beloved 6

by Donald Kuspit

let us imagine
                       that we’re unimaginable,
mirages meeting
                           in myth,
uplifted by enigma
                             into the night sky
of memory,
                  then our love will be boundless
because fleshless,
                         then we will be constellations
as luminous as gods.
                             no longer in need of fate
to meet,
            we will last as long as they do.
we will forget
                         the fickleness of feeling,
we will no longer
                         need theories
to rationalize our trust,
                                    our senses
will speak the truth
                             of our togetherness
even when our bodies
                                    are separate.
intimacy will suspend death
                                          when our love
is consummated
                        in our unconscious.

beloved 7

by Donald Kuspit

agree to disagree
                     that mind unfold
its wings,
              carrying us beyond the eye
to the sun
          inside the shadow,
the halo of your hair
                         radiating
through the darkest
                       of our thoughts,
you and i       
         at odds in mind
yet merged in ancient
                             light,
mythically illimitable
                          and loving,
our minds finally meeting
                             in wonder
at its wisdom.
                  suffering banished
by a smile,
               its luminosity
restoring innocence,
                        memories at last
at peace,
             cinders of consciousness
in the hadean
              unconscious. 

beloved 8

by Donald Kuspit

discreet as dew
                   on newborn feelings,
you soothe me
                 into silence,
refreshing meaning.
                           your calm
is my clarity,
                  the rambling words
cleared away,
                 the underbrush
of nuance
             unnecessary,
the boldness
                of meaning
uncompromised
                 by the unconscious.
steadfast in mind,
                          dispassionate
with certainty,
                   you abide,
glistening with light,
                          preserved
in crystal conviction.
                              wordless
at last,
            i can wonder again,
see the morning star,
                             you outlasting
the end.

Beginning Nature Again: Joe Danciger’s Landscape Paintings

by Donald Kuspit

If the waves crash up against the beach, eroding dunes and destroying houses, it is not the awesome power of Mother Nature. It is the awesome power of Mother Nature altered by the awesome power of man, who has overpowered in a century the processes that have been slowly evolving and changing of their own accord since the earth was born.
Bill McKibben, The End of Nature

…the seemingly fortuitous disorder of landscape-form hides the inevitability of nature.
Max J. Friedländer, Landscape Portrait Still-Life

Why paint nature these days? There’s only one reason: it’s at an end. One paints it to begin it again: art always begins with nature, and now that nature is near its end, art can re-start it, so to speak—make it speak from its death-bed, even bring it back to life the way Christ brought Lazarus back to life, or at least give it a decent burial. Or, better yet, find its forgotten backwaters, the isolated spaces in which it still flourishes, holdouts against increasingly encroaching civilization, so-called. Its unnatural urban environment, nominally fit for life but lifeless in itself, dismisses nature as beside the social point, valuable only if it can be exploited, used and abused. Its decorative remains are ghettoized in parks, or left to fester on sidewalks, bushes and trees lining urban streets, distracting from their barren anonymity. We cultivate and cherish plants and flowers in our houses and gardens, supporting their lives as though to support our own, unconsciously realizing and compensating for the feeling that we were not adequately, let alone properly, cultivated, cherished, and supported—nourished–by society. Such cared for, “civilized” plants and flowers serve a therapeutic, narcissistic purpose, but they are not as hardy as plants and flowers that grow in the wild, where they are more assertively alive, having to hold their own against the elements. One has to go into the wilderness—whatever is left of it–to find the truth of nature, and with that escape its falsification in society. In the raw nature is authentic, refined it is oddly inauthentic, even artificial—all too artful.

Joe Danciger does that: retreating from society in a proverbial return to nature—but now a nature that can be seen and known only in fragments, in piecemeal form, haunted and marred by signs of human presence and power, unlike, say, the fulsome nature the Fontainebleue Forest painters idolized, devoting themselves to it as the embodiment of Mother Nature herself, seen whole and intact, uncontaminated by humankind. Nature can no longer be romanticized—it is too tainted—as John Constable did: it can only be “real-ized.” Nor can the emotions one instantly invests in it be as violent as those of Caspar David Friedrich. Nature can no longer be inflated by feeling–its inevitability is all that’s left of it. With a kind of clear-eyed detachment, Danciger returns us to its origin in inevitable change, reminds us of its capacity to begin again and again, never end in a cycle of seasonal, physical change indifferent to human concerns and feelings, and slowly but surely ridding itself of any signs of human presence, burying them the way the snow buries the tow path in his painting of a Sycamore on the Tow Path, 2011.

It is a winter scene, the majestic tree is desiccated—almost leafless and blanched, as though dead, yet uncannily alive, as its twin trunks and wildly spreading branches suggest. The bits of leaf remaining on it are yellowish, as though tinted by sunlight, and the trunks are rooted in brown soil: nourished by the sun and the earth, fresh leaves will grow on the tree, making it more glorious. It has a figural presence, but there are no human figures in the scene, only the tow path, cut like a scar into the earth, as its sunken character suggests. More to the point of the picture, at least as I see it, snow almost completely covers the man-made tow path, as though nature was trying to eliminate it, at least make it difficult to use, implying that human beings have no place in nature, certainly not welcome in the wilderness. The same message is implicit in Gallows Run in Winter, 2013, with its small path, stale and dull with mud, pushed aside by the rushing water of the run, moving much more swiftly than the plodding path, passively present but beside the point of nature and its constant activity.

Trees, now lush with green—the season is now summer–all but hide the house in Tow Path in August, 2013. Man-made constructions—mechanical bridges and umbrellas—appear in Black Eddy Bridge and Landscape with Two Red Umbrellas, both 2015, but the bridges are absorbed into nature by way of their green color and the flaming red umbrellas become gorgeous flowers in full blossom. Lively nature triumphs over inert human inventions—a triumph of life over death, more particularly of the organic over the mechanical. The difference and struggle between them is emblematic of the difference and struggle between the “open system” organic and “closed system” robotic models of human being. According to Ludwig von Bertalanffy, the developer of systems theory, it is a conflict over our self-definition that will decide our fate. Dacinger is clearly in open rebellion against the closed mechanical model of life and art—completely rejects Constructivist machine-model type of art as his organic painterliness, with its expressionistic vitality, evoking the vitality of nature, indicates. Nature for him is not a robot at our command, but a body that changes with the seasons of life, just as the human body does. The struggle between organic expressionist “bodily” type art and inorganic mechanical “anti-body” type art is basic to modern art.

Danciger is not on the tow path, but on its side, like the untamable sycamore, and as silently intense as it: unconsciously identifying with it–it surges with instinctive energy, suggesting that it is a symbol of the instinctive energy, implicit in his brisk brushstrokes, he brings to art-making (their quixotic turbulence mirrors the wildly growing tree)–he becomes part of nature, as solitary as the tree, and as innocently alive. I could not help thinking of Thoreau’s remark: “I never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude.” But then the sycamore is Danciger’s companion. He is not projecting any particular feeling onto the tree, but rather mirroring its dynamic, restless, changing form in his dynamic, restless, ever-changing handling. Only an artist sure of his own vitality would venture into this oddly utopian wilderness—a desolate nowhere, reminding us that utopia is a hope-filled nowhere.

Technically the tow path leads us into the distance—puts the scene into perspective—but the sky flattens to the canvas, acknowledging it in a modernist manner, while the wild growth in the middle ground, with its richly textural tangle of branches, finesses that flatness, suggesting the implicit abstractness of the picture. It can in fact be read as a study in blues—airy light blue in the sky, watery dark blue on the earth—and brownish yellows, with the few completely dead growths accenting their presence with blackness. Light is everywhere, indeed, the sycamore seems made of light, giving it a ghostly aura. The medium may not be all for Danciger—after all, he’s representing an external observed reality—as the modernist critic Clement Greenberg argued it is for an abstract painter, but he is clearly a master of it, as his vigorous painterliness indicates.

I think of Danciger’s landscapes as reparative: he wants to repair a nature that has been damaged—certainly soul murdered–by human beings. He searches out untouched-by-human-hands nature—the raw nature in Purple Marsh, 2013 and Ice and Wild Rice, 2014, among other works, all-site specific (generally in over-populated New Jersey or Pennsylvania)—taking its pulse with his artistic hands, confirming that it is alive and well, and undisturbed. He comes across these places as though by accident, as On the Road to Sea Breeze, 2015 suggests. He has painted scenic places near the Delaware River, which divides New Jersey from Pennsylvania, and adjoins Philadelphia, where he lives. He is clearly more intimately at home in such rural places than in urban Philadelphia, which, as far as I know, he has never painted. He has particularly painted where land and water meet, suggesting a fusion of opposites, or at least their comfortable togetherness. Early landscape painting, from Joachim Patinir to Albrecht Altdorfer, always had some sign of human
presence, as though to suggest that nature was manageable and orderly if not completely under control. In Altdorfer’s great Danube School painting, Saint George Slaying the Dragon, 1510—they’re positioned at the bottom of a dense forest of tall trees with seemingly eternally green leaves systematically arranged—the dragon the saint is slaying is implicitly the daemonic spirit of the surrounding nature. Nature, however seductively beautiful, remains a threat: after all, the dragon is the snake that tempted Eve enlarged to monstrous, grotesque proportions. But nature has been all but conquered and enslaved in modernity—or so we think—which is why there is no need for a masterful human being in Danciger’s landscapes. He is alone with its inconsequential traces, suggesting they are a new beginning of nature, even as he memorializes them.

