I do not know him and never will: old spitting man, man in
suspenders. Anyhow, everyone’s grandfather is like this. He has
some yellow teeth and some are missing. He wears ball caps from
extinct teams, one ear tucked in and one folded out at a perfect
right angle. When I turned fourteen, he gave me a model of the
Liberty Bell, mistaking my curiosity about him, my questions about
his soldier days, for patriotism. He admired citizens, not
granddaughters. The bell had a tiny brass clapper that rattled in the
dome like a mint in a candy tin. I attached it to the dog’s collar
and let her be the patriot between us, the one who stayed with my
grandfather in the long afternoons and licked his knuckles.
The day they lifted him up and carried him from our house to the
stretcher on the porch, I put my arms around the dog to keep her out
of the way. She smelled of kitty litter. She reared her head, so I
grabbed her ears and pulled hard, watching the skin on the top of her
skull slide back like a hood. A red ambulance light swept through the
room. My parents exchanged irritable commands, saying, “Get his
arms up! Take off his hat!” My grandfather held onto the front door
molding and had to be pried away by a male EMT. The EMT smoothed
Grandpa’s forehead, murmuring, “There you are, there you are,”
like a mother after a bad dream. “Moron,” Grandpa said, but they
were already out on the driveway, and someone was yelling something
about retrieving his kicked-off shoe.
That’s when our house was painted a funny yellow color, like the
feathers of a bird at a pet store. Before Grandpa left, my mother was
like a visitor. She slid between politeness for my grandfather’s
sake and the sort of despair where you start a hobby. She collected
miniatures, but not dollhouses. She had oriental carpets the size of
postcards and a claw foot bathtub where we put our soap. After
Grandpa left, she packed up room after tiny room in a red tackle box.
I watched her fit porcelain cakes under minuscule lounge cushions,
wrap lamps in the cloth napkins she used for guests. She put on
mascara and squinted at herself in the mirror the way the girls at
school did, as if the image made her heart sick. She didn’t have a
car, so Dad and I drove her to her pilates instructor’s house where
there was a hot tub and a futon for her in the garage. I thought she
would cry. I wanted her to cry, so we could all feel her long inertia
was worth something. Instead she went right over to the hot tub and
stuck her finger in, rolling her eyes to the ceiling and clicking her
tongue. She took my hand and dunked it in the water, saying, feel
Before Grandpa left, our street was called Fifth Avenue South, but
after he was gone it changed to Green Mountain Road. They put in a
golf course in the field next door, with putting greens like round
carpets and a sprinkler system that watered our garage. Within a few
months, all our neighbors sold their houses to real estate brokers
from the Cities. Kitty Roster, who’d been my friend since we were
babies together, called the brokers The Hippie Hitlers because they
had moustaches and sandaled feet. The Rosters sold their stucco house
and bought a mobile home on the lake, with a dock on floaters and a
pontoon boat. A sign in the shape of a mountain appeared where their
house used to be.
The last time I talked to Kitty was Memorial Day. The Rosters
invited me for a ride in their new boat. They were sorry for me
because my father was too proud to sell our house, even for twice the
money Grandpa paid for it. When I got to the lake, the Rosters filled
a cooler with Diet Cokes and we sputtered to a place in the water
where the lily pads thinned. Kitty’s mother rubbed oil on our
backs. Kitty’s brother and father squinted silently at fishing
lures. Kitty and I dangled our legs in the lake, watching skiers
hunch over their handles and sprawl into nests of foam. After a
while, I touched Kitty’s greasy leg. “I’m hungry,” I
whispered to her. She spread herself out flat on the green felt
floor: “Then eat.”
“What?” I asked. “Your dad’s crawdads?”
She looked at me like she’d raised me from a child, and only now
did it occur to her we weren’t related.
On Green Mountain Road , my father still dragged out screens in
the spring to replace the winter storm windows. When the golfers came
after lost balls, my father shook out the screens in the sun and
waved a single hand at them. They prodded our tomatoes with their
clubs. My father looked at them like he was sorry they were alive. He
climbed up a ladder and pulled out the storm windows one by one,
opening up the house as if it was nothing at all, as if it was a tent
he could dismantle if he chose to. He had me stand beneath the ladder
and take the panes of glass he passed down: heavy, smudged by the
dog’s nose, cold against my face. My arms were barely long enough
to span the width of them.
