Wild Geese

by Abby Knudsen

“Fallen” by Nicholas Rex

Within an hour after slipping off the little cliffside, she accepted that she would die there, among the juniper trees and sagebrush and sand. While she lay there on the rocks at the bottom, unable to stand, she grazed her fingertips over the familiar place where her left ribs should be. A few ribs protruded under the skin, unfamiliar, and every time she allowed air into her lungs, the left side protested violently. In exchange for air, she set her chest on fire. She tried to call for help but couldn’t breathe enough air to yell louder than speaking volume. She couldn’t stand, either—her left leg faced the wrong way, and her calf was torn open by bone.

It had been a mistake to go off the trail and think she could find the waterfall by tracking the sound. She realized now that it had been an echo, probably from nowhere nearby. She had been careless to wander and careless to lose her footing in a place with no cell reception.  

So, with only her arms, she had crawled in the direction she believed the trail to be, leaving a stream of blood behind herself, until she could no longer continue from the pressure on her punctured lung. And as she had crawled, with thoughts circling of her parents and sister and of food and water, she couldn’t help but remember her favorite poem—the one that says, “You do not have to walk on your knees / for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.” 

If only, she thought. If only it was that easy, to walk on knees rather than crawl with arms. 

But she could still repent, she knew. If not for punishment, why else would she have been put here? She stopped crawling, rested her head on her backpack, and spoke her guilt from the bed of sandstone and sticks, rather than the traditional deathbed she’d always imagined. I’m sorry for not going to church, she said. I’m sorry for telling Amy I loved her, even when I didn’t. I know—I should have gone to Mom’s funeral and helped Dad with the house. I’m sorry. What else do you want to hear? 

And then she called for help again with her lung splitting open, even though she could barely whisper. There had to be someone—maybe someone else who had wandered far from the trail, looking for the waterfall too. But the amount of air she could breathe lessened, lessened as her lung depleted, and she could do nothing but lie there and repent. The sun fell behind the mountain, and she watched it from her sideways view, wishing she could reach out to hold it in her hands and stop it. 

She kept her eyes to the sky, looking instead for the wild geese that Mary Oliver said would be there, high in the clean blue air. But they didn’t bother to show. Only the vultures circled—just a few at first, then a whole flock, pacing in a circle in the air.

With such little oxygen flowing through her body, her mind was lightheaded and her vision began to blur. In a way, the vultures almost looked like geese—geese, if they were circling around to come and save her, to scoop her up and fly her home.

She closed her eyes and let the world go on.

The vultures were kind enough to delay their approach until after she had taken her last shallow breath. Then, as one, they stooped around her and tore away at her body, grateful for their fortune. They peeled away her skin first, hardly savoring it in order to devour the fresh flesh still warm inside her. The vultures’ beaks and chests stained red, and blood pooled on the sandstone. Then they flew away, satisfied. 

They left behind her shredded bits of clothing, along with her skeleton—the only parts of her that the rescuers would find. And when she could not tell her own story, the broken bones would.

 

 

Abby Knudsen is a senior at BYU majoring in editing and publishing and minoring in creative writing.

(Art) Nicholas Rex prefers to refrigerate his milk and eat his cereal cold, as do most people. Despite this characteristic, Nicholas Rex likes to think he is different from other people. He is also very interested in God, or the absence of God.

A Few Miles Off

by Ella Jakobi

"Unknown Body II" by Katelyn Field

“Unknown Body II” by Katelyn Garcia

“How far are we?” she asked.

“Only five hours from,” he replied.

“Great.”

“Great.”

They had been married for about a year and would not be together for much longer—a fact they both knew but were hesitant to admit. No one wanted to be the one to say it first. To be branded the one who ruined things.

A landscape of red rock and blue sky washed by the windows. It was the sort of view that was beautiful only for the first thirty minutes. Afterward, all that either of them would think—but not say—was how awful it would be to break down in the middle of nowhere. They wondered who would die first.

He was certain she would, by thirst. Or starvation.

She also thought she would die first but figured her death would arise from a tumble from a red-rock cliff. Or the bite of a diamond-headed snake. Or they could stumble upon an ancient civilization holed up between the I-90 and I-122, where she might be sacrificed as a beautiful woman. She thought of how her husband might weep if he saw her bleed. Oh, how he would weep then.

“Babe?” he said, breaking the silence.

“Hm?

“I love you.”

“Sweet. I love you.”

He drove thirty miles over the speed limit, but there were no black-and-whites to stop him. He did not want to wait around and play the patriarch if their car did break down: Everything will be fine, he would say. Calm down, even as he would watch his wife wither like a husk before him, scratchily complaining until her last breath.

His eyes blurred over the road, but he would not admit it. The last thing he needed was for her to drive. That would have been so much worse.