Writing about the landscape painting that they saw in “The Salon of 1859” in Paris, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt declared that “landscape is the victor of modern art. It is the pride of nineteenth century painting.” They noted that “when nature is condemned to death, when industry dismembers it, when iron roads plough it, when it is violated from one pole to another, when the city invades the fields, when industry pens it in…that the human spirit hastens towards nature, looks at it as it never has before, sees this eternal mother for the first time….Will landscapes become a resurrection, the Easter of the eyes?” Landscape painting seems to have had its day in the 20th century, and seems beside the point of the 21st century, with its relentless technologization of society, but people still hasten to nature, as the tourists in the national parks and the people who camp in what is left of the wilderness show. But nature is more tightly penned in than ever, exists in a sort of solitary confinement, although one can no longer be alone with it, as the crowds that flock to gaze at it, in search of a numinous, uplifting experience, suggest. Danciger, determined to preserve what remains of pure nature, makes pure landscapes, that is, landscapes unsullied by signs of human presence. Those that appear are drained of human import, as I have suggested, that is, “naturalized.” Danciger has resurrected landscape painting, making it a feast for the eyes, but it is no longer the Easter of the eyes, but rather a sort of child taking its first steps, beginning to walk, not quite on its own, for it needs Danciger to hold it up, to keep it moving.

Review of Colette Inez’s The Luba Poems

by Alexis Levitin

The Luba Poems
Colette Inez, Pasadena, CA
Red Hen Press,
2015. 90 pp.

Fifty years ago, dining at the Eberharts in Hanover, New Hampshire, Robert Lowell leaned towards me like a stricken man and said, with painful gravity, “Macbeth is very, very dark. The only thing that saves it is the poetry.”

I would now like to add that whether we contemplate a tragic or comic vision, a realistic or fanciful one, in the end what saves all poetry is the poetry itself. Nowhere else in our efforts to communicate do the musical qualities of language contribute so intimately and inescapably to the so-called “meaning” of a text. In poetry, without the sound there is no sense. There is no salvation.

Colette Inez’ new book The Luba Poems dwells mostly in the realm of the capricious, the witty, the gaudy, the playful, the comic, the spritely, the joyous, the fun-filled, the exuberant. Mercurial Luba, her name the Russian diminutive for Love, bounces around the real world and the world of diction with the spontaneity of a puppy dog. However, all that effervescence, that undeniable joie de vivre, springs entirely from the language in which it is rooted. Without that language, Colette, Luba’s confidant and puppeteer, might be filled with an incredible élan vital, but we would never know it.

If I had to place Colette in the modern poetry scene, I would say she is a most mischevious kid sister to Wallace Stevens. Listen to this:

They sang to choristers        
Who swayed like trees
In the rush of huzzahs
Before rain crashed down 

Luba Quince at the Clavier, no?
We all have feelings. Only poets have words. In any case, here is a poet, armed with words, and delighted to fulfill her role as Homo ludens. Playful, delightful, and serious at the same time.

Let us watch and listen as the adventurous journey begins:

“When the name
                       Luba lifts away
like a leaf in hard rain
                       or goes missing
from its cage—
                       a parakeet not answering
or a scrap of light
                       snagged by a cloud…

How about the pure music of this lightly lilting phrase: “in a frangipani-scented mist,” drawn from a poem about poets called “Noting Names,” in which
“her known identity  [is] named
by the pull of the tide, the unlettered sun.”

Or, in “Din Spool, a Bibliophile,” the lively contrast between a harried world of “drill, whine,/buzz, bang,” from which she “longs to be soothed by anapests at the crest/ of the waves”—and there they are: anapests and waves together.

Often enough, the titles of her poems refer to music:  “Cadenzas for Johnny,” “Serpa Bell Song,”  “Luba Looks at a Menu and Thinks of Music,” and the concluding poem in the book “The Singers.” As for pure sound, here are just a few whiffs drifting among these poems: “Coco Chiroco,” “the moon/frazzled blue jazz in riffs     over    the river,” “disco, jazz, twist, funk…plunked bumpty-bump/from a neighbors whoopee room piano…,” “swerve on like the moon-June jackpot/ of dicey days in the mean meantime,” “in the freeze-grip-crunch of their last bang,” “hunters/ of springbok, dik-dik, antelopes,” “ hey hey di hay… glory wa wa… Doba dee da doba da dee.” Yes, the lady loves sound. And does she sing scat!

However, I would like to note that mixed in with the joyous life-affirming music, there are reminders of the grave side to the human condition. In a poem imagining an abandoned polar bear cub, she concludes “How can he know she, too, /has lost her mother/to blue infinities?” To readers familiar with Colette’s life work and life story those “blue infinities” suggest a poignant sorrow, never utterly healed. In “Luba Reads Merwin,” the conclusion is both valiant and philosophically rather desperate, as it portrays in lovely language our lovely, lonely pathos: “knowing words are tireless and travel/out of nothing to a vacancy of stars.” And in the important final poem of the collection, she concludes with a paean of praise to song and an acknowledgment of its dark source:

We sang
glory wa wa to the highest
bird lit by the sun
Stones applauded
from the stream
clouds leaned in
gathered that dark
where singing comes from
Doba dee da doba da dee

If we are saved, our salvation is both exultant and fragile, a salvation fresh with stream, sunlight, and song, but all in the moment.

Read this book. It is a book of love, as the title suggests: love for the world, love for language, love for us all in our painful, glorious human condition.

Review of Lee Slonimsky’s Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street

by David Beckman

Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street
Lee Slonimsky, New York
Spuyten Duyvil,
2015. 89 pp.

How many poets plant their flag where Wall Street and poetry intersect? Wallace Stevens stood at a similarly unusual corner, that of the insurance business and poetry. But Stevens never attempted to capture his corporate geography in his poems.

Now comes Lee Slonimsky’s 6th book of poems, Red-Tailed Hawk on Wall Street, where his dual identity of poet and stock trader meets and generates creative fire, often captured in his alter ego, Paul, a stock trader who inhabits some of these poems:

Paul loves this glade, where time almost stands still
away from stress and brawl of trading floor.
Still numbers, yes: he loves to count the leaves
that brim so green mid-May.

These poems, rooted in the fact of a red-tailed hawk living on a ledge above Manhattan’s canyons, achieve a unique vision that transcends city and country, Wall Street and woods. Indeed, the hawk’s true habitation — the natural world — is home for deep contemplation and tranquility that stock trading can never deliver, yet which Slonimsky chooses fiercely to embrace:

                                             Time’s ancient road
looks brand new to us, like a cresting wave,
effects of wind, a storm, pale lightning’s sear.

But every patch of grass has history,
invisible yet summoned easily
if one would only let thoughts, feelings move
as slowly as the ground dries – yes – right here.

Slonimsky’s hawk, native to country and woods, yet now inhabiting the city, gives wing to these finely etched poems where the poet’s keen eye and relentless imagination capture nuance, feeling and insight:

                                                      No fear:
how grand his lofty view of river, park!
And then he feels himself inside this bird,
as if his arms were winged, his face a beak,
as if transformed by some primordial Word
(if this be sleep, then let him never wake).

Here is the superb achievement of these poems: observer becomes hawk; poet becomes metaphor.

The way a hawk rests on this concrete cliff,
then circles high above the jostling throngs
and glides, her wings agleam, through early mists,
you’d think that Wall Street is where she belongs.

The book’s other sections show Slonimsky’s astonishing range, where poems evoke love in Italy and France (he’s every bit as evocative of affairs of heart as those of hawk); metaphysics of place; and meditations on weather where sunlight, rain, clouds and wind become charged elements in diurnal dramas:

Huge shadows dance on this steep wooded hill
whenever sunlight seeps between some clouds
that quiver in the wind. It’s quite the thrill
to watch clouds waltz and pirouette, the floods
of all last week receded. We’re awash
in breaking skies and warming gusts, the glow
of sudden sun on tangled greenery.

Delight for the reader resides in the arc of this collection, but also in the poet’s skill as a craftsman. Here, the sonnet may be Slonimsky’s chosen habitat, but other forms enrich his palate, allowing line, rhyme and meter to frame and feed the living pulse of these extraordinary poems.

Review of Lewis Turco’s The Hero Enkidu

by Miriam N. Kotzin

The Hero Enkidu
Lewis Turco, New York
Bordighera Press,
2015. 102 pp.

To say that Lewis Turco’s The Hero Enkidu is clever, is to understate its virtues both as a page-turner action story and as an accomplished poem. Enkidu is a companion to Gilgamesh, from the Ancient Sumerian The Epic of Gilgamesh, which, as Turco tells us is “the oldest long narrative poem in the world”—indeed, if there’s another more than 4,000 years old, we’ve yet to discover it.  Instead of being a sidekick to Gilgamesh, Enkidu is the hero, whose development and adventures are presented in Anglo Saxon prosody with metrical five-line “bob and wheels.”  It is a matter of amazement that this construction seems to vanish as the reader gets caught up in the story of Enkidu.

It doesn’t vanish, of course—even the presence of a sestina, with a bob and wheel following each of its stanzas— serves to foster character development or advance the plot.  The bob and wheel sometimes enjambs with the line above, sometimes with the line following, impelling the reader forward. Moreover, the poetry offers evocative descriptions, such as: “….The windowsill /Swallowed shadows.” or “northern light/Would glance from glaciers   laid like tiles/Upon the tundra.”

The epic begins before Enkidu speaks when he is “fully feral.”  He is transformed by Lilitu, but one night Enkidu wakes and finds his bed-companion, Lilitu, is missing, and he sets out to find her.  She had lured him and transformed him from his feral life, but now, anger transforms him to a beast-like creature:
                                        Enkidu raged
To think that Lilitu      had betrayed him.
The moon was full      in the night’s heavens
When Enkidu howled    beneath its beams.
He dropped again     to all four  feet
As he had erstwhile    done in the forest,
Before he became    a human male.

