The Name Game

By Whitney Fox

At age thirty-five, Judith wonders at the possibility of love. For her, life is looking into the face of everyone she walks by, considering if they could be her friend. The absence of love in her life has been replaced by an activity that is surrogate for all passions and motherly tendencies. She has a talent for naming things. She enters drawings across the county for naming civic centers, desserts, and inventions. All her inventor friends find this quality particularly charming and useful. She won a toaster in Kansas City, MO, for naming a kitchen utensil, a type of spoon that scrapes as it stirs. She named it “The Spooner,” because the tool reminded her of the time she was caught “spooning” with Fred Schwartz in the basement of her house in high school.

In Grapevine, TX, she won two pairs of tickers to see Donovan in concert, and she remodeled her bathroom when she picked the winning name for the arena where the Super Sonics play. She has spent her life traveling, naming, and remodeling. All this has not earned her many friends, or respect from people in high places. The few friends she has consider “naming” her sole talent, a sort of gift from God or someone, as a compensation for her pointed nose and bruised-apple-shaped head. She spends much of her time reading—underlining catchy phrases in Reader’s Digest, Better Homes and Gardens, Popular Mechanics. She subscribes to and reads all the slicks: Atlantic Monthly, The New Yorker, Time. She thinks about being a writer, that if she could name several things in a paragraph, she’d be on her way with the luck that has protected her since birth. With luck, any magazine would publish her work. They would recognize how tightly her sentences were linked together, how each word, each letter, had been picked as if selecting tomatoes at a roadside stand. She knows she’s not brilliant as far as plots go, but if she could just select one word at a time, let the sentences spring out of each other, the stories would write themselves. Diction has been her means of survival for her entire life. Surely no glossy could pass up such treasured prose.

I wish I could tell you her first story was accepted with a handwritten note from the editor of Time. I wish I could tell you she sold her conglomerate house and moved to New York so she could be closer to her editor, that he suggested the transition so they wouldn’t waste so much money on postage. I wish this story followed: she not only wrote prose, but she flew to Siberia and wrote articles on location, articles about ping-pong and the mustards of Germany. Not only lauded for her descriptive prowess, Judith won medals for her writing’s justice among indigenous people of the world, children of the ghettos, and all the Girl Scouts who, before Judith’s sensational coverage, had been applauded only for reaching their quota of cookie sales.

What might have happened is this:

Judith gets a job writing fortunes for the Ving Chee Fortune Cookie Company based in San Francisco. Rather than moving to California, Judith commutes from a Nevada border town for the traffic/desert experience. She wants to see if California is what she imagined: one big city with various “Welcome to . . .” signs along the spiderweb of highway linking it with the rest of the world. She makes friends with astrologers who teach her the cosmic secrets of fortune-telling. She begins dyeing jewel-toned streaks in her hair and signing all personal correspondence “Shalom.” The world of fantasy and fortune cookies begins to take over her life, and she sleeps with ropes of garlic under her pillow; she doesn’t do laundry until Capricorn is in the moon of Cancer. She falls in love with and marries a Tarot card reader, Charlie, who moonlights as a Red Cross volunteer and fierce Canasta player.

Or it could’ve happened like this:

Judith gets a job writing fortunes for the Wing Chee Fortune Cookie Company in San Francisco. On her first weekend in the city, she finds herself among the stacks at the City Lights Bookshop where the Beat generation grew up. In the nineteenth-century literature section, holding a volume of Emily Dickinson’s complete works, she begins talking to Simon Lovitz, a Brigham Young University English professor, who relates to her his experience of one year previous in the same bookstore.

“I was standing right here,” Simon points with a curled hand to the bookshelf, “the day Allen Ginsberg died.” Judith gasps. “I was the only person in the store and Lawrence Ferlinghetti was doing a reading right over there.” He points to an open door at the end of the bookstore. The door is framed by posters of poetry readings and book signings around San Francisco. Through the door, Judith can see beams of mellow ash wood and New-Age colored walls. “He was reading some of Ginsberg’s poems in a reverent tone. It was very contrary to the spirit in which they were conceived.” Judith is impressed by Simon’s controlled diction and the feminine crescendos and decrescendos of his sentences. “suddenly; two men from Channel Seven news were in my face, one holding a blinding light on a stick, the other balancing a camera on his shoulder, asking me questions. It was rather eerie, being asked questions by ” camera, not by ” person.” Simon gives Judith time to conjure this image. “Once they found out I was an English professor at a conservative school such as Brigham Young, they drilled me on the appropriateness of Ginsberg’s poetry, then what my personal opinion was of the man, and finally, how I taught some of the more difficult phrases like ‘harlequin speech of suicide’ and ‘pubic beards’ to my undergrads. It really was frightening.” Judith feels herself wanting to put a hand on Simon’s shoulder. “I don’t remember what I said; I was all nerves. Here I am, in San Francisco for the second time in my life, and all of a sudden I’m eulogizing Allen Ginsberg on behalf of America. How do I know what he meant as a symbol of post-modern thought? My interest is the Victorian era!” Judith drops the Dickinson and picks it up. Something about her face provokes Simon’s narration. “So I go back to my hotel, I’m only in town for a conference, and I sit down on the bed. There on the television I see this same balding head, these same glasses, glaring back at me from the screen. I’m eating an orange, watching myself on some foreign city’s news at eleven, thinking, ‘This is the strangest day of my life.’” Judith smiles at Simon, thanks him for the recollection, and hands him her business card from Wing Chee. “If you ever decide to write a book about this, let me know. I’m fascinated by your story.” She trades the Dickinson for some Hemingway, and walks out.

Judith spends the rest of her time in San Francisco adopting the “California lifestyle,” which includes lots of fresh vegetables and breezy clothing-if not for the sake of California’s reality, then for the image she wants to retain in her mind when she moves away.

What actually happens is this:

Judith remains in Indiana with her cat, Schwing, and types a story daily. From various entries and winnings she meets people from all over the country who inform her of naming competitions in their towns. She continues the process of inspiration with each entry: sitting in her living room, now a shade of burnished taupe, scribbling all possible connections with the object being named on a sheet of butcher paper taped to the coffee table. With a red marker, she crosses out the obvious losers. Words that produce a feeling of suspicion get cut. She meditates for a minute on whatever is left and writes the remainders on a three by five-card. She then sets the three by five card on her bathroom mirror, wedged between the aluminum rim and glass and considers what will be the final name each time she brushes her hair or teeth or uses the bathroom. When she feels good about it, when she knows she can’t go wrong with her submission, she sends the words away on the entry form. Then she proceeds to the next competition due, or whichever looks the most interesting. For instance, she’d choose “Name This Fruit Drink’ with an enclosed packet of pink powder, to which she adds sugar and water, before she’d work on “Name This Piece of Military Artillery.” Her favorite contests are always “Name This Baby’ with an enclosed photograph and bubbly exclamations of size and weight from the recent mother and father written on the back. She has less time to figure out those entries, so she faxes her answers from the local copy shop, hoping that she’ll receive a confirmation fax from the over-joyed parent who just found the name for their darling in her letter.

Matriarch

By Krista Halverson

This summer Aunt Claire takes me driving
from Prineville
to the Columbia; we can see Washington from its
bank. I use the rest-stop "ladies"
after her, see the Preamble

in her languid scroll on the door of the stall. We the Women
of the United States…
Riverside, our buttocks leave prints like ripe avocados
in the cold mud. We talk, and later,
in her car, I sit on a towel but she

takes her pants off, drives past the station
and waves at the ranger in her panties.
I ask why she never had children. She says,
we don't any of us know our own bodies.
I throw my pants in the back seat. In the motel we fall asleep

to the Discovery Channel. She says it has that effect
on her. I wake up to hysterical laughing-2 a.m. animal
laughter that sounds like retching. The narrator's
sterile voice:
With hyenas, it is females

that preside. The birth of daughters
is an event, and twins—when such a thing occurs--come slick
with strong, dense limbs.
Awash in testosterone, they literally
come out fighting.

Claire is gaping in her sleep. Her mouth is soft red-rimmed,
the rest invisible. The sounds from her soft, open mouth
are what have awakened me after all. Well, then, the wilderness
may be in our blood, she would say.

Claire is the oldest---thirty-nine and unmarried. Claire says
my grandmother, her speckled eyes
bright as salmon backs, bore her daughters early,
and that she was lucky. The next morning, she brings me
the continental
breakfast: M&Ms from the vending machine. We are gone
before the wake-up call.

The Strawberries of Eldritch

by D. Kohl Glass

 

Janice Blackwell’s funeral was poorly attended. Up until one week prior, Janice Blackwell had been the most powerful woman in Eldritch. She was loud, stubborn, and heavily opinionated, with a proclivity for trying to solve other people’s problems. For the past twelve years, Janice Blackwell’s strawberries had been awarded “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tast” at the Fragaria Strawberry Festival held in Eldritch every April. This year the longest run in Fragaria Strawberry Festival history had ended, and power had shifted. Four days later, Janice Blackwell died.
The twelve-year queen of Eldritch was feared, obeyed, but most of all, she was hated. The only funeral attendees were her estranged daughter, Janice; her three assistant gardeners, Miguel and the two Jorges; her friend and sycophant, Sally Firth; Sheriff Stone; and the mayor, Charles Samuel Masters, although he was there only to officiate at the funeral of Eldritch’s most prominent citizen. There was also an older woman named Celeste Willets. Celeste stood apart from the funeral and listened to the ceremony from under the cemetery’s only tree. She did not feel comfortable standing among Janice Blackwell’s mourners since, after some twelve years of losing to Janice Blackwell, her strawberries had taken “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty” and sent Janice to her grave. It had been a very hard year for Celeste; her winning “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty” was the first thing that had gone right in a while, and she wanted to pay her respects to her fallen adversary. Celeste continued to stand under the cemetery’s only tree after the funeral was over and she was alone with Janice Blackwell’s grave. After a moment’s pause, she turned and quietly left the cemetery with the whispered parting, “A worthy opponent.”
The second Janice, or, as the town called her Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell, moved into her mother’s home shortly after the funeral. As part of her inheritance she took control of all her mother’s wealth and property as well as her twelve-year award-winning strawberry patch. The second Janice was so much like her mother that many in Eldritch hardly felt the gap between the going of the first and the coming of the secondexcept the second Janice had never taken “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty.” Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell often vowed publicly that she would regain the “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty” crown to avenge her mother’s death, which struck many of the Eldritch townspeople as odd since it was gossiped that she had hated her mother when she was alive. Nevertheless, the second Janice swore a strawberry vengeance on Celeste Willets.

Three days after the funeral, Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell knocked on Celeste Willet’s door. No one answered. She knocked again, then again, and then slowly peered into the front window. The house was nicely furnished in the quaint country style that was the standard in Eldritch, and Celeste was not home. She was going to try the door but decided to cut to the chase and go around the back to the strawberry patch. Upon circling the house, Janice saw something that struck her as odd. Celeste Willets had two strawberry patches: one that was nestled up close to the back door of the house, and another that stood a good distance away, sitting on the slope of a hill, surrounded by a small, white picket fence.
“Why would she be so harebrained as to have two?” she thought to herself.
From the house, the second Janice could see that the fenced in patch was far better tended that the one by the house, though the one by the house was still producing strawberries. Janice reached down and picked a strawberry. It was of average size and colordefinitely not a possible contender for “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty.” She looked from the strawberry to the hillside patch. She put the strawberry in her pocket and started off for Celeste Willets’s fenced strawberry patch on the hill with a slump of frustration at the walk before her, for Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell, like her mother, enjoyed a pampered life and had not grown accustomed to the physical act of moving. After much labor on the small grass-lined path that connected the two patches, Janice heard someone speaking.
“What a glorious crop you brought this year. ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty.’ As good as your word.”
Janice stopped and looked around; she saw no one, though she had clearly heard the voice. She moved closer to the patch.
“You’ve made me so happy.”
She looked around again but saw nothing. Reaching over the short picket fence, Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell picked a second strawberry. This one was brilliantly red and massive yet perfectly shaped. It was cool to the touch, and juice seemed to be condensing on its skin, which left a faint red smear on Janice’s fingers. It was perfect; it was “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty.”
Slowly, Celeste Willets rose up out of the patch. The second Janice quickly stashed the strawberry paragon into her pocket with the first strawberry. Celeste had not seen her yet; her back had been to Janice when she stood to stretch. She had a small garden spade in her hand and a bonnet on her head. When Celeste did see her she was not startled, but said, “Janice Blackwell, what an unexpected surprise. What brings you out to my garden?”
“I wanted to see this year’s patch and maybe pick up a few gardening tips.” Janice forced a smile.
“Oh, I’m not revealing anything to you; you inherited your mother’s ‘Second in County, Sweet ‘n Scrumptious’ strawberry patch. She may be gone, but right now those strawberries are the strongest contender against my patch.”
“You mean patches. I couldn’t help but notice that you have two. That must take a lot out of youto work both of them.”
“Oh, I don’t compete with the patch down by the house. That was my old patch, and it never did well at festival. I just keep growing the berries to sell. This patch was a gift from my Harrison before he left, and I expect to give your mother’s record of consecutive awarding of the ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ a run with it.”
“You’re not as young as you used to be and tending a prize-winning strawberry patch is a lot of hard work. My mother died in her strawberry patch.”
“Did she? I had heard that she was on the couch with her feet soaking in her Footcuzzi, eating chocolate cake,” Celeste said. “At least that is what Dr. Campbell said. I guess that goes to show you can’t trust gossip!”
“No, she was in her patch when it happened, just like she always knew she would be when she went.”
Celeste came closer to the fence now and looked at Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell. She looked sorry for what she was about to say and softened her voice. “Janice, I’m worried that you’re a little confused on the facts about your mother. It was less about strawberries and more about status with Janice. She hired Miguel and the two Jorges to work her gardenI don’t believe she ever went back out there except for newspaper photos.”
“How dare you suggest such a thing! You listen to me, Celeste Willets, your little victory will go down in Eldritch history as a fluke when I reclaim ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ once again. Your name will be but a blemish in a sea of Janice Blackwells!”
Celeste became emotionless and in a cold, even voice said, “My Harrison gave me this patch before he left, and a sweeter man there never was. I have no reason to fear you or your mother’s patch. Good day to youthe berries need my attention.” With that, Celeste sank back into the patch and Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell walked down the hill much faster than when she came up, this time powered by both gravity and fury.

