Three Pieces, by Miranda Merklein.
Miranda Merklein was born in Asheville, North Carolina, grew up in New Mexico, and is currently pursuing a PhD in creative writing at the University of Southern Mississippi. Her work has appeared in South Carolina Review, VOX, Permafrost, and others. She continues to edit and publish Journal of Truth and Consequence, a bimonthly magazine for the arts. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
ON MOVING ON
I watch her slip away into the dry, mangled landscape stretched underneath the hollow weeds like a burnt piece of rye bread. On a distant hill, the curdled yolk hardens to a thick paste and I drive faster, move into a farm house and wait.
I was five the first time I ran away. Down the pavement in Asheville, I drug my Dad's old briefcase, filled with pens, pencils, copy paper and hundreds of crayon fragments, broken from being pushed too hard. The Robinsons said I could stay with them forever, but then she walked in the front door, thanked them for calling.
He says if she doesn't marry him, he will kill himself. “Go ahead,” she tells him. And when he shoots his Doberman, Sheba, in the back of the head before shooting himself, she shrugs it off with a pint of Albertsons brand vodka.
“I hope you're happy!” his nurse yells over the phone.
“Is anyone?” she snarls.
In the Polaroid I'm standing with the Doberman, looking down and left, always trying to please the woman's insatiable hunger for profile photography. I'm about 11, wearing a ballerina skirt and a shirt that says “Crayons” in rainbow-cursive-diagonal. Sheba is looking directly at the camera, her rabies tag flashing off to the side of her bulky red collar. It was a nice house.
Linoleum throughout, the farm house has gaps in the corners of the floor and around the closed-off fireplace where a sharp breeze escapes. When I bend down and squint through the crease of light, leaves and loose grass blow across the dirt underneath—That's how she gets in.
A GRAY REUNION
I needed to clear my mind, so I escaped to the ladies' bathroom,
claimed a sink and filled it halfway with lukewarm water and some hand soap.
I disconnected the barb at the back of my neck, pulled the lever
of skin that opens the vault.
Grabbing the stingray by the tail, I used
both hands to lay him safely in the basin. His black shark eyes widened to
large tear-shaped disks, and I tried to reassure him by placing my hand
gently on his pinched forehead.
Meanwhile, women were rushing in and some
were leaving—brisk-footed newspaper editors, fact-checkers, English
teachers and workshop-leaders. Even Ms. Kathy from kindergarten
was there, wrapped in a bath towel.
An editor from a local entertainment rag stood in
the corner by the paper towels. She ran up with a polishing pad
and tried to push me back, but I grabbed her wrist and shoved her in a stall.
“Don't you know what kind of bacteria that could carry!” The woman
glared at me and readjusted her blouse. “I'll keep your name on file,”
she said, “but don't count on getting any more work from us in the future.”
I went back to my project, trying to shield myself from the rest of
the correctors. I could tell my mind was losing air, so I quickly
ran my fingers through the folds of his tissue, removing the tar
build-up accumulated over a lifetime of abuse.
He was shivering violently. I sloshed more water over him and
could see the soap was starting to cause boils to form around his eyes.
I turned to the crowd. “Get the hell out of here! Can't you see? I need to
put him back before it's too late.”
Little lives—they remove them from the walls.
Some littered with dollops of every possible color, some aggressively somber—I know they are wondering why they didn't sell, why we didn't crave Auntie Linda in her wrinkled smock hanging above our dinning room tables, her lipstick squeezed straight from the tube.
After taking their time, the artists head for the door,
stopping to admire what's left of the show, savoring
every last frame.
“Do you want me to sign something?” one woman asks.
“No.” I smile. “Thank you for being a part of the show.”
“Do you want to see some more of my stuff?”
“Not right now.”
There are windows to clean, dead
beetles on the floor to sweep.
I walk the last man to the door, his silver-haired self-portrait too large for one person to carry. His wife helps him strap it to the car. He keeps his eyes lowered and fastens the bungee cord, gasses the faded Ford and scrapes into the Chihuahuan Desert.
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