At last he found her    in a crypt of ghouls
Consorting with them   and drinking the blood
Of infants from bowls    made of skulls.
Enkidu entered    trembling with fury
And with disgust.    He called aloud
In the voice of a lion,   “Who are you
Who gather here     to engage in the rites
Of the gods of Evil?”

He gets his answer:  the Seven Spirits who “grind the earth/ like wheat.”  Enkidu gets rid of them:  “With one  mighty / Thrust Enkidu      brushed the spirits /Into the wind…”
 
The caesuras (pauses) in the following passage increase the drama of the dialogue. Lilitu’s speech is strong, and is followed by Enkidu’s silent turning away.   

She looked at him    with eyes of fire.
“I am not your kine,    Enkidu my love.
My soul is mine     as is my body.
I do with it as    I please; I go
Whereever I go     whenever I wish.
You have no rights     to me or mine.
Why did you banish   my Seven Spirits?”

Enkidu said nothing,   He merely turned
And hastened away.   He had to find
A place to stay   and be alone
To deal with such   immense betrayal.

Equally engaging is Canto VI, the goddess Ishtar’s proposal to Enkidu—and his refusal, which reads, in part:

What, then would be   my advantage?
You are a ruin   that gives no shelter
From the weather   to any man.
You are merely   a rear door
Without resistance     to blast or storm.
You are a palace     that dashes the heroes
Living in it     into shards and pieces,
A pitfall covered     with twigs and leaves
That will fail and trap     him who walks
Upon its surface.   You are a bottle
That leaks in the desert,     limestone that rots
And lets ramparts    crumble in ruins.
You are chalcedony   that does not guard;
A sandal that tears   and causes its wearer
To fall by the wayside.     How many husbands
Have you loved faithfully,    who has been your lord
And had the advantage?     Let me unfold
The endless roster     of your husbands,
And you will vouch     the truth of the list:

These invectives make “bitch on wheels” seem a quaint raised eyebrow of disapproval. Enkidu then lists Ishtar’s husbands and what befell them—e.g., transformed into a spider.  Her revenge follows.

With all its violent exploits, battles, the living dead “night walkers, ” and seductions and attempted seductions, this poem would be R rated were it to be made into a 3-D animated film, which it should be.  Imagine Lilitu transforming into an owl and flying away with her owl daughter out over the heads of the audience, or The Bull of Heaven incinerating the men, its flames leaping upward to the cinema’s ceiling.

The Epic of Enkidu is great fun to read.  In addition to the poem itself, this volume includes an informative introduction by Michael Palma and an Afterword by Turco, about 20 pages that begin with a discussion of prosody and then move to a fascinating literary memoir. Per Contra published The Prologue, Canto I, Nimrod and Lilitu and part of the Afterword, in the Winter of 2013, and a revision of Canto 5, The Forest of Humbaba, which incorporates a newly published translation of a tablet of Gilgamesh.  

What We Talk About When We Talk About Parental Love

by Cannon Roberts

Steve paused the movie when Megan announced she still slept in the same bed as her father. He knew they wouldn’t be finishing the movie that night. The plan was to eat pizza, drink wine, and watch some action flick that didn’t require too much thinking. Steve even made everyone agree on the movie beforehand so they didn’t spend the entire evening debating their choices. Instead, wine was opened before the pizza was ordered and his wife, Brandy, started pouring shots of bourbon before they could decide on toppings. With wine and liquor and no food, the conversation took over and Steve ordered pizza without consulting anyone. Steve warned Brandy if they didn't decide everything beforehand, they would end up wasting the entire evening. Brandy said that was part of the fun.

Steve and Brandy already knew this weird, disturbing fact about Megan and her father. She claimed they only shared a bed when no other option was available but when Conrad stayed with Brandy and Megan, there were plenty of other options. Brandy offered to share her bed with Megan. Easier than that, Conrad could have slept on the couch. Brandy even said she would stay with Steve knowing Conrad was judgmental and misogynistic, though Megan claimed her father’s opinions were simply old-time religion. Conrad was not hatful, just conservative. He often asked Brandy if she had slept with the guys Megan was interested in even though Brandy and Steve had been dating for two years. But you and Steve aren't married, Conrad would say as justification, suggesting that Brandy was, at best, a swinger but, more likely, the whore of Babylon. The directness ended when Megan came back into the room. With his daughter around, Conrad's comments became more generalized about society and usually involved complaints about America's crumbling values.

Steve and Brandy were somewhat immune to Megan's relationship with her father. They were still weirded out when Megan discussed how close she was with Conrad, how she was comfortable walking around her parents’ house in her underwear when getting ready for church, or how she took her father clothes shopping so he could approve of her purchases. Even bras and panties. They knew to ignore her in these moments. Brad, however, had never heard this piece of personal information. He was Megan's most recent boyfriend who was much quieter and reserved than the rest. Steve found most of her boyfriend’s obnoxious but decided he preferred loud and boisterous over dull and despondent. At Megan's declaration, however, Brad made himself known. He stood up from his chair in the corner and walked towards Megan. The living room was small so his three steps were melodramatic. Brandy dug her nails into Steve’s thigh to keep both of them from laughing. Brad stood over Megan looking angry though the plate full of pizza and soda can he was holding undercut his seriousness.

Steve and Brandy knew the conversation that would come next. They had the conversation with Megan the first time Conrad visited. They watched her have this conversation with two previous boyfriends. Steve suspected that Megan told this story so her boyfriends would break up with her, a self-destruct button that kept her from being the bad guy.

The conversation always had the same flow. The first step was weirdness. Megan revealed that she slept in the same bed as her father as an adult, the conversation came to a halt, and people stated their dismay and disapproval. The next step was creepiness. Megan opened up about the subject and explained how she felt that it proved her close bond with her father. Usually, this part of the conversation didn't illicit much response. People just stared. There tended to be a lot of silent head shaking during this part. The next step was to tell about the last time they shared a bed. Until recently, the latest experience was the time Megan and Brandy lived together, but once Steve and Brandy married, Megan decided she should live on her own and rented a small, one bedroom apartment. Again, the couch was a viable option but Megan claimed she didn't want her dad to get lonely. This story was worse than the previous one. The fact that she was willing to tell this story when no one had to know about it made people go from being creeped out to being concerned. The next step was therapists suggestions. Megan always said the same thing: I am seeing a counselor. Steve didn't think a counselor and a therapist were the same thing. Counselors gave people a safe place to talk. Megan talked all the time. She would open up to a tree that happened to lean in her direction. She needed a therapist who could really get inside her head.

"Maybe it's a good thing that you and your dad acknowledge your physical attraction to one another," Steve said as Brad stood looking at Megan still holding his pizza and soda.

"What the fuck?" Brandy shouted, gesturing with her arms and sloshing wine out of her cup. Everyone was staring at Steve.

"I am not sexually attracted to my father," Megan said.

"I didn't say sexually. I said physically. I don't really know the difference but I think there is one," Steve said trying to form his defense. He was drunk and he should have kept his mouth shut but he couldn't hear the same damn conversation again. He felt it was time to change the conversation and see what happened. Without fully forming his argument he started to explain. "I'm just sitting here trying to think why I would never sleep in the same bed as my mother. Is it just because she's my mother or is it because she's fat and I wouldn't want to sleep next to her?"

"Steven Christopher!"

"I know, I know, I called my mom fat and now I'm the jerk," Steve said looking at Brandy. "But it's true. I would sleep in the same bed as your mom if I had too."

"That's different," Brandy said. "You and my mom always flirt. It's no secret you find her attractive and that's why you’ll never be in a bed with her."

"Okay, fine, that's different, but maybe none of us know what it's like to have a parent who would be physically attractive if they weren't our parent. Maybe there's something evolutionary behind all this."

There was a silence as people rearranged themselves around the room. Brad moved into the dining room, set his pizza and soda on the table, and drug a chair the few feet it took to reach the living room so he could sit next to Megan. Brandy also moved to sit next to Megan as if she were trying to defend her from Brad. They faced Steve sitting alone on the couch. Steve got up and stood in front of the TV. Before he made his stupid comment he had thought about turning the movie back on so he could stand a few inches away and watch while the predictable chaos ensued. Standing, Steve felt as if he were in an intervention. He waited for someone to say that he was the one who needed therapy but people stayed quiet.

"I'm not saying that if my mom lost weight I would be attracted…" Steve trailed off. Trying to explain himself now only made him seem desperate.

"God made me who I am," Megan said. Everyone turned, not sure what her point was. Brad tried to put a hand on her shoulder but she moved away from him. "God made me like this. It has nothing to do with evolution."

"That's what you're upset about?" Brandy asked, her voice strained. While Brandy tried her best to accept her friend's conservative, and often wavering, religious views, there were moments she could not hide her disdain. She felt Megan was too scared to let go of some of her beliefs, which often held her back in her relationships and in her career. Steve, Brandy, and Megan had all met in grad school. Steve and Brandy had been out for over a year, almost two. None of them were in the positions or careers they had imagined when they started but, for the most part, they were happy. Brandy taught history at an alternative school for kids who had been kicked out of the public high schools. She was cursed out on a daily basis and spent most of her time telling kids to sit down. Steve worked in a museum which was at least in their field though he was only a part time receptionist/security guard who answered phones on the weekends and walked the halls twice an hour. Still, he had a foot in the door and could get promoted.  Mostly, Steve sat on their couch and watched the history channel, then went to the gym so he could come home a few minutes after Brandy. This allowed both of them to pretend his days were productive.

