The summer I turned eleven, my mother and I went to live with my Grandmother Carol in her three-and-a-half-story townhouse condominium. This was in 1985, before the Napa Valley became "The Wine Country" of deluxe cave tours, $100-a-pop tastings, celebrity chefs, and posh inns. Even though Grandmother Carol lived on a cul-de-sac in the nicer part of town off the country club's private golf course, the Swenson's Ice Cream downtown needed new paint and grout, First Street by the Napa River was dominated by a hunting and fishing store that sold irrigators and men's waffle-knit long underwear out of plastic bins, and it was not uncommon to see late 1960s-era Chevy trucks on cinderblocks on Lincoln. I knew Grandmother Carol disapproved of our two-bedroom-plus-a-den ranch-style house off Trancas and was cheered by the idea that we'd soon be moving into a new development in her community, or so we'd thought that spring before my father got drunk at a Blue Angels show at Chrissy Field over Memorial Day weekend and told us he'd been fired "some time ago" and had been getting dressed and driving his mother's 1976 tomato-red Ford Mustang across the Golden Gate Bridge and into San Francisco every morning to keep up appearances.
Across the street from Grandmother Carol's and parallel to the cul-de-sac was a kidney-bean-shaped swimming pool and a grassy knoll, and beyond, a clear, burbling creek that lollygagged over a blanket of moss-covered rocks and twisted between steep banks of blackberry, holly, ivy, and the occasional liquid amber or white oak that provided an umbrella of shade. The section of the creek that passed immediately below the flagstone pool deck was impossible to access, but to the west of the grass meadow, the land sloped downward. A dusty deer path through the brush and live oak trees eventually led to a pebbly, secluded beach the size of my dead Grandfather Frank's 1970 white Cadillac El Dorado, which was parked like an enormous coffin on the left-hand side of the two-car garage. Across the creek from the pebbly beach was a long, flat rock shaped like the state of Louisiana that formed an island off the bank -- just the place for an eleven-year-old girl who needed to sun her skinny, white legs and converse with her alter-ego, a sophisticated, worldly teenager named Charlene, who was a cheerleader at Vintage High and practically engaged to Matthew Alburger, the imaginary older brother of my then-crush Damon Alburger.
We had been staying with Grandmother Carol for a week, and the shock of Dad's Memorial Day revelation had worn off such that we could put the crisis aside for a few hours and exercise our summer right to splash water onto the flagstone deck of the pool and shimmy-dive into the not-so-deep deep end. Grandmother Carol swam forty-four laps in her green, scoop-neck swimsuit and then sat smoking menthol cigarettes, her long, tan legs bent at the knee, her skinny feet stuck between the slats of the patio chair opposite, and her dusty-rose-colored manicured nails picking dry her stick-straight, still-blonde hair. Mom was seven-and-a-half months pregnant with my little sister and wore a black, racing-style suit that had a giant "X" in the back and a belly-sac in front, and spent the afternoon walking to and fro in the shallow end, water wrapped like an inner tube around her midsection.
After exhausting myself with shimmy dives, a term I coined myself for the extra pop I put in my knees as I launched myself off the deck, I put on my clogs and traipsed across the deer path cut in the brush, red-and-white-striped swimsuit stuck to my sides. After several hundred yards I gained the pebbly beach and Flat Rock. I left my clogs on the pebbles and took a tentative step into the ice-cold water. With one foot firmly planted on the beach, I placed the other into the current and ran the nub of my big toe over the slimy, slippery rock bottom until I found a level place to step. Little by little I made my way across ten feet of creek and lay belly-down on the warm rock, my face inches from the unbroken, undulating stream, and watched the water bugs prick the surface with their hair-thin legs and the slippery tadpoles swim in and out of eddies. I stuck my hand into the creek to let the cool water curl through my fingertips. Confident that I was alone, I sang to myself a medley of songs, most of them from Michael Jackson's Thriller, which I'd just received as a birthday present.
Up to my elbows in water, face almost touching the surface, I became aware of a ghastly orange crawdad crawling along the creek bottom. With a splash and scraping of the knees, I push-upped myself to standing. Unaccompanied on my rock island with no means of capturing or fleeing the creature, I crouched down again, hands gripping the balls of my shoulders, and watched him. He was such a loud and improbable shade of flame orange, he might have been a shiny wind-up toy dropped downstream. The tail was made of curved plates fitted snugly one on top of the other, perfectly articulated in the clear water and just speckled with calcified white spots. His hideous feelers swayed in the current. He had a prominent, angular nose that gave him an unnervingly human aspect, but what fascinated and terrified me the most were his black, beady eyes that popped out of his anchor-shaped head.