She thought about helping with the driving, but knew that even if he pretended to sleep, he would keep his eyes half-open so he could watch the road and ensure that she wouldn’t get them in an accident. Which wasn’t really the point, was it? She checked the dirt under her nails and looked pointedly out the window. If there was an accident, it would be an accident. She would try her best, but it would never be enough for his high standards.

Great, he thought, looking from the corner of his eye. She is upset again. Always always always ups—

When she said, “Look out!” it wasn’t a warning but a lightswitch, shifting the world to a whole other color: one brighter, like a surgeon’s chair. Suddenly more alert than he had ever been—even on that day in fifth grade when a soccer ball hit him in the face and he was certain he would die—he slammed the brakes. The car screeched on that toothpick road. 

It was only as they slowed that he realized he wasn’t sure what they stopped for. 

“What did you see?” he asked. Hands tight on the wheel. Heart rate ready to kill something.

She did not answer.

“Babe. What. Did. You. See.”

She lifted one shaky finger and pointed to the side of the road. There, lying on its side, was an escaped milk cow, toppled over on the edge of the asphalt, its hide the color of ruby wine. Long departed, it seemed to be. 

Even from a distance, he could count four of its white ribs, poking out through stripped flesh.

But sitting behind the cow, and suddenly rising, emerged the head of a calf. 

Brown, skinny, its cheekbones hauntingly sharp. Its beetle-black eyes yawned in their direction, blinking gently. As if the blinks were blown kisses.

After a moment it rose, and that was when they noticed patches of its legs were pink. And festering. It looked toward them, but did not walk. After a moment, it cried in their direction: a small, thirsty cry.

“Pity,” she said.

“Why did you tell me to stop?”

Her defenses were already up; her tongue was a knife behind teeth. “Well, it looked like it was more in the road, babe. Like, in the center. The road weaves, you know.”

The road had not weaved for miles.

He knew this; she did not.

See? he told himself. This is why I am driving.

“Poor thing,” she said, pressing her fingers against the car’s window—as if to touch the calf.

“Yeah.” He paused. “Do you want to help it?”

Her brown eyes trailed over the scene for a moment, her bottom lip trembling. There was so much she wanted to say.

“No, babe.” She shot him a weak smile. “It can’t be helped, can it?”

His jaw tightened, and he looked away from her. It was much easier to digest the image of the diseased calf on the side of the road. “No. Can’t be helped.”

“Should we hit it?” she asked. 

First, he processed it like a joke. Second, he toyed with his seatbelt at the shoulder. Then, “You want me to wreck the car?”

“I was just thinking we could tap the calf!”

“Tap the calf?”

“You know, knock it over. Doesn’t look like it could run far anyway, Babe.” Her lip trembled all the more. “Seems like an awful way to die. Young and confused. Might as well end it quickly. Not…drag it out.”

He thought on this, or rather, pretended to think on this. But he was the one driving, and he shook his head. “Better for things to die out naturally. Not to rush nature, you know. More respectful for it to pass away on its own.”

“Pass away?”

“Sure.” He lifted his foot off the brake and let the car return to movement. The calf watched them slip by. “You know, death’ll be so easy, so simple, for something young like that. Like falling asleep. It won’t even realize it’s happened until it has.”

They continued down the road, and he accelerated the car, this time to thirty-five miles over the speed limit. At that moment, he decided that he was going to sit on the balcony of their hotel—alone, after she was asleep—and think about the calf, good and hard. To see if this was the right choice.

Minutes ticked by in the car, as slow as an apple dries in the autumn sun.

“Babe?” he said.

“Hm?” She was still looking out the window, in the direction of the calf.

He attempted a smile. “I love you.”

She adjusted in her seat, folding her arms and holding her breath, as if noise, any noise, would be an argument. She looked at the sky far away from him. “I love you, too.”

 

 

Ella Jakobi is a writer in Utah county who has never been married, but tends to write about marriage quite a bit. She enjoys aimlessly driving, boiling eggs, and rearranging the pillows on her couch so they look JUST right. She fervently believes everyone should write stories, even if they don’t show them to anyone, because, often, you can only find truths about your mind in the stories you tell yourself.

(Art) Born in 1996, Garcia grew up in Cache Valley, Utah and is in the process of receiving her BFA in studio art at BYU. Her artwork centers on meditative interactions with the land, through the use of her body, documented through video, photo, and installation.

Thetis

by Courtney Lehikainen

"Sister Vol. 2" by Nicole Konecke

“Sister Vol. 2” by Nicole Konecke

Her name was Thetis, and she was from the sea. And like the sea, she could not die. She ebbed and flowed, her mood changing with the centuries. At times she beat the rocky cliffs into sand relentlessly, drowning sailors and sending ships to the bottom of the sea that was also Thetis. Sometimes she was smooth and placid, movements precise and sometimes barely there at all. She was too uncaring, nearly unfeeling, and always undying.

