6.05 / May 2011

Six Stories


In the morning we wake to sharp sunlight through the lone pine or hemlock outside our motel window. “What is that?” you say. “I don’t know what kind it is, if that’s what you’re asking.” We can’t come to any conclusion. The trees are tall here, ambitious. They are like the kids in high school no one can touch. Through the tree we can see more trees, and deep blue shapes of sky through them. When you lean way out, a corner of the parking lot becomes clear, grey asphalt glistens silver and your face lights up.


The newspaper stains your hands and you keep reaching up to push your hair out of your eye. Fat strand greasy and it won’t stay put. There is a black mark that runs across your brow. Headlines scream, but I can’t read them; the light is too bright. I just listen to the paper being moved by your hands, the slick ads sliding to a mess on the floor. I was a page-turner in high school for the man who ran the orchestra. He used to navigate my thighs with the tip of his baton. I suddenly think about where he is now, what he’s doing, if he’s dead yet. I think about his wife’s dyed yellow hair. But instead I say “I wonder what was destroyed. If anyone was killed.” In the earthquake I mean, but I don’t say it. Something rumbles the next street over and you look up at a nothing space on the wall and I know we both think: aftershock while we wait for the plaster to crack and crumble. But then there’s the beep-beep of the truck backing up.


You want to shower, but the water’s brown no matter how long you run it. You sit back down. There’s a plane crash on TV, but it’s someplace we’ve never heard of. “Not many, I’m sure. If any at all. Probably none.” And it takes me a minute to remember what we’ve talked about. The dead. It’s always the dead. I don’t know why any of this should make you smile, but your face breaks open like a crowd at a sporting event.


We read the paper. Or I sit and watch as you do. We turn the TV volume down so low we can’t hear anything but mumbling that could be the people in the room next door. When I look up, I see beached whales pixellated, a bad image and stretched fat the way things look on flat-screened TVs. I wonder if the whales have to do with the earthquake or if it’s simply the oil again. You tear into another orange and the room smells nice and the wet runs quick down your arm. “I had a dream last night-” I start, but then decide I don’t want to tell you.


The boy came in and put his head down on the sofa and lifted his feet one two onto the sofa and I wanted to know his name but instead asked if he wanted any water. “What?” he said. “Water,” I said. “Would you like some?” And the boy fell asleep without answering, one shoe on the couch’s soft pile, one shoe dangling like supernatural enchantment from an ultra white tube sock ringed with red and yellow stripes. I thought I might harm him if I knew his name. What was he doing here? I thought. And was he one of yours? Another I’d not met before? I touched his hair. I knuckled his chin. Was his face, his thin, fine chest captured inside your camera? I wanted to crack his nose or I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to slice his ear with a penknife or I wanted to kiss him. I wanted to wake him, shaking your father’s rifle at his cock or I wanted to cover his mouth with my mouth and breathe all the boy from him. In the kitchen I cracked the metal tray, exposing ice to the jar. I ran the brown water clear, I ran the water cold.

Parnassia fimbriata

I could run faster than my stepfather’s fist. “You say one word.” And then I said it. Always leave the door unlatched. My mother let me in those hours later. Each night, the wrench in my hand making me feel stronger, just the weight of it. I never thought I’d use it. I spent years against that tree trunk, correcting time, correcting vision. Dog collar around my neck, chain dangling, wrapped around my ankle, pressed in harder, fussy skin giving up its liquor. Years later I call the scar tattoo. In the woods that first run, I found a wrecked wall. Grey rocks against grey leaves, grey sky. And just that yellow flash of birdfoot trefoil underfoot. I picked up a cool, mudded stone, some big fist of earth and fit it into what was left of that crumbling hedge. And every day, every run, another-through the woods, electric moss and lichen, yarrow, monkshood and bull thistle, and that sound of spotted towhee, a stellar’s jay-what a toxic tune. I put the rocks back, day by day, like moving time, or some stopped clock, back to the beginning.

Elizabeth J. Colen is the author of prose poetry collection Money for Sunsets (Steel Toe Books, 2010) and flash fiction chapbook Dear Mother Monster, Dear Daughter Mistake (Rose Metal Press, 2011).
6.05 / May 2011