The sun moved behind the oak trees, and I recrossed the creek and went to meet my mother and grandmother, who were busy talking about "you-know-who." Grandmother Carol spoke grimly but with the satisfaction of having deduced my father's faults long ago, even though everyone loved my father in spite of his faults, including Grandmother Carol, who drank the stiff cocktails he poured and batted her eyelashes at him over the rim of her glass.
"He'll come to his senses," Mom said with a wistful sigh that told me she was thinking about the baby, whom they'd started called Jessica or James, or Jamsica, or Jessie James in sillier moods when Mom first started to show and Dad danced around the kitchen, trimming fat off the pork shoulder for carnitas and drinking a Kamchatka "on the rocks" with the mini white onions that floated like eyeballs in a jar in the door of our fridge.
Grandmother Carol exhaled a steady stream of smoke and said, "In the meantime I guess you're lucky you have me." The way she said it, I knew she was trying to punish Mom and me but not because she didn't like us. What she didn't like were money problems and struggle, impropriety, the whiff of hard times. What she also didn't like was her charity going unrecognized, and it seemed that she'd remind us of her beneficence if either of us failed to remark upon it over the course of a morning or an afternoon or an evening, or over a bowl of cornflakes or because we used all the hand towels, didn't properly close the milk carton, or because it was 4:30 in the afternoon and too early for a cool glass of wine. In fairness to Grandmother Carol, Mom and I were probably a handful for her then, accustomed as she was to having the condo all to herself.
"I don't know what Sarah and I would do without you," my mother dutifully said.
The late afternoon sun was directed on the shallow end of the pool where Mom waded, her strong, bronzed arms folded at chest-level on the flagstone and her thick, gold wedding band -- she'd never had an engagement ring, which was no skin off her teeth since she walked away with the grand prize, the luxury package, the dream giveaway -- glittered in the sun. As I stood by the edge of the pool, hugging my skinny arms around my chest so that my fingertips touched the blades of my shoulders in back, I had the general idea that by the time school started, Mom would forgive Dad, and he would make it up to us. I think my mother thought so too.
I invited Mom to come to Flat Rock with me to look for crawdads. She climbed the steps to the pool, and I admired her thick, muscular frame, her smooth, shapely legs, her belly and breasts, engorged but firm at the same time, and wanted, more than anything, to one day grow into a woman like her. She slipped on her flip-flops and followed me onto the shaded deer path and down toward my hideaway. I remember her standing on the pebbly beach, long legs spread two feet apart for balance, hands on her lower back, pushing her pregnant belly forward to stretch her muscles, hair in a loose, girlish ponytail, bright, alert brown eyes gazing not into the water where I poked at mossy rocks with a weathered stick, looking around for crawdads, but into the silver afternoon light filtering through the leaves of the giant oaks and splashing across the faint freckles on her nose. She was only thirty-three years old.
My father was tall, like my mother. He had played strong safety at USC and had graduated one year after my mom's first season on the women's varsity track team. He had penetrating, deep-blue eyes, large, square hands with shovel-like, filed nails that other men respected and women admired. He had the pedigreed look of a Connecticut WASP but had grown up in East Los Angeles, the fatherless son of a sprightly alcoholic mother who dyed her dishwater-blonde hair bottle-red. Dad had a passion for picnics, and on Saturday mornings he packed grocery bags full of paper napkins, plastic silverware, waxy Dixie cups, bags of wheat bread, Tupperware containers of sliced corned beef for sandwiches, little wieners wrapped in store-bought pastry dough, celery stalks stuffed with peanut butter and dotted with raisins, red Delicious apples, Oreos, Henson's Mandarin Soda, and a jug of chilled Carlo Rossi Chablis to take into the Sonoma Valley, Muir Woods, Calistoga, or Mount Saint Helena, home of his childhood hero, Robert Louis Stevenson. Or sometimes he'd take us to San Francisco for cable car sundaes at Ghirardelli Square and a stroll up Grant Avenue in Chinatown. He'd point out the whole pigs and ducks, gutted and hanging in butcher shop windows. He'd buy me wind-up toys, woven finger tortures, paddleball sets, cardboard puzzles of Bengal tigers or pandas munching bamboo, mazes with plastic obstacles and punched holes to cradle miniature metal balls, and all manner of gizmos for me to play with on the car ride home.
