Coracle tree

the coracle

BY MARLENA EVANS

 

The man in the seat in front of me unscrews the lid off a bottle of bubble solution and licks the attached wand as though it is a spoon covered in chocolate. He then tilts the open bottle—green and decorated with swirls: Miracle Bubble—into his mouth and drinks. There are seven other people in the van and none of us say anything. We are not even granted the momentary mercy of thinking he has stored some other kind of liquid in the container. The smell of soap is unmistakable.

I try Dad again. His number has been disconnected.

“You’re taking the train?” he asked when last we spoke. Probably spilling tea out of a too-small cup and into one of Aunt Ruth’s stained saucers while her enormous dog fought him for a gulp.

“That’s the plan.”

“Do you know how many trees are cut down so railroads can be built?”

“Dad.”

“How many ecosystems are fragmented? How is an animal supposed to follow its traditional migratory path if there’s a fucking railroad through it?”

“I can’t rent a car.” I almost said and there’s no money for a plane, but I didn’t want to have that conversation with Ruth puttering in the background.

“That would be worse,” Dad said.

“So what do you want me to do? I have to be there.”

“Get a ride with someone. Aren’t there websites for that?”

There are. This particular ride is going to be dropping me off at a shopping mall in less than three hours, where nobody will be waiting to take me the rest of the way to the house.

I call Ruth.

“Is he still not answering?” Ruth doesn’t drive.

“The number at the house has been disconnected.”

“Really? Are you sure you dialed it properly?”

“It’s in my contacts.”

“Maybe you should double check.”

“It’s right. Do you have Nan’s number?”

“Oh, she won’t be able to come,” Ruth says, scandalized that I would even ask. “Tim is working nights. She has to stay with the baby.”

“Maybe you can watch the baby for a couple of hours.”

“Why don’t you call Hasan? He’s got a car.”

“It’s not Hasan’s job to—”

“I’m sure he’d be happy to help.” 

Case closed. Fine. Twist the last of my pride like a damp cloth.

“ETA?” is all Hasan asks.

“Around ten.”

“I’ll be there.”

The mall is closed when we arrive. The driver, whose name I forgot sometime in the last six hours, takes the ramp up to the second level of the parking garage. The main entrance to the mall is still lit. There are a few parked cars nearby, but I don’t see Hasan’s. I guess he could have a new car by now.

The driver gets out and opens the trunk. I hear a sound like two umbrellas clapping together and know that my wheelchair is lying sideways on the asphalt.

“Do you need help?” the man who was sitting next to me asks as he stands outside the sliding door.

“I’m fine, thanks.” I pull my cane out from under the seat.

My wheelchair is indeed on the ground and everyone is excavating their luggage over it, except for the man with the bubbles, who is already stomping toward a blue pickup missing its passenger door. While I’m watching him go, something hits the backs of my knees. I fold, falling into the seat of my wheelchair with a sharp huff. Over my shoulder, the man who was sitting beside me is grinning down.

I pull my sweater closed over my t-shirt, fixing him with the evils.

“Just trying to be chivalrous,” he says.

“You made me drop my cane.”

He picks it up and holds it out before me with a low bow. His hair is oily.

“You’re the beige one?” the driver asks me.

“Yes, thank you.”

“I’ve got it,” says the man, walking around.

“No—”

He’s already holding my suitcase, a now-impractical boxy cream-coloured number with neither wheels nor straps long enough to fit on my chair. The driver closes the trunk.

“Twenty,” she says to me.

“Oh, I—didn’t I pay you before we left?”

“Twenty at pickup, twenty at dropoff.”

“It just said twenty in the email.”

“Well.”

“Twenty was all I had.”

The man pulls out his wallet and hands her a wrinkled bill, winking at me.

“Uh huh,” the driver says, and walks away. Please let her stay for just a few more minutes. The parking lot is echoing with the sounds of doors slamming. I thank the man reservedly. He’s looking at the tag between my suitcase’s two sleek handles. 