Sally Firth was tending her own strawberry patch when Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell rattled on her garden gate. Sally Firth’s strawberries had always done poorly at the Fragaria Strawberry Festival; so seven years ago she had given up growing the domestic breed of strawberry and began cultivating foreign and exotic strawberries. Since that time she had won “Best in County, Foreign ‘n Fancy” every year. Unfortunately, “Best in County, Foreign ‘n Fancy” was a title that meant nothing to the town of Eldritch, mainly because Sally Firth was the only one who entered that category.
“Sally Firth, it’s Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell,” the second Janice called. “It’s important.”
Sally Firth carefully pulled open the heavy gate. “Shhh! The
Fragaria Manchuria cannot be exposed to loud noise after six p.m.”
“I went up to Celeste Willets’s place this afternoon, and do you know what she said? She said that my mother didn’t work her own garden and died because she was power hungry!”
“Well, you know that she did entrust a lot of the work to Miguel and the two Jorges. In fact, most of the work.”
“Her assistants? They were just migrant workers when she hired them. It takes education and genius to be ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty.'”
“I guess you’re right, but still I hire them out every other week ever since one of the Jorges saved my dying Manchurians. That’s the one that took ‘Best in Counry, Foreign ‘n Fancy’ this year,” Sally giggled in a way that made Janice stare at her in disgust.
“Did you know that Celeste Willets has two strawberry patches? She said her husband left one of them for her. How long has she been a widow?”
“Oh, her husband didn’t die, at least not for sure. He just left.”
“Where to?”
“Oh, no one knows. Celeste said that one morning he declared that he had some hunting to do and wasnt sure when he would be back. He hasnt been back since.”
“How long ago was this?”
“Going on a year this September.”
“I picked these two strawberries from Celeste Willets’ two patches.” The second Janice pulled the two strawberries out of her pocket and Sally Firth examined them.
“Oh my. You would think that the same area of land worked by the same gardener would grow similar berries.”
“But it wasn’t the same gardener.” Janice held up the large, perfect fruit. “This is Harrison Willets’s strawberry.”
“A man working a strawberry patch in Eldritch? Ha! Men only attend the Fragaria Strawberry Festivalthey don’t compete.”

“Is it against the rules?” asked Janice.
Sally Firth stopped in her amusement at the idea of an Eldritch man growing strawberries and thought for a second. “I don’t think a man has ever entered.”

Charles Samuel Masters was the president of the Fragaria Counry Board of Fragaria Festival Judges and the mayor of Eldritch. No man knew more on the subject of strawberries, both cultivation and culinary preparation, in the entire counry of Fragaria. However, although it was well known in Eldritch that Mayor Masters knew every aspect of what happens to a strawberry up until it passes his lips and absolutely nothing about it after, he had limited his interaction with strawberries exclusively to the latter, post-lip, portion of the process and had never physically ventured into his realm of expertise a day in his life. Janice Blackwell and Mayor Masters had never enjoyed contact in in all their years as fellow cttizens of Eldritch.
This fact struck many in Eldritch as ironic since Mayor Masters, along with the rest of the Fragaria Counry Board of Fragaria Festival Judges, had awarded Janice Blackwell “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ every year the previous twelve years of the festival. Regardless of
Charles Samuel Masters’s dislike of her mother and hands-off policy on strawberriesexcluding of course the “dish, utensil, and beyond” segmenthe was the next target of inquiry in Janice Blackwell’s daughter’s investigation.
This second Janice Blackwell had telephoned demanding that he come immediately, which happened to conflict with Mayor Masters’s habitual pre-dinner reclining time. The mayor, however, took his pre-dinner reclining time because he knew that an “immediately” from a Janice Blackwell was urgent only to the Janice saying it.
“Well, Mayor Masters, how does this town get along when one of its citizens has an emergency and receives this kind of promptness?”
The mayor stood rested on Janice Blackwell’s porch.
“Well, in true emergencies I do not often respond personally. A pressing matter came up that needed my attention. Perhaps I should call the proper authorities?”
Janice made a mental note that his pressing matter had pressed his wispy hair into a sea fan formation on one side of his head, which now waved in the evening breeze, and had left a red crease along one of his cheeks as well. “Don’t overwork yourself. Please come in.”
“It begins,” thought Mayor Masters, grimly foreseeing his golden years with this new Janice Blackwell.
Janice led him into the front room and sat down on a high-backed love seat. He sat opposite Sally Firth on a matching couch. The room was dominated by twelve identical wooden cutouts of a little old lady holding a giant strawberry tole painted with exquisite detail, which hung along the wall near the ceiling. “Best In County, Tart ‘n Tasty” and a year were written on each strawberry. Each tole represented a year of Janice Blackwell’s supremacy, and it was a sight that left both Mayor Masters and Sally Firth in awe. The space following the last tole had been cleared and the wallpaper was even cleaned, but it stood bare except for a small, framed, wallet-sized photo of Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell.
Janice spoke first. “As President of the Fragaria County Board of Fragaria Festival Judges, please tell me: are men allowed to enter strawberries in the Fragaria Strawberry Festival?”
The mayor and Sally were still gazing up at the twelve toles of power when Janice asked this question, and after a moment, Mayor Masters looked away and collected his thoughts. “As President of the Fragaria County Board of Fragaria Festival Judges, it is my honor to say there are no rules against men entering the festival.”
“Has a man ever entered his own strawberries in the festival?”
The mayor looked at her curiously when it dawned on him how bizarre Janice Blackwell’s questions were. “I’ve never heard of a man entering in festival.”
“Can you think of any reason why a man would keep a strawberry patch himself?”
The mayor put more thought into this. “I can’t think of one.” And that was the dead honest truth.
“This will come as a shock to you, but Celeste Willets’s ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasties’ came from a patch actually tended by her husband.”
“Harrison Willets disappeared over six months ago. Patches are planted in the spring. He has been gone too long to work a patch.”
“Then how do you explain this?” Janice pulled the stolen specimen of strawberry perfection out of a bowl she had behind the love seat. The mayor’s eyes grew wide at the sight of it.
“Ah yes,” he said a little excitedly. “That is one of Celeste’s. I haven’t seen strawberries like this in many years.”
“She outright admitted that he left her that patchthe patch she took ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ with!”
The mayor furrowed his brow. “I fail to see the problem with this. If there was a rule against entering strawberries from a patch that has been inherited, you would be left out in the cold right next to Celeste Willets. If you could even prove that hers was inherited.”
“All I am saying, Mayor Masters, is that I strongly believe that a strawberry like this cannot be grown without some crookedness. There is something just not right about it!”
“You have to be joking. It is just a straw” Janice Blackwell and Sally Firth stared at him aghast, and the mayor realized the severity of what he had been about to say. “Quite right,” he continued a little more softly and deliberately. “This would be the first time foul play entered the Fragaria Strawberry Festival, at least as far we have detected. I am just struggling to see what one could do to a strawberry patch that would constitute foul play.”
“Genetically altered seeds.” Janice Blackwell’s voice was cold and even, as if she spoke the purest, most despicable truth. Mayor Masters jerked up his head. Mayor Masters was a lifetime subscriber to Strawberry Quarter: A Journal of Science, Cultivation, and Culture, which for the previous two years had run a series of articles following the efforts of Richard Glack, Ph.D., in creating the Genetically Enhanced Super-Strawberry. This series had consumed Mayor Masters’ mind, until the most recent issue of SQ had exposed Richard Glack as a charlatan and his experiments as a hoax.
“No such thing,” Mayor Masters said painfully.
“Well, what then? Super dirt?”
The mayor paused. ‘Actually, the only thing one could really alter is the fertilizer, and there are thousands of different ways to fertilize a strawberry patch.”
At nine the next evening, Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell pulled up into Sally Firth’s driveway and honked once. Sally came out the side gate with a shovel and some plastic bags.
“Shhhhh! Please, you must be quiet, or my berries won’t color right!”
“Just get in.”
Sally loaded the shovel into the back, and they drove off. The drive was a quiet one, with the task at hand weighing heavily on their minds. The plan was simple. They would collect soil samples from various levels of Celeste Willets’s “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ patch. They would then take the soil samples to Jack Harris, Eldritch’s resident fertilizer specialist, for analysis. Later they were to convene at the Fragaria County Sheriff’s Office to decide if they should employ Sheriff Stone in an emergency stripping of the “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ title.
Janice Blackwell turned off her lights and rolled to a stop on the small country road just outside Celeste Willets’s winding driveway. Celeste’s house was dark. Sally pulled out the shovel and plastic bags, and they started off for the strawberry patch on the hill. Janice had a flashlight, which she left off until they had circumvented Celeste’s house and approached the patch from the back side. Both women were huffing by the time they reached the small picket fence, but the pumping adrenaline drove them right to the task. Sally collected the first dirt sample by scraping some topsoil into a plastic bag. She then looked to Janice Blackwell for instructions.
“Start digging!” hissed Janice.
Sally reluctantly positioned the shovel and started digging.
After three shovelfuls, she stopped. “This is good enough. Let’s just get two. I don’t feel right about this any more.”
“Give me the shovel!” Janice snatched the shovel away from Sally and started digging furiously. She stopped to take the second sample and then continued digging nosily. She seemed to be getting angrier and angrier. She stopped and took the third sample and again began digging.
“Janice, we only need three! Let’s go.”
“I’m getting four! There is no way she’s going to get away with whatever she’s doing!” Janice, who was now sweating prorusely, continued her digging frenzy.
“Please, Janice, she’s going to hear us! You’re scaring me.”
Just then the shovel hit something and stopped with a thud.
Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell scooped out the dirt and pointed the flashlight into the hole.
“Janice, what is it?” Sally asked. Janice just stood there, looking down. “Janice, what is it!?”
“I knew it.” With that, the second Janice dropped the flashlight, burst out of the patch, letting the gate close loudly behind her, and disappeared down the hill.
Sally was petrified. “Janice?” she whispered into the dark.
“Janice?” She was almost in tears. The flashlight, still on, lay in the dirt next to the hole. Slowly, Sally got up the courage to move from the spot she had been rooted to and pick up the flashlight. “Janice?” she whispered one more time. She had almost convinced herself to run down the hill, but it was not knowing that made her most afraid, and looking into the hole would solve some of that.
Slowly, very, very slowly, she directed the beam of the flashlight down and let it rest inside the hole. Then, very shakily, she looked in. A decayed skeletal face stared back up at her through dirt filled sockets. Sally Firth screamed louder than she had ever screamed before. She spun toward the road just in time to see Janice’s headlights come on and then speed away. She screamed again, and Celeste Willets’s back porch lights came on. Celeste was standing just outside the light like a ghost. Sally screamed a third time and fled towards the mountains, weeping.

Janice burst into the Fragaria County Sheriff’s Office, where the mayor was sitting at Sheriff Stone’s desk. Sheriff Stone was sitting at a small table cleaning a gun. Mayor Masters was closing the large red Fragaria Strawberry Festival rule book just as she burst in. She had a wild look in her eye.
“Well, I hate to say it, but I just read this book cover to cover, and there is no rule about using unorthodox fertilizer or inheriting patches,” said the mayor, oblivious to Janice’s frantic manner.
“Is there any rule against murder?” she said, out of breath.
Both the mayor and the sheriff looked up at her. “I believe what was once Harrison Willets is buried about a foot deep in Celeste Willets’ ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ strawberry patch. That’s right, murder most foul.”
Mayor Masters and Sheriff Stone looked at each other, and then Sheriff Stone quietly put his gun back together, stood up, and said, “Looks like I better go out to Celeste Willets’s house and ask her some questions. I can tell it is going to be one of those nights. Literally.”

