.
"Louder!" Jared demanded.
"Dear God, please accept this chipmunk and make me strong like a grown-up so that I can learn to like the taste of coffee and stay up all night long in the quiet. I bet the house is quiet at night. Amen."
Jared picked up the chipmunk with his t-shirt, opened the window, and threw it out into the front yard.
"Be free," he said.
A door slammed downstairs, and their mother's voice shouting, Dave!, echoed through the foyer and out into the rectangle of light opened like a portal on their front lawn. Dawn and Jared both leaned out of the window, watching their dad walk down the street and disappear once the streetlights ended after the first block. They couldn't see their mom, but they could hear her crying, both inside and outside of the house. Dawn felt Jared's breath on her arm, and it was so warm she almost fell asleep.
"Do you remember the story about the sweat?"
Jared closed her window and led her to her bed. He knew to take the quilt from the mattress and curl it onto the floor, pushing it beneath the bed with his foot.
"I think that's why are parents are fucked to shit."
Dawn fell asleep and it was quiet. She wondered if Finn would find the body of the chipmunk and bring it back inside, this time dropping it and its leaking intestines on the kitchen floor, where her father would step on it when he finally returned home.
Later on, when the praying happened, Dawn would hear Jared ask for things like a girlfriend, or for a quick and peaceful end to their parents' divorce. She never heard him ask for beer again, maybe because by then he had figured out how to steal it from the fridge, and sometimes let her have a sip.
BIO: Joellyn Powers is an MFA candidate in fiction at American University in Washington, DC. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Untoward, Bluestem, Twelve Stories, and others. She is the books editor at Used Furniture Review. You can follow her on Twitter @hipsternonsense, or read her blog about nothing, especiallyfreeing.tumblr.com.