From the rooftop, the parking lot glinted like the wavering surface of a pool before a diver disrupts it. He felt the urge to contemplate jumping, a drop and a bursting open against concrete, but stopped himself. Here, in this town, suicide seemed a surrender to cliché. He pulled from the half pint of Jack Daniels he’d stolen from his father, cringing still at the bitter smoke.
His most acute frustration was how strongly he missed New York and how boring he felt when he tried to talk about it. The new town was scattered and empty like pieces of glass, and in it, he felt the uncomfortable looseness an unswaddled newborn must feel. Throughout the summer, the din of crickets that swarmed the windows of his house provided enough white noise to allow him sleep, but now that it was autumn, the quiet was unbearable.
He had gone for a drive instead, merging onto the highway to feel part of a pulse again. His father’s truck made a pleasant gurgling sound as he accelerated. He turned on the radio. His father had been listening to Graceland, which made him feel inexplicably guilty.
They lived alone in the new house. His mother had died years ago— he had asked his father how only once. An inarticulate and shy man, his father stammered and flushed excruciatingly, finally suggesting to his son, still a child, then, that he ask his grandmother instead. She told him that, before he was born, his mother’s body grew with joy at the thought of meeting him, and it just kept growing and growing until, one day, like the jasmine outside her bedroom window, her body burst into bloom and fell.
He let his feet hang over the side of the building, thinking of his grandmother’s garden and how he’d hid beneath the fuchsia growing in long, somber strands. He rhythmically held out one foot at a time before letting it fall, the rubber heel of his shoe bouncing against the side of the building. Graceland throbbed in his head—everybody sees you’re blown apart. He held his arm straight out, wringing the whiskey bottle tightly around its neck. He let go, and watched it make its cool descent and shatter.
She lay back again in her childhood bed, awakening an involuntary and long dead instinct to pray. She didn’t know it had remained there, her youthful desire to ask the darkness for help. She thought of a particularly anxious night during her adolescent years when she had written the Hail Mary in pencil along the wooden windowsill beside her bed. After that, on bad nights, she ran her fingers over the words compulsively as she recited them to herself again and again, retreating into the simplicity and humility of the prayer. In the morning, all that remained to indicate her panic was an ashy sheen covering her fingertips.
Remembering this, she ran her hand over the tops of her thighs up to her waist, dipping down in the divot above her hipbone, and then over the burgeoning bump in her abdomen. There was something vaguely nightmarish in the way her body was changing so gradually and with such determination. “You’re getting a belly,” her sister had told her. She considered the way her body was becoming diminutive. What had once been a “stomach,” a “waist,” a sexy and controversial “midrift,” was now a “belly.”
Her sister went on, “It’s weird to think you have a Korean baby growing in there.”
Her first instinct was to be insulted, but secretly she knew what her sister had meant. When she’d thought of pregnancy before, she envisioned herself the largest of a set of Russian nesting dolls, her future children stacked neatly inside, each varying only slightly from herself. But now she had begun to consider the allegiance her child’s body would most likely have to her husband’s. The jealously bloomed inside her like a rain-bloated river.
A car pulled in the driveway, the headlights swinging a prison bar pattern of light across her ceiling. She let her hands reach down her body like roots as she heard a car door open and close.
He grieved the night before, walking to work that morning. Something was lost in the movement from night-self to now, but those filthy, diseased streets kept him in the mind of night—the lime green dreck, the plastic bags smothered in mud, the boneyard of cigarette butts like suicide limbs crushed at awkward angles against the cement. The streets dragged the memory of that night, an unwilling child, into day.
They had watched a gray-haired man in a black suit play the violin in the city park, sitting in a lurid swingset. None of them knew classical music, so they created titles for the pieces—“The Dead Cat Haunts the Subway,” “Tongue Kissing a Toothless Man,” “A Drunk and Disorderly Nun, in Three Movements.” They smoked their lungs sluggish, smoked until they could feel the ashy grit on their skin.
For something to do, they walked the sidewalks toward the empty baseball diamond. A homeless man asked him for change on the way and shook his hand. Later, the oldest girl, a sophomore, had told him not to touch them anymore. To let your hand be taken, to be disarmed, is dangerous. When you live in the city, you know that.
That same girl had stayed up with him long after the others went to bed. Whiskey soaked and alone, they’d made out sloppily until she rubbed the skin beneath his jeans raw with the heel of her palm. He had feigned sleep then, breathing in husky, drunken gasps.
In the morning he woke up wedged between her body and the back of the couch, waited hours, afraid to wake her. When she got up to shower, he whistled the screen door open, then closed.
Walking to work, he remembered when an ambulance rushed under the bridge that night, pooling the dark streets with light in sharp, blue intervals. They had stood, ribcage to bridge, and watched it slice that night to pieces.
About the author:
Olivia Olson is a librarian working in metro Detroit. Some of her recent work is out or forthcoming in Winter Tangerine Review and Spry Literary Journal. She is also the editor of SiDEKiCK Literary Journal, which aims to publish a diversity of poetic voices.