“Meredith Oh… Og… Ognuh… how do you pronounce that?”

“Can I have my suitcase?”

Shouldn’t have asked. Should have said, give me my suitcase.

“Really,” he says, “how do you pronounce that?”

“My suitcase.” Holding out my hand like I would for money. “Please.”

The van pulls away. Only one other man is still walking to a car. Everyone else is safely in and buckled, some of them already on the road out of this place.

“Where’s your ride?” the man asks, reading my fucking mind. The overhead lights buzz like an insect trap. My face gets hot.

“He’s coming.”

“Your boyfriend? I hope not. Break my heart.”

His voice still has that vaguely-kidding cadence that makes me think he will manage to laugh it off if I start screaming. In movies they’re always so menacing, like they’re not grown from the boys who used to hold their sisters down and threaten them with hanging gobs of spit.

“My suitcase.”

“I’ll carry it for you. Why don’t you let me give you a ride?”

“I don’t need a ride.”

“That’s not what it sounded like.”

“I found somebody.”

“I understand, you don’t know me. But look—that’s my buddy’s car, right over there.” Dark blue four-door fifteen feet away. “So you won’t be alone. You can send a picture of the licence plate to whoever you want. Come on.”

He’s going for the handles of my chair. I stumble out of it quickly, steadying myself on my cane. The wheels squeak as the chair rolls away. The man frowns at me, offended.

“There’s no need for that,” he says.

“My mother is dead.” I blurt it out. My face is absolutely burning.

“What?” he says.

“My mother just died. I just rode in van full of strangers for six hours so that I can go to her funeral tomorrow. I didn’t come here to be—” spluttering “—hit on by someone who thinks it’s cute to push me around like I’m an infant in a stroller.” About a second away from shaking my cane at him like the opposite end of the spectrum of age. He has a leather mask of a face. A car rounds the corner at the bottom of the ramp to the upper levels of the lot and it’s not the car that I remember but I hope to God that it’s Hasan’s.

“I was just being nice,” the man spits. “I wouldn’t try to fuck you if you were the last thing on Earth with legs that opened. Crazy bitch.”

He drops my suitcase and starts walking toward the blue car. I keep my body angled towards him in case he decides to turn around and be nice to me some more. Hasan parks sideways across three painted spaces and leaves the engine running when he gets out. His button-up shirt is untucked and there’s a few days of growth on his chin.

“I’m so sorry,” he says. “I was up top. I texted you, but—I should have checked what level we were meeting on. What the fuck was that?”

My wheelchair has come to rest against one of the concrete cylinders holding the ceiling up. The dark blue car exits on the opposite end of the lot.

“Did that guy hurt you?” Hasan asks.

“No.”

I at least wait until he’s set me up in the passenger seat before I start to cry. He puts my suitcase in the trunk and goes to retrieve the wheelchair. He’s filled out since the last time I saw him. The inside of the car smells like his sweat.

“Okay,” he says when he gets in, reaching across the seat to give me a logistically dubious hug, “it’s okay.”

I sniffle in the silence. Hasan doesn’t turn on the radio. On the main highway there are still a few cars out, but when we take the exit onto the two lane we’re alone.

“Aunt Ruth said that you’ve been a godsend. You’ve been doing all the things that would have been my job, if I had been here.”

“You couldn’t be here,” he says. He’s being kind. “And honestly, I haven’t done much. Farm’s quiet this time of year, isn’t much to do. And… well. After your dad refused to have the—the service, at the house, it was just a matter of finding a home and a director. All I did was call people.”

“Well. We appreciate it.” We. Ugh.

He smiles.

“Do you, uh—do you know why? He wouldn’t have the service at the house?”

“He didn’t say.” His tone is strange.

“But you have an idea.”

“I’m mostly in the barn, you know. I couldn’t say.”

“I think you can.”

He swallows.

“I’m not going to get you in trouble, Hasan.”

I can see his jaw working. He looks over at me quickly, then back at the road.

