Posts tagged: draft
Set the bottle down on the patio
and you’ve got to shuck off your damp
t-shirt, wriggle out of your jeans,
take off your glasses, can’t stop until
loss is impossible. This is how we finished
the wine. A square of chairs in the yard. Naked.
Mouth stained cheap. Bus home drunk from North Bergen
on a Sunday. The Hennessey’s barkeep
passed tight, tiny joints into my pocket like change
for the payphone. The drunk summer
I was the girl with the drugs. Should’ve called it
church, those songs for the slum rats. Should’ve burned
the hair I cut, blown ash towards the river. Should’ve
kissed all parties present. Should’ve swum
somewhere to get clean. I split a pint of Jack
on the train with my pops and transfered in Seacaucus.
Handle of rum in my purse for a party with the Princeton prep
boys. Set the bottle down, and you drink double. Swig
straight from its harsh mouth. Set it down. Admit
you are too young to be this lonely.
“We’re calling it a drowning,” Cleon Harrington told the local network affiliate, when, at the steamy crux of August, Rachel Morris went missing. Phrasing it that way saved him from having to lie. No body had been recovered; he hesitated to state any private conclusion as fact. But the press pressed him. As the chief of police, he was expected to volunteer some absolute—coroner’s report, a murder suspect, at least a plausible chain of events. Without evidence, he had nothing of the sort to give.
The dreams started here, in the uncertainty. They bred as the shadows lengthened and the POLICE LINE tape was cut from the trees in her parent’s yard and disposed of. No footprints to take impressions of, no witnesses. The last person to see her had been the neighbor boy, who told Cleon that Rachel spent a lot of the summer in the willow tree trailing its leaves in the shallows at the edge of the property. All six deputies in the department had donned waders and kicked around in the muck, to no avail.
Maybe it was only the heat haze, but Cleon saw ripples where there were none and went to hide in the Morris kitchen with a glass of lemonade. He felt too young for his first big case; his father had never warned him to expect more questions than clues. He’d taught him to shot and sprint, but never to squint at the dirt for the story it might offer.
Serenity summer was already aswim in funerals. During the first heat wave, Betty Ann Frakes passed after a quiet struggle with leukemia; a few weeks later, her sister Josephine choked to death on a flounder bone. Their neighbors, the Stewarts, lost a baby girl two weeks after bringing her home. Max Kolsky, the grocery store manager, went when his car stalled on the Charlemagne train tracks. Several beloved family pets had to be put down after a string of attacks by a stray with mange. Dutch elm disease struck hard and fast, decimating too many fine trees.
Cleon wanted to stare at the losses and wait for a pattern to emerge in its own time, but the local paper had leaked the story to a new crew and suddenly he was confronted with a microphone.
“We’re not at liberty to discuss the details of an on-going investigation,” he’d offered weakly, knowing full well their were no details to divulge or withhold in the first place. The press pressed, and Cleon was at a loss. Every blade of grass has been combed through. Nothing was missing from Rachel’s bedroom. She had no boyfriend to run off with, no one to visit in parts unknown, no problems in school, no sudden cloud of depression deadening her in some slow, insidious way that might summon a suicide as yet undiscovered. She’d made her bed the morning before, spent the day with her best friend. Nothing was wrong.
Cleon took it upon himself to tell the friend, who lived directly across the street, though shed already been told. The way she looked at him made the day even more impossible to bear. Like he was to blame somehow. Like he had done something wrong in the asking that made it impossible for Rachel to return. The parents had called the police when they found Rachel’s bed un-slept-in, but they looked at him the same way, as if his presence was some admission that their daughter was never coming back. He owed it to them to prove himself innocent. Rachel was gone before his search began. He was simply the first to declare their worst fear aloud.
Elizabeth was watching the tail end of the news report when he arrived home. Rachel’s yearbook photo disappeared from the screen as he put away his service revolver and kicked off his boots.
“I saved you some macaroni salad. It’s on the top shelf of the fridge.”
“I think we should move,” he answered.
“Sleep on it.” She smiled weakly. ”We’ll talk tomorrow.”