When Sheriff Stone pulled into the Willets’s drive, all the lights were on in the house. He got out, walked up the gravel drive, and knocked on the door, which was never answered. After a few more sessions of knocking, he circled the house and walked up the hill to the second strawberry patch. Celeste was there, filling the hole that Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell had dug.
“Celeste,” the sheriff said. Celeste stopped her work, and he could see that she had been crying. “Celeste, Janice Blackwell, the daughter, claims to have seen a body buried in your strawberry patch. Literally. Is that true?”
“Yes.” Celeste’s response was immediate.
“She says it is the body of your husband, Harrison. Now I don’t see how she could possibly know
“It is my husband, Sheriff,” Celeste almost looked proud as she stood like a sentinel pillar above her patch, surrounded by the dark and her strawberries. Sheriff Stone reached under his hat and scratched his head as he tried to sort things out.
“Well this is killing me, Celeste Willets. Literally. But I gotta take you down to the station.”
“That’s fine, Sheriff.” Celeste picked up the small spade she was using to fill in the hole and a few other tools and started down the hill with Sheriff Stone.
“Could you do me a favor, Sheriff?” she asked as they walked.
“Yes, ma’am, what is it?”
“Could you send someone to look for Sally Firth? She ran off through that field over there after Janice left her. I can hear her screams every so often on the wind.”

The next morning Sheriff Stone and part-time Deputy Silus Marc exhumed Harrison Willets from this years’ Fragaria Strawberry Festival’s “Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty” strawberry patch. It was a lengthy process in which the men took great care not to harm any more of the patch than was necessary. Harrison Willets’s body was taken to the only morgue in the county, Jarkins Family Morgue, where the county coroner, Ed Baker Senior, performed an autopsy. Celeste Willets quietly waited in the jail cell of the Fragaria County Sheriff’s Office, saying only, “It will all turn out in the end.”
The next morning, Mayor Masters and Sheriff Stone visited Celeste Willets in her cell.
“Celeste,” began Mayor Masters, “we have a positive ID on the corpse. It is your husband, Harrison.”
“I wasn’t aware that his identity was in question,” Celeste said sweetly.
“We needed to be sure.” Sheriff Stone looked uncomfortable. “We are trying not to jump to any conclusions. You know your rights, but we would like to maybe hear your story, just so we can get a clear picture. Literally.”
“Please don’t be so nervous, Sheriff, I’m glad to answer any questions that you or the mayor might have.”
After a moment’s hesitation, the mayor asked the first question.
“How did your husband end up in your strawberry patch, Celeste?”
“I buried him there.”
“Did you kill him before burying him?” asked Sheriff Stone.
“No.” There was another moment of silence, then Mayor Masters spoke again.
“Did you bury him alive?”
“Heavens no, Mayor,” laughed Celeste. “He was dead when I buried him. If you can call simply filling up the hole burying.”
The mayor and the sheriff looked at one another thoughtfully.
“I loved my husband,” Celeste said. “I miss him fiercely. The only thing I have left of him is that patch. He left me that patch, and it was one of the most beautiful acts a husband has ever done for his wife.”
“So you didn’t kill him?” asked Mayor Masters.
“No, Mayor, I tell you I didn’t kill him. I would give my ‘Best in County, Tart ‘n Tasty’ title and all the strawberry patches in the world to have him back. But that can’t be. However, Harrison gave me the next best thingthe best strawberries in Eldritch.”
“So what exactly did happen?” asked Sheriff Stone hesitantly.

“I’ll tell you.” Celeste Willets then told them the story of her Harrison. The story had begun the previous summer. Celeste Willets had lost to Janice Blackwell for the twelfth year in a row and she had come home sad and defeated. Harrison had not attended the festival that year because he had just retired from the mine and was suffering from cancer. He was a meek man, one who did not trouble others with his problems, so he kept his illness a secret from all but Celeste. Harrison got up out of his chair with great effort, took Celeste in his arms, and suggested that she try a new location for next year’s patch. They walked out in the back, past Celeste’s strawberry patch, all the way up on top of the hill behind their house, and chose the spot. For the next two weeks, Harrison, despite his condition, cleared the area and built a small white picket fence around it. When the work was done, Harrison told Celeste that he was going to go hunting as a break. This worried Celeste because he was deteriorating faster than ever. That night he didn’t come home. The next morning Celeste climbed the hill to see if she could see Harrison coming home, but instead found him dead, lying in a shallow grave that he had dug himself, in the middle of the fenced-in square of dirt. In his hands was an amendment to his last will and testament instructing Celeste to fill the hole and plant the new patch over him. In exchange, he promised to give her the best strawberries in Eldritch.
As Celeste Willets finished her story, she had tears in her eyes. She looked up at the mayor and the sheriff. “A better man there never was. Even in death he was beautiful. When I’m in that patch working, I’m with Harrison again. Within that little picket fence, I have the same feeling I’d get when he’d bring wild flowers back to me from the fields, or when he’d sing to me when I was scared of the howling night winds outside: things he did that told me that he thought about me and cared for me. In the patch I have all that back again. I have him again.”
Mayor Masters and Sheriff Stone stood silent. The phone was ringing. Part-time Deputy Silus Marc answered the phone, spoke for a moment, and then told the sheriff that he was wanted.
“Well, Celeste,” Sheriff Stone started slowly. “You’ve given us a lot to think about. With a little time I hope we can sort this out.” The two men excused themselves and left Celeste’s cell.
“That was one of the most touching stories I have ever heard about a strawberry patch. Literally,” Sheriff Stone said as they slowly walked up to the front so he could get the phone. The man on the phone was county coroner Ed Baker Senior reporting that the autopsy was completed and requesting that the sheriff and the mayor come right over to Jarkins Family Morgue.
In a small gathering held right over the draped form of Harrison Willets’s body, Ed Baker Senior admitted that he did not know the time of death, but he said that he did know the cause. It wasn’t murder, but cancer. And in Harrison’s shirt pocket, he
had found an amendment to his last will and testament carefully preserved in a Ziploc bag. That was enough for Mayor Masters and Sheriff Stone, and they were about to return to the jail to release Celeste Willets when Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell called Jarkins Family Morgue for the fifth time that day. Mayor Masters told her the whole story and said that they were planning on releasing Celeste as soon as they got back to the Fragaria County Sheriff’s Office. The second Janice was furious and would not allow the mayor to get off the phone until he promised that he would try to find some charges to bring against Celeste Willets.
“All right, Janice, we’ll look into it and see if we can find something,” said the mayor, and he hung up, defeated.

That evening Sheriff Stone knocked on the Blackwell residence door. Sally Firth answered, and it was visibly evident that she had not been able to find shelter the previous night. “How are you feeling, Sally? I heard you spent a rough night out in the fields. Literally.” When part-time Deputy Silus Marc had found Sally, she was so mentally disheveled that she kept running and screaming and wouldn’t get in the car. In the end, he had to physically place her in the cruiser.
“Yes,” she said sweetly, “but I’m all together now. Please come in.”
She led him to the front room and he sat looking uu at Janice Blackwell’s twelve toles of triumph. Janice entered and urgently asked, “Is Celeste Willets still in jail?”
“No,” said Sheriff Stone, “But let me explain . . .”

“I knew it!” exploded Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice
Blackwell. “I knew you would do nothing! This town lost any spine
it ever had the day my mother died!”
“Quiet!” shouted the sheriff, standing up abruptly. The second Janice Blackwell sat fuming but silent.
“There are no charges we can bring against Celeste Willets, because she hasn’t done anything wrong. Let me tell you something: there may be laws in other counties about how and where a person can be buried, but Fragaria hasn’t caught up to those places yet. In Fragaria you can be buried in any fashion on any property that you have legal control of. There are, however, laws protecting last will and testaments. Literally. Harrison Willets’s last will and testament states that he wanted to be buried in that strawberry patch on the hill behind Celeste’s house. So that is where we are putting him tomorrow morning.”
“I can’t believe this.” Janice Blackwell’s daughter Janice Blackwell growled through her teeth.
“However,” the sheriff continued, “there has been a crime committed. Right now I have both you and Sally for trespassing. ”
Both women sat up in their seats. The sheriff continued, “But since the mayor knew about it and Celeste Willets is unwilling to press charges, this will have to go unprosecuted. Literally. The mayor and I, after some consideration on your character, Janice, tried to convince Celeste that it would be in her best interest to file a restraining order against you, but again she was unwilling. So, let me say this. I better not hear of or see either of you near Celeste Willets ever again, or there will be prosecution. Literally.”
With that Sheriff Stone stood up and left the Blackwell house. Both women stayed seated in their chairs, completely shocked. Finally, Sally Firth broke the silence with, “Well, I never!”

Celeste watched as Sheriff Stone and part-time Deputy Silas Marc unloaded Harrison Willets’s body from the back of the sheriff’s truck and laid it in the hole from which he had been exhumed. While Celeste was in the county jailhouse, Miguel and the two Jorges had come and tended her strawberry patches. They had cleaned up and squared off the edges of the hole, so, despite its shallowness, it did resemble a grave. With Harrison in the grave, the sheriff and deputy took off their hats.
“It seems that something should be said right now.” Sheriff Stone spoke reverently.
“There’s no need for that, Sheriff,” said Celeste. “He’s said so much in death I don’t think anyone can improve on it.”
The two men put their hats back on, filled the hole, and quietly left. The entire time they were putting Harrison Willets back into the ground Celeste stood outside of the little white picket fence. She watched the men leave and did not move until their truck was out of sight and most of the dust it had kicked up along the country road had settled. She walked to the gate, paused, and looked down the road again at the corner where the truck disappeared. Now, finally alone, she entered the gate and began tending her patch.

Letter to Myself

by Micah Cozzens

You did nothing but drool until the age of eight, the same year you finally learned to read. You were—to put it mildly—developmentally challenged. Social interactions were learned painstakingly, almost as painstakingly as piano. All those plunked-out notes over so many afternoons. Your music teacher was nothing short of a saint.

Your first friend was foisted upon you, when your baby tooth fell out in her lap. After wrapping it in tin foil foraged from a Pringles can, she said she liked you, and that you belonged to her, officially. And so you became hers. And when her father started pushing her into walls, you wondered at it because your father called you pumpkin and bought you ice cream with strawberries atop swirls. He knelt down on floors and helped you arrange your stuffed animals in a congress. He took this as a matter of course. He never shoved you into a wall or snapped the neck of your dog. Hers did.

Your mother kept you perhaps too well fed; your cheeks were always thick with slices of cheese, rounded full from the good wheat bread she made from scratch. And when you weren’t eating, your mouth hung open, in a state of perpetual bafflement. You were a PB and J brand of stupid. Your sisters had to explain sex at least four times before you understood.

You played outside during the summer and ate popsicles while sitting beside lizards on the front porch. And when you played in the red, rain-flushed mud, the grime accumulated on your unnaturally pale surfaces until you were more dirt than child. And your teeth—they were gap-toothed. You were certainly never cute. You were preternaturally solemn, somewhat inclined to sulking, and a little violent. When you played soccer, you never had the sportsmanship of other girls. You shoved people down, hit them hard. You wanted to win. When Trish McMann called you ugly, you shoved her too. She never called you that again.

Except you weren’t always violent. Sometimes things got to you. One time a dog whelped and its newborn choked and died right in front of where you sat, and you sobbed for two weeks straight. You were so sorry. Who knows what for.

You stopped eating when you were twelve. Someone had called you fat. Who knows what for. And so you stopped eating. And one day, after one hospital trip too many, your mother opened your mouth and put a peach inside and worked your jaws for you, helped you chew. You swallowed on your own. It was a good peach. You picked up another and ate it too. She went back to peeling potatoes. And so you remained alive.

At age eighteen, you told this to a coworker, a man from Ghana—drooling and all. He said he too had been an odd child. “I wouldn’t eat either,” he said. “So my aunt told me to stand on her feet. She said that when I ate, the food would pass through me and into her.”

“Did it work?”

“I’m here, aren’t I?”

“Children are so senseless,” you said. “So strange.”

“Don’t overthink it,” he said. “Peaches and clean underwear. Just give kids peaches and clean underwear. The rest will figure itself out.”

Dear self, when your shift ended late that night, you bought yourself a peach and praised God for keeping objectively useless things alive.

He answered with the wail of a baby, from the next apartment over. The cycle of drool began for some other child, and you were—in your solemn, useless, drooling way—more than thrilled.

