After the long passage underground, over dark puddles and under low mineral formations, Judith and her small cadre at last found the entrance. She paused for a moment to watch. The portable gas stoves heating up Thanksgiving dinner made the scientists’ long shadows dance on the walls of the cave just like ancient torchlight would have done. The assembled group was settling in, draping blankets on a large flat portion of the ground and repurposing stalagmites to hang up their parkas and carabiners.
Two tenured professors, Mary Claire and Sean, took plastic containers and tin foil bundles out …
I know that there is a hundred percent certainty that it will happen. Death. With new advances in science, is there the slightest chance? No. It’s nice to know that there is reliability in the universe—that something is one hundred percent. Other things are more uncertain. Marriage, for instance. In America, there is a forty-six percent chance that a first marriage will end in divorce, and that changes all the time. The percent rate goes up for second marriages, making it more advantageous to stay in the first marriage. In Orange County, California, thirty-three people each day apply …
The solitary orange tree of my youth was a scrawny thorned thing approached on lazy afternoons, supper a long ways away. The air choking. So thick, it was as if I had drowned. The citrus’s skin split easily, thrown against the deck father had built. That falling sound of lonely.
Me still a youth, knife-less; lips to skin, sucking the tang of its sour juice, savoring. Already party to the sorrow of summer fruits. The sweet sticky dripping quickly gone. Peaches and cherries falling in & out of season.
Monica Rendon was waiting for Professor Lawson’s outside his office. Dressed in jeans and a halter top, she sat down hesitantly. In class she was quiet but attentive, always observing; when she did speak, her comments were incisive.
“Professor,” she said haltingly, “there’s something I want to write but I don’t want to share it with the class.”
“Remember that the other essays will be pretty personal.”
“But, still . . . ”
“Okay, if you want, you can just show it to me.”
“Don’t worry, nothing’s going to shock me,” Lawson said. “I’ve seen everything.” …
It was the summer of Nancy Drew–the year I finished the last of Carolyn Keene’s seventy-eight mysteries at the library by my house and, enthralled, started again on the first one. School had been out for a month by then, and the heat came down like an omen, flat and hard on our bodies. My father had a name for this weather; he called it July’s Murder. I liked this because it sounded Nancy Drew, and it worded the world exactly: the grass curling with exhaustion, the sidewalks belly-up with sun by early morning, crying: uncle! uncle!
This was supposed to be a day for comedy.
Day of the dawn, not dawn of the dead.
It was supposed to be a celebration. A much
needed respite. We’d been drinking and now
we were going to stop. We were going to
check into a shelter, then check ourselves out.
We were going to weather the needles
and pins. Take inoculations. Gargle with saline.
Lave the wounds. Visit the doctor. Butter the toast.
I don’t remember what we were going to do.
I think we were going to visit our father.
I think we were going to …
To you, half-witted sleepwalker walking on stones along the river under a black wind, what is it that still lights the blanks between your dreams? The secrets that haunt your life? Kept in the darkness for your shawl? Is there a thread of inmost longing that guides your mystery? And will you let the shawl unravel to nothing? You, leaving your shoes on the shore of all that is empty & vast between lives. The shoes will hold rain & let night overtake them, shoes that once held you for all that you thought you were & could …