While his wife washed up in the kitchen, Cleon dozed on the couch, shreds of primetime television weaving into his dreams. A laugh track ran under the day happening in reverse. He put his boots back on, pulled out of the driveway, shook hands with Mr. Morris, pocket his card, explored the house from bottom to top. Elizabeth kissed him on the forehead.
“You’re talking in your sleep. Drink this.” She put a mug of tea on the end table and went up to bed. He drank it. Brushed his teeth. Slid between the sheets while she snored softly.
He was in for years of possible answers dangled just beyond his grasp. Years of sleep where the only dream he remembered upon waking was one of Rachel, slowly slipping beneath the surface of the lake, already dead. Some nights he dove in after her. Others, the water turned to glass and he would slice through it as if ice fishing, reach in and search for her hand, her hair, any trace.
But the worst dream was the product of that first night, the night the story ran on the news. In it, Cleon was bathing in a room with mildew climbing the tile grout. It was so dark, he could not see the edges of the room. No soap, no towels. He was in the tepid water and watching himself at once.
Rachel walked towards him. She wore a pale green dress with white buttons up the front the size of quarters. And Cleon was embarrassed to see her this way, as if she was the naked one. He stared at his knees, stared at himself staring at his knees. Rachel sat down on the tub’s lip, put her feet in the water. In her hand, a darning needle with a length of thick, waxy thread through its eye.
She sewed his lips together with a practiced, even whipstitch. Cleon didn’t flinch or even bleed; he pursed his lips for her. She tied off the last stitch with a tidy knot and he closed one eye and then the other as she repeated the process. When she was done, he couldn’t see her or himself in the bath anymore, but her heard the water stir and knew she was gone.
A rusted set of jacks. Wishbone (the losing half). Tuft of cat hair fished from a butterfly bush. Branch from the same. St. Christopher medal in dull pewter. Plastic budget flask of Old Grandad whisky, dwindling. And fireproof matches. Lots of them. The whole store stacked carefully inside a moldering cardboard cigar box, also stolen.
“What are you going to do with all that?” Nate asked, nudging the cat hair with a wary finger.
“Probably burn it.” Willy toed a piece of slate, overturning it to reveal an alarmingly charred portion of cemetery lawn.
She hadn’t thought that far along in advance. Stealing the stuff had been a task unto itself, though, if asked, she wouldn’t term it stealing-proper. More like borrowing, or discovering. The jacks came as spoils of a long, well-disguised midnight archaeology site beneath the neighbors’ willow tree. Which was half on the Randolph property anyway. Being one third of the Randolph’s in Serenity, that made the tree one sixth Willy’s. She avoided further cross-multiplication, erroneous or otherwise, to determine what one sixth of a tree she only saw one third of the year left her with in terms of legal recourse for the flashlight-facilitated dig site she’d faithfully returned to on Thursdays for three summers running.
The promise of new oddities keep her tilling, though finds were rare at best. The work of all three summers had only turned up a portion of what Willy hoped was full set of jacks mashed into the topsoil, and no rubber ball at all. But, and this was promising, the St. Christopher medal was from the same spot. Willy had found it while taking a break from scratching indelicately at the tree’s roots with her mother’s neglected garden trowel, but she maintained that it had been no accident. She’d stepped on the medal in bare feet and jumped at its odd warmth when the rest of the ground had gone cool with dew and several hours of night. There it was, pendant, chain slightly tangled in an immature clump of tickle grass. A clue, maybe.
With the jacks, like all important finds, it was added to the box, joining the wishbone (found at the end of the neighbors’ driveway post-trash-pickup) and the Old Grandad (found languishing in the shadow of a headstone leaning at a nearly-acute angle to the ground not ten yard from the charred patch of cemetery lawn).
“You’re right. Better to wait. The moon will be full next Friday. I might be able to find the last few jacks by then.” Willy tied a shoelace around the box and put the lot back into her bag.