His name was Achilles, and he was from the sea. But he was also from the land, and that was the problem. The land could be beaten into submission, devoured by waves and floods and rain. Thetis had killed many from the land, had personally eaten miles into the cliff faces that dared touch her. He was from the land, and he was from the sea. He was not like his mother.

The birth was simple, though to Thetis most things were. When she realized the child needed air, she was frightened. What was this creature that she had created, half one world and half another? If Achilles were not so beautiful she may have killed him then. Her sisters wanted to, eagerly reaching for the bundle in her arms. But he had a head of dark curls like hers, and amber eyes. She waved their sharp fingers off, confused at herself, and made for the light above.

She hid him in a cave on the surface, where cold rock and water met. He floated on the surface in her arms, and she hated that she loved him. Such a fragile thing with wide eyes and red blood running through his veins. So hungry and so small. They thought she was crazy, her sisters. He will die soon, they told her. His life is but a moment. You are unending, Thetis, leave him. She had tried. She left him in the cave for two days, once. Hoping she could resist the urge to return. But his weak cries were carried by the sea to her ears, and she clutched him and promised not to leave again.

He was not growing as the other land children seemed to. She tried to get him to eat—fish and seaweed and even some seabirds. He would not take them and seemed to be dying before her eyes. She was growing desperate. This small thing, this accident that she had made, she could not save. She began to watch the people on land, the father and his followers. She saw the children they raised, healthy and pink. But she also saw the way they killed each other, the diseases that took the children, and the fear on their faces as they died. She did not feel bad for them. She had killed many. But she would not let them kill her son.

That is what brought her to stand on the bank of the river, feet unfamiliar with the feeling of land but steady. She held him by the heel and dipped him in the river. Please, she pleaded. Make him steel. Make him metal. Make him live. This thing, this child who should not exist. Please make him live. He did not have the strength to cry, though he flinched as he entered the water. She wondered if it burned his mortal infant skin. Even still, she dipped him twice, to be sure. He was raw and red when she pulled him out of the darkness, hardly moving. 

His father found him on the beach, cradled with seaweed and feathers. Thetis was nearby. He is a monster, she told Peleus. He belongs nowhere. The man gathered Achilles in his arms. He belongs with me, he told her. He is my son. Thetis’ eyes flashed. Then he is yours to keep or kill, she replied, for I am no mother. Peleus nodded in deference, fear evident on his face, and Thetis turned back to the sea. She did not look back at him, but four men from the land drowned that night, and the mother who was not a mother felt no pity.

His name was Achilles, and they killed him anyway. He did not even live very long. The fragile child became a hero and then the child was killed. 

Her name was Thetis, and she was from the sea. And she was his mother. And she could not save him.

 

 

Courtney Lehikainen is a senior in the photography program at BYU. She specializes in fine art and darkroom processes, but will always have a love for words. Courtney was born and raised in Modesto, California, though she now resides in Utah Valley,

(Art) Nicole Konecke considers the turbulent shores of Lake Michigan home, but finds temporary residence in Providence, Rhode Island where she attends Brown University pursuing a degree in Literary Arts, recently celebrating her first publication in the Indy, a Brown/RISD literature and arts journal.

A Bullet for the Renafern Man

by Benjamin Vance

The Meek Shall Inherit by Pamela Parsons

The Meek Shall Inherit by Pamela Parsons

When the lawn mower engine exploded and the barn caught fire, Mom got the boys together and told them that everything happens for a reason. They were young boys—all three of them between the ages of seven and twelve—and they had never seen such a fire before, nor had they seen a scorched goat, and the dead goats and the fire excited and scared them.

The boys talked together after the fire. The fire had a reason, a reason, but what was the reason?

At church that Sunday, the pastor called out to the congregation and asked them to pray for the family that had lost its barn and goats and reminded the congregation that God, in His wisdom, used such difficult times to test and educate His people.

God was the reason, then, thought the boys, but then they realized that if God, who was locked so far away in heaven, had caused the fire, there wasn’t much they could do about it. 

They played with dominoes after school and found in them a certain order. Cause and effect as real and as simple as the reactions in their chemistry classes—a push and down down down they went. There was comfort in that order—push, down down down. They found that that simple order could cause great things. The fall of a domino, then a block, then the triggering of a lever that blew a house of Lincoln Logs to pieces.

Causality, they realized, was everywhere—the world made up of a vast tangle of lines of dominoes, nothing random, nothing–but the opaqueness of causality and the breadth of it made it hard to sort out. 

A tornado came and ripped across the valley and tore the roof from the Johnsons’ house and canceled their friend Tommy’s birthday party. 

Later, Mom got cancer, and the three boys knew they needed to examine all of causality to make sense of it.