“There’s something wrong with the house,” he says. “The curtains are always drawn when I’m on the property but there’s a hole in the roof like a meteor fell through it.”

The inside of my mouth tastes bitter. “How big?”

“I couldn’t say for sure,” he says again, “but it’s big enough that you can see from the ground that it’s there. I’ll bet if you got up high enough you’d be able to see right into the attic.”

“For how long?”

“Few months.”

“He hasn’t said anything about it? About having somebody by to fix it?”

“Not to me. I don’t think—I don’t think that would be feasible, for him.”

Oh.

“They haven’t been paying you, have they?”

“Not for two months.”

He says it so guiltily.

“I’m sorry, Hasan. I didn’t know.”

I wring the hem of my shirt between my fingers.

“I’m staying on for a few days after the funeral. I’m going to get this sorted out. You’ll be taken care of. I promise.”

We make a turn and the asphalt gives way to gravel.

“I don’t want you to think that’s the only reason I’m glad you’re home,” Hasan says.

“I don’t know what to say.”

It’s been four years since I’ve seen Hasan and I don’t think I’ve even looked him in the eye tonight.

“You don’t have to say anything,” he says. “I know it’s a bad time.”

We turn down the long drive. The farm looks the same. My father may have the sensibilities of a doomsday cultist, but his aesthetics would never stand for the rambling overgrowth of a commune. The crops are all planted in neat rows, as are the rainwater barrels, the winter greenhouse’s windows washed to gleaming, the paint on the barn never allowed to fade. In the middle of it all, the house stands as austere as ever, a grey rectangle with a roof pitching inscrutably into darkness. From here, you can’t tell anything is wrong with it.

“The hole is on the other side,” Hasan says.

I put my suitcase into the chair and wheel it up to the porch, where Hasan helps me hoist it over the stairs. He hands me my cane and I lean heavily on it. My legs are deeply unhappy.

“I can manage from here. If he didn’t want anyone inside—” I’m embarrassed about the state of a house I haven’t seen in nearly a year. The porch light hasn’t been left on for me.

“You sure?” Hasan asks. “I can at least get your stuff in the door.”

“I’m okay. Really. I’ll… I’ll see you in the morning.”

He reaches out and takes the end of one of my curls, pulls it straight and lets it go, the way he used to when we were in high school. His hands smell like salt and tang. I want to kiss him.

“Hey,” he says, “I’m sorry. For your loss.”

Ow. “Thank you.”

“I thought—we all thought—she was getting better.”

“She was. Or I guess, yes. It looked that way.” Looked that way for years in fact. Doesn’t everybody love the long fuse, the big cosmic gotcha

I unlock the front door in the glare of his headlights and turn to wave at him when it opens. The stones of the driveway crackle under his tires. I watch from the window in the door until his lights appear on the road at the bottom of the front field.

Dad’s probably sleeping. I hit the switch for the foyer light. Nothing happens. Click click click click click. Still dark. Uh—

“Dad?”

No answer. Should have gotten Hasan to stick around after all. Alert on my phone says battery too low to enable flashlight. The screen is dim and blue.

Well. I lived here for nearly two decades. I know where things are. Table in the middle of the foyer and the staircase beyond that. My cane thuds on the floor in front of me for a few steps and then, abruptly, meets dead air. I fall. My head strikes something tall and solid and rough where the waist-high table should be.

“Fuck.”

I’m pressed right up against whatever it is, and, impossibly, my right foot is stuck. I wave my hands around as though my fallen cane is going to leap back up into them. There’s no purchase on whatever I’m up against with which to lower myself gently to the ground. I sway, my arms pinwheeling in a way that would be cartoonish if it weren’t pitch fucking black, and land on my ass. Pain screams through me. The skin on my ankle opens.

“Dad!”

