Featured in Colorado Review
Published Spring 2019
Photo by LearningLark
At night, when everything was quiet, we could hear the water moving beneath the floorboards. When the water level was high, the steps to the back porch would become submerged. The wood out there had taken on a greenish color, and in drier weather, there was the sick smell of algae and sun-baked mud. Rivulets glittered between islands of thick grass or strange, spindly bushes, and farther out, the water filled into a larger body and there were white trees, dwarfed from having their roots drowned. The image of these trees shook in the water beneath them, as if broken by laughter.
Stanley was always laughing. Out on the back porch there was a small, rusted horse on a spring with a mass of concrete at its base. It had been torn from the ground in the front yard, which was much too soggy to hold something of that weight. Stanley had described to me the sucking sound that it had made whenever one of his children rode it, pumping their little bodies back and forth. Then he would look at the thing, leaning against his house with its concrete boot and laugh, threatening to drop it into the lake. He would often laugh at the relics of his children, of which there were many, as if the thought of them once living there was preposterous. It reminded me of the laughter of childless people when confronted with the possibility, the self-deprecating, “Who me?” That was how Stanley reacted to these things—the notches in the wall, the pedal car beside the garage coated with wet leaves. The way that they had left had been explosive, he said, a cataclysm, like the moon breaking away from the earth. There he was, in his swamp, alone. Wasn’t it funny?
There was a loud rustling from behind the headboard that traveled like static electricity. Squirrels in the walls, Stanley said. Flying squirrels. I imagined them to be bat-like and thrashing, stirring up the plaster so that they became coated in white. I thought a lot about those squirrels during that time, partly because I never saw one, and also because Stanley could sleep through the racket, lie there overheating under too many blankets.
Stanley sometimes went upstairs to fetch a new shirt from his bedroom closet when he did not feel like doing laundry, or once when he remembered that he owned a rice cooker. I’d hear his footsteps, a soft creaking of floorboards, hear him pause, and imagine him lost momentarily in the dark, wondering how he had become a ghost in his own house. He had abandoned the second floor, where he had lived with his wife and children, for the apartment downstairs, turning away the tenant who had lived below. The tenant had been like a piece of carbon paper, he said, imprinted with all of their arguing, a template of their pain.
He wanted to show me his rice cooker. The rice cooker was a miraculous invention. You didn’t have to touch it. You just opened the lid and scooped out the fluffy, steaming piles. We ate a lot of rice, using the bowls left there by the tenant. There was the conspiratorial feeling of living together in the shadow of Stanley’s old life. Surprised that he was ever once father and husband, like an amnesiac, he would shout from upstairs, Look at this tiny sock! Sometimes he would give me articles of clothing that his wife had left behind and I would wear them, inappropriately—a blazer while wading in the lake, a bathrobe when we drove out to the gas station for cigarettes. We laughed at a little wad of pink that we found washed up on the bank of the creek. It was a hair bow with a rusted clip. The girl must have dropped it out there last autumn, which meant that it had been buried under the snow, maybe even frozen and thawed, pulled down by the current with the leaves. It was funny because he could not escape these hauntings. A dusty handprint on the side of the garage, just visible. He had walked through an enormous spiderweb at the time of discovery and clawed at his face, laughing at the way he stumbled into these things—this disaster, which was so slow moving. The rice cooker was a great solace.
Stanley and I would go driving along the country roads. He drove, always with a destination, although we seldom got out of the car.
“These are the tubs,” he would say of a deep portion of river that we could barely see from the road. “Here is a graveyard. Up over that hill there is an old headstone that has been consumed entirely by the trunk of a tree. Like a brick sunk into a pillow.” Stanley pointed through the sap-speckled windshield. In the early mornings the sun behind the trees would blacken the leaves all but for the very edges, which made beautiful cosmic shapes. The late summer had turned amber with goldenrod and brown husks, aging cornstalks, slick yellow leaves. We would drive parallel to the crumbled ridge of old stone walls hidden in the forests, which would sometimes stop and turn at a right angle, marking off a segment of dark, wooded land.