Up and Out

by Jessica Christensen

 

There isn’t one inch of my body in repose. Rocks jut through my sleeping bag, and the wind barrels through the canyon, whipping over the edge of the cliff. The August wind carries the crisp air of November. It seems to take me away with it, layer by layer, and I think of Thompson’s onion-peeling metaphor for getting to know someone, peeling and revealing to the very inner core. I remember walking fast the night last May when he peeled close to my center; I remember wishing he would follow. If he had come to where I sat alone and barefoot in that parking lot, breathing only calm understanding and no words, I would have given him all that was untold, all that was dark inside me, heavy to carry and explain, all that was programmed and unwanted in my genes that seemed to push others away. But he didn’t follow, and I walked home more slowly, my feet black from the asphalt. I had walked fast too many times before. Thinking of it now, my legs feel restless and tired at the same time.
I keep my head tucked tight inside my sleeping bag and continue shifting my body, trying to decided if it’s more comfortable to have a rock in a hard spotmy hipor in a soft spotmy thigh. My jeans twist in one direction and the sleeping bag in the other. Everyone is still talking, but I keep breathing my own warm breath in my slick bag, the wind now only a hush outside. The wind carries to me snatches of their words, a laugh, and memories of our spring hike up Angels’ Landing. The moon was bright that night and the closeness became dangerous. When I realized Thompson was staying, staying forever if I let him, I wanted and needed to tell him everything, but was afraid he would turn away. I remember him looking up at me, the red rock behind him, and knowing the blue behind his Oakley shades was deep and his shoulders were strong. But I turned to say something to Laura and pretended not to see. Now I hear Rand saying this trip will be much tougher than our first “adventure” together.
I lie in my bag, each muscle contracted against the rocks and the wind, pulled tight in, listening. I am cold and hard, one with the cliff. I hear Brent and Rand laughing about the “ice queen” that Brent had obsessed over. Dave is spouting random comments and Scottie makes some sick remark. I don’t hear Thompson’s voice.
Thompson’s voice, the sound of promise and entreaty had followed me to London after the initial trip. “I’m staying to work all summer so there’s no rush. Don’t feel like you have to make a decision right now. I’m here for as long as you need me to be. I’ll wait as long as it takes.” I had tried to bury it in my cathartic journal and in my wanderings. But I couldn’t lose it in Trafalgar Square or mute it in the green of Kew Gardens. It spoke louder there, swirling in my inner ear and making me dizzy. Every wing and rain spoke his cool blue calm. “I just want you to be happy.”
But I don’t hear him now. Now that I have a heavy parcel in my chest to heave off, he doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t ask anything or offer anything. He doesn’t even laugh when Candice and Jana reminisce about playing “Truth or Dare” and “Skeletons in the Closet” at slumber parties. “Truth” is more risky that “dare.” Run down the street without your shirt on or open Pandora’s Box. Some doors are hard to open and some lids are better with a safety seal.
The chatting continues all night. Thompson is silent. Maybe he is holding his breath too. Everyone is rendered an insomniac by the wind, the roughness of the cliff, and the nearness of the trail down. I’m impatient to go downdown to where it is shady and clear, no walls and open air where thoughts can be breathed out into words that can be caught or let float away without danger.
I count the minutes until dawn and when the sun hints its arrival, it is enough. We roll up our bags with Orion faintly visible. We stretch and I wish I could stretch over to where Thompson is.

But I need to crack my back and rub the cold out of my arms. I strap on my pack. The sun is not yet over the rim of the canyon, but Thompson has his Oakleys on already. I cant tell where his eyes are as I brush past him to the trailhead, legs primed to go.
The trail down to the Indian reservation campsite of Havasupai is eight miles long, the first mile all steep switchbacks. Rand had suggested the trip as a challenge and reminded all of us girls multiple times that it would be “rough.” The pack I borrowed from my brother-in-law is heavy and old, too big for me, and the metal frame rubs on the outsides of my shoulder blades and sags on my lower back with its bulk. We all start together, but by the bottom of the switchbacks I am ahead and taking long strides. The thought of those shades hiding blue propels me forward, and I cannot slow down.
The dust is four inches thick on the trail and powdery. It coats us to our knees as we kick it up in small clouds, muting everything to beige. I remember sitting alone in the locker room at lunchtime, hiding when someone came in, ashamed of my aloneness and inability to “be me,” needing to stay up with the pack at practice, proud of broken-in, thrashed training shoes. I look at the dust on my shoes and am glad that mine are hard to distinguish from the ground. My feet consume the path ahead with each step, pounding each painful memory into the dust, memories of the time when only the moon understood and I just couldn’t pull out of it alone.
All this sweat in the cool morning makes me feel feverish. The need to fast-forward mounts and wills me around the next bend, then faster to the next boulder where the trail dips under an overhanging willow and disappears to the left. Looking back, I cannot see Thompson’s Oakleys glinting in the sun.
Bethany is breathing heavily and coming up from behind.
“Hey, speedy. You okay?”
“Yeah, I just wanna get there.”
She takes a double step to keep up and lowers her voice.
“I thought you two were talking again.”
“We are.”
“How did you leave things before?”
“It’s complicated. I didn’t really explain myself as usual. I mean, he told me not to throw what we had away and I told him not to wait for an uncertainty.”

“But he’s not going to Thailand to visit his brother?” she says.
“No. He sold his ticket.”
“And he came hiking in Arizona in hundred degree weather in the middle of August instead.”
“Yeah.”
Bethany is silent for a moment.
“I know you know this, but he’s strong enough to lean on.”
We don’t say anything for a few steps, and the hipbelt on the front of my pack is digging into me. “And if he goes away?”
She hesitates for a second. “Nothing would really be different, would it?”
I don’t answer. It would be different. It would be to miss the nearness, to strain and look without the possibility of hearing or seeing. Bethany stays up with me the whole way.
The rest of the trail is a dry, sandy river bottom that winds past giant boulders and water-carved red rock overhangs. There is a numbness where my pack’s weight presses on my collarbone, seeming to cut off circulation to my head. I shove my left thumb under the strap to relieve some tension and concentrate on my breathing. The sun is high when we reach the shack where we pay the wrinkled brown man. Brent pours water over his head and calls me “iron woman” and “the rest-free wonder.” Rand the ringleader reminds us that we have to carry all our trash out with us, can’t light fires, and should take advantage of the natural spring to fill up our water bottles before hiking out.

The campground is a series of cleared spaces under tall shade trees where the canyon walls draw close. The boys set up tents in a rough circle, and the girls spread a tarp in the middle where the canopy of leaves opens on sky. The air here is warm and dry, the breeze soothing on my skin. After a few minutes of repose and the rough, sweet tang of beef jerky, we leave our packs and head for the falls.
I leave my shoes behind, but have no sandals to wear. I don’t think of the white heat of the sand. Like I didn’t think of the black rough of the night I told Thompson I was only giving fifty percent and he needed someone willing to give herself whole. Like I didn’t think I’d like sitting in his passenger seat and listening to Van Halenor that I’d miss it either.

Havasupai attracts many visitors because of its waterfalls. There are three giant ones within a few miles and even more if one is willing to hack a path in the brush or climb beyond the easily accessible falls. We head to the first one, and I am proud of the toughness of my feet as we climb over rough rock, down into the cliff’s edgewhere we can see down fifty feet to the pool turned turquoise by lime. The pounding of the white falls prevents me from asking how we get down, and Dave pulls my hand toward a dark opening in the bleached rock. It is a cave-like tunnel, rough-hewn steps twisting down to the left. I see the light at the other opening and the outline of a metal rod with a chain attached. The remainder of the descent requires us to lower ourselves from metal pegs connected by heavy link chains to where we drop the last ten feet to the rocky beach.
The water is warm and mist rises where the falls churn the river. The walls, formed by hardened mineral flows, rise in petrified dripping masses around us, shading us from the sun. While floating in the pools of liquid aquamarine, we hear a call from Thompson and John, farther along the trail on the far side of the water, to follow them to some larger falls a few miles away. I think of my feet now, but it’s too late, and I don’t want to hike back alone. We join the pack, a bushwhacking war party, cutting our way through the green tangle where it obscures the white sand path.
My tough pads are feeling the wear of rough rock river crossings, and I find myself walking on the spiny brush at the edge of the trail to avoid the scalding sand. The sound of the last falls fades, and no sound comes to us from the canyon ahead. I let my breath out fast and hard when Dave says he can’t take the burning on his bare feet, and I volunteer to go back with him.

The stair cave is cool and dark when we reach it. I want to stay, but we keep on until we reach the shaded, soft path to the camp. I lie on my bag when we get back, smooth under my stomach, no rocks to disturb me, and write my fever out, my fingers scraped and raw from the return ascent, and the burn on the balls of my feet pounding with my heart.

The others return triumphantly reporting the “undiscovered and gigantic” waterfall they have found. They play Rook and Nertz until dusk. With the dusk comes quiet and the smell of ramen noodles from Scottie’s portable stove. I am content with the gritty cleanness of granola bars and fruit leather. Laura offers free ear cleanings, hygiene in the sticks, her ziplock of cotton swabs raised above her head in invitation. She commences work with Brent, her first hesitant customer, his blond afro glowing around him like a halo in the near twilight. His thin face breaks into a ghoulish, Jack-the-Pumpkin-King grin when I look at him, and Scottie says he could use some “backrub lovin’.” John seconds the motion with a half-raised forearm from his face-plant position on the far end of the tarp. A few groans all around and no one moves. Thompson is silent and his head twitches slightly from his book as I step toward him and then over him to start on John.
John hands me a wooden massage roller and is soon rubbed into sleepy delirium. I stop and listen to the night sounds. The stars in the moonless canopy are bright and pulsating. It is fully dark now and Thompson lies on his stomach, reading with his Oakleys on. John is breathing heavily and my hands have stopped. The silence stretches, someone shouts “Nertz!” from the picnic table, and Laura sends another clean-eared boy back into the game.
Thompson hasn’t turned a page: his breath seems caught it his ribcage. I let the wooden roller on the tarp, staring at his back. It isn’t moving and I can barely make out his white t-shirt in the dark. I imagine his heart still in its place, no longer pumping, the blood slowing, and I have to put my palm on his back, on the left side, my thumb gripping the edge of his scapula. He lets out his breath and the faint rhythm comes to me from inside. My rehearsed lines run the trails of my brain, coming out of my fingers, not yet vocally clothed. As I work out his weariness with the thoughts on my hands, my fever ebbs and the ache in my feet dulls. They are tired from walking so fast. Here, where it is open and smooth, where the trail does not cut down or burn like coal or cast up clouds of dust, I let him catch up with me. When the last knot is eased, he shuts his book and moves to his tent, pausing to touch my head in one smoothing motion from brow to crown, his breathing even. Tomorrow we will speak; I think myself to sleep.
During the day, Thompson is at the upper falls, jumping cliffs with John. I chase streams with Jana and Laura. All day, a song plays on repeat in my head: “I wanna hold you close, I wanna push you away. . . .” I have to sing something else out loud to get rid of it. At night, it is Nertz and Rook again. When the yelling is too much, Candice and I make ourselves absent and wash our hair in the river. My head is cool with the tight coil of hair piled on it, and Jana pats a spot on the tarp for me between her and Thompson. Her red hair reminds me of Glenda the good witch, and she seems to wink at me in the dim light as I lay myself down.
“We’re talking about books. I just asked Thompson what his favorite book is,” Jana says.
“I read Nibley mostly. I like the substance. I like to know
things, to understand,” he says.
I turn toward the sound of his voice. “I never knew that.”
He turns his face to me in the dark. I cannot see it, but I can feel it. “What?” He didn’t hear my whisper.
“I never knew you read Nibley.”
“That was probably about my second layer. Maybe you weren’t listening.” It is quiet and he thinks I don’t hear, but I hear. I hear his voice and the implication that we’ve arrived beyond the second layer, deep enough to breathe liquid, but I’m still holding my breath.
My knot of hair feels tight and is pulling at my temples. The warm night air is smoothing the coolness out of my hair. Jana is called as referee and goes to the table to calm the debate. A sudden blast of wind from down the canyon blows over me, and I nearly miss the quiet words from Thompson.
“How is your brother?”
This layer is safe; it’s been exposed before, so I can show it.
“Not so good. My mother is worried.”
“Are you okay? I remember it was hard for you before.”
Before. The night last winter when he asked if I wanted to talk about it and he listened. I duck. “They don’t really mention it anymore, but it’s always there, y’know?”
“Yeah.”
“It’s there, right below the surface of everything, ready to explode. I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel there’s anything I can do.”
“Sometimes there isn’t anything to do but wait. Time is a healer. He needs that. I told you about me, didn’t I?”

“Yeah. Is that what helped you?”
“Yeah. I mean, I’m not saying it’s the answer to his situation because mine was different, but he’s not the only one to ever struggle like that. He just needs love right now. Love and time.”
“Yeah.”
“We all do sometimes,” he says.
“I know.”
“He’ll come around.”
“Yeah. Thanks.”
His eyes are still fixed on the darkness near my face, but I do not turn to him. I cannot see him clearly, not clear like the night my brother’s band played and I first met her. I broke down and told Thompson all about their hasty Las Vegas wedding to fix the problem coming in nine months and showing in just a few. When I thought the silence would stretch heavy and long with hesitancy, he said he’d stay as long as I needed him. He’d stay until I was okay and the shaky breathing was regular again. “Don’t be so hard on yourself. You can’t expect so much on your first encounter with her. Give yourself some time and things will even out.” The light in his blue eyes had penetrated me. He’d seen menot all, but that part riddled and swaying with fearand he’d stayed. He’d stayed as long as I needed him, until I was okay.