I was fifteen years old and ninety-six pounds. I had a long, long
neck covered in a fine white down and big red hands like a
middle-aged man. That summer my father put me to work, dragging the
lawn mower over the dandelions and painting the house white. I liked
the bright chemical scent of the paint, the way the brush made a
kissing sound on certain surfaces. Up and down the block,
construction crews were driving bulldozers into our neighbors’
houses. Like the golfers, these men wore sunglasses and gloves. It
embarrassed them to see a teenaged girl with a paintbrush and a
sunburn. They said to me, “Where’s your daddy?” and “Shouldn’t
you be at camp or something?” And once, “We should get one like
that for ourselves. Do you think the boss’d go for it? A little
That summer, I let my father buy me a used bike, and crouched with
him while he unstrung the chain and ran his finger along its greasy
knobs. I didn’t tell him the girls from school had begun sneering
at bikes, had begun talking about the cars they would drive when they
got their permits. I let my father take me to his barber, where a
parrot with blue claws perched on the mirror and said, up up and
away. The barber did my father while the barber’s son did me.
He seemed sorry about what he would do. He said, You’ll be
alright, putting one finger on the very top of my head as if
determining my axis. I liked how his breath smelled, and later when I
saw my reflection in the car window, I decided it was fine. I looked
like one of those angels you see on Christmas cards: serene, boyish,
In early June, my father took me for coffee. We sat at the counter
in a room called Gary ’s that was a café in the morning and a bar
at night. After coffee, my father wanted eggs and Cokes, and then we
left and crossed the river bridge so he could show me the place on
the courthouse steps where an Indian cut off his hands. To keep from
being shackled, my father said.
“Problem was, after he got one hand off, what’s he to do with
the other? Think about it. Same hand’s got to chop and be chopped.”
I knew I needed to be brutal and clever all at once. My father
fought in Vietnam and understood the necessities of mutilation. “He
threw the hatchet up in the air and let it fall on his wrist.”
He shook his head. “Cassie. This isn’t a movie I’m talking
He turned and walked up the stairs.
“Okay, then.” I caught up with my father. “Mr. Indian, he’s
fingering his hatchet and thinking, ‘how do I kill these two birds
at once?’ Wait. Who let him keep a weapon, anyway?” The marble
was so white with sun, I stumbled and missed a step.
“Come on,” my father said.
“I’m coming on,” I said back.
It wasn’t that he was scornful. He was just busy unwrapping a
grey stick of gum. I think a teenage daughter must be like one of
those lawn ornaments everybody has, one of those grotesque little
gnomes that is so useless and absurd you don’t even need to look at
“How about this. He propped the hatchet up and fell on it.”
“Cassie,” he sighed. “You’re not thinking of it right.”
That was the summer one of the girls from high school slit her
wrists in a port-o-potty by the river. She was one of those skulky,
quiet kids who was so tall she made the teachers nervous. They had
talked to her sharply, impatiently, as if she had been insubordinate
by growing so large. After her death, they felt bad about this,
saying, she had such a marvelous mind. They remembered how
she’d been good at math, how she’d taken the city bus to the
technical college after homeroom. “We shall never know what she was
capable of,” the principal declared at her memorial service. He
paused to adjust the microphone on his collar, making the room ring.
I sat next to my father, who was opening and closing a Bible on his
My mother was there, too. She remembered Anon fondly from when she
babysat me and Kitty Roster. My mother met us outside the funeral
parlor, dressed for a summer outing in a blue skirt and high heels.
She had skin-colored tapes beneath her eyes that didn’t match her
face, which was red and tight from all those hours in the hot tub.
“A shame,” she said, tugging the skin between her fingers.
My father kissed her cheek and walked to the car.
The next girl people talked about was a senior, and she just
disappeared for a while, so there was speculation about pregnancy,
anorexia. I saw her again in July, brittle and pale, wrapped in a
beach towel outside the new pool. I heard she’d been ferocious and
unpopular in school, winning track races and scholarships for
college. But when I saw her that summer—outside the pool, nibbling
bagels in the coffee shop—she looked fragile and spent. All her
parts were so delicately fastened, her wispy hair, her new wasted
Pneumonia , people said, she coughed up blood for weeks.
The senior girls decided to dedicate the first summer pool party to
One of these seniors, a girl I used to play softball with, stopped
me at Eller’s Market in July. Adrian was working the checkout line,
and I didn’t recognize her until she set a cabbage on her palm and
made a wind-up gesture. I lifted up my hands. She grinned and put the
cabbage on the scale, nicking a few buttons with her fingertips.
