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Lydia Copeland

Checkers

Iím on the ground with what feels like a broken knee cap. Every beagle we own is down there with me, licking my face. Iím trying to be still, to focus like my father says, to slowly force something back into its place. My mother usually does this with lotioned hands. When I feel a pop, I know I can stand up again, and itís as though nothing ever happened. This is my knee. Almost every day. ďYouíll grow,Ē my father says, ďand your bones will adjust.Ē My father is a doctor but not of medicine.

Thereís a pile of lumber at the back door. My father has been teaching me to use the anvil and axe, to split bigger blocks of wood into smaller. I can get halfway through a piece of wood and then he finishes.

There are unclaimed cats in our barn, a red salamander under the rock by the tree where we park our cars. Thereís barbed wire, wild ginger, birds in the well water, foxes in the morning, bobcats at night, no more chickens. I get lost in these things all day.

At the grocery store I ask for Captain Crunch, but my mother is unrepentant and always chooses Chex or Cheerios. Once I got Apple Jax by mistake. I was with my father because my mother was sick on the couch with her book.

In my dreams all those animals talk. I see their eyes in my window, like glowing blue stars and hear them at the foot of my bedóthe pads of their feet, their dew claws in my blankets, their high, unpracticed words in my ear. Itís some other language, but I know what they mean.

Sometimes friends come over. We talk about which boys like us, which boys are hunky, which ones will get us in trouble. I paint nails, canít stay in the lines too well. I learn to wear my hair in a twist and how to look pretty in jeans.

When my mother leaves, itís not like the other kids with divided weekends and holidays. First, she leaves to the hospital in the city and it takes two hours to drive there each day. After a month or so, my father talks of moving to an apartment closer to her. I miss too much school. Letters come in the mail about it and we might have to tell it to a judge.

Iím in and out. Seeing her in robes and gowns, then naked and bathed by a nurse. My father sneaks in root beer and Snickerís bars. My mother finishes and gives him the evidence, which collects in the floorboards of our car. Some days itís gray inside the room and motherís window only holds a couple of birds and the limbs of an Oak tree moving in the wind. Sometimes the sun shines all over us and we have to remove our sweaters. We spend a lot of time talking over a checker board. I take her tea cup down the hall and the nurses warm the water in their microwave. The doctor kisses my hand like a lady. My mother tells me all the secrets anyone has ever told her. I keep jumping her checkers, but I know sheís letting me win.


Lydia Copeland's stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Quick Fiction, Glimmer Train, elimae, Pindeldyboz, Dozplot and others.  Her chapbook Haircut Stories is available from the Achilles Chapbook Series and as part of the part chapbook collective Fox Force 5 from Paper Hero Press.  She works in Manhattan and lives in New Jersey with her husband and son.

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