Feel down my leg. My ankle is wedged—how—between the uneven edges of the floorboards and whatever has smashed through them. Did a meteor actually, genuinely hit the house? I look up. I can’t see anything, not the hole in the roof or the stars that would appear through it. My hands are warm and sticky. I pull my foot out of the hole. Groaning. Pat around for my cane and then my phone. Neither within reach.

Pain like bad music in my body. I pull myself back to the front door. My travel wheelchair is light and with the suitcase yanked off of it I manage to get it over the threshold. Once in its seat, I tremble. Hold onto the wheels like the floor is going to tilt me back toward the ragged maw. Retrieve my suitcase, pull it onto my lap. Roll toward the living room instead. Try the light switch beside the archway. Nothing. Where the rug ought to begin, there is another hole. The wheels of the chair weigh down the ends of the boards around it and they begin to snap. I back up in time. Wheel around, or what I hope is around, in the dark. Wishing my gasps could act as sonar. The next thing I hit is with the toes of my shoes. I reach out and touch it. It’s the couch.

Sitting with my back propped up by pillows, I feel through my suitcase and find the prescription bottles by their rattle. I swallow two painkillers dry.

I am beginning to be able to see. From this angle, the stars are visible, and the jagged edges of the roof around them. The hole is exactly where Hasan said it would be, and if I can see it, that means not just the roof but whole sections of the attic and the second floor must have been destroyed. I don’t have any other explanation.

“Dad?” 

He wanted to live somewhere with no light pollution.

My eyes close. All those bedtime stories about the Jormungand, the world-snake—one of Loki’s monster children, big enough to wrap around the world and hold its own tail in its mouth. When it released its tail, the world would end in flood. That’s always been the future he sees. All these hundred-year storms and record-breaking summers. His little farm in the armpit of the country a hopeful and hopelessly naïve path diverging in a dark wood. I didn’t understand when I was a kid. Probably I still don’t understand.

Mm. Meredith Ognyanov is going to fall asleep on the couch in the middle of the meteor-struck living room of her family home, her mother improbably dead, her father missing, her hips already protesting the couch’s sagging middle, no chance of getting into the wheelchair herself when the new skylight wakes her, not without her cane, which is well out of arm’s reach.

Sure.

I creak back into the wheelchair.

The only way to go is slowly, listening for the sounds of the floor giving way. In the light coming in from the ludicrously bare sky I can make out shapes, but only shapes, and I’m not yet prepared to say to myself that they are what I think they are. Precious few are these last moments of denial. The crank flashlight is still in the things drawer in the kitchen.

The first thing that appears under the flashlight’s beam is the kitchen floor, which is filthy. There’s no disarray, not a single cabinet left open and not a dish in the sink, just a whole bunch of good old-fashioned dirt and a few deep-treaded tracks through it. The door to the basement is newly padlocked. Can I still say newly when it’s been long enough that I had no idea any of this was happening?

I roll back into the living room.

This is a dream.

“This is impossible.”

Trees.

There are trees in the house.

Not bundled saplings deposited on the floor or neatly potted bonsais but entire, genuine, native, fucking trees—two birches in the living room, a maple in the foyer, and the unmistakable upside-down knuckles of an apple tree in the dining room, which sets me to incongruous laughter.

The house is completely destroyed. Behind the maple there is nothing but wood and plaster carnage where the rest of the foyer and the staircase to the second floor used to be. It looks like a giant hand reached in and scooped the house out. Absurdly, above, there’s a cut-out of what used to be the guest bedroom, Mom’s inherited chenille bedspread still tight-cornered on the four-poster bed. The rooms weren’t cleared. The demolition wasn’t methodical. It’s not like Dad.

And yet… the idea is. Like Dad.

How long has it been since he stopped working? Five years? Not that he would frame it as such. Says he is working. Doing the work of the future.

Is this where all the money went? All of Mom’s money?

It is, of course, clearly, not impossible to grow a tree inside of a house. The house will suffer, power and pipes too, but provided the tree has sunlight and enough soil for its root system—which, in farmland, exists under one’s house in ample supply, if one is willing to crack one’s foundation looking for it—the tree doesn’t care. The reason this is a dream, the reason this is impossible, is that these trees are mature. The maple in the foyer is at least twenty feet high. Give it a generous growth rate of two feet a year and that tree is ten years old, no question.