“So, Cassandra.” Her eyes slid up from the register. She
looked tired, her curled bangs catching on her eyebrows. I couldn’t
remember what color her hair used to be, but now it was maroon as a
plum. “What’s up?”
“You’re starting high school, right?”
“Yep.” I nudged at the sweat on my lip. I was pitiful to her,
I knew, with my fraying cabbage, with my backpack and my dollar
bills. I paid and looped plastic bags around my wrist.
She wouldn’t let me go. She was smiling in an expectant way, and
for a second, I thought she wanted me to do something for her. She
said, “So. See you?”
When I didn’t answer, she wound her hands up in her apron like a
muff. A line grew at the register.
She shifted tactics. “Seriously, Cassandra. We should,
like, hang out or something.” She waited for me to agree, and when
I didn’t, she went on, almost irritably. “There’s this pool
party for Julie—you know Julie?—tomorrow. Everyone will be
She raised her eyebrows. I couldn’t understand why she was
smiling so hard. I stared at her for a second, and it was then that I
understood we were playing a game: the one where girls defeat and own
each other through public acts of kindness.
I gripped my bags. “I’ve got work.”
“Come after!” she persisted.
I stood my ground, shrugged.
She was offended. “You should see Julie!” she accused. “She’s
so sick she can barely lift her head!”
By midsummer, the neighborhood was quiet and dense with new
houses: ranches with three-car garages, Greek columns on the front
stoops. The contractors packed up their bulldozers and trailers and
got out of town. Realtors in tight skirts wedged For Sale signs
in the mud. They parked their tiny, foreign cars on the street,
snapping pictures with digital cameras. From the roof of my father’s
house, I could see them cleaning their heels on the black tar
driveways. They never looked up at me. I crouched by the chimney with
a crowbar, red scabs on my knees. I plucked out flat nails one by
one, then shoved the crowbar deep into the tarry skin beneath the
shingles. I liked ripping away great swaths, shingle grains sliding
off the roof, warm tar oozing at the edges. By the end of the day,
blisters inflated my palms. My skin grew so slick with sweat, my
clothes slid and drooped on my body.
In the evenings, my father climbed the ladder and inspected my
work. He walked the ridge of the house, pointing out nails to hammer
into place or little curls of shingle stuck in the gutters. He worked
as a pole climber for the telephone company so he was excellent with
heights. My balance was not so good as his. I scuttled after him on
my haunches, crab-daughter with blackened hands. I could see
mosquitoes quivering like TV static at the edges of his arms. They
probed me as well, and I stopped still, letting them fasten on.
We didn’t talk much inside the house. I made a dish with cabbage
and onions, and my father spooned it on toast. The dog arranged her
spine against the door, rolling her skull again and again on the
knob. She missed my grandfather. I tried to explain he was gone,
talking to the dog the way my mother used to: in complete sentences.
Once years ago I caught my mother explaining to the dog the concept
of weekends. She said, On certain special days, honey, we sleep
late. On those days you get to stay in your crate and dream a
little longer. I remember my grandfather walked in and rolled his
eyes. For Christ’s sake, she either pees herself or doesn’t.
My mother frowned. She said to the dog, Well, doesn’t that clear
things up? Pee yourself, honey, go right ahead. I’m sorry to
bother you, let me get out of your animal way.
I know that talking to the dog can be a sneaky way to talk to
To Nellie at the door, I said, “It’s just us for now. We’re
My father said, “Don’t forget Orson.” Orson was the cat.
One night the power went out, and Dad stuck some birthday candles
in a loaf of bread. They were the only candles in the house, and we
hovered over them expectantly. They made rippled skirts of wax on the
crust of the bread. Dad rolled a battery from a broken flashlight on
his palm. Outside the dark windows, I could feel the beautiful empty
houses rise up, nudging the trees with their rooftops. Then the last
candle snuffed out, and my father was so humiliated he sat silent in
the dark. I couldn’t see him until he shifted in his chair,
emerging from the general blackness.
When I met my mother for lunch, she wanted to know what my father
said about her. I didn’t want to say nothing at all, so I
told her other things that were true: he didn’t eat as well, he
slept poorly. My mother, beaming, took these as compliments. We ate
lunch at places she couldn’t afford, cafes near the new golf course
where we chose salads from the appetizer list. The salads were
composed of complicated, pretty foliage. We shivered in the air
“He doesn’t know who he is,” she insisted. “He doesn’t
know he doesn’t know.”
My mother had gone to work since I’d seen her last. She’d
started selling cosmetics at a department store, and she was
experimenting with her face. The tape from her eye job was gone, but
the skin was puffy and orange with makeup.
