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Birkensnake 2 cover

Birkensnake 2

The Children’s Factory

Michael Stewart

For little girls with dirty hems and boys who scratch their knees, there is the ever-small door of the children’s factory. Little red bricks stacked forty feet high and windows by the hundred covered in dirt and ivy. And what light comes through comes green and dirty and too thick to make it all the way to the floor. The machines run by tiny hands. In the bowels, in the guts. In the very intestinal tract of it there is a machine run by tiny hands. This is the proper way to speak to children. The Devil only knows what their great machine does — other than wheeze and breathe. Perhaps they are digging — why not? And scraping and pulling. There is after all not a man among them over four feet tall. For breakfast they mix their milk with sugar, except when they are ill. Then they stir into their milk a quick pour of cow’s blood. (It’s good for the constitution. It thickens the skin. It drops the voice.) It’s the old trick, the one with the bottle. Take it in piece by piece. Each small enough to fit through the mouth. It’s the trick with the pear. Slip it in while you can and let it grow until it presses at the sides. Every once in a while they open a window, peek a little head out, and, small like a cat (or some other small, evil thing), ask politely for your child to come and play. The managers once sat in the office that overlooks the machine. A platform of windows. The newcomers. The youngest ones have a natural authority. An inclination. A sudden mastery of the machine and an idea of how it fits together. Maybe even an understanding. But these things dim with height. The older ones are sent to posts still deeper in the machine, where wonder is a thing of pistons and gears. And over time they come up less and less, no longer fitting through the door.