Megan was ready to graduate with them but changed her specialty during their last semester and needed to retake most of her classes. Brandy thought it was because she was scared to branch out and start a career. Steve felt that if she wasn't in school or married Conrad would make her move back to Kentucky to teach at the bible college where she had gone to for undergrad or work in his law firm where he mostly defended racist, homophobic preachers and small militias who accidentally blew shit up while hunting on the outskirts of some small town.

"But God could have made us to evolve, right?" Brad said as a way to compromise, a telling sign they were early in the relationship. Megan preferred the boys who argued with her. Though those relationships always involved more fighting and yelling and Steve having to sleep on the couch so Megan could share the bed with Brandy for a few nights.

"That's not how it works," Megan said. "God made us how we are and there is no need to evolve."

"Oh my god, shut up," Brandy said hitting Megan on the leg and standing up. "You are not going to use that line. If you think homosexuality is a sin, you can’t say God makes us exactly who we are. You always use these double standards, Megan. You can't do that. You know Steve has kissed a couple of guys, does that make him a bad person?"

"Wait, why is my sexuality being brought into this conversation? Megan is upset because the theory of evolution exists."

"That's not why I'm upset. You said I wanted to have sex with my father."

"I didn't say sex," Steve said. "I said physical attraction. There's a difference."

"You're splitting hairs," Brandy said sitting down turning her frustration back to Steve.

"Of course I'm splitting hairs. Look at the subject we're talking about. When someone says I sleep with my dad that could mean multiple things. Even saying I share a bed with my dad could mean several things. So, yeah, I'm going to differentiate between physical and sexual attraction."

"I never thought you meant sex," Brad said. Always the compromiser. "I don't even know why you'd say that, Steve. Who would ever think she meant she had sex with her father?"

"Anyone who thinks Conrad molested her as a child."

In movies, when there are tense melodramatic moments, the actors always pause look at each other and then everything blows up. Someone screams. Someone storms out of the room. Someone apologizes or is asked to leave. None of this happened. Brandy and Brad stared at Steve in disbelief. Steve sat silently wishing he had been able to start the movie before everyone started talking, wishing the pizza had arrived earlier, wishing Megan hadn't decided to use movie night to chase off Brad. And Megan was eating pizza. She acted as if the last half hour hadn't happened, like they had all been staring at the paused TV screen letting the pizza get cold.

"Let's watch the movie," Megan said, her mouth half full. They took a minute to rearrange themselves. Brandy and Steve moved back to the couch. Brad went into the dining room to retrieve his pizza and traded his soda for bourbon. Steve looked around for the remote he had set down at some point during the conversation. Megan was the only person who didn't move. She seemed settled and content with her pizza and wine.

Steve started the movie and ate his cold pizza. He hoped the pieces in the box were still warm. He regretted his outburst, but Megan really needed to figure her shit out. Brandy had seen similar behavior in some of the kids at his school. If a parent was called to campus they would yell at their child in the middle of the hallway then leave without really addressing the problem. The next day she'd hear the student defending the parents saying it was okay to get yelled at and smacked around because his parents were cool and they let him do whatever he wanted most the time.

Megan talked the same way. At dinner, her father would say terribly racist and misogynistic things about her past boyfriends and future career in academia. Once he left the table, she would say that he could really be a jerk sometimes but Conrad was actually such an amazing man. There were other bits and pieces that pointed to a history of abuse, things Brandy told Steve though she wasn't supposed to. Megan diagnosed herself with repressed memories about being abused as a child though she couldn't decide if they were real or not. She would freak out if she felt a guy was trying to pin her down on the couch or against the wall as they made out. Little actions that said something big was lurking under the surface.

Steve got up for another piece of pizza and offered to refill people's wine and bourbon. Everyone refused and he sat down with a slightly warm slice and tried to focus on the movie. Megan finished her pizza and took her plate back into the kitchen. As she came back she touched Brandy's arm and headed toward the bedroom.

"Pause the movie," Brandy said, then followed Megan, shutting the door behind her.

Steve sighed and paused the movie. He focused on his pizza then got up to fill his glass one more time. He had a feeling he would sleeping on the couch and decided that if Brandy and Megan weren't out in half an hour he would send Brad on his way.

"So I wanted to…" Brad started to say but was cut off by Steve's upraised hand.

"Nope. No talking. There is no way conversation will make this moment less awkward."

Brad nodded and tried to drink from his empty glass. Just as Steve was going to tell him to get more, Brad got out of his chair. Steve thought about finding something else to watch but that would mean consulting Brad, which seemed like too much effort. Steve checked his phone instead. Twenty-five more minutes before he could send Brad home.

"I think you may be right," Brad said as he sat down with more bourbon.

“Right about what?” Steve asked.

"The physical attraction thing. It doesn't really bother me to think about sleeping in the same bed as my mom. She's an attractive lady for over fifty."

Steve nodded hoping the conversation would end there. He didn't want to talk about Megan's fucked up family anymore. He wondered if he could use the same awkwardness line to stop Brad a second time.

"I just can't think of any conceivable excuse to actually do it," Brad said. "Maybe if the only other choice was to sleep on the bare ground or a concrete floor, but when the hell would that ever happen."

The two guys sat in silence. Both bent over in their seats, leaned their elbows on their knees, and stared into their glasses.

"I am a fucking adult," Brad said, clearly feeling the effects of the alcohol since no one ever heard him curse. "I can't imagine a reason I wouldn't get two hotel rooms if that ever happened. And Megan's dad is loaded. You're telling me he can't reserve a suite if they’re on the road. I need to talk to her."

Brad was up and walking towards the bedroom before Steve realized what he said. Steve waited for the yelling, waited for Megan to become unhinged as she was known to do when drinking. Steve looked into his glass and wished he had better friends. He felt a hand on his arm. Brandy nodded towards the bedroom. Brad and Megan stood behind her looking remorseful.

"You kids don't have too much fun out here," Steve said, but Brandy elbowed him in the ribs, which didn't let his joke land properly.

Steve and Brandy sat on the edge of the bed with their knees touching, holding hands as if they were calmly waiting for some impending doom. Steve could tell Brandy was trying to hear the argument in the living room. She wasn't crude enough to put her ear to the door, but Steve knew he wasn't supposed to speak. He spoke anyway.

"How long are we in time out?"

Brandy dug her nails into his thigh and visibly leaned her ear towards the door. The voices in the living room became audible. Brandy leaned back and looked at Steve. The voices got louder. Then there was the sound of glass breaking and the distinct noise of a hand making contact with bare skin.

Brandy and Steve rushed into the living room to find Megan with her purse in hand and Brad holding the door open waiting for her to walk out. Steve looked from Brad to Megan. He felt it was more likely that Megan hit Brad but he never knew about the quiet ones. Both of them had red eyes and redder cheeks from yelling and crying.

“We’re going to go, guys,” Megan said with a smile that seemed genuine. “Thanks for having us over.”

She walked over and threw her arms around Brandy like it was the last time they’d see each other. She squeezed Steve’s hand then walked out the door. Brad stood awkwardly for a moment, raised his hand as a way to say good-bye, turned to leave, then asked, “Do you want this open or closed?”

“My front door,” Steve said. “I want it closed.”

Brad left and the apartment was silent. Steve and Brandy looked around for the broken glass, finding it in the sink. Steve threw the larger pieces in the trashcan and washed the shards down the drain. Brandy picked up the bottle of bourbon and flopped down on the couch. There were two more pieces of pizza in the box. Steve layered them and shoved as much into his mouth as possible. Brandy flipped through the movie choices and selected the goofy comedies category as she drank straight from the bottle. Once Steve finished chewing and was able to swallow, he sat down next to her and took the bottle. He knew it would be empty before they got off the couch.

“So I’m drunk,” Brandy said which was always worrisome. “But if I die, you can sleep with my mom.”

Steve thought about pointing out that this permission was highly ambiguous, up for interpretation, and possibly disturbing. Instead, he found out how much bourbon he could chug before choking, then handed the bottle back.

Horses

by Anita Naughton

One Sunday, at dusk, just as we were having tea, four horses wandered through an open gate, and onto the railway tracks behind our house. We heard a grinding screech followed by a succession of incredibly loud punch-like thuds. Then came a silence that rolled over the Millbank like a wave. My mother went pale. She stood up from the table and looked out of the window. Mrs. Thompson was the first to come out onto the street in her white fluffy Harrods slippers followed by her daughter, Susan, and Mrs. Thorpe, from number one, wearing a royal blue dressing gown and special thick tights for her varicose veins. Up and down the Millbank, clusters of neighbors stood. My brother slipped away, but I stayed sitting at the table watching everyone through the window. Moments later the telephone began to ring. It was only when it stopped that I thought that it may have been my father.

Some of the men and kids went off to the tracks to see the accident while the women gossiped with folded arms. There was a buzz of excitement, everyone stayed outside until it was suddenly dark and, calling out their good nights, they reluctantly returned to their own homes.

That night, while mum was watching telly, I went into our garden and waited by the fence for my brother. He still hadn't come back and I wanted to know what was going on. There was an awful smell of burning and I could hear the distant voices of men, working. I didn't see Paul until he was in front of me thrusting something warm and velvety into my arms.

"A horse's calf," he said.

It really was a horse’s calf, torn at the top and with the hoof still attached at the bottom.

I screamed, shoving it back at him. "Throw it away! Throw it away!"