He loved soul, blues, and jazz, and owned three hundred vinyl albums kept in the oak cabinet underneath the stereo. He'd pick up Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, Charlie Parker, Lena Horne, Aretha Franklin, John Coltrane, Louis Armstrong, and hold their album covers gingerly along their narrow, cardboard sides between the flattened palms of his hands and say, "Now, Sarah, these musicians suck the sadness and misery right out of the air and turn it into something sublime. You know why they do that?"
("No, Daddy, why?")
And here he would solemnly put his large, square hand on my shoulder, inhale once, then exhale, his blue eyes looking down kindly into my own. "So the rest of us can breathe, Sarah."
Dad didn't always call me Sarah. Sometimes he called me Molly or Rosie or Shannon or Susie. Lula Mae when he was organizing drill bits in the garage, Mary Lou after the gymnast who scored a perfect 10.0, or Ms. Holiday after the singer who made him weep. My mother and I loved him like crazy.
Everyone said he was a natural in financial sales because he had a loose, easy way of walking and talking, long, even strides matching full, robust sentences that were neither too familiar nor too formal, neither overly confident nor timid, neither embellishing nor boastful. He was not insecure. Not desperate. My father was a man with a pitch-perfect ear, in tune with the misgivings, apprehensions, malaise, dis-ease of his clients. And truly it wasn't he who failed them, not exactly, but it was he who failed himself. As time went on -- and he'd been at his job for seven years before the scene at Chrissy Field -- he felt that his broker persona was increasingly an act; that the more his clients trusted him with their profits, their savings, their futures, the harder it was for him to trust himself with their money. If he lost a cool thousand, they'd tell him, "Hey, that's okay, Jack, you know what you're doing. You've done better than I would have, that's for sure. You'll make it up in no time. You've got the inside track, the experience, the best informationů I trust you one hundred and ten percent."
But why didn't he trust himself? Why didn't he?
Grandmother Carol was not much of a cook, although she'd cut mettle as a fifties housewife, a doctor's wife, the mother of one healthy, robust daughter, and the owner of a two-story house in Woodland Hills, California, on just a handful of recipes, all of which we'd already seen in our first week at Camp Condo while in self-imposed exile from Dad. She had presentation down pat, had mastered a few showy tricks to finesse meals by adding bits of color: black and stuffed green olives, cubed orange cheddar cheese, flaxen applesauce, golden pineapple rings punctuated with maraschino cherries, fresh loaves of wheat bread, all served on white china with a silver pewter border. After returning from the pool, Mom and I conspired to order a pizza, and I even volunteered to make a salad.
The second -- and I mean the instant -- after Mom hung up with Domino's (large pepperoni, mushrooms, olives, and pineapple on half), the phone rang and Mom picked up. Sometimes I like to pretend that Dad called a minute before, as Mom was repeating, for the third time, directions to the little cul-de-sac to the teenager taking phone orders at Domino's, had gotten the busy signal, and had simply given up on the idea of conversing right then, when he was already on his third or fourth vodka (and I was sure he was into the Kamchatka), and put himself to bed and called first thing in the morning, in the clear light of a sunny summer day in Northern California.
The phone was in an alcove on the middle level between the kitchen and the dining room. Grandmother Carol was sipping a glass of Sterling Chardonnay on the porch, listening to the hissing of the sprinklers watering the course and hoping, no doubt, to exchange a few pleasant words with the Widower Stiffler, her next-door neighbor and a retired anesthesiologist -- Mom always said he could put anyone to sleep -- and who, like my late Grandfather Frank, ended his career at the Queen of the Valley Hospital. I was struggling with several squares of paper towel and the romaine lettuce leaves, spread out like a fan on the counter. Mom wrapped the long phone cord around her wide belly and nestled into the nook. She still loved him; I could hear her cooing into the phone as she had nearly every evening since we'd come to stay with Grandma.
