Break Down

 
 

Having the conversation we were having, of course we break down. The silence fell, itchy and tight like a bad sunburn, some minutes before, and each of us was trying to open our mouths against it when the loud pop rattled us, and the car shimmied alarmingly. 

I pull onto the dirt shoulder, line up as neatly as I can against the low rambling stone wall that separates us and the road from the field and the woods. She already has her phone out, calling her new assistant to come with the old tow truck, the one they don't use as much now that they have a better one. Her assistant, a wiry boy who was still going to high school part time while he learned his trade, asks her for a landmark, and she looks at me first. Like she could use me as a landmark, say "I'm next to my wife," and have him come find us. I look down along the road and notice a small cemetery penned in by a wrought iron fence. 

Apparently her assistant recognizes our description, because he promises to be there just as soon as Mel comes back from lunch. 

I roll my window down. The air is damp and softened by last nights rain, and we can hear that quiet ticking that pervades the countryside. As a city girl, I never quite know what's making that sound. Cicadas? Katydids? Grasshoppers? Are those even different creatures? Which one ticks and which one rattles? I know crickets hoot, and sometimes so do frogs, because she once drove us to this nature preserve to listen to the frog song, to help me differentiate between them and the crickets. That was back when everything we did together was a way of revealing a little more of ourselves to each other, even things like late night runs to 7-11, where she revealed a nostalgia for ring pops and I waxed poetic about bodegas. Now we do things together just to be together, to entertain ourselves as a unit, now that we are a unit. 

This was supposed to be one such outing: a trip to a small town with a junk store in an old textile mill. I wanted to find some embroidered tablecloths to make curtains and she loves looking at old tools, broken pieces of farm equipment. 

But we woke up to an editorial about how long our marriage will be legal under the new administration, and the conversation spun out fast, the way it sometimes does when both people think they know what the other will say, and are wrong. 

She reaches over and touches my hand where it rests on my thigh. I feel the calluses studding her fingers. Every day she reaches into the innards of machines, rearranges and replaces the broken bits, finds the source of the grinding sound, and mends whatever needs mending. I spend my days traipsing through grey areas, writing stories. Let's just say we have different approaches.

She is the kind of person who once punched someone in the face and I am the kind of person who once reduced someone I love to tears with only a few sentences. But now we fight better, with more care. 

We will have the rest of the conversation, after the tow truck, after we are back at the house, maybe while we feed the dogs and listen to their eager, breathless chewing, which is such a happy sound it sometimes makes us hold hands and watch them eat. For now we just sit together, waiting for help. 

Published in Redivider 14.2, Winner of the 2017 Blurred Genre Prize

 
 

Alewife Season

 

In the hottest month of summer
the tides scatter alewife corpses
carelessly across the pale, filthy sand.

The young girls go to the beach to swim and tan,
find the slips of silver fish wherever they try to lie.
Some are still alive, their gills opening and closing
revealing slices of red like a wound 
inflicted and healed,
inflicted and healed, 
until they haven’t even the energy 
left for suffering.  

Even inland, the slick salty smell
of rotting fish rolls across the thick green lawns, 
permeates the brick and clapboard, 
the tight-closed windows 
with the curtains hanging slack.
The mothers hunch helplessly over their kitchen tables,
hiding from the wind.
The scent reminds them of period blood, of sex and birth, 
how any form of bleeding could be a sacrifice
if only some god or another cared to listen.
How much blood could save them and 
their daughters? Month after month, years:
it could stain the flat blue lake scarlet. Wine
to go with this yearly offering of fish flesh 
strewn across the shore for anyone who could want it.

If only this annual dying brought the face of god to the lake,
made him merciful towards the dying fish and hiding women

Published in Meat For Tea: The Valley Review Vol 9 Issue 3

 
 

Radiance

 

Cancer caught her up as sure as the stars 
crossing the sky, from winter to summer. 
the growing season found her 
sifting through her old photo albums for a picture 
of her and her factory friends, smoking 
papery cigarettes on the back steps
sucking the flame into their young pink lungs.
She examines their lips for a glimmer, 
searches for flakes of radium suspended in their red lipstick grins,
licked from the paintbrushes they used to illuminate watch faces.
Their lips are dark twists in the overexposed planes of their faces,
and she has difficulty seeing herself in all that radiance, the hot summer light, 
caught in the photograph, a 3x4 world created in a flash. 
Were the days really brighter then
as the nights were darker?
A glowing watch was a marvel then. 
Now everything glows. Her phone can be a flashlight or a nightlight.
She looks into the blue of its homescreen
wondering if there are girls in china licking bits of that blue from their fingertips,
sewing the light into their cells as she and her friends did,
one day to ignite. 

Published in Meat For Tea: The Valley Review Vol 9 Issue 3

 
 

She Is Singing

After Marianna won that Grammy, the articles about her started coming out darker. She wasn’t just the girl who came up from the trailer park, the girl with the sequined cowboy hat she claimed was lucky. She was the woman who left her infant daughter in a grocery store, back when she was drinking.

It was true, as much as anything she’d told about her own life was true. She made it seem like a tragedy, like necessity. Poverty was only part of the story. She could take a punch any day, but the relentless pull of love knocked her flat. Her daughter's tiny mouth opened clean and red, and she screamed and screamed. Marianna had been dancing away from hurt her whole life, so even this leaving was easy.

All the good country songs about leaving are sung by men pretending to be cowboys. She could sing a song about running away as well as any of them: whiskey-voiced contralto, words pulled from her throat like a knotted rope, or rosary beads. Her tongue cut on the cross. She'd tell you every mother loses her child sometime. She'd tell you a story to make it make sense: leaving the abortion clinic still pregnant, having the baby, then months later walking out of that grocery store singing. She imagines her daughter is still where she left her, growing up among the boxed cereal and bruised produce, like a chorus suspended between verses about her mother's life.

Winner of the 2018 Literary Death Match Bookmark Contest