He stared at me for a moment, then he pitched it so it landed in the Wong’s garden. He rubbed his hands on his jeans and went off inside. From the tracks there came a terrible whinnying sound, so high-pitched that it could have been machinery. I ran inside.

 

Later, in bed, my brother described what he'd seen. Parts of horse everywhere. Two were still alive, wet with sweat and blood. A severed horse's head had its mouth wide open by the trunk of a tree as if it were about to take a bite. "I'd have brought it home,' he whispered. 'But it was too big." He was eight, three years younger than me but his mind was like a scientist's. Nothing scared him.

The Millbank was shaped like a horseshoe with a set of houses dotting the outside ring and then another set of houses in the inside ring; that meant everyone looked out on another person’s house. Our house was on the outside ring, number seven, directly opposite the Thompsons. A tall hedge hid our front lawn. My dad used to cut it, but since he'd left it had grown too high for my mum to reach. A low chain-link fence divided everyone’s back garden. Behind ours were the woods, and then the railway track, and beyond that, the Millpond.

After my brother had fallen asleep, I stared out of the window. It was summer and all along the Millbank windows were open. Once in a while you'd hear a fit of coughing or a sudden cry. I knew this street so well that it came to have its own feel and character. I let my imagination drift through our neighbor’s homes. I saw their rooms, the expression on their sleeping faces, even the shapes they made in their beds.

I was still leaning out of the window when I heard a low whistle from further up the street. I retreated back into the darkness and peered around the side of the curtain. Mr. Jackson was taking his dog for a walk. He whistled again and Bessie, his white Labrador, came running out of the Thompson's garden. The Jacksons lived at the top of the Millbank. Every Sunday they'd go to church and Mr. Jackson  would carry his wife in his arms to the car, her legs wrapped in a brightly colored wool rug. She looked yellow because she had some sort of wasting disease that was making all her bones useless. He was a tall man, and I watched now as he ambled along in his shorts. A week earlier, my best friend Josephine and I were dragging our go-cart up the street when we passed him washing his car. He stopped and asked if we were having fun. I don't know who noticed it first, but as he reached up with his soapy leather and took a swipe at the roof, a testicle hung out of his shorts. We giggled. He asked us what was so funny, and our laughter became uncontrollable. Josephine said later that it reminded her of an elephant's trunk, but I thought of the pink of a sow's ear. I think about it again as I watch him. The lone crinkled testicle and the controlled, easy expression on his face.

Mr. Jackson passed the Wong's driveway, but instead of carrying on along the pavement he changed direction and walked onto our front lawn, stopping by the forsythia bush. Was he going to have a pee? I'd seen my brother do it often enough. Then I heard the side gate open and my mum appeared. She's going to ask him what he's doing on our lawn, I thought, but silently she reached out to him, and in a moment their bodies merged in the darkness below. Their murmuring voices drifted up, almost loud against the deserted backdrop of the street. Then it was quiet and the creamy, stout, arthritic body of Bessie, hobbled away like a ghost dog, followed by Mr. Jackson. They both vanished behind our hedge. Mr. Jackson whistled a few notes. I retreated to my room, the sudden darkness dazing me. I heard the sound of our kitchen door closing and my mum moving about downstairs.

 

The next morning at breakfast I couldn't stop watching my mother. It was if she were a stranger. Her backside, big in black slacks, swayed from side to side as she moved. Her hair was brushed and pinned up, her make up done. In ten minutes she'd be on her way to the doctor's office where she worked as a receptionist. She gazed out the window as she rinsed a milk bottle, then, turned and, noticing me staring, gave a bright smile.

I waited for Mr. Jackson to come again. It was only when I heard my mum go to bed that I did the same. I wondered if I'd dreamt it all. I thought of telling my brother, but I could never be sure how he'd react. He spent a lot of time daydreaming. Sometimes in the middle of the night he had a fit. I was meant to wake my mum, but I didn't like the way she hovered over him so anxiously. Instead I'd open the curtain a little to let in the light from the streetlamp, and sit on his bed. He'd make strange hiccupping sounds and his eyes rolled back as if he were staring at me from a remote and distant place. I'd hold his hand and whisper, 'everyone loves you and you have tons of friends.'  He didn't, but I thought it might fill up the void of being a loner. After the noises stopped, his eyes closed and his breathing hushed.  Once, during a fit I heard the loud insistent tap of stilettos walking up the Millbank, by the time I looked out whoever she was had gone.

I waited up the next three nights but Mr. Jackson never came. I spent so long staring at the forsythia bush that its long sinewy tendrils, covered in yellow blossoms, turned into arms reaching out. One night I thought I saw my dad coming up the street with his knapsack on his back, but it was a stranger.

The next morning, I had advance warning: mum looked different. Her mood was light and softer than usual. As I climbed the stairs for bed I had this brilliant idea. Why not hide behind the forsythia bush? There was a narrow space between the bush and the windowsill that was full of cigarette butts that my mum used to toss out the window. My brother found the longest butts and re lit them with an old lighter, smoking them right down to the filter. Where had he learnt everything?

My mum came up the stairs to check on us. I lay on my front, my long hair covering my face. She opened the door, and the light spilled in from the landing. She stood there for a long time, listening, but then she left and closed the door. I waited until she turned off the TV; then I got out of bed, put on my slippers, and as quietly as possible opened my bedroom door. She was in the kitchen now. I hurried down the carpeted stairs. The window in the living room was wide open and blue smoke spiraled out. A little dot of light still showed on the television set. I heard my mum cough. I ran across the living room to the window, grabbed one hand on the window frame and the other on the ledge and hoisted myself up and over. It was a few feet to the grass below. The back of my leg scraped on the narrow ledge and the branches scratched my face. The space was much narrower than I remembered. Seconds later mum coughed again, right above me, as she closed the window.

 

It felt like hours that I waited. My knees were pressed to my chest and I tried not to imagine all the insects swarming beneath me. After a while I worried that mum may have locked the kitchen door, and I'd have to spend the night outside. Then I heard a low whistle. I kept perfectly still. I heard him treading softly over the grass or at least I think I did. To the right of me came the gentle click of our gate. I imagined my mother stepping towards him, tripping into his arms. I was too low down to see anything but in my minds I saw the negative space surrounding them like a felt pen drawn around their bodies.

The branches of the bush stirred and I realized that his dog was trying to nudge her way through to me. Mr. Jackson must have grabbed at Bessie's collar because she stopped.

"Can you come in?" My mother rasped. I'd never heard that voice before and it gave me an odd thrill.

"She's waiting up for me," came Mr. Jackson's soft voice.

"Why?"

That sounded more like my mother; suspicious, challenging.

Mr. Jackson sighed. The sigh seemed to embrace all of us. A car sped away in the distance, and with it, a strange sense of disconnection and aloneness rushed into me. I had a sudden glimpse into the vast randomness of everything and the multitude of lives being lived at this moment. I thought about my father and the possibility that right now he, too, might be in the arms of a woman. The sound of the car receded.

"Why is she waiting up? Did she say anything?"

'Shh shh.' There followed little popping noises, and I knew he was kissing her face. It was strange to see a mass of blackness before my eyes and hear these disembodied voices.

Mrs. Thompson coughed across the street. Their back door slammed shut. She must have been letting the cat in. I wondered if the same thought occurred to my mother and Mr. Jackson.

"You better go", my mum said in a low voice. I imagined her face, no expression, and no drama, just stating the plain facts. The drama always came later. I heard the scampering of Bessie's paws on the pavement. I was desperate to move my legs but I sensed my mother was still there. She lit a cigarette and after a few moments returned to the house.

My legs were numb and I stood up with difficulty. I went round the back of the house and listened outside her bedroom window. The curtains were drawn but her light was on. Jazz music played softly on the radio. Outside the kitchen door I brushed off my pajamas. Once I was inside the kitchen, I knew I was safe. If she caught me now I'd say I was getting a glass of water. She didn't catch me though, and as I climbed into bed I thought: I won't ever do that again.

Two nights later I knew something was going on. Mum was twitchy and preoccupied. It was as if she was going through all the motions of cooking us dinner, and asking us how school was, but in reality she was somewhere else. I watched her closely. Once she turned, as if she felt my eyes on her back, but I pretended I was gazing into space.

I lay in bed waiting for her to turn the T.V off. She did, but then only seconds later I heard the kitchen door open. I sat up and peered out the window, but there was no one coming along the street. Was he already in the house? Then I saw mum walking up the Millbank. She walked along the curb out of the glare of the street lamps.  Was she going to Mr. Jackson's? My mother never walked around the street. I couldn't believe it. I quickly got up and ran down the stairs. The kitchen door was unlocked and the gate slight ajar. It was too risky to follow her up the street, but I could go over the back gardens. Each garden was perhaps twenty feet across, and I only needed to cross five houses to get to the Jacksons!

The Wong's curtains were drawn, but unlike the heavy thick curtains in my room, they were light and see-through. Behind them I saw the compact shape of Mr. Wong crossing the room. In silhouette, sitting at a table, was his young and beautiful daughter Anne. In no time I had crossed over into the garden of the Steeples, a quiet, elderly couple who kept to themselves. Next was the airhostess’s house. Their curtains were open, and two of them were sitting at a table drinking something. One was looking out into the garden and l thought she was looking right at me, but she laughed and I saw that she was on the telephone. Then came the Gillespie's house. The whole family was on their summer holiday in Scotland so the house was dark. Next was the Jackson's.

