Loose ends, my brother and sister and I emerged from tree-canopy and Oregon rain to stay in a noisy house in Kettle Falls. We’d lived without faucets or refrigerators but knew the names of many plants and how to detect thunder on the horizon.
The three of us ate grocery store chicken and bean salad on a TV tray and watched shows we’d never seen before, tight polyester pants and laugh tracks and deodorant ads. The livingroom was separated from the murky kitchen by a grey metal tool shelf cluttered with jars of root-water spider plants and dust. Pans sat abandoned in the sink, a greasy dishtowel shoved through the oven handle. Stacks of mail crowded car keys and a pair of nail clippers on the counter. Joke books floundered on the toilet tank. The sprinkler ran until the lawn was a swamp. At first it felt like a dangerous vacation.
Across the street from a cemetery, 665 Kalmia Street was full of belongings and furniture in uncomfortable relationships, as if people had moved in and weren’t finished unpacking, or were just about to move out. Mom lived there with her boyfriend Jerry and his two sons, Tom and Bruce, high school seniors, a grade skipped or failed by one or the other, who couldn’t have resembled each other less if they’d been unrelated. Bruce had frizzy hair like his girlfriend. Barely six years older, they looked at me from the land of adults, where candlewax covered nightstands and albums were stacked against walls. Ashtrays were filled, bottles were emptied, then slowly filled again with discarded coins.
Sheila slept on a window seat near the wall phone under paper curtains printed with blue and purple hydrangeas. I had the floor of the broom closet off the kitchen. Maybe Ben got the couch. We kept our clothes in a cardboard box.
My new classmates incubated chicken eggs. We broke the shell of the unhatched one, saw a fully-formed creature, wet feathers, closed eyes, feet and legs curled.
On the last day of school, water balloons soaked our shirts and jeans. I sat on a log with my friends at the edge of the playground, where the field met the parking lot. I wrote letters to them that summer, when we returned to the cabin. I tried to feather my hair in the reflection on the porch window, but it had grown too long, so I went back to barrettes.
Our family unraveled, in time measured in maps and missing report cards and not enough money for stamps.
by Samantha Malay
published in Shark Reef – A Literary Magazine, issue 36, summer 2020
to smell the end of summer
in the sundown trees
and lunchbox rust
an uneven history
of bee-stings and scorch
branches broken to fit in the stove
dirt from other towns still on our shoes
when we no longer live in our bodies
do we inhabit the spaces between
voices cupped in bedspread folds
hands around a match
winter kitchen cookbook stains
tufts of feather and bone?
see me in the lath and plaster
clothesline tied to cherry trees
carpenter ants and gutter vines
Tamaracks, pine trees, aspen and wild roses grew at the edge of the field
where chamomile, sheep sorrel, alfalfa and thistles tangled with grass.
We felt the heat of the day in the dust between our toes
as the late-summer smell of dusk enveloped us.
Stars filled the whole sky as we lay on our backs, a blanket on the ground.
Far away, we heard the rustling and thumping of a startled grouse.
We lived in dry mountain woods and despite our vegetable garden and rabbit hutch and root cellar, we were no match for the gophers and the coyotes and the thunderstorms.
We felt the fragile boundary between hope and haste,
between watching for signs and quiet paranoia,
between saving seeds and leaving the homestead to the dead of winter.
Between wanting to know and listening to silence.
There were lean years even when we cut enough firewood
and brought the hay in before the rain.
For a long time we believed that our gamble would bind us together.
by Samantha Malay
published August 19, 2019 in Genre: Urban Arts, No. 8