A gopherwood box

cloud-formation

I.

Boyd Henry over there, he watches me. I have never seen a child so committed to watching. He is four years old. I love him, Lord, but his intensity wears on me. He plays with his toys under the porch, and the dried-up mud and boot-grit falls on the back of his neck. He flours up the dust, and it powders most of him, but his neck gets it worse. He shows me his dusty palms when he sees me seeing him.

Lorianne is on the porch with him now, and her hands are curled around his small shoulders. I’m grateful that she loves him, because Boyd Henry is different from most. He is my gift, he is my surprise.

Today is wash day, the day I float away. Watching Boyd Henry makes me lonely to think there was a time before him. It makes me lonely whenever the wash water from the bed sheets drips onto my arms, because it bears the same coldness and travels down the same hollows of my skin as it did last week, and last month.

The sheets and towels are to be washed first. They need to hang before the rain catches them. The wind has swelled up, and it tugs at my kerchief like a kite. Boyd Henry stops wiggling in Lorianne’s arms, and he watches me as I adjust it. Son is already dirty, and he will turn into mud when it starts to rain. Daughter will wipe him down with a washcloth when she can. I smile for my children.

The crows,” says Lorianne, and she points to the sloping yard.

There are a half-dozen crows on the other side of the field gate, and they glide low to the ground. Abruptly, they ascend, like barn swallows, and there is a strenuous fold and unfolding of wings. Their constructs are not made for elegant flight, and they rise in an awkward lurch, and nearly collide with one another.

Lorianne’s face is serious, but she giggles at the strangeness of it. “Why were they flying like that, Mama?”

I don’t know,” I say, and it frightens me that I cannot answer her. Would her father know? This was his land before it was mine.

I left my mother’s house when I was young, and then I left my grandmother’s when I was done being foolish. I came here when I married Javier, and I have stayed here since he passed, six years ago. This land belonged to his family, and then to him, and now to me. But it is my children’s home now, his daughter and my son. I keep my pictures and trinkets and combs in a box carved from gopherwood, under my bed. It is all that I have left from my life before him.

II.

The rain is hard, as promised. We sit inside our little living room and listen to the tin noise. It is a loud and anxious sound. Lorianne has her collection of crayons on the rug, and she hunts for the right shade of rain. Boyd Henry watches her, and he peels off the crayon papers, one color at a time, like he is unwinding string.

I stare at the wood stove and the slow tangle of flame. How long will it keep us warm, how long will it give us light?

And the rain, it still falls, seven days in.

Boyd Henry, over there, he watches me watching him. And Lorianne, she loves me in my distraction, loves me in my worry.

My children are silver abstractions in the light. Every drop of rain cast its own shadow on the window, and each shadow weaves into the next, until they form a coarse cortina. The world we know is smaller because we are separated from the land by the sky.

Mama, when will the rain stop?” asks Lorianne.

Bless the child, the faith of that girl, that she believes the rain will ever stop.

I don’t know, Lorianne,” I say. “What do you see when you look outside?”

Boyd Henry studies my face, and Lorianne studies what lay bare beyond the window.

Rain?”

Of course, honey. What else? Look harder.”

Rain and puddles. And Mama, Boyd Henry is out there!”

I can smell the rain, I can smell the hay, freshly mown. “He’s right behind you, Lorianne.”

But he’s–” She turns, and Boyd Henry shows her his dusty palms. “But I….”

You saw his reflection, that’s all.” I breathe in the sweet clean smell of hay.

No, he was standing in the rain. And I didn’t see my reflection, or yours. Just him. Mama?”

A mirage,” I say, and sound foolish to myself. “The rain can do strange things if you stare at it too long.” I can smell Javier’s aftershave as I tend to the small cuts on his hands. I still cannot see his face.

I think the rain has stopped,” she says, and she presses her hands against the glass.

I can smell the hay, freshly mown. The rain smells just like his aftershave.

I think we can go outside now,” I say, and my two children reach for their boots.

