Tuesday, January 24, 2006

This is Water. This is Wood. (This is Fiction.)

On cigarettes: The way they are the exact size and shape of a mother’s nipple. The suckling, the contented sighs. The way the action involved is inherent in every living thing: inhale, exhale. The way their progress is visible, tangible, in the silvery smoke around the crown or in the neat white shoots from the nostrils or shaped like rings within rings within rings, like ripples on water. The way they require fire, and the joy, however suppressed, of striking a match or flicking the thumb at a lighter, the quickness with which blue turns to orange, the lovely way blue leads the way down a matchstick. And the sheer purpose in the way Bill hates them, wholly and unequivocally.

At 6:57 I’m in their driveway and it feels strange to be expected. The chandelier in the great room hangs like a spider with thirty candle flames for eyes behind the window that is rounded at the top but square at the bottom and fitted with blinds that shred the light in gray extinguishments. The light survives and is perfectly yellow. I think of my hole again, and of the time capsule. That’s the nature of memory, though, to be suddenly interrupted by the crisp smell of dirt or the surety that my hands are cracking with soil when I am only walking up the driveway and then up the short walk to the front door; it is nothing out of the ordinary or particularly special.

Bill opens the door and is on the phone so he barely looks at me. “Yes, Kaitlin,” he says. He stopped calling her Kitty as soon as he left. I’d like to think it was to distance himself, because that would prove there was something in his heart to be distanced from. “He’s right here. Would you like to speak with him?” There’s a silence where Bill listens to whatever she’s saying, his head cocked, and then he says, “Great. Good.”

“Your stepmother is almost ready.”

“It’s fine.”

“Shouldn’t be too bad.”


“How’s the paper route?”


“Good job to have for a kid your age.”

“I guess.”

“How much money do you have saved up so far?”

“I just started.”

“No excuse.”

“I think I have about twenty-five dollars.”

“That’s kind of pathetic, in my opinion. How do you expect to get back to Greenlea?”

“I don’t really want to talk about this right now.”

“Avoiding it isn’t going to help anything. I’ve been telling your mother it’s time for you to start pulling your head out of your ass. You don’t want to hear that, tough luck. You’re a man, you take what’s given you.”


“You got it all figured out, don’t you. My dad would’ve knocked my head off if I talked that way to him.”

“Maybe that’s your problem.”

“What did you say?”


“You’re goddamn right, nothing. Wait outside for your stepmother.”

I wait in the car and light a cigarette and the smoke drafts a wavering line from me to the night, moving its gray flock quickly upward even as I aim my teeth at his front door.

The thing about a house’s memory is possession. If Bill walks through the house and takes it for what it is—walls, ceiling, tile and carpet—why is it anymore his than mine? When Kitty moved us out she left every utensil we had right in that kitchen. She left reams of blank pages underneath the breakfast table where her typewriter had been. She left a green washrag bunched and wet on the sill in hers and Bill’s bathroom. In between the sofa cushions on our brown leather couch, she stuffed a silver bell engraved “The Shines” that I had never been allowed to ring. She left things there to assure the house that she was never truly gone and therefore she never truly was, because her memory was the same as the house’s, and every time she thinks of it the house reciprocates, has to, because without its cooperation her memories are merely dreams with black backgrounds. Haunts. When we moved, I left my time capsule. Leaving something behind is the same as yearning to one day reclaim it.

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