After school, when Mom would go away for her treatments, they would go out to the potato field behind the house and play cowboys and Indians and go on adventures that had cause and effect and, with cause and effect, blame and coherence and principles of cosmic justice. 

In their playing and in their adventures, they found him—the Renafern man. He was a distant man, the Renafern man, hard to make out. In the great chains of metaphysical dominoes, which in playing, they could see and grasp and pull from the air, they always found him at the critical junctions. In ignorance or vice, the Renafern man had taken the chains of causality and shaped them and set them rolling so that when they reached the three boys down the line, they had burned up the barn and scorched the goats and wrecked the Johnsons’ house and given Mom cancer. 

The high plains where the boys lived were all potatoes, or, where not potatoes, sage brush, but Mt. Taylor in the countryside rose from the flatness and grew evergreens and turned white as it reached the clouds. That was where the Renafern man lived—they were sure of it.

They discussed the ways in which the Renafern man had interacted with causality.

He had leveled trees on the mountain. The lack of trees had caused mudslides, which had delayed gas trucks and caused impurities in the fuel that would one day blow up in the lawn mower and light the barn on fire.

He had burnt wood at the top of the mountain. The smoke had risen and enhanced the warm air. The warm air hit the wind coming south and caused a tornado which ripped across the valley and tore the roof from the Johnsons’ house and canceled Tommy’s birthday.

The cancer was harder to trace, but radiation in all its many forms was so volatile and malleable that the boys, who had become familiar with causality, found in their playing that the dominoes traced up the valley and to the place where the Renafern man lived.

The longer they talked, the more the boys settled on the Renafern man. 

The day Mom died, the three boys came home from the hospital and went into the storage room and packed. Candles and a lighter, sleeping bags and a tarp, a rifle and a bullet for the Renafern man.

They got on their bikes and hefted their packs onto their shoulders and set off.

They cut across potato fields, the tires of their bikes printing a string of hieroglyphs in the soft earth.

They forded canals and stopped to drink from the pivot-irrigation sprinklers, whose pipes stretched out in the shallow arcs of a stone skipping across water.

When they got to the base of the mountain, the youngest came to a halt and turned and stared at his brothers and shook his head.

I’m done with this, he said. I don’t believe in the Renafern man.

What do you believe in, then? asked the oldest

I don’t know. 

In the great chains of causality, who, if not the Renafern man, causes the bad things to happen? Who burned the barn and made the tornado and killed Mom? asked the middle child.

I don’t know.

If you don’t believe in the Renafern man, are we to assume that all occurrences are events in themselves and that nothing has any significance in the great chains of causality? asked the oldest.

If you don’t believe in the Renafern man, are we to assume that people are powerless in the face of chaos and that—

I don’t know, said the youngest.

They left the youngest where he stood, and the two of them went on to the top of Mt. Taylor and found the Renafern man.

The paper said that when they found him, whoever he was, they crept up in the bushes until they were real close and leveled the rifle and aimed for the back of his skull. It said that the man must not have felt anything when the boys killed him, couldn’t have. For him, it was all woodchopping, then blackness—his thoughts clear and unmuddled, then his thoughts strewn on the leafy floor.

The sheriff and the police department didn’t know what to say about those kids and the case and the murder. What could you say? Hard to make sense of it. Their mother’s death had something to do with it, that was for sure. But what was the cause of all this madness with the boys and chain reactions and the Renafern man?

They brought the boys’ chemistry teacher in and held him for a night and would’ve held him longer if they had had cause. They knew he must be a strange man, for these were strange boys.

Nothing, they knew, happens without a reason.

 

Ben Vance is a Senior studying Chinese at BYU. He enjoys reading and writing in his free time.

(Art) Pamela M. Parsons recently retired as a Professor of Art from Marywood University in Scranton, Pennsylvania. There she served as Department Chair and taught classes in painting, drawing, and art history survey. She earned an MFA in Painting from Indiana University in Bloomington and a BFA in Painting from Boston University. 

Rhythms

by Marni Asplund Campbell

My father’s heart is strong and scarred, bound in spots by
thread, a delicate patchwork of veiny fabrics. I imagine, when
I talk to him on the telephone, his physical presence. I can hear
his breathing in the brief pauses before he answers a question-
a necessary affectation, no doubt, after years of playing the
law professor, gently withholding wisdom like a tweed-coated
Socrates. He always signals the end of the conversation with a
heartier tone, “Well, we love you Marni,” and it is at this
moment when I think I can hear his heartbeat-slow, deliberate,
like his golf game, or the way he plays “Laura” on the piano.
It was my lullaby, as he nursed me through cold Edmonton
nights, his first pink daughter, a rhythm of protection, quiet
reassurance.