Nate was either hungry (again) or uneasy, he couldn’t tell which. He’d chewed a piece of cinnamon gum until the flavor burned the back of his tongue, then faded to a dull heat. He liked Willy. He’d liked her a long time. Not that he’d tell anybody that, or even be able to articulate if asked point-blank. It was like the gum, lingering around the edges of his mouth as he chewed and chewed, unsure of what one does with gum once the flavor’s gone and its too tough to stretch or blow bubbles with. Every now and then there would be a sharp snap and it scared him a little, that she might notice the sound of him chewing or that she probably wasn’t noticing the sound or him at all, and then she turned around at the cemetery gate and he was so distracted by how dry his mouth was getting that he walked right into her, almost dead on, except that she was short, or at least, he was tall, so his shoulder hit her in the face at an odd angle and she stumbled back into the flaking wrought iron fence and said, “Jeez! as if they were in some ancient film about speaking appropriately to your peers, produced circa duck-and-cover air raid drills.
“Aren’t you going to apologize?” And then it seemed impossible to proceed with either course of action—a fire, or whatever else is inappropriate but common when two teenagers spend time in a cemetery—so they walked the mile back to Maple Walnut Drive and pulled the salvaged couch cushions from underneath Willy’s bed and listened to the same woefully scratched Caustic Resin LP five consecutive times while Willy made mobiles out of dowels and yarn and old glass bottles and Nate read and reread the LP’s liner notes aloud in different permutations of the same Southern hillbilly accent, which was the only accent he could properly manage. Willy liked it. She laughed a lot, anyway.
It was summer again, and Serenity hadn’t changed at all. Neither had they. Willy still lived two doors down from Nate, and Nate still smoked his grandfather’s pipe. Sure, Nate was four inches taller than the summer before. And Willy’s face had gotten angular under its spray of freckles. But they could still lay around on the floor with the door closed and not have Mrs. Randolph come barging in on them like she did when Willy had boys over from school. No such thing as mortified when you grow up loving someone from the bones out. No such thing as innocent either.
Eighteen came at me like a blade
or a needle. I arrived at your apartment
in a nightgown. It was still almost summer,
warm enough to wander barefoot.
The pair of us, psych ward
salt and pepper shakers.
You lived in the Midas room.
Each bulb on the string of white lights
hand-colored yellow with Sharpie, a mania
precious enough to preserve. Twenty-four
came over you slow, like too much
champagne. The mess was nothing
you couldn’t hide under that pristine bed
with the mustard blanket, or behind
the bleak altar crowned with
its spare vase of poppies.
Just like a teenager,
I crushed on that melancholy
year, your striped socks, the cigarette
we cut in the yard.
We exchanged names, laughing
at the way depression had come
conveniently into fashion. The dancers
bubbled through your living room naked
as late September sunrise. An apt party.
Your absent smile was impossibly hip.
My shaved head got rave reviews.
I worry you
into song like a violin’s unmarked neck,
tenor too taught to rest, shake of a blue bottle
fly shedding its old
case. This, the skin I wear
to meet strangers, without bruise,
bloodless, behaving. Lies
unravel on my tongue, sugar cubes
losing their corners.
I am dyed rubies, slice
of some cave’s cheek, my voice a rope
scarring gloveless hands.
My pictures are Polaroid
in the top drawer of a desk:
ass up on the unmade bed
reading some glossy, glancing
over my shoulder, sure.
Film as unstable as widow’s web.
I found yours in the Vice
a night vision crime
scene, your breasts
the pane of a Xerox
machine, your mouth
a green-gray smear
across fourteen pages.
When I am alone
in front of the mirror
I wonder at what might be lost—
if someone could carve that full
white curve from me and can it,
an unwilling ghost.
Girl spread across two cities like jam and much sweeter for it. Seeking paycheck. Seeking tax break. Seeking caffeine that don’t cause headaches and feet that don’t complain for the dancing and beers that stay full all along and sunshine like this straight through snow season and what’s that bleeding heart? What’s that blister? What tear can squeeze past in this rush? There is no extra moment for it. There are no more tickets. The train is full. The bus is bursting. The cabbie ignored you, bitterness; you stay in the street now. You wasp in the sugar bowl, you traffic circle horn that don’t give a fuck, you tired little rip tide, you. I will not be stung, pushed, or swept away and drowned. Girl melts like butter in the frying pan makes onions bleed sugar. Makes the garlic dance. Greases teeth into a smile. The best kind of payment.