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Certain Names by Brett Kroska


William goes to the drive-in but instead pulls into the lot. Two children on the cross street, passing under the leaves of a low tree. A boy and a girl. The boy is walking a dusty bike. Then the tree shadow slips down their backs, first at the camber of each shoulder then coating the backs and legs and last holding the brisk ankles. He could paint this. His wife calls him at home. She says she’s helping her brother learn piano. Don’t his hands shake? William says putting the kettle on the smooth blue ring. He takes his tea upstairs and paints. She calls all day. The lawn, William. Please. On the canvas is a blue black shadow of sea foaming over rocks, beneath a high ridge, and running along the ridge are two feet. Pink and coiling like fish. He adds legs, daubs the bristles gently, just tickling in a knee. He says, I stood in the lawn yesterday, Beck. Last night. I had my tea. William, she says. And all of the lights in the house were on, he says, and no one was in there. Not me. Not you. Beck, what was his name? Our son. We had names picked out, certain names we liked. We must have them somewhere. The brush tongues the boy a clapped white chest, two burnt shoulders. He’s running under the dead elbow of an elm, no leaves at all. He’ll add the arms slowly. He must see what those arms do. William, do we need this? I have to go. I have to drive Bailey to work. That’s fine, Will says. Tell him I’m painting him. You are? A little younger, but yes, he says. She says, Really. He’s nodding, not to her. He taps in the pink crests of his arms, they’re wild of course. He’s wrapping his brush around him, incising the boy, or the image of a boy. He goes downstairs—his tea is cold, milky—and turns on the blue flame. He fingers the dial, touching it left and right, measuring its level with his eye.