“Listen,” she said, setting a lacy leaf on her tongue. “He’s
got aspirations, doesn’t he? He thinks, this is what I am, a son.
He’s been that all his life. He’s acting like child.”
“Sure,” I said. “He misses Grandpa.”
“Of course he misses him!” My mother glared at me. “But it’s
not as if the old man’s on a fishing trip or something. Your dad
keeps working at that house like he’s going to surprise his daddy
when he gets back.”
I thought of all the windowpanes I’d scraped and painted. The
new white door. “I think it’s nice. He’s fixing it up.”
“For what? For a dead man?”
I squeezed my cloth napkin. “Grandpa’s not dead.”
“Not yet. If your father visited Ron more often, he’d know
better than to fix up a house for him. I visited him.”
“That’s what I’m saying.” She sucked from her straw and
looked at me. “I sat by his bed and watched him open and close his
mouth. Like a fish.”
The waiter came by with a tray of pie slices and dessert breads.
He was charming and effusive, calling me lady but talking only
to my mother. He wanted more from us than salads.
When he left, my mother whispered hopefully, “Do you think he’d
give me a ride someplace?”
She was forever coming back to him, if he was our one mutual
friend and we had nothing else in common. I splayed my hands out on
the white tablecloth. They were stained black with tar from the roof.
“You’ll have to ask him about that.”
“What’s wrong with your hands?”
I spread my fingers further out. They looked like something that
lived in a swamp. I wanted to be chastised for bringing them to a
But my mother was busy wiping a crumb from her lip with her pinkie
finger. She was writing out the check. “Did you hear about that
burned girl?” she asked. “Awful.”
I pulled my hands back to my lap. Breezily, “She got fucked up.”
The burned girl had been one of Julie’s new friends, a year or
two younger than the rest, but with a bigger chest than any of them.
I’d seen her linger after the pool closed, helping Julie carry her
magazines and clothes. On the street, she was the one boys yelled at
when they drove past in their cars. She could blush like no one I’d
ever known, her skin a flash of red like something switched on, a
buried bulb. After she was burned, her face was slippery and
translucent and not really any color at all.
Her boyfriend said she put her head in a candle. He said, they
were sitting in the dark, and she dipped her face down as if taking a
drink, just a little sip and her hair was on fire.
The burned girl wasn’t pitiable like Julie. She broke people’s
hearts, made people uncertain of themselves, as if she’d accused
them of something. Three weeks after she was burned, she walked hand
in hand with her boyfriend in the park, petals of skin crinkling off
her face and catching in the breeze. She made people feel guilty for
having faces. Boys, the ones who used to jeer at her from their cars,
followed her around when she went shopping with her mother. They were
busboys, they were baggers. They bowed their heads and silently
opened doors for her. They rummaged around in bins and found the best
fruit: sleek apples, kiwis dripping with ice. They wanted her to
touch them with her hand, to forgive them and bless them with her
lipless glance. She took their fruit, but would say nothing. She only
had one expression. I’ve gone away, it said, to a place
too treacherous for you to bear, so stay back with your little pears,
your longing glances.
When the seniors asked Julie to sign a sympathy card for the
burned girl, Julie refused. “It’s insulting,” she said (I heard
this from my mother’s friend at the pharmacy). “I’m sorry, but
she did it to herself.”
From my father’s rooftop, I could see down the street and into
the golf course pool. That’s where Julie lay, surrounded by her
most loyal girls. Their bright towels on the white patio chairs
looked like the flags of nations. Adrian was there, with her plum red
hair, and Kitty Roster, white and bonier than I remembered. Julie, in
the center of them all, fanned herself with a fashion magazine. She
made the healthier girls nervous and guilty (the ones splashing in
the pool) so they climbed out of the water and didn’t swim as many
laps. They set straws between their teeth and sucked juices. They
coughed when Julie coughed.
By that time, I’d nearly finished the roof. I spread tar paper
over the smooth boards on the rafters, making a clean, black
landscape up there—one I couldn’t touch in the afternoon because
it was so hot. It seemed like the surface of another planet, black
and baking with underground fires. I liked how foreboding it was. My
father planned to hire professionals to put the shingles down, a team
of Mexicans from a company in town that did a roof a day. I told my
father I could do it, but he looked at me like I’d made that joke
before and it wasn’t funny. He wrote me out a check instead. In the
space for my name my father wrote Cash.