 

The living room curtains were open, and Mrs. Jackson was in profile, watching television. I bent low, creeping over the lawn to the patio that was in front of the window. She had a blue rug over her knees and beside her was a little table covered in pill bottles. Her hands, looked like claws on her lap. Her cropped grey hair accentuated her thin bony neck and head. She was watching the game show, "The Generation Game," and I heard the faint sound of laughter coming from the television. Mr. Jackson entered the room carrying a glass of water. He came towards the window so I ducked. Above my head the curtains closed.  I moved to the side of the house where there was a smaller window. Just like in our house, there was no curtain over it. I was now facing her, but I knew she couldn't see me if she was looking from the bright house into the dark garden. She was swallowing something from one hand and then taking sips of water. Mr. Jackson opened his hand, which was full of blue pills. She looked confused, but he said something to her and tipped them into her cupped hand. She stretched out her arm and dropped the pills on the carpet.

At that moment my mother appeared in the lit corridor. She was wearing her black trousers and black shirt. Her face almost glowed, maybe from the light above. Mr. Jackson glanced over at her. His wife, as if sensing there was someone behind her tried to turn. My mother disappeared. Mr. Jackson moved in front of his wife so I couldn't see her properly. He bent over and said something. Her head suddenly popped into view as she shifted to the side of her chair. Then he put his large hand behind her head as if he were holding it up. With the other hand he grabbed a bottle of pills. I couldn't see what he was doing, but after a few moments he reached out for the glass of water. Every so often her face bobbed into sight for a fraction of a second.

The green bottle fell to the floor, and Mr. Jackson put the glass of water down on the table. He left the room. Mrs. Jackson was completely still. One of her white arms was up in mid air as if she'd suddenly turned to ice. Her eyes were wide open, just staring ahead. Years later, as an adult, I saw the exact same look on a stranger's face. Only then, I realized that it was a look of terror.

I smelt cigarettes and heard footsteps on the other side of the house. I peeked around the wall and saw my mum standing by the tall wooden fence, next to the kitchen. One hand was crossed over on her heart and the other hand moving up and down as she drew deep drags on her cigarette. I had this incredible desire to reveal myself, a bit like when you're climbing a steep hill and you want to throw yourself down. She dropped her cigarette and swiveled her shoe on it. Then she bent down, picked up the butt and flicked it over the fence. She went back inside, and I went back to the window.

 

Mrs. Jackson was slumped in her chair. Something white and foamy dribbled out of the corner of her mouth. Her lips were open and they kept twitching as if she had no control over them. Her eyes were semi closed.  Mr. Jackson was standing in the next room, the dining room, with one hand on the table. He was standing in the dark. My mother came into the room and went up to him, and touched his shoulder. I thought he was crying but I wasn't sure. Mum looked over at Mrs. Jackson and started walking towards her. She was trying to be silent and there was an expression of concentration on her face. It reminded me of Mrs. Thorpe's cat, Tiptoes, as she was about to pounce on a bird.

She had nearly reached Mrs. Jackson when she stopped. Her hand flew to her mouth, and she looked distressed. She turned and walked quickly back to Mr. Jackson. She said something to him and he nodded.

At that moment, Mrs. Jackson shot her head up as though someone had reached underneath her throat and spiked her. Her eyes widened horribly and she turned back towards them, almost superhumanly. They were leaning on each other and unaware that she was watching.

Right then, I decided that I couldn't bear to see her face again. I raced back over the gardens, practically hurling myself over the fences, not caring that the wire on top of them dug into my stomach. As I reached the Wong's garden, there came a volley of barking. It was Taffy, the Wong's bad tempered old terrier. I slipped and fell onto something cold and hard. My hand found the horse’s calf. Taffy limped towards me, barking, but I scrambled the remaining few yards to the fence and threw myself over. So fast were my feet moving it felt as if I were flying.

Outside the kitchen door my hand was shaking as I took off my shoes. I noticed the small, white, Lily of the Valley growing behind the milk bottles. For all I knew my mum was already making her way down the street keeping to the shadows. The cold damp smell of the earth followed me into bed. I pulled the pillow to my face and breathed in the smell of soap powder and me. Then out of the darkness came an awful gurgling sound.

I jerked up, my heart pounding. It was my brother, having a fit. This time I didn't go to him. I lay in the dark, with my eyes closed, listening. Mrs. Jackson loomed in my mind. It was as if she was everywhere and I had to journey over the massive landscape of her, the pearly hollow of her throat up to the gaunt contours of her cheeks, all that vast space of sallow skin, until I came to the cold, bruised circles under her eyes. Then to the eyes themselves, so dark and dilated that they became the terrified, rolling eyes of a horse, black and enormous. I felt like I was floating, carried along on the strange other-worldliness of my brother's gulping cries. Then far back, somewhere, my father called my name. I soared way up over the Millbank, past the railway tracks and the woods, and beyond to the Millpond. There I hovered, surrounded by the cold dank smell of water and bulrushes.

Floating Out Into The Blue Night

by Maja Lukic

Lena closed her eyes, expecting darkness, but Dr. Novak’s face was etched to the back of her eyelids, his mouth moving, the sound of his voice grainy like that of a doctor in a 1950s health documentary. Her eyes flew open again, and she stared straight into the sunlight. The sun’s power had magnified, made her feel infinite. She could feel herself fading. She thought about moving to the beach, abandoning her body to the waves for a time, but something delayed her action, arresting her in a sort of psychological Siberia.

Beyond the private patio gate, candy-colored umbrellas emerged from stretches of white sand like striped candles in a child’s birthday cake. Nearby luxury buildings and hotels rose toward electric blue skies.

Earlier that morning, when she woke up after sunrise and stepped out on the balcony overlooking the water, she could still discern traces of the moon in the sky. The waves were liquid silver in that pale light and the visible lunar mass had animated the grounds with thin pathos.

On the other side of the pool, an instructor led a group of older women in a water aerobics class. They twirled and bobbed in the water like wrinkled ballerinas. Behind the class, Peter’s younger sister Becky sat with Mr. and Mrs. Patakis, the middle-aged Greek couple from the eighth floor, under their umbrella. Peter’s entire family was in for the long weekend. His parents had retired, moved out here to a beachside condominium in Hollywood, Florida, a few years back. There was Peter’s older brother, Alex, recently divorced with four little girls in tow. There was Lena and Peter. And then there was Becky, the youngest, who came alone, who always came alone.

Lena looked down at her fingers, which grasped and combed the empty air of their own accord. It was only Saturday. The weekend loomed before her.

Peter thought a few days out of the city would be good for them. He was probably right. The last few months had been a vortex of illness—the infection, the slow recovery, antibiotics—but somehow she’d emerged on the other side as if nothing had happened so that when Dr. Novak called her in one morning, she was entirely unprepared for the gray, austere light in his office, the syrupy dust embalming his desk. Lena grimaced. He’d talked for over an hour then, dropped critical concepts like landmines—“ovary,” “scarring,” “diminished chances”—as the office environment disintegrated and all she could hear was the broken vibrato of his voice. She left his office and never said a word to Peter.

Not that she’d wanted children. Other than a vague conviction that small children had no place at brunch or on airplanes, she hadn’t given it much thought before—not even after her nieces were born.

But now her mind was chaotic, images coalescing like bubbles in the heat, melting into other images. There was an acrid emptiness in her stomach, a disturbing sense of something vital leaving her, but, also, a confounding sense of relief—as in, she wasn’t nearly as upset as she thought she should be.

Icy water landed on her abdomen, tiny cold blades lancing her skin. She gasped and looked up to see Peter standing in front of her, the sunlight behind him. His features were obscured except for two slits in which his green eyes glowed cool and distant like a Russian Blue cat in a dark hallway. He laughed at her and rubbed his beard with a towel.

“You’re in my light,” Lena said.

“Sorry.” Wet bangs stuck to his forehead in slick isosceles triangles. Red sunburnt splotches covered his chest and back like aberrant continents.

Off in the distance, a sailboat disturbed the perfect line of the horizon. The seagulls flew low like planes nearing an airport, skimming the foamy crest of the tumbling waves.

“How’s the water?” she asked.

“Amazing. You should jump in for a bit instead of roasting out here.” Peter shuddered once, a tremor that vibrated his entire body, and then again.

“I’m happy where I am.”

“Suit yourself.”

There was a pause. The music from the aerobics class drifted over. They could hear splashing water, the instructor calling out steps. The old women now bobbed up and down in the pool like sausages cooking in a pot of boiling water.

She hadn’t told Peter yet about Dr. Novak. In moments, Peter was unreachable. A certain tension lingered between them these days, an opaque cloud of conflicts that seemed to contract and expand throughout the day depending on their moods, the environment, or any number of other factors. The scars accumulated, calcified. Like the time a few weeks back, the morning after her conversation with Dr. Novak, when Peter had been preparing breakfast and Lena the coffee. Lena had just poured boiling water into Peter’s old French Press but they had been arguing over something or other and she rammed the plunger of the French Press down with her open palm. Brown liquid swelled inside the cloudy carafe—the glass shattered. Jagged shards flew across the counter, smashed on the floor tiles. She hadn’t even realized the inside of her right arm was burning and bleeding until Peter ran over.

“Mom and Dad are planning dinner at seven,” Peter said.

“I thought you and I had plans tonight.”

“I forgot. What?”

“Nothing.” Lena frowned.

“It’s family.” He threw the towel down on her legs and kissed her cheek before turning back to the beach.

Lena looked down and pressed her arm where a raised burn scar sickled from the crook of her elbow down to the midpoint of her forearm—a pale, hooked crescent like the ebbing moon in the morning light.

 

Ocean air drifted in through the open windows. Angular shadows moved across the ceiling as the clouds blocked the afternoon sun. Even with the brief cloud cover, the air in the room was cooler, the atmosphere loose.