The wind picks up in the night and I feel a drop on my cheek, followed by a low rumble from somewhere down the canyon. It is too hot to stay in my bag, and the air in my nostrils is musty with the coming wet. I am still, but the wind gives me the sensation of tossing. Another wet drop and I hear a rustling from one of the tents. I can hear the soft rush of feet on sand and see the haze of a white shirt move to the trail down to the falls. I curl up to stand and follow, barefoot.
Without the moon, it is hard to see the sand and I stop at the rocks. I sit down to go over the edge to the cave opening. I can hear the scrape of him inside and I enter the black. Thompson is sitting on the edge of the other opening, feet dangling over the lip of the cliff. He doesn’t turn as I sit down, lowering each leg slowly.
“Couldn’t sleep.” He looks across the canyon to the clear sky of stars above, unobscured by trees. “You can’t hear it, but you can see it.”
“What?”
“The sky. The night.” He pauses without breathing and turns to me. “You, too.”
“What?” Sleep is still clinging to my thoughts.
“I got your postcard from London about doors loosening and rooms needing air, about how savory an onion can be unpeeled and alone. I may not get all of Shakespeare’s lines, but I got yours. I see you walk; I see you fighting to be brave and tough, hiking barefoot without admitting it hurts. I see you.”
I can feel his blue eyes on my face. “I know.”
The water pours down hard and loud, and I can feel the cool spray from far below. I want to pour like that, rushing down so loud that he can hear it, that he can feel it and see it and taste it and know itknow all the inside and out. I want to let him hear it and see if it’s too much, see if he still wants to stay. I can feel the lines in my head, building, like the speed of the river as it comes to the drop.
I breathe deeply and watch the water as it spills over the cliff freefalling to the bottom. He remains with his shoulder turned to the stars and his face intent on mine. “You don’t have to. ”
“I do.”
I pour. I sit still and I pour it down fast and quiet, the dark and the struggle, the years of loathing myself for not being stronger, not fighting harder, the carrying of the constant weight, and the fever in my head; the night my eyes lingered on the knife rack and it seemed easy to stop the struggle of self against self the day I ran with the team down to the canyon trail, and a semi was coming opposite us, and I though how easy it would be to take two strides to the side in a stumble and end it; the fear of and need for help; the hours of clinical terms and soothing voices, little blue and white pills. I pour it all down for him to catch, to hold in his hands or let pass through. That night the stars spoke to me, and I knew that something bigger than me had a hand in it. I had to hold my grip and keep my pace.
My temples burned with the fear of admitting the need for medication and “talking it through,” relaxation breathing exercises, positive and constructive coping mechanisms, and cool, clinical tones. With the lifting comes ease and the cranial pressure lessens.
My breathing is shallow. The falls are quieter. How long have I been speaking? Thompson is facing me, and I have to count before I turn. The light of the stars is bright, and the white of the water catches it. A drop on his cheek reflects light as it comes down. He blinks and another follows the first salty trail. He doesn’t look away. He doesn’t speak. His eyes are full of blue, fluid and deep, deep enough to draw from and still be bottomless. We don’t move, but stay as we are. We cannot hear it, but we can see it and feel itthe night and the sky and the enormity of the space where we have entered, whole and seen.
My face is warm now where his heart pumps under it. The falls cool my fever-abandoned head, and I know that tomorrow I can walk slowly up the trail with himup and out.

Daddy’s Girl

by Benjamin Christensen

 

One of the Boys
Daddy, you mind I come in?
I no like interrupt when you writing, but I get one problem. I in love with my best friend.
No, Daddy, no worries, I not talking about one girl. You know I not like thatI like boys, no worry.
I talking about Kenny. You know, Kenny Thompson, the one my best friend since second grade? He real nice, and ho, the handsome! Even more handsome than you, Daddy. Nah, just joke. No one handsome as you. But Kenny come close. He hapa, just like you-get one haole father and one Hawaiian mother. He get the light brown eyes, and the wavy surfer blond hair; he not too light, and not too dark, but just right. Just like you, Daddy.
Lately, every time I see him, I like wrap his arms around me and stay like that forever. But no can.
Kenny no even think of me as one girl. “Faye, you good fun for hang out with, ’cause you just like one of the boys,” he tell me. Ho, I no like be one of the boys; I like be one girl! I like be his girl! But no can, Daddy. Kenny no like me like I like him.

Tita
I know what they all think of me. They think I one tita. When I was little, they call me tomboy. Now they call me tita. Different words, same difference.
I not one tita, though, Daddy. Just ’cause my best friend one boy, and I no like hang with girls. Just ’cause I good at sports, and I go beach with the boys for surf. Just ’cause I no like paint my face like one prostitute, and I no like dress like one neither, and I no giggle and act all girly-girly like, “Oh, Kenny, you can help me tie my shoes, ’cause I one girl and I too stupid to do ‘um myself?”
I one normal girlI like talk story on the phone, I like read girl books, I like boys, I like all that stuff too.
Today in drama class, we was picking parts for our end-of-the-year play we going put on, and of course Kenny get picked for be the big manly hero. So then we need pick who going play the girlfriend, the damsel in distress. So I tell Miss Kawamura, “I like audition for the part.”
Then everybody laughing, and Keola Mooney yell out, “You no can be the damsel in distress, Faye. No one going believe that you never wen’ beat up the bad guy yourself!” And everyone laugh more. I so mad, I like punch him in the face, but I know Keola and Kenny friends so I hold back.
Of course, Kristal Mizoguchi wen’ get the part-the ditsy cheerleader. The only good thing is I going to be the wicked with and I going to put one spell on that little
Oh, try wait, Daddy. I think I hear Tutu yelling at me. No wonder Mommy so grumpy, after that lady raise her all her life. I would be too.

Cheerleaders
Last night I wen’ the Kaiser-Kahuku game with Kenny. Good fun. Even look like we get one chance first quarter. Second quarter different story. Our guys no cam compete with those big Kahuku guys. Still good fun, though.
Except these stupid titas from Kahuku was sitting right next to us and talking stink the whole time. “Ho, Gina,” one says to the other, “why we even bother come all the way down here? Waste time. All these spoiled rich Kaiser kids…. every last one of them haole or Japanee. Act like they own island when they not even Hawaiian.”
“Yeah,” the other one says, “we know we going win the game, anyway.”
What they know? Just ’cause I go Kaiser, no mean I rich. No mean I haole or Japanee. They don’t know I live in one beat-up old house on Aipo Street. (Sorry, Daddy, I know it not your fault-I know you try for sell more books so we can have one better life. I no care we poor. I just no like people think we rich when we not.) They don’t know I Chinee-Hawaiian, not Japanee. (Okay, maybe I part haole, but mostly Chinee-Hawaiian.) And why it matter so much if you Chinee or Japanee or Portagee or Hawaiian, anyway? All the same thing.
They make me so mad! I like bust their face, but instead I turn to Kenny so he can tell them off, ’cause he look more Hawaiian than I do, so they can see we get Hawaiians at Kaiser, too. So I tap his shoulder and ask, “Eh, Kenny, try tell those two girls for shut up. I sick of them acting all high maka maka just ’cause they
But he not even paying attention to me. He never even hear those girls talking, ’cause he staring at the cheerleaders the whole time, like one zombie. I know which one he staring athe staring at that bimbo, Kristal Mizoguchi.
Why he gotta look at her for?

Daddy’s Girl
Every time I talk about you with Kenny-guys, Daddy, afterwards they always whispering and laughing and looking at me, like I don’t know they making fun of me. I know what they thinkthey think I one daddy’s girl, like I need for ask you about every little thing I do.
I no care, though. They can think what they like; I proud of you, Daddy. I proud you one writer. I proud you still give me hugs and kiss my forehead everyday, even though I sixteen years old. I lucky for have you, and I know it. Plenty kids no can talk with their parents like I talk with you. Heck, I no can even talk with Mommy like I talk with you. You the best, Daddy.
Let them think I one daddy’s girl. I no shame.

Shame
I so shame, Daddy. I never felt so shame before.
I decide if Kenny like cheerleaders so much, I going try out for the squad for next year. How hard can be, yeah? I mean, I been on track before; I done hurdles and high jump and all that. Same thing.
First we had for put on this little costume. I look like She-Hulk in that thing, Daddy, with my arm and shoulder muscles all popping out. All the other girls, they all cute and skinny, and I get man shoulders. I so ugly.
Then we had for do splits like that. No problemI know how for stretch.
The whole time, Kristal Mizoguchi acting all cool ’cause she already on the squad and keep on giving me stink eye and then looking at her little friends and giggling. She make me sick.
After that, they teach us one dance routine, you know the kind they do on drill teams, and we had for show we can do ‘um. I no can dance, Daddy. I no more rhythm. Must be the haole part of me.
And every time I take one step, Kristal and her friends go “Boom! Boom!” like I Godzilla. I so shame.
The last part the worst. We had for run across the gym and do one flip. So I running, I flip over on my hands, and thenWhack! Flat on my back. My okole hurt so bad! And then, like I no shame enough already, while I getting up I hear one loud rip ’cause the back of my shirt wen’ rip right in half. Like I said, my shoulders too big for that uniform.
I so shame. For sure Kristal going tell Kenny all about it. Ever since we start practicing for the play, Kenny and Kristal all buddy-buddy. Make me sick.

Acting
I was right. Kristal wen’ tell Kenny the whole story, with me landing on my okole and everything. I thought he was going laugh at me, but instead he stay all mad, like he shame of me or something.
“Ho, Faye, why you wen’ try out for cheerleading?” he wen’ ask me today during lunch. “What you trying for prove?”
“What?” I tell him. “I no trying prove nothing, stupid. Maybe I try out ’cause I like be one cheerleader, you ever think of that?”
“Yeah, right. Since when you like be one cheerleader? Stop acting, Faye. Why you cannot just be yourself?”
‘Cause you no like me when I myself, I like say, but I never. Instead, I stand up and yell at his face, “You so bakatare, Kenny! Just mind you own business!”
I so mad, I wen’ leave the table without even finishing my lunch. The whole cafeteria all staring at me, so all I like do is get out of there quick as possible.
While I was leaving, Kristal wen’ sit down next to Kenny and I hear her ask him, “Ho, what’s her problem?”

Stink Eye
I dunno what Mommy’s problem is. Every time I come out of here after talking to you, she give me stink eye, like I doing something bad or something. She probably no like me bother you when you writing, since she know how hard you work in here. But you no care, ah, Daddy? You can spare a few minutes every day for spend some quality time with your daughter, yeah?

Magic Balls
I cannot wait for our play to start, Daddy. Going be so good. Hilarious, Daddy. I no even care anymore that stupid Kristal stay in the lead role as Kenny’s girlfriend. No matter.
Kenny the one wrote the play for us. Get this surfer guy named Kimo (Kenny going to play him), and this witch, Broomhilda (that’s me). She no like him, so she kidnap his girlfriend, Jenny (Kristal going be her). Anyways, for rescue his girlfriend, Kimo gots to collect these five magic ballsget one disco ball, one beach ball, one football, one crystal ball, and one gumball. Then when he get all five balls, he can trap the witch and get his girlfriend back.
Pretty cool, yeah? Kenny so good at writing. Almost as good as you, Daddy. Almost.

Sandy’s
Today, I wen’ with Kenny-guys to Sandy’s for surf. The waves so big, Daddy, you should have been there.
Kenny pretty good surfer, but the other guys only okay. I keep telling them one day you going come with us for show them how for surf for reals. So when you like come with us, Daddy? I know you like get away from that dusty typewriter sometime.

Hot
Today I wore my new dress for Kenny. I never wore one dress like this before, but I figure I need be more girlycan be one tomboy when you twelve, but not when you sixteen. So I wen’ buy this little red dress with matching sandals and purse and everything. I even put on makeup. Ho, I so shame, but I like impress Kenny, so no matter how shame I feel.
So I walk into first period and the guys is all whistling and staring, and Lonnie Williams yells out, “Ho, wow, I never knew Faye Nguyen had one hot sister!” He wen’ call me hot, Daddy! No one ever call me hot before.
Then, Keone Kaawa gets up from his chair and says to me, “Please, Ms. Nguyen, take my seat.”
“No,” says Johny Matsuo, “take mine.”
And like three other football players all stand up and offer me their seats. Yeah, they was joking around, but still…. Daddy, these the most popular guys in the whole schoolusually, they no even notice I one girl.
Then, Kristal Mizoguchi wen’ open up her big mouth and ruin it all. “Wow, Faye, nice dress. Where you bought ‘um, the Big & Tall store?”
Everyone forget they was being nice to me just two seconds before, and now they all cracking up like that the funniest thing they ever heard. I so mad, I no can even think of what for say. I just stay there, staring at her, like one tree.
“Well,” she says, twirling her finger in her bleacher-orange hair, “now you ready for start working on Hotel Street tonight, yeah?”
Yeah, well, I no like steal your customers, so come show me which corner is yours, I should’ve said, but I never. I just stay there, smoke coming out of my ears, making fool in front of the whole class.
And the worst part is, Kenny never say one word in my defense. That ditz, Kristal, rubbing my face in the mud, and my supposed best friendwhat he doing? He in la-la land, gazing off into space, like I no even exist. I dunno what his problem is. Lately, he act like he shame for be my friend. Jerk.

My Ex-Friend, Kenny Thompson
I no even like him no more. Today after school I wen’ talk to him about yesterday.
“I thought you was my friend, Kenny.”
He look like he going act like he don’t know what I talking about, but then he must’ve seen that I was serious. “Yeah, well I thought you was Faye Nguyen, but lately I cannot even tell who you are. Who you trying to impress, anyway?”
Him, but I not going tell him that. “You no even know what you talking about. I not trying to impress anyone. I just like try new things. You got a problem with that?”
“Yeah, right, Faye. I known you since we was kids. You never wore one dress in your life, even when your mom try put ‘um on you herself.”
“What? You no can accept that I can change? You not going to be my friend now, just ’cause I not the same tita girl you play baseball with when you was ten?”
“No, Faye, I not going to be your friend until you stop acting and be yourself.”
I no can believe him, Daddy! When I myself I not girly enough for him, and when I try be girly he tell me be myself. “Forget you, Kenny. I no going waste my time on you.”
And then I gots to walk home, ’cause he my ride. Guess I going be walking home a lot now.

