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Lincoln Michel

The Old House


I remember the small garden behind our house where my father found a black widow under some vegetable leaf or another. He dropped it in a jam-jar filled with yellow formaldehyde. It was the same garden, too small to nurse any plant to health, where my mother planted thin rows of beans and cucumbers. The spider jar was on top of our fireplace next to my fatherís trophies. I would stand tip-toe on the brick ledge to look closely at the dangerous, floating thing. We lived in the country then. Me, Mother, Father, my dog, Winston, and my sister, Beth. Winston and I spent our days sneaking through the oaks looking for buried treasure. We explored every inch of those woods and even then we sometimes got lost.

The black widowís body was so black and shiny that it looked like crumpled metal; skinny black pipes for legs. Behind our property was a cow pasture. You could sneak over the fence and stand in the field with your hand out and the cows would amble up and lick the salt your body makes off your palm. Winston was a black Labrador. He couldnít go into the pasture or he would frighten the cows. My sister was many years older than me, too old to play with me in the woods. She had already discovered boys her age. The garden belonged to my mother. She spent hours carefully tending the tiny plants there. Whenever I got lost in the woods my father would have to find me. I would see his flashlight dancing around the trees. His hands were rough and calloused when they touched my cheek.

You know a black widow is a black widow by the red blotch etched into its belly like a wound. Not everyone knows that only females bear this mark. We have left that house now and moved to the city. Everything has changed. My mother spends her days in front of the TV. Father is gone. The other woman had carried her son above his head like an axe for years and she finally brought it down on him. Beth got pregnant and left town with a boy whose cheeks looked like they had been attacked by little pick-axes.

We still have the black widow, itís suspended in the jar in the same pose it hung from leaves when alive. There is no garden in the city and we buy our vegetables at the grocery store. I still get confused a lot. Itís just that not all of the cords in my head have the right connections. I remember the day when Winston got a bad case of the flu and died. It was at the old house. My parents buried him next to the garden out back. A wet, brown lump in the yard. The next day mom also caught the flu. I thought it meant I would have to step up and be a man now. I went into the backyard that night and began digging a second grave with my hands.

Lincoln Michelís work has been published in journals such as McSweeney's Internet Tendency, The Vestal Review, Journal of Modern Post and the Pedestal Magazine.

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