As damselfly press begins our fifth year of publication, we have nostalgia for the past and anticipation for the future. Like many of you, we’re planning for the year ahead. In 2011, we renew our commitment to provide the literary community with excellent work by extraordinary women. The fourteenth issue of damselfly press is filled with original fiction, nonfiction, and poetry. Enjoy, and Happy New Year!
Category Archive for 'Issue 14'
I wear out evenings on the phone to my mother,
over-boiling potatoes to a sound track
of booze bottles rattling in time with the refrigerator.
By bedtime, I am no more than I was three
hours before. I am empty. Hollow,
like chaff caught in late season tractor wind.
The only memory I can conjure from the day is that
I’ve been cold. I wonder if the hours have forgotten
me the way a tire forgets a stone.
Can I be simultaneously hollow and stone?
I remember from a poem I read in high school
how a woman compared herself to a geode,
how the hammer’s crack revealed her concentric
amethyst crystals. You can’t know what’s inside
an ugly stone until you shatter it.
But I am afraid of the hammer.
– Christie Isler teaches ten year-olds to run the world and writes poetry and short fiction around the edges. Recent poetry and short fiction appear in The New Flesh, Infinite Windows, Poetry Quarterly, Every Day Poets, and Every Day Fiction. Christie lives outside of Seattle, WA.
Whether I have learned to read
the variations in the long shadows
of your voice. Whether time can
be measured in tossings and turnings.
Whether I have touched your
hand or only thought to.
A stronger drift pulls.
I resist the impulse
of mathematics, pattern.
A line defines this known
distance, composed of ought
and not. The line is fresh
still. It does not sag, has not been
plucked by curious passersby.
Whether the road treats us kindly.
Whether our voices overlap. Whether
we kiss or only imagine we might.
– Heather Hughes is a poet, publishing professional, student, and teacher. Her work has recently appeared in Cream City Review, Eudaimonia Poetry Review, Innisfree Poetry Journal, and Driftwood Review, among other publications. She would like to live in a lighthouse someday.
Blossoms in the Wind
I thought it would change him
as grief does,
the turning away from chatter,
to watch out of the window
where a rainbow fragment lights the hill,
several geese string their way upriver
and how magnolia blossoms
are battered by wind.
Only recently Death crept to his neck,
licked a tender place, breathed softly
in the way that snow does.
Fear is the wolf.
Already he begins to forget,
he’s alright now, he says, alright.
We must choose for ourselves.
See how the magnolia candles its flowers,
withstands the wind.
– Rose Cook lives in the UK. Her poems are available in Everyday Festival, published by HappenStance, and Taking Flight, published by Oversteps Books.
I never pass through Oak Ridge without visiting the old house. I invent excuses, hairdresser and nail appointments, implausible runs to the grocery store. I point to yard sale signs in nearby neighborhoods from which I can steal away on foot, or I grope in my purse for wads of bills and push them at my two children.
“Daddy will buy you ice cream,” I say and ruffle heads dusted with downy hair.
They love Oak Ridge. They know something will happen as soon as they cross through the tunnel. And they all yell tunnulllh in their childish voices, my husband grinning at me, as the lights strobe away behind us. The sun gets bigger and wider ahead, and I have trouble breathing. My hands clench on the steering wheel.
The wailing syllable quivers, as Tim takes an unobtrusive breath and rejoins, breaking the rules of the tunnel game.
Meaghan calls him out on it, but they don’t have a squabble. Not in Oak Ridge. They’re watching me with their bright eyes. Mommy who tucks them in at night. And later, Mom who takes away their ipods. And later still, Mom who buys them condoms and birth control. “For acne,” I say. “Just be safe.” And I hug them, because there’s so much to lose in this world. And because losing is so easy. Their bright eyes watch me. Mommy who always has an adventure in mind for Oak Ridge. Or she might be having an affair. Or she might be seeing an old friend while, now, they cruise around in her SUV and try not to remember how Dad used to drive them to get ice cream before he left. Maybe she’s a drug dealer. Maybe she’s an addict. Maybe. Maybe she’s got another kid they don’t know about, a daughter or a son. Maybe that’s why Dad left.