While he was a bishop for ten years, his heart must have
absorbed the shocks of a hundred lives’ worth of infidelity,
drunken, angry hatred and poisonous despair- absorbed them
well on the outside, never showing the pain that threatened to
burst its walls, like Milton’s cannon, with the combined combustion
of saltpeter and sorrow. A father for twice as long, it must
have torn and bled with each scrape and sin. He taught me once
how to skip, step-hop, step-hop, in front of our house. An
uncommon moment for a man, tall legs moving to a child’s double
rhythms. But I tripped when I tried, and fell on my nose, making
it bleed. He carried me to the bathroom, and cried, just a few
small tears that got lost in my hair. I was secretly thrilled with
the glamor of the injury and impressed by his emotion.


His father’s heart was no less strong, but grew fat on Alberta
beef and fried bread. It sent him signals, tiny bursts of hot
semaphore-stop, slow down – but they were silenced by ignorance
and a glass of bicarbonate of soda. A heart as wide as the prairies,
but still one day in the church cloakroom by the chapel, it
stopped. Just stopped. In a glorious seizure it ceased and settled,
my grandfather falling on the floor by the dripping winter boots.
Dad, still in college, bore the loss. But his heart also bore the
hereditary weaknesses- the too-tender empathy that made it
shudder at pain and ugliness, the fierce integrity that made it
tremble at avarice, that luscious longing for meat and gravy. At
the end of his meal, Dad would go to the cupboard for a piece
of soft white bread, and slowly sop up the last of his gravy, winking
at his pleasure. And that germ of weakness that pulsed
through his veins spoke to him one day. Stop. Slow down. He
called the ambulance himself and waited for it in front of his
office.


I told my little sister when she came home from kindergarten,
“Emily, Dad had a heart attack today.” I don’t remember how I
knew. Was there a note on the fridge, by the picture of Mark in
Brazil? Did Mom call? Emily sat on my lap and cried silently,
like a woman.


Dad spent a month in the hospital, waiting for the slow revelations
that could chart the waste of flesh, the hardenings and
softenings of chambers and tissues. The worst test, said Dad, was
the angiogram. You were conscious so that you could cough and
make the muscle jump for a more lively picture, and it was more
painful than the attack, like having fire shot into your veins. And
there, in the basement of the Hotel Dieu hospital, lit up like a
crazy neon roadmap, was the impasse, the heart-plug, the 45 years’
worth of saturated fats and silent anxiety. It was a quadruple
block, and needed to be removed.


The night before his surgery, we all went to the hospital and
sat in a room at the end of the cardiac wing. Beautiful-
surrounded by windows, on the eleventh floor, where we could
see miles of Lake Ontario, dull grey and silver. It must have been
January, because it wasn’t quite frozen . From that height, the
waves looked like a relief map, the continent of Europe in
motion. We sang some hymns-we’d never really done much with
Family Home Evening, but this seemed an appropriate time to
approximate the form – and each one of us said something about
Dad. But the miracle came when he, like Abraham, silenced us
with his presence, and told us simple stories about his love and
gratitude for his children, his wife. We have no promise of a
painless life, he said, or even the presence of beauty to temper
the suffering. All we know is that it is good to love. Then we
prayed, kneeling by the windows, and left. I slept with my
mother that night. She couldn’t stand to be alone with the extra
pillows and the telephone.


I also stayed with her during the surgery, when I wasn’t in
school-10 hours that I remember in small bursts. Friends brought
sandwiches, jello, ice cream. Mom ate nothing. Another family
was waiting for their father in surgery, and at midnight a nurse
came to tell them that he had died. And I learned then that
death was nothing, really nothing, and that was the awful, leering
injustice of it. Just a word and an absence -he is no more.
Mom and I cried like it was for us, and we were alone.


Another friend came – she took me to the cafeteria; Mom was
immovable as a sphinx, convinced that her vigilance would speed
the miracle. When we came back the nurse had been there. The
doctor had asked if we wanted a priest-the operation done, Dad’s
heart, romantic little organ, insulted by the thoughtless vivisection
of the scalpel, refused to beat again. I found a quarter, called
my father’s bishopric counselors. As moments crystallize into
permanence, they acquire unnatural dimensions. This one seems to
me now gigantic, the time drawing out like Einstein’s light-speed
clock, aging more agonizingly than the bean I planted in Primary.
They came and washed and anointed their hands, then his head,
surrounded by green nurses and the surgeons, with the ghastly
chest exposed, ribcage casually set aside like kindling. His heart
began to beat. I asked him later if he’d had a near-death
experience, and he said, “No Marni, just a damned painful one.”


