Martha Clarkson

End Grain

Your sta­tion wag­on turns right onto 33rd, left on Klickitat, roar­ing up that steep hill that pre­cedes your house. You know this route, but don’t think of the streets in turns and hills, because you could dri­ve home in your sleep. You think about your three chil­dren, two daugh­ters out of the house and the son still liv­ing at home. They are adults you don’t under­stand. They’ve all gone reli­gious and you don’t know where they got it. Your daugh­ters go to a south­ern Baptist church on Grand Avenue, where the preach­er thumps the podi­um so hard dur­ing the ser­mon that the pine edges have begun to chip off. Your son dri­ves his list­ing Datsun to a base­ment in Sellwood, where a group of fif­teen peo­ple have start­ed their own con­gre­ga­tion. You have been to each of these church­es once. It was enough to tell you you don’t know your children.

Right out of high school, your daugh­ters mar­ried, against your wish­es. This was how your wife mar­ried you, and there are cer­tain traits and habits you don’t want them to inher­it. They each wore her dress, to save you mon­ey, but spent more on fan­cy fin­ger food so it was all a wash. Your son-in-laws are both short and mechan­ics – one for the Army and one for Japanese cars. They them­selves are cousins, both raised with­out fathers. In high school they sold auto parts from their grandmother’s basement.

You want­ed your chil­dren to want to go to col­lege. You don’t under­stand why they didn’t. Their friends all went and left them liv­ing at home and you think this deser­tion – a thing they didn’t see com­ing – con­tributed to their quick leaps to the altar. You went to col­lege, because your old­er broth­er did. Tried to fol­low his exact foot­steps – same school, same fra­ter­ni­ty, but you couldn’t stand it. The back-slap­ping, con­stant prac­ti­cal jokes, the women brought over to get drunk and in bed. You trans­ferred to a small pri­vate col­lege and quit with one term left. Always you could feel the dis­ap­point­ment from your father.

The youngest and bright­est, you would say, is your son at twen­ty. But no col­lege either. Works the Cheese Department at a high-end gro­cery. Twice he’s been offered pro­mo­tions and turned them down. He just wants to stock cheese. Brings you wheels of gou­da. You don’t under­stand his lack of ambi­tion. He has no girl­friends or per­son­al­i­ty. He folds the laun­dry for your wife.

You were once a top paper sales­man. But young fam­i­ly mem­bers in the paper com­pa­ny were made offi­cers and they in turn pro­mot­ed their new broth­ers-in-law and laid off their vet­er­an sales­men. It was a reces­sion year and they had to make choic­es. You drove a Sheraton air­port shut­tle for a while. But you were fired for mak­ing an unsched­uled trip to get a guest to his plane on time. You have this thing about kind­ness. Then you start­ed shut­tling your eldest daughter’s twins to school and soc­cer, for ice cream, helped them build solar sys­tems from sty­ro­foam balls. Now your daugh­ter has decid­ed the school sys­tem is evil and she’s quit her job as an x‑ray tech­ni­cian to home-school these chil­dren. Doesn’t want them exposed to the hea­thens of pub­lic school, she tells you. You begin to spend more time in your wood shop, turn­ing can­dle hold­ers on the lathe from lam­i­nat­ed oak stock. You sell them on the street cor­ner on Saturday morn­ings and always sell out, but the wood shav­ings are start­ing to irri­tate your nose and you have a rash inside your right nos­tril. It’s hard to get a real job when you’re over sixty.

This week you’ve offered to help a friend build a garage. It’s a thing you know how to do but it doesn’t pay well. Still, you wish it would take longer to build, it’s work you enjoy and your friend tells jokes about priests and brings you bot­tles of Miller High Life.

Tonight as you vroom up the hill you may just keep going. Since the kids have left your wife is snip­py. You once won a trip to Hawaii for sell­ing the most paper, and she wants those days back. Another trip – Bermuda, Cozumel, even your own coast, which is not warm. But you stall, think­ing of a week alone with her low­ered expectations.

You’d like to dri­ve to your brother’s – the one who was such a hit in the fra­ter­ni­ty. But your times togeth­er always result in one Manhattan too many and it piss­es your wife off when you come home offer­ing breath bloat­ed with rye.

Another night in the garage turn­ing wood. Maybe this time you’ll make a bowl, sur­prise every­one. Maybe use ash, or wal­nut, or some­thing exot­ic like koa. Carbide tips cut­ting right to the cen­ter and wider and wider to make hollow.


Martha Clarkson man­ages cor­po­rate work­place design in Seattle. Her poet­ry and fic­tion can be found in monkeybicycle6, Clackamas Literary Review, Seattle Review, Portland Review, eli­mae, and Nimrod. She is a recip­i­ent of a Washington State Poets William Stafford prize 2005, a Pushcart Nomination, and is list­ed under “Notable Stories,” Best American Non-Required Reading for 2007 and 2009. She is recip­i­ent of best short sto­ry, 2012, Anderbo/Open City prize, for “Her Voices, Her Room.”