Through my few conversations with Mom on the matter, I'd heard Dad float some ideas that would make up for losing the house in the new development. He'd volunteered to re-tile the guest bathroom himself and paint the den, which would have to be my room once the baby came. Mom tried to sound excited for me, telling me how I could choose the wall color and a new bedspread, but I was engrossed in junior high school politics and enjoyed the look of horrified envy on Melissa Dettweiler's face when I told her we'd be moving to the "Atlas Peaks" development, and wasn't that just the cat's pajamas, having a community pool, brand new, cream-colored, wall-to-wall carpeting, and my own bathroom with an enormous vanity and makeup mirror? There was another, more private reason for my obsession with the new house: I knew for a fact that Damon Alburger and his family were moving to Atlas Peaks, and I imagined our strained but touching encounters in the communal Jacuzzi and on the tennis courts, how I would win him over with my yet-to-be-created, brand new, hilariously fresh and charming personality which would bloom simultaneously with my as-of-yet undeveloped breasts, and I secretly believed my worldly sophistication and B-cup bosom would magically appear as soon as the new houses were move-in ready. I wanted to know everything, I wanted to be older, I wanted some experience under my belt, and in my eleven-year-old mind, this experience -- i.e., my new teenage life -- would be handed to me the day I moved into Atlas Peaks like a fresh-cut key. For these reasons, and for the fact that everything had always seemed to work out before, I was cool to the idea of redecorating our current house and held out hope that we'd manage to pull the necessary money together.
Mom, on the other hand, was more upset about Dad's lying than losing the house, which she'd looked forward to for reasons having to do with a garbage disposal and a reliable dishwasher. "Those I can live without," I'd heard her say on the phone to her best friend, Mari, but she "can't handle" the lying. If only he'd told her he'd lost his job. If only he'd been up front.
"What are you saying, Jack?" That my mother's words were loud and distinct was not a good sign. I could almost see her chest rising and falling.
I stopped tearing the lettuce into the large, wooden bowl and stood perfectly still, listening.
"No," she said. "No, please."
She turned to face the kitchen. Her left hand, the one with her wedding ring, was pressed against her ear as though to block out the sound of my father's voice. The knuckles of her hand gripping the phone were white, and she pressed it hard against the side of her face. She shut her eyes. When she went to hang up, I could hear my father's voice calling out to her through the receiver.
"Jenny? Jen?" he asked. He was all the way back at our house, two miles away, but I could hear him, and what was stranger still, I could see him: in his white Charles Schwab polo shirt, his navy Dockers, and Sprees, sole separating, elbows on our walnut kitchen table, phone in one hand, glass from a Cutty Sark gift set beading with condensation, wrapped in a cocktail napkin left over from my birthday party three weeks before, in the other. He looked into the receiver as though wondering where my mother went, whether he was imagining the silence on the other end, not so much hurt or angry as perplexed. This was the new Jack Walthrop, who was no longer in control of his own destiny, who had lost his footing, who was increasingly in a state of alcohol-induced stupor and disbelief. And now this turn of events! On the verge of losing the very house they'd bought together the summer after I was born.
Mom stood in the nook, her back turned to me, resting her forehead against the plaster wall for a long moment. Without a word she walked, head down, to the sliding glass door that led to the porch where Grandmother Carol was finishing her wine. The doorbell rang and I took the crisp new twenty out of my very own pocketbook that I'd received for my eleventh birthday (saddle-colored, hoagie roll-sized) and went downstairs to pay for our pizza.
I set the table for three: three folded paper napkins, three knives and forks, three glasses of water. As I was pouring Hidden Valley Ranch dressing over the salad, Grandmother Carol came in to retrieve the bottle of chardonnay in the fridge. She left the cork on the counter and took another wine glass from the shelf. I ate at the long dining room table alone, thinking I was very grown up and that this is what it must be like to be a teenager.
Mom and I, being inexpert forensic accountants, later figured that Dad must have lost his job in December, just after Mom found out she was pregnant and Lacy, my other grandmother, died. I'd only met Grammy a few times -- once when my parents and I drove down to Los Angeles for my mother's ten-year college reunion and once when Grammy came up for a visit when I was in fourth grade -- but she made an impression. Grammy wore her red hair in soft curls and tied behind in a rhinestone barrette, was only four feet eleven inches tall, and needed a booster seat and a block on the pedal to drive limousines. She kept her "driving tools" in a black, plastic suitcase by her front door so she wouldn't forget to take them when she went to pick up her car for the night. She asked everyone she drove to write down his or her name -- she said it was for her granddaughter so when she was old and senile, she'd have proof that she'd driven the biggest names in the biz -- and she had signatures from Linda Evans, Michael Landon, Victoria Principal, even Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. Of course most people she drove weren't famous, but there were hundreds of names on the list written on sheets of stationery from hotels all over Los Angeles, including the Hotel Marmont and the Beverly Hills Hotel. When she came to visit, she boasted that she ate a breakfast of steak and eggs at Norm's after every shift ended and still managed to keep her girlish figure. She talked about drinking a great deal too and explained that after breakfast she would open a bottle of Martini & Rossi Asti Spumanti and would drink steadily until eight or nine in the morning or until the bottle was gone; at the time I didn't realize she was giving us warning so that we wouldn't be frightened to awaken to the sound of Suzanne Somers pitching the Thighmaster on TV. The week she stayed with us, she slept in my room every afternoon. I remember standing over my bed where she gently snored, studying her slack face in the gray afternoon light, fascinated by her childlike form, the smallness of her hands and bare feet with red-polished toes, the paradoxical juxtaposition of her child's frame set against her plump, aging body.