I suppose a girl always harbours a peculiar love for her father,
a subtle fascination with his tallness and inherent opposition to
her substance, but this is not really going to be about Dad. For
I learned, during the hours in the waiting room, when we sat
holding hands just for warmth and the reassurance of vitality,
during the weeks after, when she lost twenty pounds, and let me
drive the car, even though I was still fifteen, when she finally ate
with me, a whole strawberry pie with cream between the two of us,
that my mother was a woman, enigmatic. Not a monolith of power,
dictating piano practice and clean the bathrooms, but a wife and
lover, who knew much more intimately than I the rhythm of my
father’s life, the rhythm of my own creation. Her frantic energy
was an expedient counterpoint to his soft sureness, the two bound
endlessly together by mysterious ties of blood and bone. And last
week, as I lay on a paper-covered table in the Health Center, I
heard a new rhythm, an insistent swish-swish twice the speed of
my own, transferred through jelly smeared on my stomach and
a tiny microphone. It filled the room with a mystical presence,
stronger, it seemed, than my own life, more lovely than my
husband’s eyes as he smiled.

Babyloo Across My Twinkling Floor

by Stephenie Swindle Clark

Redbank’s porch faces my porch, and I have seen him tumble-
rumble the twenty-two steps that lead off of it. It was the summer
I learned to drive and I was like I always was, sitting in the yellow
chair with a hat and some water. It was sunshine and a radio on
upper dial stations. A radio that played all June, all July, all
August, blown in from somewhere. And for this radio, the sun,
my yellow chair and water, Redbank’s spill passed easily. And I
helped him up. I shook him. I said, “Can you hear me? What do
I look like?” I said, “Your knees, your chin and this by your ribs –
what is it that goes on in your head?” And I took my back-pocket
comb and combed. I tied his shoes. I said, ”All this smells of dirt
clods being thrown against the sidewalk- to scare away animals
and small children-kerwangy!” Just like that. Redbank was eight.


My father, John Joseph, when he was tired and mad, in bed
watching game shows, I bargained. “John Joseph, what do you
want with that despicable green-thingy Volkswagen? You don’t drive
it like I’d like to drive it,” I said. “Give it and I’ll clean your house.
I’ll pick tomatoes – all summer, I tell you. And then you hand
over the keys with no backstabbing, no wishy-washy, John Joseph.”
“Razor-backed, blood-gushing daggers,” he said. “You do this
to me. But the keys I’ll give you. You’re a Virginia deal maker.”
“Damn, damn, I’ll make sure you can see it when you smile
in that kitchen floor, my twinkling floor.”
So I swept. I mopped. I made Vienna sausages into French stew.
I sorted laundry. I made piles for boys’ and mens’. Underwear I
kicked into the corner. And I pre-spotted. I folded, pressed,
steamed, groceried, fed the baby and kept him away from
the garbage cans. “Tasty, tasty,” I would tell him when I took the
butter wrappers from his mouth. I set his Star Wars playpen in
the kitchen there by me. I would put him there and he would
murmur and be pleased at how he could adjust his legs, his
arms, spit at his toys.
The pretend bay windows in our kitchen went from floor to
ceiling. They showed our porch, our garden, our fence . And then,
Redbank’s garden and Redbank’s porch. For the first three weeks
of summer Redbank sat, like a sailor, in white underwear, and
watched me from his porch while I shook the kitchen rugs, swept
and hefted, stood with my hands across my waist; I would carry
things from room to room and stop to rest and think and look
at the baby with my hands at my waist. Before napping, the baby
would stand and whirl holding fiercely, so fiercely to the edge
of his pen.


John Joseph handed over the keys when he really did see his
face in the linoleum. “I got my driver’s license,” I told him. And
he sucked air through the hole he had drilled in his thumbnail.
He looked at my twinkling floor. “Here’s ten bucks,” he said.
“Good one.” And I got in my car and drove. I drove everywhere.
I went through high school and college and I said, “You want
a ride? Do you?” I was a good driver. And I am still. I drive like
fire. And today I say, “Yeah, I’ll give you a ride,” and I say, “I’m
with child. Yes, I am.” And I shake my body like hollandaise and
Jello. I smack my gut and say, “It’s St. Santa right here in your
own living room. What do you want? What do you want?” And
then I laugh into my hands. I’m twenty-seven and it’s November.
As you would expect, there’s very little snow.

When I’ve closed the store and called my ever-vigilant-
doctor-man Matheson, been to the cleaners and fed the cats,
I sit down to make a list. I have baby things in one column,
food in another. Sweet day, I love a good grocery trip. I have the
crib and the blankets. I have the big things. What I’ll get is
the sterile soap and a soft brush for head scrubbing. Q-tips and
the pointy funnel thing to clear the nose for cold and flu season.
Diapers. Powder. I’ll get it all. My breasts, like cotton candy, are
achy-achy.


I move my cart into the aisle flow and follow two women I
know. Cosmetics, dairy, baking, household items, meat. One is
Reba Jules and the other Jerilyn Wokler, and they are silk. Silky,
silky, high-waisted control-tops. I reach down deep inside me-
past my gullet- and glide with them as best I can.
Reba says to Jerilyn, ‘Jerilyn, attractive pants make the woman.”
”I’ll say,” says Jerilyn. “I had that woman make them-
Joe Silver’s mother, I had her make them for me.”
“Tailored,” says Reba.
”I’ll say,” says Jerilyn.