But now, today, who cares. And they rummage in the glove compartment for my stash of cigarettes. They light up, turn on the digital radio. Tim closes his eyes and maybe thinks of Lily Ketchum and of how her hips move when she walks up the gymnasium stairs. Meaghan opens the car window to let out the smoke and inspects her fingernails, which she can’t stop chewing. They’re disturbingly short, and red gashes fill their cuticles. She doesn’t know what to do about them. Perhaps she’s afraid they’ll never look womanly and that she’ll never be perfect, and life is stupidly short and what if she never marries or what if she marries and has kids and ends up like Mom. She squeezes her lips together, wishing.
The owners know me by now.
Their children know me. I am the aging woman with the Gucci purse and the ironed collars and the face that causes their parents to shoo them out when I arrive—out, out to play in the back yard with its wooden swing set, and out to the curb to catch the bus, and out to run errands, “here’s a fifty, just go,” and out to the movies, too, or to the mall or bookstore, or now, out to pick up diapers for their own kids who happen to be visiting.
They no longer ask what I’ve come for. I don’t think they want to know. That is why they send away their children. Such lovely children. “And how they’ve grown,” I say, the nicety saccharine on my tongue.
“Time flies, doesn’t it.”
“I don’t want to be a burden.”
“Oh, not at all. Something to drink?”
“No. Thank you.”
They are kind people. They no longer carry the phone with them, just in case I turn out to be a thief or a murderer or worse.
They follow me softly several yards behind, as I enter their house and pad into the living room and down to the basement door, shine of new paint on it. The whole house smells of blueberry muffins. This is what babies do to a home, I think. The kind of spruce and polish that seeps into the food, into the air, into the thick, powdery carpet. For a moment, it’s the first time again, and outside my babies are in their new plastic car seats with their pink gums pressed to their fingers; and my husband’s fingers gently touch first a nose and then an ear, a nose again, a dimple, waiting for me.
“Just to see,” I say to him, sitting in the passenger’s seat. The gray van smells salty clean and pungent.
“Will it help?” He’s concerned for me. For us. He’ll try anything. Later, he’ll try prescription drugs and therapy and alcohol, video games, marijuana, and prostitutes.
“It can’t hurt.”
They unlock the basement and let me in, and my knees pop as I descend the steps. I grip the handrail and find it, too, smoother than I remember. Darkness seeps out from the edges of the twisted energy-saver bulb overhead. In corners, the darkness curls around old toys. A tricycle, a child’s worktable complete with plastic hammer and screwdriver. Darkness curls around a forgotten loveseat, too, its upholstery frayed, little chunks of batting punching through. Around a crooked floor lamp and Christmas boxes.
I kneel at the far end of the room. I kneel on the bare concrete floor, and the skin of my legs sticks to the raised chinks and strips of cement. I finger the lip of new paper that covers the wall before me and listen.
In the SUV, my children are performing a ritual, too. They open their doors and stub out their cigarettes on the sidewalk. Tim paces the length of the car, flips open his cell phone, and decides not to call. Meaghan leans against the door, holding her arms to her chest, her hands in her elbows. A warm breeze tousles her hair, and she inhales cut grass, old wood fences, the faint nose-wrinkling odor of cows.
In the darkness, I listen.
“Promise.” His voice breaks.
We are too young to promise, I say now, but my lips don’t move. My body doesn’t move. I listen.
“Promise you’ll remember,” he says, and his hair is black and bristling like the legs of a spider. My hand trembles in his. It trembles, too, against the paper on the wall. Tulips. They have put tulips over it, I think, and I restrain myself from ripping them off, breaking their little stems.
“It’s the most important thing,” I tell him. My voice is girlish and trusting. I love him. I will promise him anything.
His lips taste like the peaches we ate for breakfast. I have never kissed a boy before, I say, wanting more. I grip his hands, then, and my voice is so far away when I tell him how I’ll come here, I’ll come here and put my fingers here, just where our names are, here, and here, and then he’ll always be safe.
