The first time we fucked was at the back of the red barn on the Meyers’ property.

His cock had a mean 30-degree angle and no amount of warming up could get a woman ready for such brutality against the splintery wall. When we finished, he kissed me tender, thinking the blood was from my first time. I bit my lip and hoped I wasn’t losing my baby.

I didn’t, and we married three months later. I let people assume our big-head boy was born early and surprisingly the rumor held weight. No one doubted those bright blue eyes had been inherited from my doting husband. Plus, ain’t too many of those looking like me snagging a white man.

It may have been my daddy’s ties that kept me safe. Or my mama’s ability to hold secrets loose enough to pass them to the next generation.

Me and my brother held that town in the palms of our sweaty, black-as-fuck hands.

We held it delicate. Until we buried our parents side by side. Death in the form of a mean cough had claimed them within days of one another. They’d refused the doctor and we weren’t ones to defy them.

They left us with nothing but those secrets.

Somehow, they knew we would be okay. Somehow, they were pleased with the dexterity with which we held and balanced the white lives of so many dirty motherfuckers.

My brother was the first to snap, squeezing the contents of his left hand a bit too hard and bucking at white boy Jim. Jim had exactly three screws loose and not one fuck to give. My daughter found her uncle strung up against an oak tree, his hands cut off and his tongue stretched.

Hostility grew, but gall didn’t. I still had my white husband on my arm, still had my hands full. My heart was heavy but my lips remained sealed.

Just once, I took a bite. Held the gaze of Mary Mulligan in Centre Square after she spit at me. I held her secret in front of her and sank my teeth deep into its center as light burst all around us. The town froze, watching as they tried to grasp the words floating, swimming, dancing all around Mary Mulligan and her hourglass shape. I chewed as the shadows converged, standing tall, melding, until a man we both knew too well stood before her, translucent, but solid enough that his tears smudged her makeup.

I swallowed and he was gone.

Mary Mulligan didn’t meet my eye after that. None of the town did, which was fine by me.

I still show my face, still walk with my husband, still have my children play in the Square.

No one bothers us. No one ever will.

Because every night, just before bed, I share my burden with my babies, all six of them. And they recite them right back.

We are the glue of this town, whether they want us or not. We are obligated to them to keep their lives pure and they are obligated to us to make sure we do. No relationship is perfect. But this will do.

Zin E. Rocklyn is a 2017 VONA, 2018 Viable Paradise (22), and 2020 Clarion West student. Her work can be found the anthologies Forever Vacancy, 2017 Bram Stoker Nominated Sycorax’s Daughters (of which her story Summer Skin was long-listed for Best of Horror 2017), Kaiju Rising II: Reign of Monsters, Brigands: A Blackguards Anthology, and Nox Pareidolia; the zine Weird Luck Tales No. 7, and tor.com. Her non-fiction essay “My Genre Makes a Monster of Me” is in Uncanny Magazine’s Hugo Award-Winning Disabled People Destroy SF&F 2018 issue. Her website, terizin.com, is currently under construction. In the interim, follow her on Twitter @intelligentwat.