(photo from Pexels.com)
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The man on the other side of the door

This is a place of unremarkable geometry, of hand hewn beams and reclaimed cabinets, of cotton curtains and poplin tablecloths.There are stout lines built around her silly feminine froth. You might savvy her girlish moods: the bright New Orleans yellow in the hallway, or maybe the baby doll figurines on the bookcase. But don’t forget, this is my home, and it is a place of unremarkable cruelties. 

There are stains in my study that look like ketchup, but are not. There are sudden movements that turn on all the security lights.There is a smell that is barely masked by the nine dollar dirt that feeds her windowsill herbs.

I’ve heard all these sounds before, but this one is closer, and I know why. There is a man on the other side of the door, limping, wet from the chase. He beats on the glass with the heel of his hand. I turn on the porch light because I know. I’ve been expecting him for twenty years, back from a time when my life was fraying. He took the left road and I took the right. I don’t want to see him now — for us to see each other, really — but his t-shirt is torn from armpit to belly, and I swore to him. He is older now, of course he is, but his eyes still show his fury, and mine have turned soft and careless. 

Richard,” was the only word he had to say, and I knew it was time.

Chicken scratch

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It’s the same, every night. I reach for the dream, and I’m grabby-fingered, grievous.

The dream– no, she — is my beautiful. The woman, alone, in front of a barn, tossing scratch to the chickens. She wears a faded bluey sundress, and it is judiciously short, judicious sassy, cut just above the knees, threadbare and very old. It is 1960’s Flower-Power aphrodisia. She doesn’t care. She loves who she is, and I’m a bystander. I see her from profile: the tilt of her hips, the slow current of her arms, the equid arch of neck. Her hair is long, and it flows like a fire beside a curved river. This is her, and this is her’s.

The light captures every grain of the chicken scratch, effervescent dust, as it drifts to the dirt. Even in dreams, everything is bound by gravity. The sun falls below the hills, bloody and huge, and she is cast in it, a form too pure to be possessed. Her dress becomes invisible and she is a body radiant.

She turns to me and turns from me, and I understand. And I grieve.

Chandeliers

I dreamed of that ballroom we saw in that movie, you know the one, with the old-timey music that flooded the air, Glenn Miller I think, or maybe Jimmy Dorsey, and those tiny tables that could only fit napkins and two martini glasses (at least our TV trays can fit a Hungry Man Dinner and a biscuit). The couples danced in rhythmic seizures, the war was over or maybe not begun, bright colors and balloons, sweaty but not in a smelly way, and everyone was crazy alive, and they looked like Blondie and Dagwood. Yeah, I dreamed we were dancing, really moving, and we danced the Charleston, hands and grins all over the place, and people watched and they envied our sway, and I looked up and saw elegant chandeliers, and I remember you said we should get one of those for the cabin, and I promised you I would look. And now it’s 4 a.m., I’m online, and honey, I don’t think it would fit in the living room. But I did find a nice set of candles and a Big Band CD collection, and we can dance like stink in the backyard if we want, and maybe drink wine coolers from our much bigger TV trays.

His face

I don’t remember his face. It should be easy, being married for almost 45 years. When we were younger, he was a good looking man; good enough for this stray-dog town. He teased me that he had a string of women hanging from his suit pocket. I guess I never cared for that. He was never that good looking. But he could tell a joke, and he could take one, so I expect I should too.

I don’t remember his face. I recall certain features of it. The arch of his mouth when he smiled. His nose, twice broken, from when he worked over at the granary. His ears, the way they peaked out from behind that mop of hair. I swear, you’d never know he was leaning into his seventies. It was always so bushy, no matter how much he wet it back. He was vain about his hair, but never mind. Everyone has a vanity, and that was his.

I don’t remember his face. I remember his eyes, that solemn shade of green. Something sad about that color, melancholy, though I couldn’t tell you why. That particular green, like summer ready to turn. I can still see him working the garden, harvesting the last of the tomatoes, wearing that damned floppy straw hat of his. He knew – we both knew – he looked ridiculous, but that was our private joke. And when he turned around to face me, those eyes always caught me off guard. “Golly, Mary, you startled me,” he’d say, no matter how loud I approached. And we would laugh.

