She stands in the grove, in the pecan tree’s shadow, looks up – there the nest and there the silent crow. A slice of the first quarter moon sifts through black branches. And above, through the bruisy blue, through those gray and yellow cliffs and caves of clouds: moonslip and sink and sunder...
Four minutes and twenty-two seconds later, the park has emptied completely. In the grass, puddles spring up like ant colonies, silent and teeming. I watch you lift your white skirt to your thighs as you wade in under beckoning palm trees, the sky receding for you, so that your face drinks up the darkening clouds and grows indistinct behind a haze of rain. I have waited a long time for your smile, and for this moment that has neither beginning nor end, as is the way with all healings--but simple too, like a single drop of rain aloft in the air.
A slender shaft flies silver through the sky,
sunward climbing, unmanned, stern
the thoughtless and inhuman-minded eye--
glances at the stucco-huts in turn,
looking for an unmanned one to burn ...
The old buss trundled away from the church, south, south, until it looked like a tiny white cloud and then just a little puff of something vague and solid in the distance. Summer afternoon rose up around the chugging bus on the narrow two-lane mountain roads: curtains of shining green shot through with blinding sunlight. They sat together in the back, two white-faced sardines sandwiched by their duffel bags. Kyla had round knees and slender arms and long fingers and short, pink nails. Right now, she was carsick. Tara was currently holding in a scream that bubbled up silently, manifested as tears, bright, jewel-like things that clung to the end of her chin when they slipped down her cheeks. Kyla, poor, dear, wonderful carsick Kyla, reached up to wipe them as they fell.
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.
Jane Barrett hums while she leans over the chicken cages, scrubbing white chalky circles until they thin and vanish into the cloth. She catches herself in mid-tune. Humming. While cleaning chicken shit...
[She] has scoured the house today; washed, dried, and folded four loads of laundry; vacuumed and swept every square inch. Bathrooms, kitchen sinks, counters, mirrors, bookshelves, wall sconces, windows, coffee tables, stairway railings, and wine glasses are shining, gleaming. She has deep-cleaned the upholstery.
Brynn Rosaline Church will arrive soon.
Jane knots the cloth in her hand and starts humming again. In earnest. Quite badly. The notes come out sharp and flat and she grits her teeth as she grabs the water hose and sprays down the coop.
My father sits by the window, staring off. There is not much to see through the glass: a flat gray wall full of flat gray windows; below, a flat, cracked gray street that smells of beer, sweat and urine. After it rains, it smells of the Mississippi and sometimes of flowers. If a young woman and her small son happen to pass by with groceries, there is the warm, yeasty smell of fresh bread.
But the window is closed, and so there is only gray--no bread and no flowers.
My father is a minister. He has lived here most of his life. That is, when he was not overseas during the war. That was before my time.
The gray wall is a gray cloud exploding with fire and smoke and human souls.
You're mixing dirt and water, making mud, and watching insects climb in narrow patterns the peaks and valleys of your toes and fingers, with which you're preparing to gather a handful of wet dirt to slop over them and watch the scattering of biting red bodies with cool interest.
Friday morning, eight o'clock: Sign in, PT. Nine thirty: burrito. Ten o'clock: home.
She was barefoot on the roof with a huge pair of clippers, de-limbing the mesquite whose branches had been left by the landlord to their own wiles and had pulled up a handful of shingles on the side of their house facing ours.
I watched her for a while, leaning against my car, squinting through the sunlight. She had on jeans again, and a white t-shirt that rode halfway up her back when she squatted to readjust the mangled shingles.
Nisha was tall, Indian on her father's side, French on her mother's, had fine cheekbones and a stubborn jaw, dark eyes, a warm complexion, and just enough of a nose that she wouldn't be mistaken for anyone else. All these features were lovely. And none of them were hers. They belonged to her, but she was not born with them. They were products of her parents' money, and although she was grateful to her mother's insistence on cosmetic surgery after the accident, she was angry, too, that both her parents pretended her cheeks and jaw and neck, the skin on her chest and arms, her beautifully individual nose, were the same features that appeared in Nisha's eighteen-year-old high school glamour shots from nearly ten years ago.
Hard ass. Under me, that is. And that preacher going on about sin and shame and robes of righteousness. I admit, the idea has appeal, the question of clothing and identity. The idea that I can un-dress, re-dress. Under me, hard pews made of wood, of course, because this tiny Southern Baptist church hasn't blundered into the creature comforts of the twenty-first century yet. It's just as well. I won't have any fond memories. I don't have any fond memories. Or I'm trying not to have them, even as I have them. White banners. Receiving blankets. Red carpet the color of hospital curtains. Stained glass window and morning light when the first blush of life, flutter of eyelids, flickered. Or blue baptismal, ocean and sky....
(First published in Crash: Issue 1
Excerpt from "After Toast and Cake"
Mabel was getting married. To be precise, tomorrow afternoon at three. In a whitish dress with pink flowers embroidered along a revealing v-neckline. In shoes that hurt her feet. In a church, up an aisle flanked by lilies, arm and arm with some friend of her mother's (called Kirk or Chuck or Ambrose) standing in as surrogate for the father who couldn't make it and was somewhere in the Middle East harvesting oil.
She had, thankfully, escaped. Had fled the church, left her soon-to-be aunt-in-law, mother-in-law, and own soon-to-be-husband arguing about the banners....