19 Oct

Ghost in the Valley

We had a white barn cat named Ghost who disappeared when I was six. Mom said she saw a hawk take him away. I pictured the two of them—the cat and the hawk—soaring over the valley like a couple of tandem hang gliders. I told Mom I bet Ghost liked flying. “Oh, honey,” she said. She covered her mouth with her hand. And then my older brother Jason, who’d been eavesdropping from across the room, laughed and said, “You’re the weirdest little kid.” I could see Mom’s smile spilling around the hand covering her mouth.

I ran out the door to the barn where Ghost used to hunt mice. Mom called after me.

I climbed the ladder to the hay loft and meowed, hoping to see Ghost emerge from some dark corner, arching his white back in anticipation of a scratch. Over the bales of hay I crawled, with stray spires pricking my palms and knees. And then I opened the loft door and sat at the ledge, letting my legs dangle.

The barn looked out over a valley that years later would flood when torrential rains made the rivers swell. I squinted into the distance, willing superpower vision to reveal Ghost stalking mice in the fields or soaring over treetops with his buddy the hawk. But it was a foggy morning, and no hawk’s vision would help me find my lost cat.

There were so many things I couldn’t see in those days—like the liquor Jason stole from the kitchen cabinet or the late night conversations between Mom and Dad over the piles of past-due bills. So many things weren’t ever going to come back. But what did I know? I imagined flying over the foggy treetops, gripped by a hawk who I thought was my friend, and stretching my padded paws earthward toward home.

28 Apr


Janey and I were in our snowsuits, just outside the pasture, on the Lund’s farm. It was one of those warm winter days when the fog rolls in from who knows where and everything’s white—the trees invisible, the snow-covered cornfields infinite beyond the near fence.

“Did you know,” Janey said, “that if you shut your eyes, it’s impossible to walk a straight line?”

I was eight, maybe nine. I didn’t believe her. So I closed my eyes and took a few unsteady steps forward. The thick, damp air cocooned around me, absorbing all but the sound of my heavy footfalls in the snow. My course felt guided by some invisible tunnel heading straight toward the fence posts at the border of the cornfields. After ten sure steps, I opened my eyes.

Everything had disappeared.

I watched my breath float into the air and join the fog as it drifted past my face. I turned a full circle. “Janey?” I said.

But she was gone. Five years had passed. She’d moved out, headed west for college.

And there I was, her little brother, stranded in a winter field, wondering how I’d lost her.

23 Oct

The Magic Lamppost

Remember that time when we decided to meet by the lamppost. And you said which one? And I said, the magic one. And you said okay and walked away to class, and later we met by the lamppost and kissed?

You knew which lamppost was the magic one even though none of them were magic. And I knew how to kiss you even though I’d never kissed a girl before.

And later, when we graduated, and I took you down to the lake and you said yes before I proposed, I couldn’t speak because I was so happy. Do you remember that? I never got a chance to ask the question.

We got married, we got jobs, we had our first baby, we moved, we had a second baby. We never had a clue what we were doing. But somehow we always found our way.

I loved every minute of it.

Nowadays, I wake before dawn. The sky is clear with winter’s approach, and the stars are as bright as they ever were. My bones ache and the bed is cold, so I walk in the dark to the kitchen and put the kettle on the old gas range. I watch the blue light flare and hold my hands to its warmth. And in the glow of that first flame, I think about magic lampposts and your silvery touch.

I miss you, my love.

But I trust you’ll know where to meet.

20 May

Hilter Rd; or, Anyhwere Else

Hilter Rd.

Just looking at the name of the road, you expect some evil intention. And when you get there, you see strange beasts scurry behind the house. Someone lowers the shades. You think you see devil horns behind a tuft of grass. And those eyes peeking at you from the second story window remind you of the monster you used to imagine hiding under your bed. Is this house Pandora’s box? Holding all manner of evil inside? And are you the hapless Pandora, who will unleash horrors upon the masses?

You bite your lip, take tentative steps forward, and try to talk yourself out of your paranoia. But then you hear something as quiet as the rumbling of a hungry belly, as soft spoken as poverty. It’s a shushing that, on any other day, might remind you of wind rustling through trees in spring or the collective settling-in of an audience before a symphony. But today, it evokes authoritarian teachers and knees scraping on gravel. It’s gone now, but you heard it coming from within the house. You’re sure of it.

You cannot enter. You simply cannot. So you turn to go; you gaze out at that horizon of possibility and tell yourself that you can be anywhere else. And just as you’re pondering why any road would have such a horrid name, you realize your mistake. The door creaks open behind you. “This is not that road,” you say. And your friends shout surprise and jump from their hiding places. They’re carrying cake and paper plates and balloons and noisemakers. And now, funny enough, you don’t want to be anywhere else but here.

19 Jun


In-class exercise from Day Four. The assignment was simply to incorporate metaphor. If we’re getting technical about it, though, I incorporated symbol and simile, but not metaphor. However, I’m inclined to label all comparisons of two unlike things metaphor.

The eviction notice came on the 15th. She didn’t think McCreary would follow through with his threats. But he had, and she was forced to call Mary for a place to stay. In her bedroom, packing clothes into black trash bags, she found two and a half five-dollar bills at the bottom of her underwear drawer. They were ten years old, from the days she’d worked at the diner.

A man – tall, dark, and Canadian – had come in for breakfast on a Tuesday. He was down for a funeral or something equally sad. But his “good morning” was cheerful, and when she took his order, he looked her in the eye. He asked her questions about herself with an accent just slightly different from hers.

After the meal, he’d left a five-dollar bill ripped in half and a note saying, “I’ll bring the rest tomorrow.” They flirted shamelessly all week and then Sunday came; he was gone. She had two and a half bills. He never returned.

Now, back in her half-empty apartment, with a half-empty garbage bag of clothes, she sat on the floor and shuffled the five pieces of torn bills, fanning them out like a sad poker hand.