I am still listening, and my fingers still huddle over the deep engravings, imperceptible now because of the wallpaper; I am still here, kneeling, listening; and I force away the other voices crowding this one small memory. Like a black pebble in a valley pregnant with stones, and this small, forgotten one at the very bottom. But I have taught myself to push them aside, the other voices. And so I do now with ease, as I kneel, shoulders hunched, head bowed, my breathing deeper, slower, meditative. I push out the new babies in their car seats, and the whisper of stubble on my cheek and the bright pain of my daughter’s pop-fly exploding against my face; I push out the starry nights and the cold showers, Tim’s first word, the thunder of airports and of hurricane warnings, cheering crowds, blaring traffic; I push away estrogen pills and birthday cakes and job interviews, PTA meetings, sweaty palms, high school dances, pimples and broken arms and strep throat, lacy dresses, church services, cookies and pomegranates, wedding rings and honeymoon islands, aneurisms and urns, red wine. Peaches.
I have cut through the wallpaper with my fingernails.
His lashes are long. They remind me of palm branches and I almost say so, but his eyes are black pebbles as we bring our lips apart. His eyes are hungry and desolate. I will never see him again. His hands are soft and small. We are so soft, both of us, and small. We make our promise in the empty house, and I am filled with purpose.
My heart contracts in a burst of affection.
“Safe,” I murmur. “Safe.” I trace the lines, like grooves in a tree, in a coffin, in a crucifix. I murmur into the wall. And my breath goes out of me.
I know he can hear me. He can see me, kneeling here, keeping my promise. I know.
They pull down the street just as I exit the house. I feel a sharp, icy ping of shock, and recoil from their concerned faces. My lips form a word I do not speak, and then I buckle in. I reapply my lipstick.
We drive silently, and I sniff, detecting cigarettes. My breath catches and I pick tulip petals out from under my fingernails.
Up front, they speak softly together. I listen but can’t hear them. It seems their voices are a long way off.
Finally, they turn, and Meaghan asks me about the house.
“I was visiting a friend,” I say.
“Just a friend.”
They’re angry, but I push them aside. They tumble away like so many smooth stones.
– Lora Rivera holds an MFA from the University of Arizona and works as fiction associate for the Claire Gerus Literary Agency. She writes literary and young adult fiction, as well as juvenile fantasy. Her stories and poems appear in many print and online journals; a full list can be found at www.lorarivera.com. She lives in Tucson with her husband and three cats.
I Wonder If He Felt Me Write Him Dead
I killed my father. And it felt right. If you read my forthcoming poetry collection Gonesongs (Bellowing Ark Press, 2011), you might think my father is dead. More than one of the poems implies it, after detailing his harsh personality. In another collection, The Kentucky Vein (Punkin House Press, 2011), I declare him dead outright in the poem “Standing at Daddy’s Grave.”
My father is, as far as I know, very much alive. Any misunderstanding by my readers of that is not an error of understanding on their part, or due to any confusing poetry gimmicks. No, it was deliberate. I lied.
Does that matter? Poetry, unlike creative nonfiction, rarely purports to be fact, though we poets are ever thieves. We are squirrels, stealing interesting tidbits and shiny pieces of stories and lives not our own, hoarders of images and words, threading them into our work wherever it fits our inspiration best. The “I” of poetry, we argue, is a general one, not a poet-personal pronoun.
My father is removed from my life by choice – his – and at the root of that choice lies a blazing, destructive addiction to anger, alcohol and drugs. I am very much like my father in many ways. My temper can be whipped to froth in moments, I find the concepts of retribution and vengeance attractive. If it were a viable career alternative, I might have been a vigilante. Like my father, I am passionate about any number of things, my affections can be fickle, and I am enamored of instant gratification. I am subject to random whims to be incredibly kind almost as often as I am to be cruel. There is no way for me to parse how many of our similarities are due to nature and how much to nurture. Because of this, I live in fear of becoming him, but also of forgetting him.