They skate and they roll-a figure eight without thinking.
And me, my stomach’s on the tile. I’m loafing. I’m dilly-dallying.
But they go. They race forward, their heads touching, and I
watch them move. They stop at the cranberry juice and reach for
quarts. They move on to the peas. And they are thin. Reba is
thin. Jerilyn is thin. Their hair minds them. They met in college.
They walk Monday, Wednesday, and Friday in purple tights. I’ve
seen them.
I take my purse and throw it sliding to their feet. It hits Reba’s
heel, spins ninety degrees, and I shuffle off to Buffalo.
“Sorry,” I say and heave over. I put my bottom in their faces.
I get up and I’m breathing hard. My face is red. I’m puffing.
They breathe in like small mosquitoes.
I offer my hand, “Hello, Reba, Jerilyn. Won’t you stop by my
anti-Indian and African store. We’re changing our look. And,”
I circle my hand at my stomach, “Babyloo will want to get a look
at you each.”
“Hello,” they say.
“Hi, Susan, how are you?” says Jerilyn.
“Here I am,” I say.
“Well we were just talking about you, talking about your
wonderful store. We love your store. We think it’s a wonderful
store.”
“Yes we do,” says Reba. “It is.”
“Stop by,” I say. “We’ll talk. There’s a place in the mall that
delivers Mexican. We could eat. You could see my baby.”
“Yes,” says Jerilyn.
“Any day now?” says Reba.
“I’m going to keep a crib in the back. You’ll be able to come
back and see. I’ll have everything I need, back there as well as
at home. Two sets.”
“Two sets,” says Jerilyn.
“We look forward to seeing you,” says Reba.
“Goodbye,” I say and they move away. They take their carts
and go, and I watch their hips. I watch and I wish for their well-
shaped forearms, Reba’s switchy trumpet skin, their good noses- I
think and think about the line of their noses.

I’m taking sacks from the trunk to the cement to the kitchen.
The cats are walking the counters like tigers. I put away the baby
and grocery things and the cats start dancing. “Ole,” I say and
they fight. They love each other. They turn circles on the counter,
off the counter, down the stairs if I had any. They tip the garbage
can and drink from the faucets-very mincingly as though they
had just done their hair, gloves on their hands and a light colored
dress.

I know that Redbank came off his porch a morning the baby
would not nap. He walked down the twenty-two steps, through
his garden, our garden, and sat across from me on the porch. I
had come out to see if the sun and the radio would make the
baby sleep. Redbank poked at his eye and I jiggled the baby. He
pinched his nose and he honked it. I kept with my jiggling.
He said, “Hi, baby.” And he did not look at me. “Hi, baby,” he
said and let the baby grip at his fingers and eat them. “This is
a cute baby,” he said to my chair, my hat, my glass of water.
“Yes,” I said.
“Yes,” he said and got off his chair. He went back to his porch
and sat there and called, “Hi, baby. Hi,” until the baby finally
slept and I rolled him up and went inside. The radio played till
dark.
To go to bed and be warm is to have one cat on my chest, the
other on my stomach. If the baby starts to jostle, the stomach
cat sits up. And it’s the beacon of all truth. The covers swoosh
down from his ears and head and he sits still – except his ears –
to feel the baby beneath his feet. His ears crane and stretch. We
all listen. We are all so tired.
November-it is cold again, suddenly now-21st, 1982. The
baby comes in one week. l put my letters to answer in my second
white desk drawer. When I open the drawer to find hidden
things and only find letters, I know it’s time to write back. But
not today I can tell you. Peter called. He thought I had had the
baby. “Not yet,” I told him. “Not nine months yet.”
“You feeling okay?” he said.
“I’m feeling okay. You called-and it’s nice.”
“I am nice. Are you big?”
“I’m fat.”
“How do you feel?”
“I’m tired. I’m bloated. My prenatal blush has lit the sofa on
fire. I lounge in flames. Surely blisters any time now.”
“Whiney, whiney. I didn’t think you’d have it, this live baby.”
I blew into the phone.
And he listened.
I wrap a scarf around my head, a coat around my stomach.
Peter opens the door and I smell fish . He takes my coat and grips
his hands around my stomach. He makes a pumping iron face
and keeps gripping. “You could really whack someone with this.
Ever jostle in a crowd?”
“No, I only cut loose with cats. We turn out every last light
and dance it in the dark.”
“Rock ‘n’ roll?” he says.
“Swing-time, big band,” I say.
He turns and hangs my coat and scarf on a sculptured metal
tree. I flick the tree with a fingernail and listen to it ring.
“Need help with your housekeeping?” I say. “I know all about
it.”
“Dead wrong,” he says. “I am completely hard-water-deposit
free. Bathroom and kitchen.”
“I’m going to look,” I say.
“And, Susan,” he says, “What do you know about this baby?”
He walks into the kitchen to look into pots.
I sink into the couch and look at my knees. “What are we eating
besides fish?” I yell.