The day the Mexicans came, I climbed up in the neighbor’s
sycamore tree and watched them unload supplies. They had jeans and
bare backs; they didn’t speak Spanish; they all wore long, scraggly
ponytails, like a family of Amish sisters. On the roof they did not
scuttle or crawl. They strode across the black surface as if it were
the land where they were born, familiar as the backyard where they
peed and buried animals. From time to time, they lit cigarettes and
lifted their ponytails up, airing their necks.
By noon , they’d nearly covered my black planet. They sat on the
front yard grass and picnicked, sipping from water bottles and beer
cans. They giggled at the dog, who came at them with her hackles up,
dribbling urine. I climbed down from my tree.
“Well look,” they said. “Such a pretty squirrel.”
“You shouldn’t drink on the job.”
“A pretty evangelist. Honey, you got bathroom?”
“No? We roofing a homestead or something? You take a piss with
the dog in the grass?”
One of them opened a hand for the dog to sniff. He ran the other
hand down the ridge of fur on her back, so slowly the bristles
settled before he touched them. The dog leaned her jaw into his palm.
I said, “My dad doesn’t trust you.”
“What, he’s a racist or something?”
I took the dog by her collar. “He’s a narrow, small-minded
My father doesn’t have any stories about Vietnam, so I made up
one for him. It’s not even a real war story. In it, he’s just
sitting on a bus in the middle of some city, staring out a dirty
window at the bikes and meats and goats. He’s sliding around on one
of those vinyl seats — the kind on school buses and café booths —
and this Vietnamese woman sits down next to him. She has nothing in
her hands, no purse or bag or suitcase. She’s pretty, but maybe
she’s been crying or something, because she’s too tired to hold
up her head. It rolls onto my father’s shoulder. He starts to move
away, so she murmurs something to him in her language. I think he
likes how her voice sounds. I think her head on his shoulder feels
like a thousand pounds, and he wants to let her hold him down so
he’ll miss his stop, so he’ll miss the war in the jungle, and the
flight back to his father: the canary-yellow house, the storm windows
he’ll have to put in and take out, the daughter and wife, the
humiliating waste of effort.
He reaches for the woman’s hair, but she has only one word for
him in English—yes?—so he freezes, pulls back. He lets her
fall asleep. He props her up against the window and changes seats, he
gets off a stop early.
My father is a good man, but what do you do with all the good men
in the world? There are too many already. My father is also cruel,
but not very.
The burned girl came to high school orientation. I hadn’t even
realized she was in my class. I tried to think back to all the rooms
and playgrounds we might have shared: the desks in rows, the tests so
quiet you could hear the air conditioner. She sat in the bleachers
with everyone else, though the people around her sat too close in
order to seem like they weren’t avoiding her. People had started to
say she was creepy since she didn’t act damaged. I could see the
knuckly lobe of her ear, the patchy sheets of skin on her jaw like
new bark. Her hair was growing back, bristly as a military cut, and
When her sweatshirt slipped between the bleachers, no one offered
to get it for her. I half-expected her to hobble, but she picked her
way around backpacks and bodies, stepping carefully onto the
basketball court. Her breasts bobbled under her t-shirt. I wondered
where her boyfriend was, the one who walked with her while her face
drifted off in the park. Maybe he was older. Maybe he’d grown
resentful of her like all the rest, like the boys she wouldn’t
blush for now, like Julie in her lounge chair counting vitamins on
her thigh. People said Julie had invited the burned girl to her
family’s lake cottage, but the burned girl wouldn’t come. Julie
called her a snob: “It’s not nice to snub people’s
pity,” she said.
In the high school auditorium, the cheerleaders taught us the
school song—Y-E-L-L-L-O-W-J-A-C-K-E-T-P-R-I-D-E—and then the boy
scouts brought out the flag and wedged it between some folds in the
theater curtains. The principal wanted to talk about the Pledge of
Allegiance. He said, “It’s important, in these controversial
times, to remember why we make this oath to our country.” I hadn’t
seen him since the summer funeral, and he looked tanned and well fed.
“Wouldn’t it be a shame,” he said, “if because of those two
words—‘under God’—they called it a prayer and took this away
from us too?”
The burned girl hadn’t returned to the bleachers. People kept
glancing down between their shoes, looking for her.
“You are citizens, and sons and daughters, and students at this
school. How you coordinate these duties is your supreme
responsibility.” The principle scratched his nose. “It’s going
to be an exciting year.”
