This is a list
of pieces from Ingrid,
whose head was found
toothless and bleeding
in a ditch in the shore,
by a rock near the sea.
by froth of the ocean.
A ring finger,
close to a clearing,
Ross was the type of guy one hoped never to run into at the grocery store because of his big, fat mouth. Really, he was not that fat; instead I would have characterized him as tall and hefty, like the magnolia tree he cut down in his side yard, only without the possibility of blossom. Back then he was just my neighbor, father to twin teenagers Allison and Ralph, and the wood shop teacher at the local high school, which might have led you to believe he kept up his property by painting the shutters, polishing the porch railings, or building birdhouses complete with turrets, terraces, and a colonnade.
She lay on the couch in her living room,
which wasn’t her living room, although
a it seemed to be. Strangeness cast a spell
with the power to conjure an unfamiliar
place as real, if not more real
than the actual place that he remembered
in every detail for nothing in the dream.
Her sister, Ereshkigl was also there
in the background that turned into a kitchen
at the speed of darkness. She was oblivious
to her sibling’s condition as she went about
her business steaming spinach and baking scones,
then turning to him, Dumuzi, the widower,
the warrior, the dreamer, and saying,
“She’s no longer with us, you know.
There’s nothing you can do.”
These are the relevant details:
-at three a.m. there will be a hissing sound outside the living room window;
-when the contrast is adjusted in a photograph of leaves and branches from below, they will begin to take the form of galaxies and nebula in black and white;
-the swamp hug of Florida dawn is a mother’s bosom to the barfly;
-somebody decided there are right ways and wrong ways;
—that same person invented the list;
-the sister will never call first as it is the job of the brother to keep in touch – after all, his life is easier;
-a beach parking lot in Hawai’i Kai is swarmed by dozens of feral cats at night, the thin Pacific twilight so clear it magnifies the moonbeams into silver pinholes frozen at the crux of their stalking feline gaze;
“The undertone, the savage old mother incessantly crying,
To the boy’s soul’s questions sullenly timing, some drown’d
– Walt Whitman
I waited for the right time to leave,
which was not a specific time,
but how to tell? He was dying now,
so time was stuck in hell. Better
to say something than sit
like a sentry beside his bed. Better
to act as if we were home and I
was twelve again. So, I rose
The buck peered at me, its black eyes unblinking. It was large, the largest I had ever seen, with a sleek, shiny pelt and thick, flaring antlers that tapered to savage points. If I had hit the brake a second later, I would have smashed into it. I was relieved I hadn’t. A deer that size would have wrecked the front of my car, and I couldn’t afford to get bodywork done any time soon. It was my first day on the job. I was two weeks away from a paycheck and only had enough money left in my bank account to pay for a week’s worth of groceries.
I honked my horn, but the animal didn’t move. It just twitched its white ears and tilted its smooth angular head to the side. I honked again, and it swished its tail and leapt into the dark forest. It had stood in my path for almost a minute. I’d seen deer on the road before, but they’d always dashed off before I got anywhere near them. Why hadn’t this one? Did it find people and their cars so unthreatening that it saw no reason to flee. Hunting was prohibited in the forests surrounding the school. If the buck had lived its whole life in this protected area, I supposed it would have no reason to fear people. Maybe it had never seen a car here this early in the morning and had simply paused to examine the curiosity, to get a closer look at the unexpected visitor.
If it roamed near the driveway every morning at this time, I thought, it would get used to me. I would be getting here early as often as I could—at least for the first month or two. I had to. I was a brand new teacher. I had never taught a class of high school students outside of a grad school laboratory. I needed all the time I could get to go over my lesson plans, fine-tune my syllabus, and read over the books I would be teaching. I couldn’t afford to fumble a lesson or forget an important talking point. I couldn’t come off as unprepared or uncertain to the students. I had to be strong and strict and well rehearsed right from day one if I wanted these kids to take me seriously. I already had one strike against me: I looked young. I was twenty-four going on twenty-five, but I was small and slight with a smooth, boyish face and a soft tenor voice. I could have passed for a teenager, and the moment I showed any sign of weakness, I knew these kids would treat me like one.
Marina was still submerged beside me, little air bubbles popping out of the water above her blurry head.