She ultimately died of liver cancer, which, she explained to my father on the phone before he flew down to Los Angeles and lost his stockbroker job, wasn't the worst thing in the world. She'd never asked for a conventional lifestyle, after all, and had managed to avoid becoming a stuffy old hag and still raised a successful, handsome son. Before they got off the phone, she asked him to bring something nice when he came to see her off, and we stopped at the Wagon Wheel market on the way to the San Francisco airport, where he bought her the most expensive white wine they sold for $12.99. After she died he drove home in her tomato-red Mustang, the only thing she owned outright besides her clothes, Max Factor makeup, color TV, and driving tools.
All of this is to say that Grammy wasn't an alcoholic, just as my father wasn't an alcoholic; they were, of course, alcoholics, but not in the way we see on television specials and movies, not the cursing or crystal-tumbler-throwing variety, not the fist-fighting, black-eye-giving, mercifully sorry strain, not the breed who smell, who piss themselves, and who beg outside liquor stores, swearing the whole time they're going to buy food with those pennies and dimes, not the hostile, entitled types who raucously needle the other customers at bars, who make a show of their folly, just begging to be drawn into a fight, not the down-on-my-knees-God-save-me-from-my-demons variety who wallow in a sea of guilt. And in my father's case, anyway, his own low self-esteem, his fear of disappointing others, his dread of unworthiness defeated him before alcohol did. Actually alcohol made my father smile and laugh a great deal, and after a certain threshold -- five, maybe six drinks -- it made his shoulders sag and slowed his reaction time, it made his eyelids droop and his head loll to the side.
Dad stopped at the Wagon Wheel on his way home from Los Angeles and bought a bottle of Kamchatka. He drank it all himself, he'd said, to celebrate the new baby, although, at the time, Mom and I suspected it had more to do with Grammy's passing, as the night before he'd ridden a horse up to the varsity-lettered "Hollywood" sign, Grammy's ashes in a Maxwell House can strapped to the saddle, in order to pay his final respects.
In retrospect I'm sure he thought he'd find another job soon, before he'd have to tell Mom and me that he'd lost the one he had.
In the dream I was swimming in a clear lagoon over moss-covered rocks, and a crawdad, as big as a human baby, was chasing me. I frog-kicked with my legs, running out of oxygen, and while I could see the sunlight collecting in the cups of undulating waves on the surface of the lagoon, I was always ever a kick or two away from breaking through. I gasped and sucked in air, fought in my sleep to escape the crawdad, his speckled and dimpled exo-skeleton, his whisker-like feelers, his black, pupil-less, unfeeling eyes.
What woke me was the sound of metal ramming through a wooden wall. After the crash, which was, to a sleeping person, more of a loud, jarring noise than a specific kind of sound, I heard the running of a car engine and voices: first an older man's I would later learn belonged to the Widower Stiffler and, in the condo, my mother's confused, sleep-caught, "Sarah?"
Grandmother Carol emerged out of her room in a green, silk peignoir and matching kitten slippers.
"Was that an earthquake?" Grandmother Carol asked me. I sat up on the couch and looked around.
"I don't know," Mom answered from her room downstairs. "I thought I felt shaking."
Male voices rose from outside the lower-level window.
"Doctor Stiffler," Grandmother Carol said. "I wonder if he's all right?"
"Wait," Mom said, fully awake and climbing up the stairs to meet us on the middle landing. "Let's call the police. We don't know what just happened."
My grandmother rushed to the phone. I followed Mom back down to the front door. She put a finger to her lips to indicate that I should be absolutely silent. She turned the knob, stepped out onto the porch, and took a few steps in order to look over the railing at Dr. Stiffler's condo, which was the mirror image of Grandmother Carol's. The motion sensor light flickered on. She started and wrapped her robe tightly around her belly. There were circles under her eyes and a white residue at the corner of her mouth from toothpaste.