Lena could hear noises from the parking lot below, the distant splashing of pool water. Peter sighed next to her. They were resting on the bed, a spatial gulf between their bodies.

Her right hand clenched into a fist and then released tension into the air. She repeated the gesture.

“Peter.”

“Lena.”

“Are we getting married?”

Peter shifted, folded and slid one arm under his head, and blew out air again. Somewhere outside, in the parking lot, two men carried on a loud argument in rapid Spanish.

“Why did you think of this just now?” Peter asked.

“I think of things all the time.”

Peter uncoiled his body away from her and stretched his back until something, some joint or meeting of bone and sinew, popped back into place or out of place. The banality of the action was jarring. This was not, ordinarily, how she imagined a marriage proposal might go down.

“Peter?”

“What?” His gaze shifted to her face before traveling back to the ceiling. “Things are good now. Why don’t we talk when we’re back in the city?” His voice sounded testy, unsteady at the edges.

“Why are you upset?” she asked.

“I’m not upset. You seem upset.”

“I’m upset that you’re upset. I asked an important question.”

Peter breathed in and out, transitioning from inhale to exhale with the fluid rhythm of a swimmer beating laps. Lena pushed herself up to sit. The room was dim, shadows stretching deep and long across the walls. She could hear the neighbors moving upstairs, someone watching television in the living room next door.

“Do you not want to marry me?” It was an attempt at a joke, but the words somehow tumbled out heavy and definitive. Her voice wavered in the almost anechoic room.

“I don’t know right now.”

A long silence followed. The men outside had moved off. An airplane flew by overhead.

Lena felt pressure throbbing behind her forehead with the force of an aggressive Congolese rhythm ensemble. She’d never considered, in their four years together, that Peter was weighing his options, appraising her value. She slid off the bed and stood up, thoughts splaying in multiple directions with no central fulcrum.

Peter slid over to the spot where Lena had been. “I mean, I don’t want to change anything for the moment. Besides, children need solid parents.”

“Your point.”

Peter looked uncomfortable. “I’m not there. And you—you’re never honest, Lena, you never face anything. You’re like a child yourself sometimes.” He added in a nostalgic voice: “My parents were amazing.”

“I wasn’t raised by wolves, either.”

“No one said you were.”

Lena grabbed her sandals, slid her feet into them. She fumbled with the buckles but it was as if her fingers had bloated, unable to manage the simple mechanics of grasping the latch or sliding the straps into the buckle openings. She abandoned the effort and grabbed her purse.

“Where are you going?”

She left the room without answering. The door slammed shut behind her. Outside, she stopped and slowed her breath. The windowless hallway stretched long and dark. At one end, it opened into a living room with an adjoining balcony. The room was now subsumed in soft light, like the mouth of a tunnel on a sunny day. At the other end, the hallway funneled into the kitchen and the front door of the apartment. The rooms along the way were closed. Grateful for the privacy, Lena stumbled toward the front door, her loose sandal buckles clacking against the hardwood.

A chubby little girl emerged from the kitchen and blocked her path in the hallway like a kind of clay dough apparition.

“Want to help make caramel brownies?” The child’s sticky fingers squirmed in the air like tentacles.

Lena pulled back. It was one of Alex’s girls, Tara or Tea—she was blanking on the name.

“Move,” she snapped.

The child’s head bent back in an awkward way, her features crumpling for a moment before she disappeared out of view. Lena heard soft, rapid footsteps retreating down the hallway behind her.

Probably, no one had ever yelled at the child. She turned around to apologize, but the hallway was empty again.

In the kitchen, she passed the detritus of broken eggshells, smears of brownie batter, and melting slabs of butter on the counter. The oven was still on. Lena turned it off in case no one came back. As she reached for the front door, keys jangled behind her, a shoe clicked on the kitchen tile.

“Let’s go for a drive.” Peter grabbed her arm and led her out of the apartment, down the hallway to the elevator, and across the marble lobby.

By the time they reached the car, Lena’s entire system felt disturbed. Her mind had splintered into countless impressions and ideas—all negative.

They pulled out of the parking lot and drove along the wide boulevard in silence. The sun was in retreat now, leaving behind an undercurrent of quiet violence in its place. Charcoal tones muted the palm trees and spaces between low buildings. Shops advertising fresh juices and Cuban coffee tossed deep shadows on the sidewalk. The pastel motels along South Ocean Drive appeared dilapidated in the sinking twilight—chipped paint, yellowed lawns separated by rusty chain fences. Figures emerging from the motels were thinner than the ones on the beach.

Lena rolled down the window. An erratic wind stirred the palms, which loomed over the car like ancient guillotines beneath a gray sky.

She shivered. In the distance, a mass of clouds converged over the waters, which had lost their azure tones and now looked murky and cold. A storm was spinning on its way toward them.

The car pressed forward and Lena stared at her lap and didn’t think about Peter next to her. She thought instead of a crystal lake in New Hampshire where her father took the family every summer when she was growing up. The lake was shallow for miles and as translucent as blown glass. Lena remembered looking down into the water at her feet, bloated and pale, wavering at the edges.

Peter squinted up through the windshield at the blackening sky.

“We can’t be out here.” He stopped the car and executed a U-turn in the middle of the street.

Ten minutes from home, the downpour began. They inched along the empty streets past white houses and expansive green lawns, a conveyor belt of blurry watercolor images.

Peter rubbed his beard with one hand and steered with the other.

“I’m driving blind.” He stopped the car by the side of the street under a palm tree. The palm’s thick leaves filtered the water before it pounded the roof and the windows. Sheets of liquid glass lacquered the windshield. Lena had the sensation of drowning—a wave barreling down on her alone, a cold hand clamping itself around her throat.

Peter rested his outstretched arms on the wheel and shook his head.

There was an opening, an aggressive silence, for Lena to say something. Instead, she began sobbing into her open palms, gasping for air with inhuman sounds.

Peter looked bewildered at first but then faced out into the storm again.

The night and rain buried the streets.

 

Lena sat in bed staring at the television. She aimed the remote sideways like a pistol, flipping channels, skimming through daytime programming and a fog of studio audience laughter, until static appeared on the screen. Fine sand—white, black, varying gray tones—moved over the screen to a dissonant buzzing. The visual distortion was comforting. She muted the sound and watched the grains milling like a swarm of fireflies whose lights had extinguished.

The shades in the room were drawn to keep the space cool, but the windows were open. Undiffused afternoon light angled in through the cracks between the curtains, illuminating random, isolated objects. By its saturation, she could tell that it was a bright day outside, hotter than the day before. Her eyelids ached at the thought of all that light.

There was a looping soundtrack of faded beach noise, poolside humming, shouts and violent splashes of water. But the scene outside was indeterminate, an eluding dream. Only an occasional propeller airplane flying low to the ground seemed tangible until, it, too, receded into distance. She pictured the plane’s advertising banner flickering in the gauzy sky until the banner became a palm branch swinging in the wind and she was back in the storm with Peter, water hammering the car’s rooftop, and Peter’s eyes gleaming in the darkness as he stared ahead at the empty street.

They’d returned to the apartment last night, soaked and miserable, as everyone was sitting down to dinner and navigated around each other all evening. By the time she woke up this morning, Peter had already gone out.

A light knock on the doorframe announced Becky’s face in the doorway. Becky lingered on the threshold, a glass of yellow liquid in each hand. The ice cubes in the drinks knocked together as her weight shifted from one foot to the other.

Lena turned back to the television and waited.

“How are you feeling?” Becky asked. The ice cubes clinked again.

“Like I’ve had a lobotomy.”

Becky continued to loom in the doorway, as if an invisible gate blocked her entry. Lena had never noticed before the way Becky loomed. It was as if Becky couldn’t exist within her environment but floated on top of it, as superfluous as leftover pastel confetti. On a different day, in a different mood, she might have more patience for Becky, but today, she was simmering with the sort of dispersed anger that defied focus.

Lena waved her inside.

“What are you watching?” Becky looked at the screen and frowned. “Oh.”

“I can turn the volume up,” Lena offered.

But Becky didn’t laugh at that. She set the drinks down on the bedside table by Lena and wiped her hands. Lena stared at the glasses until condensation frosted again over the clear smudges and the fingerprints disappeared.

“I made white sangria for us.” Becky pulled a chair close to the bed and sat down, beaming like a small child backing a lemonade stand.

“Thanks,” Lena said.

“Would you like to talk through it?”

“Not at the moment.”

“It could help.

“I don’t believe so.”

Becky was silent. Lena waited. She turned off the television.

“Peter doesn’t want to marry me.” Lena shrugged. “You can see how talking wouldn’t help the situation.”

“He is difficult.”

“Agreed.”

“You’re better than he is. I always thought so.”

Lena turned to her, surprised. But Becky seemed distant and reflective, staring off at some point along the wall. For a moment, it was as if Becky understood what it was to feel diminished, downgraded.

After Becky left, Lena pulled herself off the bed and raised the shades. From her vantage, she caught a narrow slice of the beach. It was clearing in a late afternoon way. She pulled on a long silk dress and slipped out of the bedroom, keeping an eye out for Peter.

By the time she reached the gate that led to the beach, the sun was low and mystical in the clouds, melting into an acrylic painting of gold, orange, and magenta. Marigold light irradiated the skies and the waves.

Lena pushed the gate open and walked across the sand.

The last few holdouts sat on folding chairs with their feet anchored in the sand like ancient statutes—as if they had sat that way with the waters for as long as the tide has rolled in and out. They ignored Lena and she ignored them.