Friends
I still see Kenny a couple times a day in class, but that’s it. We hardly even talk anymore.
I wearing girl-clothes now. I figure, I wen’ spend buku bucks on all them dresses and skirts and cute outfits, I better wear ‘um. It’s not as bad as I always thought it would be. Plenty guys look at me all the time now. Being little bit girly not bad at all.
Kenny was wrongI still myself. I still play sports, I still go surf, all that. I just like make myself pretty every morning. Nothing wrong with that.
Only problem is now I no more friends. All my friends the guys me and Kenny hang out with, but since me and Kenny no hang out, I no hang out with them either. I try making friends with this one girl, Kalani Perez, but we no get nothing in common. I dunno how for make friendsKenny the one good at that.
I wish I could talk to him, ask him what for do. I miss him, Daddy. What you think I should do?

The Kiss
Before the play, I feeling bad ’cause you couldn’t be there, but now I glad you never came. I glad you never see the disaster I wen’ make.
Everything good going until the end part, when Kimo traps Broomhilda with the five magic balls and rescues Jenny. I supposed to be frozen, ’cause I trapped by the magic balls, and then Kimo and Jenny kiss. Only supposed to be one fake kiss, ’cause we not allowed kiss for real in school plays, but when Kristal putting her face up close to Kenny’s, I can tell she going kiss him for real. I can’t just watch her kiss him, Daddy.
I go crazy. Right there, in front of the whole school and everyone’s parents, I wen’ charge across the stage and right into Kristal. Only she and Kenny at the front of the stage, so when I push her she wen’ fly off the stage and down into the band. She wen’ land right on top the trombone player. Lucky he chubby, ’cause he wen’ cushion her fall.
“What are you doing, you witch?!” she yell up at me. (Not exactly in those words, but I no going repeat what she really say in front of you.)
Me and Kenny, we both in shock. But for once in my life, I no freeze up. I knew I gots to cover up, for save face. I no like ruin the whole play.
“You don’t want her, Kimo,” I say, making the lines up as I go and talking loud so the audience can hear. “I’m sorry I put a spell on her and forced you to find all those magic balls, but the truth is, I love you, Kimo. Kiss me, you fool.” And then I wrap my hands around his head, pull him in close, and kiss him. For real. I know he only let me ’cause he never knew what else for do, with the whole world watching, but still, not too bad for my first kiss.
At first, the audience kind of confused. But then someone decide the whole thing one big joke and start laughing. Slowly everyone wen’ join in. Laughter and applause come from everywhere, and then they close the curtains on us.
Kenny wen’ push me away, and for a second I think he going smile, but then his eyes turn angry. “I cannot believe you, Faye. I cannot believe you.” He wen’ stare into my eyes like he looking for something, then he spin around and stomp off the stage.
And that was that. I think I screwed upbig time.

Honest
“I sorry, Kenny. I so sorry.” I finally got one chance for talk to him today before water polo practice.
“I not the one you need to tell that to, Faye. Try tell Kristal you sorry. She the one you wen’ shove off the stage.”
“Oh, you poor little girlfriend. She never broke anything, so
“She not my girlfriend, Faye. You know she not.”
“Yeah? Could’ve fooled me!”
Kenny takes one deep breath and looks down at his stomach like he always do when he trying to keep from saying something he going regret later. “Faye,” he says slowly, still looking down, “this isn’t about me and Kristal. This about you and me.”
“There is no you and me,” I blurt out, “I no good enough for you!”
“Where you get this crap, Faye? You watching soap operas now, or what? What you want from me?” Now he looking me straight in the eyes.
I no can handle it anymore. My eyes getting all watery and get boogers dripping out my nose. I never cry like this before. “I want you feel for me like I feel for you. I want you be my boyfriend.” I so shame. I cannot even look at him.
Kenny wen’ put one hand on my shoulder and say something I never expect. “You no even know what you want, Faye. You no want me be you boyfriend, you want me be you father.”
“What?”
“Ever since since we was little, Faye, you always act like I you fatheryou like me protect you, tell you what for do, take care of you. You always trying to get my approval, whether you playing the sports I like, or dressing up like you think I like, or whatever.” He put his hand on my chin and lift my face to look at him. “I only sixteen; I cannot handle you depending on me like that. I sorry you no more one father, Faye, but I cannot be all that.”
I push his hand away from my face. “What you talking about? I no need you be my father. I get one father. You talking bubbles, Kenny.”
“Whatevers, Faye. You the one talking bubbles. You been talking bubbles ever since I knew youyou act like your father still alive.”
“Shut up! Just shut up!”
“And surprise, surprise, everything about this imaginary father you always talking about is just like mehe one writer, just like me; he one swimmer, just like me; he one surfer, just like me. He even hapa, just like me. How come you get one Vietnamese last name if your father half haole and half Hawaiian, Faye? How you explain that?”
I no can explain it. I like tell Kenny he wrong, but no can. “My daddy really was a writer” is all I can say.
“Faye, I love you. I love you since the second grade. And I no mean that like when one guy tell his girlfriend he love her one week and the next week he get new girlfriend. I mean it for real. I dunno if I even love you like one girlfriend, but I willing to talk about that, if you willing to be honest. Honest with me, and honest with yourself. Let me know when you ready for do that.”
He pulls me close to him and we hug. I like stay in his arms forever, but then he says goodbye and leave me there, alone outside the swimming pool.
I think I always knew what Kenny wen’ tell me. I always knew that I was talking to an empty chair in front of a dusty typewriter that no one even used for twelve years now. I knew you wasn’t real, Daddy, but I wanted so much for you to be real.
But I have to be honest with myself now. I no can pretend you real when I know you not. I just wanted to come talk with you one last time, Daddy, for tell you goodbye. Thanks for listening to me. I going miss you. I love you, Daddy.

Chestnut Eyes

by Richard John Hawkins

 

I don’t remember which woke me first, the blinding sunlight or the colossal figure hovering over the sofa. Both made me feel tremendously uncomfortable. My grandfather’s presence always diminished my own, and from this angle, gazing up at two enormous, hair-filled nostrils, I felt especially small and vulnerable.
“You shouldn’t sleep past six. It’s time for breakfast.” His musty breath stole away my sleepiness.
I quickly folded the Pendleton blanket, wrapped the pillow between the thick folds, and replaced the cushions on the sofa where I would spend each night of our family’s summer vacation. After we arrived the night before, Grandma carefully embraced each of us, evaluating haircuts and growth spurts before directing the unloading of coolers, the placement of luggage, and the assignment of rooms. She directed me and my few belongings toward the sofa⸺as I was only twelve years old and least likely to put up a stink. That’s where Grandpa found me.
Somewhat disoriented and still startled by my encounter, I nervously approached the breakfast table. Greeting Grandpa always presented a considerable dilemma because he didn’t like people touching him. Usually a firm handshake followed by an awkward pat of some sort did the job, but hugs were unthinkable. I was relieved to see him already seated at the table with overalls and bald head, eating a raw onion sprinkled with salt. The situation required no greeting.
We both waited in silence for the family to come to breakfast. Over poached eggs, toast, and gnat-speckled butter, Grandpa asked my older siblings about each of their doings, laughing and commenting with selective charm. To me, however, he said nothing, directing his attention my way only when my elbows rested on the table.
From a very young age, I knew Grandpa didn’t like me. Stern glances accompanied by curt rebuffs provided evidence enough. I didn’t take it personally, however, and rather appreciated the fact that he didn’t like my cousins Annalise or Robert either. Simply put, he just didn’t like little kids. Each summer, my older siblings and cousins accompanied Grandpa to bail hay, fix fences, brand cattle, and drive tractors; but we “kids” stayed with Grandma, relegated to picking currents, collecting eggs, and watering ferns. It was demeaning. It was degrading. \We longed to labor, sweat, and commiserate with Grandpa,, to be covered in dirt and burrs, to be free from the housework and the gross injustice. Despite our sincere desires, Annalise, Robert, and I knew that on the farm, children ranked far below small, domesticated mammals in importance. Sniff, the half-breed sheepdog, carried more clout than the three of us combined.
I once asked Grandma why it was that Grandpa hated children.
“He doesn’t hate you. He’s just worried that you’ll get hurt in the farm equipment.”
Her answer satisfied me, but later that night Grandpa sat across from me in the living room, reading a magazine, never speaking a word to me. Then it occurred to me that, with no farm equipment in the living room, I posed no liability. I would just have to grow up before Grandpa would ever like me.
After breakfast, the family scattered. Some wore rubber boots and overalls, prepared to help Grandpa repair an irrigation ditch, and the rest went shopping in Pendleton and La Grande. They abandoned me with Grandma; I was miserable. While sweeping out the mudroom and cleaning the blinds, I stirred dust and dissatisfaction.
I longed to bail hay and showed my disgust with twelve-year-old indignation. Grandma, sensing my frustration, hurried me through my chores and told me to follow her out to the tack room. As we marched through the barn, hair and dust spiraled in the dim sunlight that crossed our path. With saddle, blanket, and bridle in hand, she introduced me to the farm’s newest arrival: Cricket.
“We just got her from your uncle Sherman. She’s a good horse, but she hasn’t been ridden much. Grandpa has been busy since we’re short one farmhand and my back’s been acting up. She’s temperamental, but I think you can handle her, although she hasn’t been around kids much,” Grandma said.
She saddled Cricket and led her out through the heavy boxcar doors into the corral. Backlit by the midday sun, Cricket towered over me with a presence more threatening than farm equipment. She intimidated me much more than Tory the Pony, whom I had grown accustomed to riding over the years. Tony met his end at the glue factory earlier that year; old age and bloated feet rendered him useless even as a riding horse for grandchildren. Approaching Cricket, I could see the reigns tighten as she backed away from me. Apparently our apprehension was mutual.
Grandma steadied her and encouraged me to mount Cricket. As I placed my foot into the stirrup, Cricket began to shift her weight before backing up again, reigns taut. Each avoidance further shook my confidence in het, and looking into her large, chestnut eye, I could see that Cricket lacked faith in me. I sensed that she despised runny noses, giggling, and moon boots. Cricket hated children too.
After several attempts at mounting the moving horse, Grandma and I succeeded with joint effort. Under Grandma’s advice, I headed towards the Robinson Place. Grandma, on the other hand, headed for the house. Just as Cricket turned towards the gate, she caught eye of the stable, turned, and bolted for the open boxcar door. Recognizing her act of defiance, I clung to her back, wrapped my arms around her thick neck, and wondered how much closer the manure floor had grown toward the top of the door frame. Cricket’s hoofbeats sounded my funeral march. As I contemplated a quick death, Grandma spotted the situation and began a gallop of her own, yelling inaudible last-minute emergency instructions. Grandpa heard the commotion while working on a tractor in the shop and began a hurried investigation. We all met in the dark stable as the horse came to a jarring stop. Grandma⸺relieved. Grandpa⸺perturbed. Cricket⸺indifferent. Me⸺mortified. Not only was I a child, but I was a child who couldn’t even ride a horse.
That night at the dinner table,
Grandpa asked me, “Why would Cricket trust you if you don’t trust her?”
I didn’t reply.
Later that week, and after much deliberation, I asked Grandma if I could ride Cricket again. My resilience surprised her. I preferred to think of it as persistence, an unwillingness to accept defeat and humiliation, not from a horse, and certainly not from Grandpa.
After another difficult mount, I directed Cricket towards the hills that gradually matured into the Blue Mountains. With destination in mind, we headed towards the windbreak, making sure that no turn exposed the open stable door. Behind the house stood two perfectly aligned rows of trees, and, passing through them, a dirt road led to the intersection of field, mountain, and Union Pacific railroad track.
Between the road and on either side of the orderly row lay a tetenal hot zone of juvenile adventure. A 1960 blue Chevy with rat-infested interior rested in knee-high thistle on the left. Two refrigerators, several tractors, and a screenless television littered the corridor’s right. I was proud of Cricket for coming this far without incident, and my seemingly innate horsemanship impressed me even more. As we approached the first refrigerator, Cricket froze. I kicked her several times, but she refused to move.
“Come on, Cricket. . . . Stubborn.”
More kicks and a slap on the rear still produced no results. I tried to direct her around the perimeter, approaching from a different angle, but again she refused. I began to think of other ways that we could access the hills, but no other roads came to mind. In frustration, dismounted and attempted to manually move the belligerent beast through the corridor, but my hundred-pound shadow couldn’t match her half-ton bulk. Exhausted, I cautiously rode her back to the stable, having made no headway.
At the dinner table, I recounted the episode to the family, making sure to note the marked improvement over my earlier attempt. After describing Cricket’s apprehension, I asked why she didn’t move. “She probably saw something she didn’t like,” my father suggested.
I shrugged.
“Treat her like you would a person. Let her trust you and respect you,” Grandpa added from across the table. He rolled bread crumbs between his rusty finger and the plastic tablecloth as he spoke, never looking up.
Each day, I found myself hurrying to sweep, straighten, gather, and pick so I could spend as much time with Cricket as possible. With Grandma’s consent, Cricket and I practiced riding in the corral for the remaining hours before dinner. She answered my erroneous reign gestures with correspondingly awkward movements. I gradually learned, adapted, applied. From the corral, we ventured into the front pasture, and from the pasture to the nearby Robinson Place. Soon, we explored the furthest corners of the sun-blanketed farm and the shadow-lit countryside. With each expedition, our problems grew fewer while our mutual respect grew stronger.
The day before my family left the farm, I planned to ride Cricket through the windbreak corridor, across the corrugated fields, to the hills that overlooked La Grande Valley, just as I had planned to do earlier. At breakfast, Grandpa” suggested that I take a shovel along and look for Indian and pioneer artifacts in the newly plowed Jenkins property, an odd request that inspired confused silence at the table. He led me out to the barn, selected a square-headed shovel, and turned on the belt grinder. Already mesmerized by the showering sparks, I froze when Grandpa handed me the shovel, telling me to finish the job myself,
‘Are you sure, Grandpa?” I asked from a safe distance.
“Of course I am. Are you?” he countered. “Flip this switch when you’re done. I’ll be working on the combine.”
That afternoon, I took my shovel and rode Cricket at a trot toward the littered windbreak, confident she would pass through the obstacle without hesitation. Beyond the open corridor, miles of field lay in wait, anticipating my exploration. The sun reached its height as we arrived at the Jenkins property, and as I squinted, my head began to ache. Riding this far had already caused me to break a sweat, and I had yet to begin the tedious act of scavenging. I tied Cricket to a fence post and began to dig, conversing with her all the while. Hour after hour, I dug, adamant that I would not return home empty handed.
“Thousands of rocks, but not a single arrowhead. A field full of rocks,” I grumbled.
By four o’clock, blistered and broiled, I contemplated accepting defeat. However, with one final toss of the square head, I struck gold as my shovel made a high-pitched clink. Scrambling to unearth my discovery, I knelt, and with the care of a trained archaeologist, I slowly unearthed a rust-eaten horseshoe. Initially disappointed, I cleaned the “artifact” rather carelessly by thumping it against the post multiple times. It wasn’t Indian, but I had certainly dug it up.
Eventually content with my find, I mounted Cricket, and together we cantered toward the hills, our original destination. Overlooking the valley, sixteen-year-old pride filled my twelve-year-old psyche. Not only had Cricket and I ridden to the foothills of the Blue Mountains, a feat that had seemed so impossible three weeks ago, but I had also accomplished something much greater. I had completed Grandpas task, perhaps a trivial, meaningless, and totally useless task, but a task accomplished nonetheless.
At the dinner table, I unveiled my find. “Tell your mother that it’s an ancient Chinese artifact, a good-luck symbol,” Grandpa said, “and tell her to hang it in the living room!” We all laughed, except Mom, who rolled her eyes. He then led me into his study, a strictly off-limits sanctum even to Grandma, and showed me a black-and-white photograph with foxed edges of a twelve-horse team pulling a pioneer plow. I then knew the source of my good-luck symbol. I placed my horseshoe on the nightstand before climbing into bed exhausted.
The next morning I awoke a few minutes before six o’clock and found Grandpa sitting at the table, awaiting the final breakfast of our family’s vacation.
After eating, Grandma directed the reloading of coolers, the replacement of luggage, and the straightening of rooms. I shirked my role in the assembly line and slipped into the concealed recesses of the barn. Cricket shuddered and her tail flipped as I extended my hand to touch the soft depression beneath her chewing jaw.
Suddenly a cumbersome weight fell on my shoulder. Cricket and I both jumped as I made out Grandpa’s massive figure, a silo at twilight.
“Will you miss her?” he asked.
“Yeah”
“You know, she’s not a kid’s horse. Cricket’s no Tony.”
“I like her better than Tony,” I replied.
Then in a moment of inexplicable inconsistency, Grandpa reached his arms around me, bringing me close to his overalls and onion breath.
“You didn’t give up. She respects that,” he whispered.
As we walked back to the car, Grandpa took my father aside where they talked in solemn tones, my name being the only word that I understood with any clarity. As the loading of the cars continued, my sisters jockeyed intensely for window seats. I used the bathroom one more time, finished watering the last of the ferns, and retrieved my horseshoe from Grandpa’s study. Beneath the pine-covered walkway, I gave Grandma a h*g and Grandpa a strangely comfortable handshake and pat on the back. As I pulled away from Grandpa’s clutch, he winked one large, chestnut eye at me, and I knew that next year I, too, would drive tractors and bail hay.