I don’t remember his face. I recall the scar on his chin, and the wrinkles on his forehead when he worried about things he wouldn’t confess. And oh, how his cheeks felt, so soft and whiskery as my hands tried to smooth them.

I don’t remember his face, but I remember his hands around my throat. The strength of his fingers. Choking and choking until I could taste the darkness in my throat.

I don’t remember his face, but I will. And when he says, “Golly, Mary, you startled me,” he’ll mean it. And I will laugh alone.

***

Note: Just a simple flash fiction piece I thought up on my way home from work tonight. My wife and I been watching episodes of the original Twilight Zone every weekend since Christmas, so I suppose there’s a bit of influence there. Or maybe it’s just me.  This was fun to write — grim, of course — but fun. 🙂

Aim and velocity

You and me, we threw stones at each other. We always have, right? We put enough space between us so we didn’t hurt each other too bad, but, you know, we’ve both developed a pretty good aim. And velocity.

We started, what, when we were kids? Christ, I don’t remember how old we were. Ten? Thirteen? That sounds too old, but ‘kids’ is such a damned dense demographic. You remember that one kid, what was his name, Toby Adamson? Guy with the blunt hair, always wore turtlenecks and pressed slacks? Thought he was a big deal because he carried a wallet and comb in his back pocket? Yeah, you know who I mean. You had a crush on him, don’t tell me you didn’t. ‘Jenny Adamson’ scribbled inside your notebooks, ‘Jenny + Toby 4Evr.’ He didn’t like it too much when I threw stones at him, did he? Curled up like a little girl. Transferred a year later, got the fuck out of Dodge because he was too soft. Probably a cokehead now, or an assemblyman, who cares? I remember you laughed at him after that, right in his face, just before he left. He asked you to that ‘Surf and Sun’ dance in the gym? You called him a pussy, right in front of everyone. He rolled away like a Slinky. And we went back to throwing stones at each other, opposite sides of Breeman Street, laughing the whole time.

And then things got serious. We’d go inside our houses and put iodine on our cuts, then go back outside and hold hands downtown and maybe neck in the theater. No, no ‘maybe’ about it. We were all over each other. Remember that? We were hot stuff back then, weren’t we?

Then we grew up. Childhood sweeties. Dangerous sweeties. But we were careful. Gotta hand it to us, we never got caught. Drinking behind the Odeon Theater, or in that alley behind Kresges, fumbling with zippers, sliding out of our jeans, smashing Coke bottles on bricks. We were running with scissors and no one ever figured it out. When we were old enough, we got married on the sly, shocked the hell out of everyone. And no one. We were too young, that was the bitch, wasn’t it? It wasn’t that we shouldn’t get married, but not at eighteen. Hell, we were in a hurry. Always in a hurry. Because it might not last. There was too much fuel to burn, and we burned hot.

Forty-two years. Damn. Did you ever think time could be so slippery, that the flames could be smothered so easily? And angry. Why were we always so goddamn angry all the time? We always threw stones at each other, but sometimes they weren’t stones. Sometimes they were words, sometimes open-faced slaps. And we weren’t always careful how hard we threw them. Sometimes they were deliberate and dangerous, because, you know, we learned how to aim, we learned velocity.

And now you’re laying there and it’s quiet. I guess there’s background music coming from one of the other rooms, some dignified noise, but I don’t hear it. I don’t really see the people coming in the door to shake my hand or shovel some meaningless words into my ears. I just see you and me, throwing stones at each other. For so many years. And I’m so sorry that the last stone was the last stone for you. I thought we were both tough enough, but I guess toughness fades over 40-plus years. We would have laughed about that when we were kids, wouldn’t we? If we knew that that kind of aim and velocity could be so dangerous. We should have been more careful. I don’t think anybody really knows how vicious it can get.