Clemency is always surrendered to the quick footed. There was nothing left to defend. The grandmother who possessed the familial third eye had been gone for years, and you’d inherited her connective tissue, a tangle that kept you tethered, however tenuously to the source of all inheritance. The snow that night was like a scourge, the thing that we will remember most. I slept unknowing forever. I found myself in a house without the claw-footed bathtub, where I would soak while deceptive motifs grew around me, startling me out of my innocence. The brave among us asked questions like a committee that already had the answers. Your mother shouted down the closest relatives on a phone that she would later say felt like a gun in her hands. From now on, we were all on the cusp of something sinister and arbitrary. Your father understandably, slurred every word but still, bordering on hysteria. I was conditioned to use what I needed. I was an innocent bystander, lost in my own, sad reverie. The world passed me by. I’d been taught that self-interest is like a big hatchet with a dull blade—promising, but pointless. I climbed the walls the day after you’d been found, freezing and lifeless, your head tilted as if in wonder. I thought hard at what it might have been like to behold someone who had just seen the face of God.
The round table with the walnut grain, set with the amber whisky and the crystal ashtrays, where unfiltered cigarettes pass the time smoking themselves. The smoke wafts up, encircling the ubiquitous crucifix on the southern wall, a souvenir from someone’s trip back to the old country, long ago. Circuitous conversation happens out of necessity—-where one begins and another one ends is anyone’s guess. The drink does its work. Heavy lidded uncles pierce the membrane of memory long enough to excavate the grudge, all shiny and new as though it were yesterday. The sly aunts by marriage, pointy breasts, teased hair and mouths set in defiance attempt to bury regrets with a retelling of every story—the equivalent of burying the dead with small stones–with great gesticulation and laughter. The third cousins drink cold coffee from chipped cups, ignoring the shadows that move between and among them. The children are piled into an upstairs bedroom, hands on the Ouija board, sweat and sway with expectation.
The long, oiled plait, created with the sorcery of her grandmother’s hands. Clutching a fistful of skirt, she stands next to the American in civilian clothes, who misreads the look in her eyes, like a forgotten castaway. All modern interpretations had been thoroughly rejected. Only the ancient, the tribal will do here. What was needed lined small apothecary bottles the color of sun-faded gems in the wine cellar. Someone takes a drink. Someone cuts a cake with the sharpest knife in the drawer. Generations of occult seed carefully laid will still sprout in rocky soil. Crumbs on the cochineal pink of the faded beauty’s tongue. The long wheezy sigh of an uncle way past his prime. The heavy serge of the American’s long coat, hung with dejection, the postcard to his mother nestled in the frayed carmine lining of his pocket. Three objects for luck lay expectantly on the coarse grained table: cheese, rag and match. A symbolic doctrine for the one destined to mark time with grave and ornamental disappointments.
Sundays were carved from emptiness. I crawled the floorboards while everyone else existed on an edge of shadow that my eyes could only follow intermittently. I rummaged through drawers scented with souvenir soap as a first line of defense, because I’d always believed in the incidental. I was aware of white puffs of smoke that wafted from a forgotten house that I watched when everything else failed me. It’s dull windows told the story of the town hero that most had never believed anyway. . It’s me, he whispered. It’s you, I agreed. I was always aware of how the sands of time were not a delicate process, but instead, a thing we hoarded and dug, with clawed hands, leaving damp piles in our wake. I wanted the day to evaporate. I wanted my strabismus to desert me, like a neglectful lover. My teeth ached for just one bite into a ghost apple, son that for once, I could chew with the air of authority, and for all time, be the better for it.
Michelle Reale is the author of Season of Subtraction (Bordighera Press„ 2019) and In the Blink of a Mottled Eye (Kelsay Books, 2020) among others. She is the Founding and Managing Editor of OVUNQUE SIAMO: New Italian-American Writing. She has been twice nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She is currently working on a collection of poems titled Blood Memory.