I joined the others on the bank, donned a jersey and waited for her to come up again. We were getting cold, and imagining the warm supper that would be waiting for us made us shiver more.
A minute passed, and then another.
Tessa wanted to fetch Marina out of the water but Luke wanted to see how long she could go for.
Another minute passed in silence.
Tessa, Raymond, Malcolm and I started talking about the history assignment that was going to be due the next week. We had to interview our grandparents and create a timeline of their lives. Luke lay on his back and stared into the dark clouds.
Another minute passed.
“How long has it been now?” I asked Malcolm. He looked at his watch, “Five minutes.”
We were all impressed. It was her best time ever.
Andy and Dad always stopped off at the church before going fishing. Andy looked through the window as they crunched over the gravel, and waved to the man inside.
Pastor Cunningham sold tackle and bait and rods from a room at the side of the church, even on Sunday mornings, and even when it was still dark. He would read the Bible with his feet up. He opened his shop half an hour before dawn — even on Christmas and at Easter — according to sunrise times listed in the Kaipara Harbour Fisherman’s Handbook, which he put together himself each summer using the photocopier in the Church office.
The shop smelled of bait and ice and oil, and that black tea the pastor drank. There were always strange shadows on the wall made by the rods standing at different angles in the window. Pictures and maps of the Kaipara harbour were pinned to hessian boards. The room seemed crowded and full and was always warm, even in the black winter mornings.
“Nice morning,” said the Pastor.
“She is,” said Dad.
Andy had seen pictures of priests and church-men, on TV and in books: Pastor Cunningham looked like none of them. He looked pretty much like Dad, hairy and tall and brown from the sun, with a pot belly where he would sometimes rest his hand, or his tea, or his glass of beer. He dressed in shorts and a brushed cotton shirt, red or blue usually but with other colours running through it, except on Sundays when he wore his brown corduroy trousers and a shirt and tie.
Cunningham was his first name, and his last name was Thomas. Cunningham Thomas. Andy had first thought he must have had them backwards, but no, Mum said that was the way it was. Backwards was forwards.
Mum had grown up with Pastor Cunningham, and so had Dad. They’d all been kids together. Some people, like the big kids at Andy’s school and some of the grown-ups, called Pastor Cunningham a different name. They called him Sly Bacon. Mum didn’t — Mum called him Cunningham — but Dad did. Actually, most often Dad just called him Bacon, and he didn’t seem to mind.
Pastor Cunningham pulled a bag of bait from the chest freezer and handed it to Dad. The bag had frozen into a strange shape, like a squashed sausage. Dad pulled out a two-dollar note from his pocket. The pastor raised his hand.
“I’ll take a smoked Kahawai, next time you come by,” he said.
“You’ve always been a gentleman,” said Dad.
They walked back to the car. The sky was beginning to glow.
“How far we going today, Dad?”
Demington had been dreaming the dream, in one form or another, for as long as he could remember. The action was always extensive and complicated, as it usually is in dreams, but the principals were always himself and his wife, Morgan. All manner of things happened inside his personal nighttime movie: sometimes he was lost on the highway in his car, or he was about to run out of fuel, or the road was slick with ice or snow and he panicked
Tucker was struck by how different Miles looked in his pictures. Time had been good to him. He was bronzed and broad-shouldered, muscular and bearded, a handsome, smiling buccaneer. Gone was the pale, waifish, gloomy boy of Tucker’s memory. Tucker looked different, too, he knew. His hair was thinner. He was softer and flabbier, thicker around the middle. There was more flesh under his chin. He had, by his own admission, not aged as well as his friend. But he reassured himself. Looks aside, he had been pretty fortunate. He had a beautiful wife who loved him. He had sold more houses last year than any other Realtor in his company. He had financial security, a nice house on a good street, and a son on the way. By nearly every objective measure, he was doing quite well.
By the looks of his house, Miles was doing quite well, too. He lived in a large, impressive Tudor in the middle of a broad shady street lined with other large, impressive Tudors. As Tucker and his wife pulled into the driveway, Tucker estimated the house’s value. He figured it would go for about four hundred and fifty thousand if it were listed tomorrow. If he were the seller’s agent, he thought he could probably get five hundred thousand for it. He quickly calculated the commission in his head: a little over six thousand dollars after the buyer’s agent and the brokers took their shares. Not a bad haul. With that kind of paycheck, he could take a month off.