A boy tossed a soda bottle through the basketball hoop. Its neck
snagged in the ropes. The principal sipped from a milky glass of
water. Beneath us all, the burned girl crawled in search of her
sweatshirt. The room shook with sophomores standing up.
When the mascot climbed on stage, his bulging bee head under one
arm like an astronaut’s helmet, he put a hand on his belly instead
of his heart. I put my hand on my belly too.
When I got home from school, my mother was sitting at the kitchen
table, four rolls of cotton in her mouth and her chin streaked with
I said, “Mom?”
She said something plaintive, but all I understood was holes
and mouth. My father, washing dishes at the sink,
explained. She’d gotten four teeth extracted and was worried she’d
be too woozy to take the bus. In a few weeks, she was getting
corrective surgery on her jaw and braces.
My mother said, more clearly, “He was late.”
My father turned off the sink and dried his hands on a paper
“Ry dod en tong.”
“What?” I didn’t like looking at her. She pinched the bits
of cotton from her mouth, slowly, like she was extracting the teeth
all over again. Lines of drool thinned and broke, and she set the
bloody wads on the table.
“Everybody went home, all the little girls with their mothers.
They closed the place up. I sat on the curb waiting for him.” She
spat into a tissue.
My father said, “Watch out with that.”
“I’m bleeding,” my mother whined. I could see the
sparkly blush on her cheeks, saved for occasions like these when
people got very close to her face and examined her. She complained to
my father, “I can’t feel my mouth!”
My father didn’t say anything else. He stayed close to the
appliances, where there were small and continual tasks to perform
with rags. He wiped crumbs and checked the bulb in the stove. When my
mother said, “I feel like half my face is gone!” my father
remembered a leak that needed fixing in the bathroom. My mother
stared at him, crestfallen, as if he was abandoning her in the middle
of their date.
She watched Wheel of Fortune with the dog, and I sat on the
front steps and watched our new neighbors move in. They had a long
white truck with a gaping door like the mouth of a deep tunnel.
Later, much later, my father came out of the bathroom and found my
mother dozing on the couch. She had a small wad of tissues on her
lap, arranged like a bouquet. My father stared at her for a second.
Then my mother woke up and said, “Gabe!” blowing a bloody bubble
of drool. My father looked horrified and sorry, which is something
like love, maybe, so my mother was very pleased.
When she moved back in at the end of the summer, my mother didn’t
bring her miniatures in the tackle box. She brought cosmetics in
plastic purses and cleaning equipment for her braces, tiny wire
brushes and picks. My father was as wary of her as always, but he
showed her the new spackle on the wall and the garbage disposal he
installed for my grandfather. He flicked the switch and said,
“Careful, careful. Okay?” My mother likes grinding things up, the
gurgle and crunch of half-eaten fruits, the quick disappearance of
leftovers. She jumps and shrieks when she turns it on, as if it might
take her hand down into the blades, as if she always wanted a sink
with that sort of power. She says to my father, “Then you’d be
stuck with me. Then you’d have to do the dishes while I watched!”
She holds up her perfect hand, and he steps back.
She laughs. “Sandra, Sandra, just look at him!”
I don’t. I’m looking outside the window now, where the
neighbors’ lawns are going brown in stripes. Someone drags a
sprinkler by a hose, wearily, never looking back. We’ve done this
all before. My father is searching for a way out of the room, and I’m
thinking, coward. I’m thinking that riddle about the Indian
is easy to solve. He just turned to the person with the hatchet next
to him—someone he said he loved—and said alright then.
But I don’t think that’s an impressive trick, not really.
After the hands are gone, someone puts shackles on your feet and
you’re back to where you started, only you can’t eat soup or play
cards. There’s no escape in that. If it were me—! If it were me,
I’d just sit tight and let the bailiff or whoever lock the shackles
around my wrists. I’d let him lead me into the courthouse and away
from the soldiers who caught me in the fields, away from my buddies
behind their painted shields, away from my family, who’d admire and
pity me without hands, who’d promise to feed me the rest of my
helpless life. I’d let the bailiff lead me down the stairs into the
dark cell under the courthouse, beneath the city, and that would be
the trick: that I’d go willingly and never come back.
Outside, the neighbor is arranging a line of sprinklers in his
grass. I open the door, and the dog leaps over the spray like fences,
one after another after the next.
Emily Fridlund grew up in the Twin Cities and earned her M.F.A. in fiction from Washington University in Saint Louis. She has published work in Boston Review, New Orleans Review, Quick Fiction, The Portland Review, The Great River Review, and Beloit Poetry Journal.