I did not consider the ethical implications of those poems (the patricide poems, if you will) at the time. I did not debate whether to include them (though I did question whether I wanted my mother reading them). They belonged in my narrative. They felt right; they felt good. They belonged in my story of myself. And because my work is in print, un-erasable, he is dead to those who have read my work. To people I will never meet, who will never hear or read me admit my duplicity. I don’t know why it bothers me so much. Actually, I do: I am a person who believes in the power of language, the magic of the written word, and the energy and intent we put out into the universe. In a sense, my lingering mix of guilt, X, and satisfaction all boil down to one thing:
Learning to live with my work is a lesson in humility. Sometimes shame, sometimes peace, but always humility. To all of those people who never knew my father and know my work, he is dead. They have, somewhere in their heads, closed a door upon the possibility of ever meeting or knowing him. That branch of possible, for those readers, is gone. I think about this more than I should.
My father is rarely mentioned among our family anymore, and whenever I am reminded he is still out there, I find myself surprised. In writing his loss (and death), and in holding onto these poems for so long, I have come to believe the story the way I have written it, instead of the way it was and is. Ninety percent of the time, I treat my father – and his memory – as though he is dead, as though I did speak at his grave, as though I came to terms with the death of a rough work-hardened man who was difficult to know. It allows me to sleep. It allows me to live my life without wondering if every car I pass is his, if he is looking for me, if he would talk to me if I could find him.
And so, I struggle because the lie – and it’s a whopper – has been worth it. I don’t agonize over trying to impact his decisions. I don’t punish myself for not being the person who can make him walk away from his bad choices. It moved him from the foreground to the background of my life and emotional landscape, and I function quite well (if not entirely honestly) within this arrangement.
Do I owe my readers the truth as I know it, or the truth as I write it? I don’t know. Writing my father dead is an act of power for me, but it is also a polite curtain drawn over some ugly realities. Some things are not poetry. Cocaine-fueled rages and crimes committed by a crackhead I used to call Daddy are not poetry for me, though I may address them in prose. So far, readers who know both my life and my work well have allowed me this separation. Will new readers who don’t know me be as generous?
I buried my father alive with words and it brings me peace. It also gives me a sense of rekindling the power of language. At the worst point, he would call me late at night, in the grip of drug-fueled paranoia, anger, or regret. I pleaded, cried, raged and reasoned with him to no avail. I made myself ill with worry. I wrote down the best arguments I could think of so I could be clear-headed and be sure to give him my most effective words, and my beloved language failed me. Perhaps I failed it. In either case, the result was the same, and I did not save my father.
The man I remember as wielding a sledgehammer with ease and bending thick ropes of copper bare-handed, I killed with little more than a piece of paper and a bit of ink. It hurt me to do it, even as it freed me. I wonder if he felt me become mighty at my ability to make him small. I wonder if he felt me write him dead.
I wonder if I will feel it if he erases me.
When I saw him last, years ago, he still had a clover tattoo on his upper left arm, each leaf inscribed with the name and birthdate of my brother, sister and me. I don’t know if he he did have the ink gone over with something darker. I thought it might feel a little like death, to have your name erased by one of those who created you. In some old myths, when God erased your name from the Book of Life, all who had known you forgot you existed. You were wiped from the memory of the world.
I’ve had some of my own tattoos covered up with others. If you know it’s there, you can always see that first tattoo underneath, slightly warping whatever comes after, surfacing in lines not-quite straight, shapes that don’t quite fit. The overwrite always hurts more, the skin there more tender, a reminder of the prior claim of that first inking. If my father did erase or overwrite us, I hope it hurt like hell, the way it did for me.
– Colleen S. Harris works on the library faculty at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. She is the author of God in my Throat: The Lilith Poems (Bellowing Ark, 2009), These Terrible Sacraments (Bellowing Ark, 2009) and The Kentucky Vein (Punkin House, 2011).