Peter has dogs. They come in to see me, but I don’t quite reach
their heads, caught as I am in the groovy couch. They walk over
and climb on a furry bean bag, standing and looking at me until
the bag sinks to their liking. The decor hasn’t been changed since
August ’73. Because it was me who painted the super graphics
on July 4th. Me who said everything felt like orange, brown,
and rust. Me who papered the east wall in a forest mural
( the imagination of water and rocks and trees and humming
things) and chose the toe-snuggling wool rug toss. We wished
only for the possibility of an E PA approved wood-burning stove.
Peter clinkaty-clink-clinks in the kitchen and I say, “Here
poochie poochie.” I pat my legs. “Here-come here and see me.”
It was that early afternoon time of day that Redbank fell down
the stairs and I try to tell Peter. “He was gleaming in his
underwear,” I yell into the kitchen. “He was waving. He said,
‘Where have you got that baby?’ ” And then he went; he
spilled, tumbled, split right open and greeted each step with a
forced, broken breathlessness. Oohwee, I was scared.
Peter comes in with TV trays. He comes in with the food and
the dogs start bouncing and grinning. “Skipper, Mack-sit,” he
tells them. And they sit. They have tight little chests and proud
little heads. Peter says, “How ’bout those 49ers?” And we both
sit right up and eat.

After the fish, after the brussel sprouts and bread, there is
four-layered gelatin parfait with fruit cocktail accents.
“You know, Redbank wasn’t really even hurt,” I say.
“Is that a fact?” he says.
“You know, my dog . . . ” I say.
“I don’t remember a dog,” he says.
“That little thing loved me. I used to take him up the canyon
and walk.”
“If you take these dogs and walk-if you scratch Skipper and
scratch Mack-they’ll follow you hell-near anywhere,” he says.
“I took mine up mostly in fall. The sun was still warm. I wore
shorts and a tank and the car keys around my neck.”
“The dog died, huh?”
“No, he drowned,” I say.
“Drowned?” he says. “I never take my dogs near water;’ he says.
“There was water all over the canyon. He loved it. I didn’t
worry. He came back with a wet chest and jumped for the radio
antenna. I had a green flag on it.”
“Yeah,” he says. “Well,” he says. He scrubs Mack and Skipper
down the back and over the stomach, spanks their bottoms. He
takes our TV trays and plates all at once. A magician. He turns
the music on.
I get my coat myself.
“What a time we’ve had today;’ he says. “Come again and
again.”
“I think so;’ I say. ‘TH come and walk your dogs. I’ll come with
Babyloo in a backpack and we’ll go up the canyon and find
water- a pool with a pleasant clearness.”
“Pollution,” he says.
“Pleasant clearness,” I say. I say, “The dogs will strut up and
down its banks for the pleasure of seeing their fine muscles swivel
and wrap each bone. They are fine dogs and for all their time
spent admiring the lines of their back and stomach I will have
fallen asleep nursing Babyloo. I will wake up to a splash-one
dog ankle-deep and the other giving me a hello from the bank.
And before I know where or what, their heels will fly up and
they will whir to bottom, stirring up this and that, and the pool
will no longer be clear with the stroked back of the bristly pooch
and the caressed whitish pooch stuck so very well to the bottom.”
Peter has me by the wrists, palms up. He’s cocking his head.
But he’s listening.
“But,” I say, “it is only that I will bring them back with wet
chests. I would throw Babyloo in and they would swim back up
from the bottom and drag the baby by the knees and ankles
carefully to shore. They would come to me for praise and I would
give it.”
Peter drops my wrists. He pushes me. He opens the door and
walks outside.
The baby will come, I know. Late maybe, but it really will. It’ll
come and I’ll know insides are ripping, are falling apart. I’ll think:
I’m bleeding and count each knocking fist. This baby will want
my life for sure thing. It will want my days and my nights, my
bedsheets, my shoes and my socks. And I’ll give them. It can have
them. I’ll give them. I am falling down stairs. My cats flip through
a quiet apartment. We are all so tired.
I wash the baby’s head with the sterile soap and soft brush.
No more cradle crap. I touch Q-tips to its ears and nose. I sack
it in a sleeper and cover it with a striped blanket. It sleeps just
fine. The cats jump and perch on either edge of the crib. They
hang their bodies low. They wave their paws. They hold still and
they fix their eyes on what I have made. I pick up my cats by the
scruff of their necks.