But I was here last Christmas, and the tree definitely wasn’t. 

A curl of white comes off the nearest birch with some gentle pulling. It’s oily on the inside, unmistakably real. Not that there was any way I could have convinced myself otherwise. I can smell them.

My cane is tipped halfway into the hole around the trunk of the maple. I yank it out.

What now? Call Hasan. The landline is disconnected, and even if it weren’t, there’s no power. My own phone is somewhere below the splintered edge of the broken floor. Wait it out. Hope that the master bedroom is intact, and if it’s not, the couch. The funeral is in the morning. Dad may be afraid of the explanations he owes, but he won’t miss the funeral. Or. Well. My absence will be noted. Someone will come. 

The hallway to the master bedroom is too narrow for my chair; I leave it at the mouth. The doors in the hallway are heavy oak twins, one leading to the suite, the other to my mother’s study. I try the latter. She is—was—still keeping it locked. Never knew how she and Dad worked that one. Maybe she read to him from A Room of One’s Own. I know where she keeps the key, in the drawer of her vanity in an empty tube that once held lipstick. Why would I go in there? To wallow and weep in the last stronghold she maintained against the invasion of Dad’s panic? Am I a sentimentalist all of a sudden?

I go into the bedroom.

It’s as stately as ever. My mother kept all of her grandmother’s furniture buffed to a high shine. My father has drawn the heavy curtains over the glass doors on the other side of the room. I draw them back, let the moonlight in, the beam of my flashlight sweeping briefly through the glass and over the back lawn. He will let everything fall to dust.

I sit heavily on Mom’s side of the bed. On her nightstand, bottles. Vitamin B-12, D, and K. Zinc. Iron. Folic acid. Calcium. Azathioprine. Prednisone. Dapsone. And of course, Xanax. All things she hadn’t needed in years, except for the Xanax. Anyone who lived with my father would need Xanax. The prescription bottles are all from less than a month ago.

The door to the en-suite is open. Through the gap, I can see the scale. I can imagine its needle sitting serenely at zero.

Last time I was here, it was shuddering just below one hundred, even though she was wearing her biggest bathrobe and the new hard-soled slippers she’d unwrapped a few days ago, on Christmas morning. The air was thick with post-shower steam.

I walk into the doorway.

“Are you getting sick again?”

She turned and smiled. Her hand was warm and damp against my cheek.

“No, my love,” she said. “I’m just a little stressed is all.”

Then why are you renewing your old prescriptions?

I open her vanity drawer and find the tube of lipstick that rattles when I pick it up.

It feels wrong to go into her study without her. As soon as I open the door, I can smell her perfume—Tom Ford, Soleil Blanc, her one luxury. She said it smelled like a vacation. One of the chairs is seating a stack of case files and there’s a note-covered pad on the surface of the desk. She ran out of room placing books vertically on the shelf and started putting new ones in horizontally atop the old, then on the floor, ten or fifteen high. The curtains are drawn. All I can smell is amber. I close the door behind me to preserve the air.

More paper in the desk drawer. Pens. Old receipts, old letters, old napkins with two or three words written on, the ink blown out in blots of grease. Each one tightens this expectation in me like a fist around my lungs.

“I don’t think you should come for Easter,” she said. I turn to look at the office chair, as though she is sitting there now, cradling the phone receiver against her wasting shoulder. A few months in the past, I am stretched out on my dorm room bed, bouncing a rubber band ball against the painted cement, utterly unsurprised. Actually a little relieved.

“Dad doesn’t want to see me.”

“Of course he wants to see you. But you two get so… tense, when you’re both on the farm.”

“I don’t know how you stand it.”

“It’s the end of the world, sweetheart,” she said, “that’s how he sees it. Other priorities become difficult to understand.”