Build Us A Home
A crane descends and rips the roof from our home while my sister and I watch from the front lawn. Neighbors gather on the gravel driveway across the street, shielding their eyes from the sun, pointing and gasping as the crane almost swings our roof into the crab apple tree. Mother screams, and I wonder what they’re saying about us. About Father, who is scratching the nickel-sized bald spot on his scalp and pacing the yard with small quick steps. About Mother, squinting up at the crane with her hands on her hips, waving her arms at the orange vests and yellow hard hats atop the machine, who look and sound threatening with inflated muscles and barking voices, but who, we’ve been told, are here to help. About my nine-year-old sister and me, sitting here in thick pockets of grass, watching the cold, steel arm of the crane thrash our roof like a dog with a bone in its mouth.
An airplane flies overhead, and I wonder if its passengers can see the contents of our roofless home: a refrigerator covered in stickers, mismatched sneakers strewn by the front door, Mother and Father’s master bedroom, their pink bathroom, the broken shower. From the sky, I imagine our pale yellow home looks like the two-story plastic dollhouse Father bought me last Christmas, with scattered furniture, cluttered rooms, and my family the miniature inhabitants. Stuck in our places, we wait for a stranger to reach through the open top and re-arrange our messy lives.
For months leading up to its reconstruction, Mother complained about our squat ranch-style home.
“There is no room for my fabric in the study,” she said. “And not enough cupboard space in the kitchen.”
Father ignored her, waving his hand as though swatting a pesky fly. This was his home. He bought and renovated it long before other families moved to our three-block subdivision, our only neighbors the leaning cornstalks that waved from where our street dead-ended into a field. He was the one who laid the bricks for Mother’s flowerbed, who built and painted white the wooden trellis that arcs over the garden—the one that he planted—in our backyard, the garden that grows the tomatoes, squash and cucumber we eat every fall, spring and summer. He had given us all of this; what more was there to want?
One night Mother slipped into the bedroom my sister and I shared. She sat and fussed with the comforter, tucking it in, un-tucking it, tucking it in again.
“There is no room for my fabric in the study,” she said, wringing her hands in the lap of her gauzy pink nightgown. Even at twelve years old, I recognized the face of disappointment: leaky eyes, wobbly smile, a heavy head that did not dream of chalked sidewalk, humming lawnmowers or houses the color of Easter eggs, light blue, yellow and peach.
The morning after our roof is removed, the stranger arrives. His name is Frank, and he’s here to build our new home. He gathers us around our kitchen table and shows us pictures of sleek, tiled bathrooms and smooth, winding staircases.
“Pick what you like,” he says. “You can have anything.”
Mother stirs, while Father scratches his bald spot and squints at the pictures. He is always hesitant. Hesitant to agree to a family vacation at Disney World. Hesitant to move us out of the suburbs, away from his parents’ farm. Hesitant even to marry Mother, who was only twenty-three—eight years younger than him—when he picked her up in his blue Chevy truck for their first date.
“I hadn’t gone out with many men,” she told me one morning while readying herself in the bathroom mirror. I sat on the toilet seat, watching, trying to learn the names of the tiny metal tools she used to shape her features. “None of the boys liked me because I didn’t have a chest. Boys only care about boobs, remember that.”
I told her she was pretty. With silky black curls and a neck as long and white as a candle, she was the most beautiful woman I had ever seen, even more beautiful than the models in the fashion magazines piled beneath her bed.
“Your father was the first man to tell me that,” she said. “That’s why I married him.”
She powdered her cheeks and told me Father proposed on top of the roof of his parents’ peeling white farmhouse. It was the Fourth of July. The heat clung to their skin like wet towels, but they huddled close together anyway, watching fireworks fizzle down the edge of a sky so blue and dreamy they were afraid they might fall into it. They talked about growing squash and tomatoes in a garden. They talked about playing house: Mother Father Children.
“Maybe we should get married someday,” Father said. He did not have a ring.
Father finally decides on the winding staircase and four spacious bedrooms—one for me, one for my sister, one for him and Mother each.
“Now you can escape my snoring,” he says, laughing. Mother smiles and points to a picture of a Jacuzzi.
After more squinting, Father is pleased. He shakes Frank’s hand conspiratorially, as men do when they know they have done something manly. Frank promises to return over the weekend to hang up plastic in the living room. He tells us our home will crumble during the construction, but the plastic will hold its pieces together.
