I sat on the basement floor of the courthouse reading through old death records. Outside the afternoon sun blasted the streets and sidewalks of the small Kentucky town. But down there it was cool and humid. Whitewashed stone walls glistened and streaked with dirty moisture. An air conditioner rattled in the only window, blocking out the sun.
I got the results from the paternity test and an offer for a new job on the same day. The paternity test was positive; I was the father. The new job was cutting meat at Chives, a specialty grocery store in Boulder. On my lunch break I texted my twin sister Maria that I wanted to share two things with her on Skype. I told my coworker, Lance, the news after work at Hank’s, our regular bar.
Another surly October morning on Rathdangan Farm, the name of our rocky little homestead in the foothills of the Sugarloaf Range, and Mother Nature was in a nasty mood. Her swirling wind bossed the sycamore leaves around the farmyard, and wisps of her clammy fog still clung to the steep mountain peak in the distance. My mother—we called her Mammy— was a whirlwind of work, as usual: milking cows, feeding calves and pigs, washing clothes, holding it all together.
My wife and I are into season 3 of Victoria, the Masterpiece Theatre series that seems as long as the queen’s monarchial reign. It’s a slow-moving narrative in which a tea cup is picked up, put down. Then, for dramatic tension, the camera pans to a terrier that, on cue, lifts a hind leg to squirt on the carpet—a barbarous display in the palace household.
As kids, we don’t usually second guess adults. We tend to view them as infallible, since they’ve put in the time that we haven’t. So when Suzie told us that we were going to Broadway, I believed her. We all did. After all, everything we did was extraordinary, wasn’t it?
Our parents constantly reminded us to stay away from the tracks. Parents are always nattering on about things to avoid—eating before exercise, eating before bed, eating in bed, crossing the street without looking both ways, acquiring a lover who is ten years older with an addiction to Xanax, not getting grossly drunk at a wedding and peeing in the azaleas—that it eventually becomes hard to imagine they had any fun in their own probably non-existent childhoods.
It’s enough to sit down in the middle of the street, / the garbage trucks picking up trash, / the school buses stopping and starting, / the dirty rain falling from the neon clouds;
The road narrowed down and twisted as they got closer to the lake. The hot air hit Marcus’s face, and he smelled algae and ashes. He thought that this might be the place. “Let’s camp here,” he said and stopped the car.
Because devotion. Because ether. Because the saint holds a paintbrush, his sorrow. Because the grass may grow sharply, its knives. Because wonder.
ut that Carroll, a food historian whose delightful nonfiction book, Three Squares: The Invention of the American Meal (Basic Books, 2013) garnered strong reviews, was simply gearing up for her emergence as an extraordinary nature poet in the tradition of, among others, Wordsworth, Emerson, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Mary Oliver.
The minister is at the Days of Jesus before the girl arrives. He is in his office, waiting. His sermon is written and placed on the pulpit and he waits for the girl to arrive as he has all summer. She comes in the side door and takes the stairs to the basement practice room where she says she is working on her scales. The minister’s office has a large glass wall facing the basement. The girl looks up. The minister is standing at the bank of windows.
In the black water it is hard to see the body, one more shape floating amid chunks of ice. The railroad trestle looms ahead, the lights of town casting a faint latticework shadow on the water’s surface. There is no moon.
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