Tucker and his wife parked and got out of their car. Miles came out to greet them. Dressed in a tight gray t-shirt and form-fitting jeans, he looked even more chiseled and strapping in person than he had in his pictures. Behind him came a tall, trim man with a shaved head and dark, deep-set eyes. Tucker reached out to shake his friend’s hand. Miles ignored the hand and went right for a hug, wrapping Tucker up in his strong arms. He slapped Tucker on the back and pulled away. “Tuck,” he said. “It is so good to see you. It’s been too long.”
Death unescorted by feet or form,
Difficult to trace bare bone footprint;
Discern its image in the mirror of vitality,
Its spirit draws breath in the body of life;
The phone is all the way across the house. The kitchen, the dining room, the long corridor. It didn’t used to look so long. I’ve told you this house is too big for you. Each step is so slow. Just three digits to dial, 9-1-1. And yet, it’s so far. A trip across the house like a perilous adventure. One more step. Betsy offered to stay, didn’t she? You should’ve taken her up on it. She will feel terrible if…no, no, you can’t think that. Not as long as you keep making step after step. Yes, that’s right, step after step. And that pressure in my chest is okay, it’s not so bad. It was nice of Betsy. She’s been nice to me for the last year or two. She used to be so irritable. I wonder what’s changed. One more step. Don’t panic. You can make it. Yes you can. One more step. One step at a time, nice and slow. Betsy has been doing better since she divorced that terrible man. Why not let your daughter stay overnight? You know why. She can’t stay every night, can she? Then she might as well move in. Tonight is like any other night, or at least it was supposed to be.
Carla wasn’t afraid of horses, and this amazed her mother. Ariel was sure her five-year-old daughter would recoil from them as she did from large dogs and her six-foot, four-inch pre-school yoga teacher. (Carla’s school, in Boston, had been New Age before the term was invented.) Instead of retreating, however, Carla asked to be held in front of the horses so she could pet them between the eyes. She’d visited all six of the horses who occupied stalls at the May Day Stables.
After Ariel and her daughter completed a second loop of the stables, Ariel set Carla onto the hay-strewn concrete near the entrance. “Again!” Carla said. Ariel looked at her watch. Wanting to escape the misery in her mother-in-law’s house, she had given herself twice the time she needed for the drive and had arrived twenty-two minutes early for Carla’s inaugural riding lesson. It was the middle of June, and hot.
“Horses!” Carla insisted. She looked like Ariel, with her red-blond hair and faint blue eyes. She had Summit’s large, pouting lips. “Pet the horses again!”
But Ariel heard steps behind her, and when she turned, she thought she was looking at her friend Becca. The woman was tall like Becca, and she had the same black hair, cut Cleopatra style, and the same moon-white skin. She was wearing a pair of brown leather riding boots, a pair of jeans, and a red T-shirt with “Strive to Thrive” written in cursive across the front. The shirt reminded Ariel of her mother-in-law, who wasn’t thriving. Georgia’s lung cancer, in its last, terrible stage, was the reason they were in West Virginia rather than at home outside Boston.
It started with one of the slim green poetry books. Wordsworth, Coleridge, maybe Yeats, the poet is not important, but the book, . . . A Sunday morning.
Robed and wearing the liver-colored slippers that some forgotten aunt had given me many Christmases ago, I had just turned from the window—a foggy morning mist—when I see it lying there, title down, in front of the bookcase.
Alice thought back to high school in Swaziland. She had lost touch with all of her girlfriends. Loved them. Belinda became a matron at an orphanage in Swaziland, Wanda became a Maths teacher, Mona moved to America, and Carol the one who had had the most promise killed herself.
Every night since Joyce had come home she would hear the click of the telephone in its cradle. Whispers. Long sighs and then a hush. Even tears. A muffled voice sobbing. One night Alice thought, ‘this is my house now. I have the right to do as I please. Secret phone-calls or not.’
She made her way to the kitchen to make a sandwich and tea and overheard a conversation she wasn’t supposed to hear.
Joyce, her sister, gay! It had never entered her mind before (but didn’t it kind of make sense to her). That Joyce would be attracted to women. It had just never come up in conversation.