“Like an earthquake,” Father explains before tucking me in. “Some splitting and pulling apart, only this will be much less scary.”
As promised, Frank returns toward the end of the week. He stamps his muddy boots on our welcome mat and tosses his jacket across Father’s armchair, revealing a thin muscle t-shirt that snaps tightly across his broad chest and an orange tan I suspect he keeps year-round.
He covers our home with large sheets of plastic. Plastic conceals the carpeting, the couch and the chairs. Plastic hangs like a shower curtain above the entranceway to our living room. My sister and I stomp on it, delighted to hear snaps and crackles beneath our feet. Our whole house smells like rubber.
Frank takes me aside and tells me he will leave the television uncovered. He grins and squeezes my shoulder like we’re old friends sharing an inside joke. But Frank is not familiar. I turn away from his elastic smile.
Now that I’m twelve, Mother tells me I should start focusing on grown-up things like hairstyles and bikinis and men. Real men, not the plastic dollhouse men I play with when I’m alone in my room. One afternoon during the construction, we sit at the kitchen table, flipping through pages of her bra catalogues, when she asks if I know any boys. I can only think of one: Mark, who passes me gross notes underneath the tables in seventh grade science class and says things to me on the school bus—how he thinks my butt is nice and how he wants to mount my Everests, which I’m pretty sure are boy code for boobs.
Mother talks about Father, about how he doesn’t touch her enough. Don’t I know how that feels, not to be touched?
I don’t. I imagine wearing one of these lacey black bras for Mark, twisting the delicate clasp between my fingers and letting my boobs fall and swing free like the women in Mother’s magazine, except that I don’t have boobs, not real ones, not yet. My nipples are soft and pink like mosquito bites.
Frank works on our second story for a few days. I hear him stomping around on the roof while I watch TV in the living room. Mother takes time off from her job as a nurse to supervise the construction while Father walks his mail route. She spends afternoons on the roof with Frank, sometimes coming downstairs to peer in at me through the plastic cocooning our living room.
Some nights Father doesn’t return home until late because he likes helping out on his parents’ farm after work, harvesting corn and digging in the vegetable garden. On these nights Frank stays late. Mother puts on a movie in the living room for my sister and me, so she and Frank can have adult time in the kitchen. They drink from long, slender bottles, nibble dainty crackers, and burn candles that smell like exotic spices or forests. I’m not sure what they talk about, but they bend their heads close together like the girls and I do on the playground when we’re spying on cute boys. Mother stops acting like Mother and becomes a different woman, one who speaks brightly, wears clinging red dresses and oversized gold bracelets that chime when she moves. I wonder if this is who she’s always been, and maybe I have never noticed.
In the kitchen, Frank is telling Mother how talented she is, how she never should have given up her cello. Mother dreamed of becoming a famous musician. She had studied cello in college and played in a few local orchestras but quit when she moved from the city to the suburbs with Father. In her bedroom, Mother’s cello lies inside its coffin-shaped case, black and lined with red satin like something put to rest.
Frank and Mother are still having adult time in the kitchen. Their giggles are like the laugh tracks on sitcoms. Automatic, empty, loud like a slap.
One humid afternoon, I’m sitting behind the plastic hanging in the living room, flipping through channels, when I stop on a soap opera. A mustached man is gripping a woman by her shoulders. They’re screaming at each other. Then, they’re kissing. Their hands roam up and down each other’s bodies; the woman’s lipstick smears across her cheeks, lips and neck. The man reaches beneath her shirt. She reaches beneath his, and then they’re on the couch, tangled in a pretzel-like knot of arms and legs.
My cheeks burn. I look around for Mother, but she and Frank are on the roof. I return my attention to the man, his bronzed shoulders and hard stomach. I imagine what it would be like to touch him, if he would feel chiseled and smooth like my dollhouse men. I study the woman, the playful way she swivels her hips and tosses her cascading, wheat-colored hair over her shoulder.