I missed the rubber ball and heard it thump a few times on the floor behind me.

“Are you taking care of yourself, Mom?”

I open the bottom right drawer of the desk, the deepest one. In it is a smorgasbord of jerkies in freezer bags labelled with permanent marker. Beef. Turkey. Venison. Hidden.

“Mom?”

On the notepad where she always scribbled absentmindedly when she was on the phone, there are a few important names and numbers framed by stick figures, shapes in patterns, and a few snippets of song lyrics or poetry. I’ll hold you up, one of them reads, I never let my dear ones drown!

“You came by car,” my father says.

 

 

You were born before the hope was gone. You were born when the end was too frightening a story to tell children when they went to bed, and anyway, they didn’t need to know. You need to know. Had we waited a few more years, I am certain we would not have had you. We love you very much, but we would not have had you. The end is no place for a child, and the end is not a story anymore.

The basins of this world are not going to suddenly fill up with water. That was all your ancestors could fathom, but we know better now. We know there will also be fire. 

 

 

The study door is open. He is standing in the circle of my flashlight’s beam, not even squinting. There’s more silver in his hair than there was when last I saw him, and more red in his face. There are pouches of burst blood vessels under his eyes. From the state of his clothes, stained and ringed with old dampness, I can tell he smells. The air escapes around him.

He is holding his shotgun, the one he keeps under his desk in the barn and which he has never had occasion to use. I find my voice.

“I carpooled. Like you said. Hasan picked me up from the mall. Your phone—”

“Disconnected it this evening,” he says, “didn’t want to hear your voice. I keep doing things I think will make it easier, but I don’t think they make it easier. I guess it’s impossible to know.”

You know how when you run cold water over your hand, you almost feel like it’s hot for a second?

“Is that—” nodding down at the shotgun “—for you or for me?”

“For you, baby,” he says, gentle as spooned medicine. “It’ll be quick.”

The heat goes quick, for sure. “Mom was slow.”

“That was my mistake. A selfish, a cruel mistake. She shouldn’t have had to see it.”

“The trees.”

“Yes, the trees. I think she probably knew when the trees came in. She shouldn’t have had to know, not for so long.”

He cocks the shotgun.

“How did you do it?”

“Demolition crew, hydraulic spade. Picked a few good specimens from the back fields.”

“No. Mom. I think I know, but… I want to know for sure.”

“Ah.” He runs a hand first over half his face and then through his hair, the same way he did when I asked him whether Santa Claus was real.

“I said we ought to stop eating meat,” he says at last. “Resource suck, you know, red meat. Thought it’d be enough—though I suppose she’d been healthy for long enough that maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Already healed her small intestine, you know. Maybe it would have worked. Impossible to know. First she said she was buying from a butcher, ecologically friendly. Wouldn’t hear my argument about contributing to demand. I started throwing out everything she bought. She just started getting some friend of hers to dehydrate it, hiding it in here.

“So I swapped out her flour instead,” Dad says, “her cereal. The bread was hard—you know the strange texture of that rice bread.”

“You—”

“Worked, though. She started getting sick again.”

Back to the constant gnawing hunger and the jutting hip bones, the vomiting that ate the enamel of her teeth so she had to get veneers at the age of thirty-five.

“You son of a bitch.”

The open sores that itched and burned.

“Oh, Mama.”

Bending under the pretense of sobs, I reach behind me for a fold in the curtains.

“The Jormungand’s released its tail, sweetheart,” he says. “It’s better this way.”

I throw myself backward. The curtains come down, the brass rod creaking apart, and shroud me. The blast from the shotgun hits the uncovered window and the glass shatters, throwing shards that patter on the fabric over my face. He curses. I throw the curtain up over the jagged edge. He is struggling with the shells. He used both barrels.