What Matters

by Stephanie Christensen

 

The doctor slaps the large black-and-white images onto the illuminated X-ray reading panel, and my mind travels back to the time I sat holding the sedated body of my son, then three years old, in the hospital’s waiting room. As I fought back tears, I wondered at the strangeness of embracing the still small form that normally squirmed with life. Soon the nurse came, lifted him from my arms, and placed his tiny body inside the oppressive white machine that enabled the doctors to see inside his head in order to discover just what lay behind the deformed ear, and whether anything could be done about it.

My mind travels further back, to the long nine-month time frame when I speculated, after two sons, if my baby was a girl this time and, more importantly, if it was healthy. Sometime during the first trimester of pregnancy, the doctors offered me a fetal test to determine whether my baby would have problems. I understood that there were some parents who feel that a ‘less than perfect child” is better off not being born. At the time, I decided the test wasn’t for me. I felt that whether my baby came “defective” or not, impeding its birth was not my decision. My decision was to raise and love the child in whatever condition it came.

Now, sitting next to the audiologist in the dimly lit soundproof booth, I watch Ben, my eleven-year-old son, through the double-paned window where he alternately fails and triumphs at deciphering the sounds coming to him through the earphones placed askew on his head as the doctor switches the sound back and forth between his left and right ears. Not much has changed in the even years that have passed since I sat and watched a younger Ben through the very same window. Though he is almost completely deaf in his right ear, his left ear still compensates wonderfully for the difference.

The audiologist asks me how Ben is doing in school. I remember worrying before he started kindergarten that he might not be able to do anything children his age do. Would his functioning ear fully compensate for his hearing loss? How would he handle the attention that would inevitably be drawn by the deformity? After all, kids can be so cruel. Most distressing, however, was the fact that external abnormalities often indicate internal complications. The doctors warned us that kidney problems often accompany auditory conditions. In addition, they did an angiogram to check the blood vessels in his brain for abnormalities. Their reports revealed things like “no evidence of intracranial mass, hemorrhage, or extra-axial fluid collection,” but I worried about the things we didn’t know about, things-psychological things-that we couldn’t see. The doctors examined him as thoroughly as possible but informed us we would just have to wait and watch closely for future complications.

I wonder if Ben can see me through the booth’s windows. Can he see the mixture of love and anxiety on my face as I watch the blank expressions that cross his features when the sound is switched to his right ear? I think about how, really, his inadequacy can’t count for much because at home we don’t focus on his deficiencies. Instead, we focus on the things he can do.

Day after day, I sit on the couch and watch his body sway to the music he creates as he deftly draws the horsehair bow across the strings of his violin. Ben has an ear for music, and within a year’s time he’s sailed past other students, mastering movements from Bach to Boccherini. As I listen to the struggles other mothers face with getting their children to practice, I marvel how his self-motivated, seven-days-a-week week dedication to practicing has earned him the glowing approval of Mrs. Brown: “Every teacher dreams of having a student like you,” she beams and then adds, “and I got you!”

I reflect upon how grateful I am for those who see the good in others. To most, Ben’s friendly, sunny disposition hides the fact that his features are a bit unlike their own. “I’ve never even noticed a difference!” is something I often hear when someone discovers the visibly smaller, deformed ear. Now, as Ben and I listen to the doctor and consider the pros and cons of the reconstructive surgery required to rebuild the eardrum, I reflect upon all that the past eleven years has brought us and seriously consider if the difficulties are worth it.

One early morning I noticed the bathroom light on. I walked down the hallway to see which of my four sons was there. Eight-year-old Ben stood gazing at his reflection in contemplative consideration.
“I don’t like my ear, Mom. It’s so different from my normal ear. It makes my face look weird,” I stood behind him and studied the noticeable contrast between his right and left ears. For a moment, my heart ached over the trials that had come and that would come because of Ben’s difference. And then I remembered that good had come and would still come because of the difference.
“Why did I have to be like this?” he asked.
“You are beautiful, Ben,” I responded, “And I love you, everything about you.” I wondered if I could even begin to express the joy that he’d already brought into my life.
“It’s really what’s in here that matters,” I counseled and I laid my hand against my chest, knowing that words couldn’t possibly take away the hurt he felt. I gently kissed his cheek and hoped he would feel my sincerity.

In so many ways, I am reminded that it’s not about the ear or his outward appearance. I am reminded of the things that really matter. On Saturday’s, it’s a time-honored tradition for the brothers to go with Dad to get treats after the soccer games that have nearly become an obsession for our family. Dad, the-coach, had to be there early one Saturday, and I had come over separately in the van. As his three brothers, without second thought, piled eagerly into the truck in anticipation of the post-game goods, Ben hesitated, turned around, and started towards the van.

“Do you want me to come with you?” he tenderly asked. I knew full well the sacrifice he was making.
“You go on ahead with your dad and have fun,” I replied.
“Are you sure, Mom? I don’t have to go.”
“You go on with your dad,” I smiled, touched by his concern. “I’m just fine.”

Last month, our family was assigned to speak at sacrament meeting.
“Now which one is the third one?” a friend asked following the meeting.
“Oh, that’s Ben,” I replied.
“Ir was so cute the way he would speak and then look up to smile at everyone,” she commented, noting the difference between Ben and his more somber siblings.
“He’s always smiling,” I had to admit.
One day, after his brother Chad had had a particularly rough morning getting ready for school, I demanded angrily, “Turn around and leave Chad alone. NOW, Ben!” as we drove to piano lessons.
“I’m just trying to make him happy again, Mom.”
Humbled, I glanced in the rear view mirror to see Chad’s tear-stained face brighten as they played the hand-over-hand game in the back seat.

Almost halfway through third grade, Ben arrived home from school each day and seemed out of sorts. Uncharacteristically grumpy, he complained about practicing and snapped at our family over trivial issues. I wondered what was going on with him. Then one day as he rummaged through the kitchen cabinets for an after-school snack, the truth came out.

“Some of the kids at school were making fun of my ear. They asked what’s wrong with me.”
“What did you tell them?” I asked.
“Oh, just that I was born that way. . . . Mom, I really don’t like them talking like that about me.”
“Maybe we should talk to Mr. Oyler about it.”

“I don’t know.” he hesitated.
“Mr. Oyler is a good teacher, Ben; I think he’d want to know.”
The following week, Ben explained that Mr. Oyler had asked a quadriplegic man to visit the classroom. The children talked about differences and about seeing the good in others.

My pre-kindergarten concerns about his ability to compare academically faded entirely as Ben’s yearly straight-A report cards and predominantly positive social experiences repeatedly reflected his capacity for excellence. Were the deafness and deformity really cause for concern?

On our trip to Texas one summer, I noticed that as our flight descended into Austin, Ben didn’t look so well. He’d had a cold for a week; and now his skin was turning a pasty gray, and he was complaining of a sick stomach.

“My ear feels funny, Mom.”
“Open your mouth like this,” I advised, stretching my jaw open as far as it would go. He tried.
“Nothing’s happening. ”
“Plug your nose and try to make the air go out through your ears.”
His face turned a slight shade of pink with the effort.
“Nothing. Mom, I feel so dizzy.”
As the color quickly drained from his face, I reached instinctively for the airsick bag in the seat pocket.

At my sister’s house, Ben seemed to be feeling better. As he and his cousins played in the family room, I wondered how he was and called out to him. No response. Thinking he was just doing the usual tune-Mom-out-because-I’m-busy thing, I called again, a little louder. When he still didn’t even glance my way, I walked to stand behind him and, in a normal tone of voice, tried to get his attention.
“Ben, do you hear me?”
A look of confusion clouded his expression as he turned to face me.
“Did you say something, Mom?”
Becoming concerned, Nicole and I tested his hearing. We whispered to him, and I became alarmed as he struggled to read our lips in order to help him decide what we were saying.

Dr. Donahoe informed us that his “good” eardrum was highly inflamed, filled with fluid and dangerously close to rupturing. He explained that the decrease in cabin pressure on the flight had affected Ben’s equilibrium because of infection and could have caused the drum to burst. Over the next week, I faithfully administered the antibiotics and nasal spray the doctor had given us and we practiced the nose-plugging technique we’d need to survive the return trip. As we flew uneventfully back to Utah, I contemplated the seriousness of the situation⸺Ben might have been left totally deaf.

After carefully contemplating the X-ray images, Dr. Park informs us that the surgery to restore hearing is possible, but not risk-free. My heart pounds at the prospect of Ben hearing in surround sound. I imagine what it will be like for him to hear Bach and Boccherini with both ears. I watch Ben’s body stiffen slightly as the doctor removes the wax buildup from the tiny blind pouch that should be his ear canal. Dr. Park describes the surgery as “delicate.” He will have to drill through bone and graft skin from Ben’s arm in order to create a new canal. Because the structures of the outer and middle ear are so misshapen, there is a slight risk of damage to the facial nerve during surgery, not to mention the risks⸺from paralysis of the vocal chords to even death⸺associated with general anesthesia.

It’s not an easy decision. As I weigh the pros and cons I realize that it’s not about the ear really. Ben’s rich, happy life testifies to that. I will continue to focus on raising and loving him, and maybe, someday, when he is ready, he will know for himself if it’s worth the risks to hear with two ears.