"What is it?" I asked.
She shrugged her shoulders, indicating that an old oak tree and the hydrangea bushes between the two properties obscured her view. I thought I heard my mother's heart beating, as it seemed to beat so loudly sometimes after she'd taken a quick walk or charged up a flight of stairs. It might have been my own heart or the sound of the night itself, which was alive and pulsing with crickets and mosquitoes and, somewhere across the golf course, the hissing of sprinklers. I smelled jasmine and freshly cut grass.
"I called the police," Grandmother Carol called to us from the landing above. I heard her kitten slippers on the tile floor. She put a hand on my shoulder and we exchanged glances.
"Jenny?" Grandma said.
My mother began down the steps. When she was halfway to the driveway, I heard her gasp, followed by the scuffing sound of her flip-flops on concrete. She must have then passed through the hydrangea bushes that divided Grandmother Carol's yard from Dr. Stiffler's.
"Where is he?" my mother yelled. Her voice was torn with agony and fury.
Then Dr. Stiffler's voice: "Calm down, calm down. I've got him up here."
Grandmother Carol took my hand, and we walked down in time to see Mom hurrying up the steps to Dr. Stiffler's front door. Dr. Stiffler was below, on the driveway, surveying the damage.
My father had crashed the tomato-red Mustang through Dr. Stiffler's garage, and only the rear third still stuck out from the gaping hole in the garage door. I told myself over and over again that there had been a mistake, that it wasn't his -- our -- car, but by the color and shape, I knew without a doubt that it was.
My hand still in Grandmother Carol's, we approached Stiffler's driveway by walking around the hydrangea bushes.
"Are you all right, Dr. Stiffler?" my grandmother asked.
He noticed our presence and grunted.
The front of the car had busted a hole in the garage door and driven straight into Dr. Stiffler's golf cart, crumpling it and pinning it to the concrete supporting wall.
"Clubs weren't in it," he said, nodding to the damage. For several seconds I attempted to puzzle out what he meant.
Dad was drunk but not seriously injured. Dr. Stiffler suspected bruised or cracked ribs, maybe some whiplash. He had a cut above his eye that may or may not have been caused by the accident. He didn't feel a thing, Stiffler told my grandmother with a whiff of condescension, as he was already "quite numb."
Grandmother Carol held my hand, preventing me from surveying the damage too closely, while quietly assuring her neighbor that we would pay for the repairs and explaining how grateful she was that no one was badly hurt and that her poor, misguided son-in-law had the excellent fortune of crashing into the home of a doctor.
The police and an ambulance arrived not five minutes after Grandmother Carol called them, but their arrival seemed almost comical, as there was absolutely nothing they could do about the damage that had been done; it was already over, already too late. I stared at the Mustang, trying to make sense of the image: the garage door, fractured in two main parts, one now lay on the concrete driveway, the other, still attached to a metal casing and hanging askew, gently rested against the passenger's side window.
Golf clubs, Dr. Stiffler meant. His golf clubs were all right.
Actually there's not much more to this story. We lost our house. My father moved to an apartment in San Francisco and got a job as a loan manager from an old college friend. Grandmother Carol moved in with Dr. Stiffler. My mother and I moved into Grandmother Carol's. Jessica was born.
On the anniversary of the crash, I went to the pebbly beach. I had gone there a hundred times since that night to sun myself on Flat Rock, to pick blackberries, to dream about growing breasts and kissing Damon Alburger, to retreat from my baby sister's crying, and to hum the songs I heard on the radio. When I looked in the water for the crawdad that now seemed like a bad omen, a great orange monster that plagued my dreams, I saw instead a sliver of a shiny object, just visible between two moss-covered rocks. I chose a long, straight stick and lowered it into the crack between the rocks. I worked the object free, threaded the stick through it, and brought it to the surface. It was a plain, gold-colored band. As I pressed the ring into my palm, I thought how endings are overrated, how they're the blink of an eye in the grand scheme of things. What really counts -- what really counts -- is the long in-betweens, the middles, the fragile and precarious spaces separating markers. Light caught on the shiny metal and I inhaled. Dad was right: it was fit and sweet to breathe.
M C R
This work is copyrighted by the author, Valerie Kinsey. All rights reserved.