Lydia Gwyn ~ The Freezer Has No Ice Cubes

I can hear their voic­es through the wait­ing room walls. My daugh­ter, with her big per­son­al­i­ty and pearl-speck­led beret, mak­ing the den­tal assis­tants and hygien­ists laugh. That baby girl came fast the first day of win­ter. A hard, cold day of gray asphalt and Canada Dry bill­boards. My hus­band speed­ing through the loops and turns. She almost arrived in the car, and then again in the park­ing lot.

And now I wait at the dentist’s office in a time of quar­an­tine when we’re all sup­posed to be safe inside. She has a den­tal emer­gency, but no one would know. She’s talk­ing and laugh­ing and telling about the fable she read this morn­ing where a man gave his eye for the waters of wis­dom. “He ripped his eye out! That is not a sto­ry a child should read,” she says.

This morn­ing dri­ving into town, there were frozen drones in the sky. Blinking out a code of green and gold. A spring code, I thought. The red­buds were ablaze and peaks of new growth showed on the trees. The streets were emp­ty all the way to town.

There are birds out­side the wait­ing room win­dow. I watch them from a worn leather sofa. I’m the only one here, so I’ve spread out. My book and phone and back­pack take up an entire cof­fee table. I hear the birds call­ing to each oth­er from the lawn to the trees. The uni­ver­sal code of black­birds. I trans­late their back­wards calls. Back through the mul­ber­ry bush of my child­hood, where my broth­er and I took turns hid­ing between the leaved cur­tains. I was a slow-to-warm child, a ner­vous girl. But that day I made my first girl­friend. We chased her broth­er pelt­ing him with balls of clay dirt. He swung a rope in the air like a cow­boy. There are sum­mers I want to remem­ber.

And then there are sea­sons I want to for­get but can’t because I’m pulled into them dai­ly. There was the day in ear­ly fall when I was called from my typ­ing class to my high school’s main office. I left my type­writer in mid-sen­tence and didn’t return to it for a week. There was a call wait­ing for me on the school coun­selor’s phone. My moth­er need­ed to check me out because there had been an emer­gency.

In the car on the way home from school, my moth­er told me my aunt had been found in the woods behind her home, slumped under a tree. She had been miss­ing when her hus­band woke, and we all knew some­thing had hap­pened to her.

Self-inflict­ed was the polite way the news­pa­per phrased her death a cou­ple of days lat­er. My moth­er was angry that a sto­ry was print­ed about her sis­ter. She called the paper. “Why was this news?” She said. “How cru­el,” she said.

Three years lat­er when my broth­er died in that same self-inflict­ed way, there was no news sto­ry.

When we leave the dentist’s office, the black­birds are gone. The clock in the car says only 45 min­utes have gone by since we pulled into the park­ing lot. We pass a cou­ple of cars on the way home. People head­ing out for gro­cery trips or maybe dri­ving into work. Some fac­to­ries are still open but on a stag­gered sched­ule. I sing along to Joni Mitchell’s California, and my daugh­ter hums with her numb mouth. She has always imag­ined singing this song in her school’s tal­ent show.

Back home my daugh­ter has a pil­low of cot­ton gauze where her baby tooth used to be. I make her mashed pota­toes for lunch and add extra but­ter and a lit­tle veg­etable stock. She goes to the freez­er expect­ing ice for the swelling but we’re fresh out, and no one has remem­bered to turn on the ice­mak­er.

There is new grav­el in our dri­ve­way. Half inch crushed lime­stone from the quar­ry down the road. It’s like we crushed up the core of our land and raked it like a long car­pet through the woods. The new grav­el makes every­thing look bright and new. The trees are green­er, the sky bluer. The space where we park our cars like a pas­toral paint­ing. The ramps that grow along the road­side are up and the blood­root and wood anemone are bloom­ing. I know if I hike off into the woods there will be morels grow­ing where once we found a frozen dove in the leaf lit­ter.

~

Lydia Copeland Gwyn’s sto­ries and poems have appeared or are forth­com­ing in Pigeonholes, Elm Leaves Journal, The Florida Review, JMWW, Glimmer Train, Gone Lawn, SmokeLong Quarterly, and else­where. Her book of flash fic­tion, Tiny Doors, is avail­able from Another New Calligraphy. She lives in East Tennessee with her fam­i­ly.