She walked along the shoreline for a time. Her dress grew heavy as the tide rolled over her ankles, mild with residual heat. The day before, the ocean had been more dark blue than green, cresting in turbulent waves, but now it was slow, easy. She slipped further in until the water reached her knees and silk billowed around her legs. It was shallow for a time until she arrived at a slight dip in the ocean floor and she was in waist deep, wearing the ocean like an infinite fabric.

She drew in a breath and leaned back until she was levitating, her hair splayed over the water’s surface. The waves rushed by her ears with a steady rhythm, another dimension of sound in which everything was broader, amplified. She could almost hear evening falling. Tension bled from her extremities out into the water as she floated along.

She thought again of early mornings at the lake with her father, at an age when she was almost too young to form complete memories. With the sunlight glinting off the lake’s surface on a clear day, he had taught her how to swim by tossing her in—old school methodology—but first, he’d showed her how to float on her back. Lena considered now that she had been floating on the surface of this wave or that ever since, never moving with autonomy but only drifting directionless. The thought made her feel sad.

Then she thought about Peter. The word “diminished” came to her again.

The light had turned lilac. Her feet touched the sandy floor and she raised herself up until the water hovered at her torso again. She turned back toward the building.

Further up ahead, a child was standing along the shore, dangling a kite in the water like an absurd anchor. The kite’s strings trailed from the girl’s hand down to the waves, but she ignored it and stared at the horizon. As Lena moved closer through the waters, she realized it was Ana—Alex’s oldest daughter. Lena slipped out of the ocean and looked around for Alex or another adult, but the beach was empty of familiar faces.

Ana’s sinewy frame rose from the sand, unmoving but poised as if to leap into the air at any moment, weighed down only by a rope of blonde hair plaited down her back.

Lena approached her and stood dripping water on the sand, shivering loud enough to be heard over the murmuring waves. She was awkward with children, even with her nieces. It was a matter of vulnerability. Children somehow cleaved through a person’s fog of pretenses with reflex candor.

“What are you up to?”

Ana turned to her with glassy eyes. Tears curved down her cheeks.

“The sunsets are beautiful here, no?”

Ana shook her head, an almost imperceptible sway to the left and right. Stray hairs escaped her braid, moved in tandem.

“But I’d say my favorite time is in the morning. Right after sunrise, the waters look silver. A silver sea,” Lena continued.

“It’s an ocean.” Ana turned to her again, with exasperation this time, before looking back at the water.

Lena followed her gaze. A ship inched along the horizon, a faded specter of a cargo vessel. Ana started humming a wavering tune, a seafaring melody that seemed lost through time. At the higher ranges, her voice cracked into something that approximated a wail before grasping for the lower notes again. Fresh tears edged over her lower lashes and small dimples formed in the sides of her chin.

“Why are you crying?” Lena asked.

Ana’s humming trailed off and she wiped her face with a backhanded sweep. “My best friend is sick. And she loves the ocean.” Remembering the kite, she dragged it in toward the sand. “My sisters left their dumb kite out here,” she explained.

“Your friend will recover.”

Ana tossed her a simmering look. The child was a master of calibrated expressions, Lena thought.

“She has leukemia.”

Lena was startled. Her mind scattered again—the thought of a sick child, parenting a sick child, losing a sick child. She had nothing to offer Ana. There should be a capable adult here, not Lena, a diminished carapace of a person.

“People recover from leukemia, Ana.”

“They don’t.” Ana sniffled and busied herself with the kite again, shook the water from its neon skin, threw it down near her feet.

“But they do. It depends on the type of leukemia, but there are treatment options, hopeful prognoses.”

Ana marked Lena’s soaking dress. It struck Lena that swimming in her clothes didn’t add much to her credibility on the whole.

“You’re not a doctor. You’re just a nutritionist,” Ana decided.

“That’s correct. But this is something even a nutritionist might know.”

Ana rolled her eyes and then closed them, as if listening to the waves. Blue veins laced her eyelids.

Have you ever seen the moon after sunrise?” Lena asked.

“Not possible,” Ana countered, eyes closed.

“But it is. It depends on the lunar phase and the moon’s position in relation to the sun.

Ana opened her eyes. “Everything you say depends on something else.”

Lena smiled. “How old are you?”

“Ten and a half.”

“Are you lying?”

“Why would I lie?”

“I used to lie about my age.”

“That’s dumb.” Ana wrinkled her face.

“Yeah. It’s dumb to lie about important things.”

They watched the horizon. The sun was gone. The waves were steady, the rhythm of the ocean beat on. Lena continued. “I mean this about the moon. Some mornings, you can see it.”

Ana looked at her with limited respect. She had stopped crying at least.

Lena scanned the empty beach.

“Head back in?”

Ana shrugged but slid her sweaty hand into Lena’s extended one and they walked back across the sand together. Ana dragged the kite behind her, its ribbons trailing wet sand, the painted face drooping upside down morbidly. They passed Mr. Patakis and his neighbor Boris, sitting in the sand like lone survivors of a shipwreck. The men were diving into a cooler full of ice and beer, refreshing their cigars.

Yellow lights glimmered in the buildings along the beach, oscillating in front of Lena’s eyes as she moved, their centers indiscernible from their shimmering edges. Music streamed from the neighboring hotel bar over the sound of laughter and conversation.

As they reached the patio and the pool, tall lamps with round bulbs illuminated the night air like glowing lollipops. Ana ran ahead and burst through the gate, wet feet pattering toward the building entrance, the kite rising behind her.

Lena looked back at the beach. The moon was out, a bloated crescent lost in the dark expanse, a pallid iteration of its daylight elegance. The moonlight immortalized the waters and their footprints in the lucent sand. In the morning, a large truck would roll over the prints, comb the sand, and the tide would wash away the remains. The sand and the ocean would begin again, Lena thought, retaining no trace of their bodies. That they molded to a person for a time was only a transitory obligation. The elements were impermanent and mutable like that, in perpetual transit.

She closed the gate.

 

By Monday afternoon, Lena and Peter were sitting in their living room in Brooklyn Heights, their unpacked suitcases waiting by the entrance. Their ground floor loft rested on the intersection of two quiet streets. The windows were open, the room soft and dimming. Lena listened to the murmur of a water fountain in the garden patch outside. Some days, she heard a coin flick against the marble before it dropped into the water with a passing stranger’s wish.

The overhead fans pushed the hot air around the room, which spread and converged into every corner of the apartment’s high ceilings.

On the way home from the airport, she’d stared out the window at cabs shooting by, one flash of turmeric after another. When she finally told Peter about her conversation with Dr. Novak, he sat quiet and pensive for a time.

“I don’t know what to say.” His voice vibrated over the fans. He stood up and poured two glasses of water from the fridge.

Lena waited for him to ask her how she felt. He could say that. But he didn’t ask.

A car rounded the corner outside before heading down toward the River. Lena thought she might hear a barking dog or the rickety wheels of a stroller, which was now a critical downside of their neighborhood—the constant presence of young families—but it was silent.

“This is terrible,” Peter mauled his face with his hands and shook his head.

Lena looked at him hard. The ceiling fans turned.

“It’s not, though,” she said.

Peter looked surprised.

“This doesn’t upset you.” He sat down next to her and squeezed her knee with a limp hand, still wet from his water glass.

“Yes and no. But it is what it is. Not sure I want children.”

“Not even someday?”

“No, not even someday,” she shrugged.

“I thought you did.”

“I thought I did. But I never actually did,” she explained.

Her words sank heavy, melting into the heat. Peter’s face was pale. He chugged the water and stared at her over the glass rim.

Lena felt tired. She had an inexplicable urge to walk out and close the door. But the inertia of the moment left her paralyzed, her dominant equilibrium these days.

They sat for what seemed an eternity. When Peter suggested they walk down to the Pier to watch the sunset, she agreed but trailed behind him on the sidewalk the entire way. He walked ahead with a quiet urgency, looking back at her from time to time, his face growing obscure and gray beneath the shade of tall London planes arching over the streets.

It was twilight when they finally reached the Pier and the promenade that wound along the East River. Coral ribbons marbled the skies, trailing a dissolving sunset. The air was blue, the stolen shade of Borage flowers. The Pier was deserted where they stood.

“Damn, we missed it,” Peter said.

“Who cares?”

Peter looked at her, surprised. Lena leaned forward on the guard railing and shivered. An empty ferry crept along in the water, dark and slow like a slug. Manhattan’s steel and glass towers glimmered across the River, gracing the waters with gold foil.

Billie Holliday’s voice floated over from a nearby restaurant—a rooftop party where couples swayed under strings of white lights. Peter pulled her in and they swayed, too. There was warmth from his body in a physiological sense but not much more than that.

Lena breathed in and out the crisp air and the sad congruity of the moment.

“What are you thinking?” Peter asked.

She was struck by the way the question seemed abstracted, as if Peter were standing on the other side of the River instead of beside her.

If she were to distill the truth of the moment, it was this: she was leaving Peter. Their relationship was over and dancing awkwardly on the Pier did not alter that fact. For months, a year or more, she’d been resisting a shift that was breaking. Floating wasn’t incorrect, but resistance, denying the natural movement of things, was wrong, dangerous even. And it was Peter, not she, who wanted everything to stay the same when, in fact, nothing could.

A light breeze skated the surface of the river, dappling her skin with dew, but she didn’t feel it. What she felt now was an inexplicable release, observing the scene and herself in it. The moment was already glowing with a nostalgic quality, and Peter was a figure she once knew, paling into the past.

She would walk away soon, but for a time, she held on to him, to them, and swayed to the soft notes floating out into the blue night.