The glass eats through the curtains and cuts my legs as I heave my body to the earth. The upright stems of the lilies snap and smell green. There is not enough adrenaline and there is no plan. I cannot run far. I cannot run. My legs lift me regardless and we move; my hands find the cane in the soft soil. Limping, I cross the front of the house and round its far corner as I hear my father’s footsteps disturbing the broken glass.

At the end of the yard, where the neatly trimmed grass gives way to field, the barn door is open to the shadows inside. It’s too far. I step onto the back porch—careful, softened footfalls on the wood—and duck behind the barbecue tented in black. My joints crackle and scream. Moments later a thudding gait becomes audible and my father’s shadow passes over the treated planks. Still trying to force the shells in, he drops one in the grass, near enough to me that I can hear his fingers whisper through the blades. Do not think. Do not breathe. My legs spasm desperately inside the clamped circle of my arms. The shotgun snaps shut between his hands. He moves on, down the uneven path towards the barn’s open door, and then through it.

Get up. Go. Go now.

He has to check the entire barn. He has to check the entire barn. It takes entirely too long to cross the lawn to the open door; my legs have to be swung between each step. Against the carefully painted exterior of the barn, I pause. My knees threaten to deposit me in the dirt. I dig my cane in, white-knuckled. I can hear my father’s hard-soled shoes on the concrete.

“Meredith,” I hear him say. “Please.”

The footsteps approach. It has been long enough since the first blast that the crickets are beginning to chirp again in the tall grass.

The nose of the shotgun slides out of the darkness beside me.

I lift my cane.

It happens quickly. The cane makes contact with the barrel and the barrel turns down. The quiet bursts open at the same time as my father’s foot explodes. My knees give way. He hollers. I hear his body hit the ground. I hear the shotgun bounce once. The discharge is deafening. It folds me into an instinctive comma, my hands pressed over my ears. I do not hear the crack of my father’s bones or the patter of each individual drop of blood that sprays into the dust and my hair, but after the final echo of the unintentional fire has run to the trees at the end of the fields and back to us, I can hear him gargling.

Shaking, my ears ringing, I roll over.

It’s hard to look at how his face is ruined. My eyes don’t want to see it. They keep focusing and unfocusing like it’s a trick of the light. His eyes are wide and staring at me. He makes a deep, throaty sound and blood comes up like a struggling fountain. I turn over and vomit.

He’s going. I’m wondering something.

“Can you even make peace with the gods who made the world-snake?”

His hand grasps for me and I wriggle away.

 

 

Dawn wakes me and the painkillers pull me back under. I had a dream that my father was not dead and came back into the kitchen holding his jaw together with one hand and carrying the bucket from the old well with the other. He dipped the ladle in and drank, water dribbling through the holes in his chin. Then he wasn’t there, and the puddle I’d imagined was gone.

I didn’t dream Mom was still alive, but I dreamt about picking tomatoes with her in the greenhouse. We shared one, each taking bites. My chest tightened and I woke up to my own low mewling and the horizon was yellow. The sun was coming in dappled through the maple leaves. Strange to be around trees so still, walled off from even the thought of a breeze. They look like very carefully produced sculptures, silk screens, a mirage.

Then I was gone again. By now I am missing my mother’s funeral. 

Hasan arrives sooner than I would have expected. I hear his door slam and I hear him talking to somebody and when they respond I hear that it’s Aunt Ruth. They knock and then they come through the front door and then she screams. She is dressed in her good velvet. He is wearing dark jeans and a black button-up shirt. I get blood on it.

“Call an ambulance,” he says to Ruth.

From the kitchen she screeches that the phone has been yanked out of the wall.

“There’s one in the barn,” he says, and starts to rise. I grab his hand.

“Don’t go back there. The phone’s gone anyway.”

He looks out the window. Maybe he can see the ruptured body on the path, imperceptibly but surely returning to the earth, almost like justice. 

“Please.”

They wheel me to the car. Lying in the back seat, all I can see out the windows is trees.

 

Marlena Evans lives in Hamilton, Ontario. She can be found on Twitter @evenmarlena


Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Published July 13th, 2018