Salt Creek

by Richard John Hawkins

 

Freeway Entrance 275. My great-grandmother Marjorie once wrote a short autobiography. After publishing and distributing the blue-bound book which now lies on the seat beside me, Marjorie, at age ninety-three, reclaimed every copy from the family. Several pages were cut out of each book when she gave them back to us. Her conscience apparently got the better of her. I didn’t know about it at the time, though; I was only three years old.

Exit 263. Curious, I asked Grandma Kay last year about the book and the peculiar missing passage. Her crying made me feel uncomfortable. In fact, I didn’t recall ever seeing her cry before. I never should have asked, I thought, as I changed lanes and accelerated.

Exit 256. I was amazed at how easily I discovered the inconsistency once I reexamined the pedigree chart. The dates overlapped, just like Grandma Kay through her tears said they would. Had I not spoken with Grandma, I could easily have attributed the strange split in the family tree to death, or divorce followed by remarriage. However, knowing what Grandma knew, the overlap in dates told the story long before Marjorie cut up her book.

Exit 248. Orem, Provo, Springville, Spanish Fork, Salem⸺as I drove, they all ran together, making it difficult for me to decipher where one stops and another begins. Santaquin, however, marks a break in the chain. Between Santaquin and Salt Creek lie only the farming community of Mona and a single cluster of peculiar houses. The group caught my attention because its compound-like arrangement typifies polygamous colonies throughout the state. I had driven by the colony dozens of times before, but I never realized the important role these people once played in my family’s heritage. I wondered if genuine polygamists still lived in the communes just off the freeway or if time had left them behind.
The family history goes something like this: My great-great-great grandmother, Martha Hannah Peake, a widow with six children and a true pioneer, traveled to the West from Derby, England, in 1862. She remarried and homesteaded in Salt Creek, Juab County, Utah, where she raised her surviving children into adulthood. Her daughter, Emily Ann, married Addison Cooper and began the process again⸺homesteading and raising her own children, Eliza, Linda, and Marjorie. Marjorie would raise Kay, who raised my father, who raised me.
Marjorie described her childhood as fulfilling and carefree. School days, community theater, and family picnics all pointed toward a happy and well-adjusted family life. Hard times, however, forced her father, Addison, to move to Canada in search of prosperity and stability in the canal construction business. He did not return.

Exit 236. Mormons love gossip as much as anybody else, though they deny it. Apparently, that’s always been the case. Years after Addison left Emily Ann for the new frontier, word from Canada reached Salt Creek like a steady wave across Lake Bonneville’s desert floor. Whispers filled the town and eventually reached Emily Ann’s ears⸺Addison had been spotted in the Mormon colonies of Alberta introducing himself and another woman as husband and wife. While others justified his actions as polygamy, his daughter, Marjorie, screamed bigamy when she eventually decoded his disappearance.
Three years after her father’s departure, Marjorie asked her mother why her father never visited. Her uncle, Addison’s brother, regularly returned from Albena to visit his family, but Addison never even wrote. Emily Ann avoided Marjorie’s questions but reluctantly replied several days later that her husband was “living in Canada with a woman whom he [had] introduced as his wife.” I remembered the words she wrote in her journal.

I thought for a second she must be joking but when I saw her face full of anguish, I realized she spoke the truth. Suddenly my fairyland disappeared. I found that the idol of my girlhood had clay feet. I sobbed in grief, Mother looked at me with pity and said that she had kept this from me for this long time because she realized what a blow it would be to me to learn that my father, who had been so loving, so considerate, thoughtful, and compassionate all these years, had left all this behind him, had deserted his family and gone off to live with another woman.

“This can’t be. He would not do such a thing. Would he?” Marjorie had cried. Emily Ann had placed the Doctrine and Covenants into Marjorie’s hands and opened the book to Section 132. As she read the Mormon doctrine of polygamy, Marjorie felt the walls of her world collapse around her: “That my father had justified what he had done by the words I had just read was unbelievable, but apparently such was the case. If my father had died I could not have gone into deeper mourning.”
After the discovery, Emily Ann had difficulty leaving the house. Following her husband’s abandonment and marriage to the woman in the North, Emily Ann lost her daughter and best friend, Eliza, to death. The death of both her marriage and daughter proved too much for Emily Ann to bear. Within six months, she died in the home at 100 East and Main Street in Salt Creek.

Exit 228. The short section of I-15 that runs through Salt Creek is the most neglected of the entire route. The road has buckled in several places, and has been that way for years. No one fixes it because most federal funding is directed to the roads that run through the valleys in northern Utah. They’re major arteries, they say. It makes driving to Salt Creek somewhat uncomfortable, but it’s worth the sacrifice. I moved into the right lane and slowed down.
Since discovering Marjorie’s tragic history, I longed to determine the morality of Addison’s act, an act deemed heinous and tarnishing by Marjorie, bleak and distressing by Emily Ann. I desired to understand his desertion and, more importantly, how his abandonment affected me. I needed to know if the fire set in Marjorie’s heart still burned. I wanted to connect with them, to understand my family’s history and my place therein.

Exit 225. My black Mazda leveled off at the lip of the Bonneville shoreline, which traced the rim around a series of valleys that once contained the ancient sea. Two mountains face each other at either end of Utah Valley, separated by the empty seabed. Mount Nebo, standing at the south end of the valley, owes its name to the Mormon pioneers who relocated to Nephi. To the first settlers, this spot represented the point from which they viewed their Promised Land, and, looming over Juab County, the mountain served as an omnipresent reminder of their wild wanderings. Mt. Nebo is simple and understated, boasting neither unusual formations nor distinct characteristics.
Mr. Timpanogos sits at the north end of the valley. It provides a majestic and Himalayan backdrop to Utah County. Plunging cliffs, undulating foothills, and arrogant peaks render the mountain spectacular at any angle. From the valley below, most are hard pressed to identify Mt. Nebo, but none can mistake Mt. Timpanogos. It’s odd that Mt. Nebo is almost forgotten, because even though the mountain is nondescript, it stands 128 feet taller than Mt. Timpanogos. For most, time had left Mt. Nebo behind.
Despite the differences in the mountains’ aesthetic appeal, Marjorie loved Mt. Nebo. She described it as the center of her world, noting, “everything was below, behind, on top of, or down from that center point.” She never forgot the mountain, nor the fact that it would always be 128 feet taller than its competitor to the north.

100 East and Main Street. Finding the home was easier than I expected. “Near Main Street, next to Salt Creek, it’s a two story adobe house. There are some apartments across the street,” my father told me before my departure. Beneath two imposing Box Elder trees, the symmetrical home exemplified quintessential frontier quaintness and practicality. Whitewashed, the home’s facade stood defiant after 130 years, its black pitch roof fading into the trees’ shade. The oddly proportioned windows on each level were trimmed with green shutters, each with a heart cut from the center, revealing the white adobe wall beneath. Someone had renovated the home, adding a cliché wagon wheel to the front yard. I didn’t like it.
As I examined the home from the front yard, I imagined Marjorie playing in the tall grass with her father and never suspecting the intent of his heart. I envisioned a father’s departure, a daughter’s confusion, and a mother’s secret. I pictured the room that Emily Ann had locked herself in, its shutters closed, the setting sun casting heart-shaped projections on the wall. I decided on the top-left bed-room as Emily Ann’s terminal asylum.
The home faced west, away from the mountains. A wood-slat fence circumscribed it on three sides, the north bordered by Salt Creek. The small creek flowed from the canyon through the town, lined on either side by heavy willow trees with branches that dragged in the swiftly moving water. Salt Creek’s water, as the name suggests, contains a high concentration of salt due to the large deposits in the nearby canyon. The Nebo Salt Company once mined here, but the Island Crystal Salt Company on the shores of the Great Salt Lake to the north proved more successful in price warfare. Of the company, Marjorie wrote, “A competitive society can easily wreck havoc on the little man who may have a better product to sell.” The competition drove the operation under and the owners abandoned the mine, leaving only a-faint residue in the runoff that feeds the creek and gives the stream its name.
I leaned over the muddy bank, reached through the dense willow trees, and dipped my finger into the water to taste it. I imagined the water growing saltier as it passed by Emily Ann’s bedroom, supplemented with the tears of the weeping willows and the widowed wife.
While Emily Ann consigned herself to sackcloth and ashes, Marjorie grew belligerent. She refused to communicate with her father for several years after the death of her mother.

Father came from Cardston to attend the funeral. His first view of mother as she lay in the casket was so overpowering that he was swallowed up in his grief. ‘How she must have suffered,’ he sobbed. I thought, how little you know the mental anguish she suffered. To her was added the physical suffering. When these two kinds combine only Christ on the cross knew the full extent of what the body can tolerate before death comes to bring blessed relief.

Thinking of these words, I tried to hate the man who left my great-grandmother for the woman in the North. I attempted to blame him for Emily Ann’s death and for the life-long bitterness that Marjorie carried in her heart, despite their later reconciliation. Staring at the white adobe house on Salt Creek with the blue-bound autobiography in hand, I searched to find my place in the pages of familial anger; but instead of feeling hatred, blame, and bitterness, I felt nothing. I couldn’t understand why Addison would leave his perfect family, or why Emily Ann would mourn the loss of a man that she was probably better off without. I didn’t understand how Marjorie, at age ninety-three, could still harbor feelings strong enough to merit their removal from the family annals. I thought that in traveling to Salt Creek I would condemn Addison, protect Emily Ann, and justify Marjorie, but I accomplished none of my objectives. I set out to understand my ancestors, but I couldn’t understand them at all. I didn’t feel what I knew they felt. Confused, I stared at the top-left window, visualizing heart-shaped projections on whitewashed walls, when something occurred to me.
The feelings I sought didn’t exist. My great-grandmother, Marjorie had cut them out with her scissors.
Staring at the window I imagined to be Emily Ann’s, I understood why I felt sorrow for Marjorie and her mother, but I realized I held no personal vendetta. Marjorie herself decided to end that at age ninety-three with the recall of her book. I would never feel how they felt, understand their struggles, or fully appreciate their grief. Addison’s actions were unquestionably wrong, but I’ll never understand just how wrong. Marjorie wanted it that way. How arrogant I was to think that in one trip I could settle the family secret.
As the sun sank over the west desert, I knew it was time for me to abandon Salt Creek. I climbed into my car and headed back towards the interstate, speeding.

Mile 244.4. Utah Juab County Line. Marjorie loved music, and she’d often sing and hum old favorites: “An old gramophone song,” she wrote in her history, “embedded itself in my memory years ago.”

Oh, you don’t know how much you have to know
In order to know how little you know.
Never say, or think you know it all,
Look and listen, be wise, keep mum.
The fool, as you know, always says, “I told you so”
But the wise just surmise, and you never hear them blow.
Oh, you don’t know how much you have to know
In order to know how little you know.

Heading north towards Mt. Timpanogos, I sang Marjorie’s ditty to myself the entire ride home.

650 North 100 East. Home. I pulled into my driveway and removed Marjorie’s book from the seat next to me. As I placed the book back on the shelf with the other volumes of family history, I wondered what other books might have passages removed and memories unwritten. I smiled because I knew that I’d never know. Traveling a neglected stretch of Interstate 15, standing in the shadow of forgotten Mt. Nebo, and tasting the cool waters of an abandoned salt mine, I had found what little I actually knew about my neglected, forgotten, and abandoned foremothers.

Remembering Addresses

by Erika Dahl Price

 

When he first saw her, he said, “Hello, pake wahini.” When he wrote her a poem, he said, “You are like a mountainthe farther away you are, the better you look.” When she gave birth to their first, he said, “Now that didn’t look so bad.” When the moment called for profanity, he said, “Equine escrete!” When he moved their family to a house with no plumbing, he said, “But the rent is free and I can fix it; just need a few tools.” When he handed her his dissertation to type, it said lots of things she didn’t understand. When the littlest clung to his leg, whimpering on the porch, and asked, “Is she ever coming back?” as she slammed the door and drove away, he said, “I hope so.” When she said she had felt alone for years, he said, “I’m so sorry, forgive me.” On Thursday mornings he winked at her and said, “I’ll be home for lunch.” When she set the meal, he said the prayer. When the sixteen-year-old daughter sassed her, he said, “You’d look pretty funny walking around with your buttocks between your shoulder blades. . . .” When the kids left home, he said, “Now we can go on that vacation.” When she begged to move out West, he said, “If it would make you happy.” When the stroke hit in the backyard, he said, “That was the strangest thing.” When he saw the loose screw, he said, “Will you bring me the whatchamacallit?” When she asked him if he remembered his address, he said, “Of course I remember. It’s the same as yours.” When he sat on the evening porch with her, he said, “I’m not the same as I used to be.” When she asked how he did it, he said, “I just took the bull by the hand. . .” When he bowed his head for the supper prayer, he said, “And we’re glad for all these good people. Please bless these good people. And we’re happy to have all these good people…” When the doctor said he had Alzheimer’s, he said, “Damn.” When he wanted a spoon, he said, “I need a fork.” When he soiled himself, he said, “Did I do something wrong?” When he wanted the television off, he said, “Um. Tsk. Huh. There. There!” When she asked him if he was hungry, he said, “Yum, yum, yum, yum, yum.” When she asked which kind he wanted, he shook his head, as if to say, “No. No, thank you.” When she hung his clothes in his new closet, he cried. When she visited him in the afternoons, she turned his face toward hers, cupped his soft, quiet hands like a bird, and spoke for the two of them.