Afternoons at three, I watch the man and woman while Mother is on the roof. Inspired by their movements, I make up my own. When they kiss, I pucker my lips. When they embrace, I wrap my arms around my shoulders, touching my neck, my chest and my legs. I kiss my arm just to see how it feels, skin and lips pressed together. After the show, I practice my moves in front of my bedroom mirror, sashaying like the characters on TV until I hear Mother’s footsteps on the stairs, returning from the roof.
The show ends at four. Right on cue, the man and woman stop kissing and return to screaming at each other. Today, I switch off the TV but keep watching as the shadows of a man and woman fill the dark screen. The man pulls at the woman’s curly hair, and she laughs and slaps his hand away, holding a finger to her lips to quiet him.
The two freeze, suddenly aware of an audience.
“Honey?” my mother says.
Several days later, Father and I drive his blue Chevy truck to the Postal Service store where he will buy new walking shoes. I am restless, impatient. Lately, it feels like a hot, red balloon has risen in my chest, expanding with each breath, dropping whole and heavy into my lungs. It’s so humid; my knees are sticking together, my bangs plastered in wet curlicues to my forehead.
Father points to a withered, dry field alongside the highway. Cornstalks sigh and slump, exhausted from the sun’s glare. He tells me about a day twelve years ago, when Mother drove on this same highway to the doctor’s office where she worked. She passed this same field, richer and greener then, because it was part of the land his family farmed.
Mother looked out her window that day and spotted Father’s outline in the tractor’s cab, his gloved hands, strong jaw and dark skin. She pulled her car over to the side of the highway and scaled the fence that separated her from him, sweeping like a wild wind across the field in white tennis shoes and green nurse’s scrubs.
“I just needed to see you,” she said, climbing into the tractor’s cab.
Father laughs at the memory.
“I was afraid she would be late for work,” he says. “I just kept thinking, ‘she’s going to get dirt all over her pants.’”
Two weeks later, Frank is gone, along with the plastic. The front yard scabs over with leaves and leftover debris, flakes of plaster sprinkled like snow over the grass. The crane has eased the roof back into place, leaving us with the dulled expressions of those who have returned home from an exotic vacation. Bored, we wander our new bedrooms, uncertain what to do with the empty white walls, how to fill the overwhelming space.
“They looked bigger in the pictures,” Father says, sighing and scratching his bald spot.
Mother returns to work at the hospital and stays late into the evenings. She buys us microwave dinners and paper plates. Plastic knives and forks. Father tries to cook but burns almost everything, which means pancakes. The three of us eat them drowned in butter and syrup off plates balanced on our knees while we watch cartoons in the living room. In our new home, there are no rules.
Though the construction is over, our neighbors sometimes still look at us from their driveways or pause in front of our home when they’re out walking their dogs. At first, I think it’s because our house is the biggest on the block, and they’re jealous of its size. But then they start asking me questions when I’m outside playing basketball, like “How’s your mom?” or “Where’s your dad? I haven’t seen him out lately.” Father isn’t out because he’s hiding in his bedroom with the heavy velvet curtains drawn. Sometimes he sleeps through whole days, and no one knows if he’s sad, mad, or sick with something. Mother hides in the study, which used to be my yellow bedroom. It holds the parts of her she now has space for: fabric, her cello, jewelry boxes stuffed with dangly gold pieces too big for her ears and wrists.
Like our neighbors, I’m noticing things, too. The vegetables in Father’s garden are soft and rotting. Mother is playing her cello again. I sometimes see her late at night, slipping out of our home in red heels I spy from beneath my bedroom door, thudding softly down the carpeted steps. I lie awake in the dark, listening for her keys turning in the lock, the squeal of our front door opening and shushing closed behind her. All around me families are moving in and out of their homes, regrouping into separate units, so it feels possible this might happen to me. I focus my eyes on the faded glow-in-the-dark stars I’ve moved from my old ceiling. I fight to keep them open so I can make sure Mother returns but fall asleep until morning. I wake to the sun filling my new room through my new blinds, to the long, low sounds of Mother’s cello. Father is still sleeping. He makes no noise at all.
– Amy Bernhard is a graduate of the University of Iowa. Her work has been published in Palooka Literary Journal and The Daily Palette. She lives and works in Iowa City, Iowa.