The one time we left the car was to hike an impassable road. We left the car parked beside two posts bearing a heavy chain. I remember it being very cool for the end of August and windy. The wind seemed to affect only the very tops of the trees, and their movements, way up high, made us feel very small. The hike was farther and steeper than either of us had expected. I had been wearing clothes from upstairs: a worn pair of tennis shoes and a wide blue dress that I later discovered to be a maternity size. Stanley was sweating in great channels beneath his neck and arms by the time we turned off the path and climbed down into the hole. It did not look like much until we were inside, and then we were clearly in what was once a cellar. Thick tree roots wove through the stone foundation and came out clawing the air, like frayed wires. The floor was hard dirt, broken by a few saplings. There was a crackle as something fell—a stick or an acorn—from some ungodly, swaying height, and I understood why we had walked so far. Stanley could not have just pointed to the mountain and said, “There, somewhere, is the foundation of an old house. It is cold inside and it will make you feel very insignificant.” And, as it turned out, it wasn’t a house, but the ruins of a mill. Stanley had read about it, which impressed me, because the place struck me as somewhere utterly unknowable, its history not just shrouded in mystery, but obliterated. He had been interested in mills since moving into a converted one, he explained. It had not occurred to me that there was any useful purpose to Stanley’s house and its soggy location, other than it seemed to be the perfect place to hide—there, in the dredges of Stanley’s life, swatting at mosquitoes and smacking the walls to hear the squirrels scatter. I was somewhat disappointed in this discovery, the simplicity of it, in the way that I often become upset when someone is able to describe very plainly the mechanisms of grief.
My father would sometimes take me for drives in his car. Once, when I was much too old for it, he helped me with the seat belt, then looked at me, his face very close to mine, and told me to keep my hands clasped—like this—as he knitted my fingers together. I remember that the sun had just begun to set and the sky was so pink that the clouds looked black in comparison. There was something that I always found malignant about sunsets, like a wound that becomes very bright before it turns black. There was a tape deck in my father’s car, and as we drove we listened repeatedly to the same song, a strange, bluesy song by a musician whom I am unable to recall. I can distinctly remember those closing bars, the twang and disheveled melody slowing. The words seemed to be calling someone or something across a great distance, one broken by the noise of fingers sliding across strings, and this was so apparent in the song that I began to see the sliding out my window as the sweeping of telephone wires. I was so focused on this that I barely noticed when we pulled over onto the shoulder. My father turned the keys in the ignition and then walked around the front of the car and opened the door for me. It was dusk. We walked through some milkweed by the roadside, which turned to tufts of trodden grass and then pieces of blacktop. When I looked up, I saw an enormous man silhouetted against the sky. He was about two stories high and leaning slightly forward with his arms extended, bent at the elbow, as if bearing weight. As we moved closer, I saw that his hands were cupped, one with fingers facing the sky and the other angled toward the blacktop. My father allowed a few minutes to pass before leading me back to the car.
I found out later that the large man we had seen was a kind of roadside attraction, a giant, fiberglass mascot originally built to hold a car muffler, but it could be painted to represent a number of characters, from an Indian chief with a pipe to Paul Bunyan holding an ax. What made him recognizable were his cupped hands. The one that we visited had lost his muffler, but at the time I had not known this, and so concluded that this enormous statue was grabbing at the air, as if to snatch you out of your bed at night.
On my first night at the Pavilion, an old woman crawled into bed with me. When she slid her leg in next to mine, I felt her bare skin, the goatish bristle of pubic hair, and realized that she was only wearing a nightshirt. By then, I had already resigned myself to the place. At breakfast, a man had submerged his face in a bowl of cereal. Another man liked to remove his clothes and crouch in between the washer and dryer in the laundry room, reveling in the vibrations on his bare skin. I asked the old woman if she was cold and she shivered at me. It was an exaggerated shiver, it seemed, for my benefit, which gave her some credibility. She was not just a mute thing that stole beds in the night. So I tucked the blanket around her shoulders and stood there beside the bed, watching the room turn grayish with dawn.
I saw the old woman again, during our smoke break, and watched as the other patients placed their cigarettes between her stiff, arthritic fingers as she dozed in her chair. Before, they had only been able to fit seven. That day, they managed eight—four for each hand. They applauded the new record.
Later, the volunteers came. They signed their names in the big book and then found us, one by one, as though we were orphans, waiting to be chosen. My volunteer was always the same: melancholy and stringy, like something the tide had forgotten. Like a sad face in the knot of a tree. He seemed to dislike the Pavilion and everyone in it and would often make disparaging comments about the other patients under his breath. He said that he lived over the mountain, that he drove here every week. It seemed like a long trip to make just to be miserable. Also, he was a sore loser at checkers.
“What are you in for?” he wanted to know. “I bet I know,” he said and leaned back in his chair so that he could run his eyes over me.
The drives with Stanley continued. We went to the grocery store, walked up and down the aisles, only to leave with just a head of lettuce, which we ate in front of the television, dipped in salad dressing from the back of the refrigerator. He didn’t like to buy too much, not when there was still food in the house. To him, the whole house was an offering. The house had so many gifts, he said: the rice cooker, which came from upstairs, as if from heaven, the new shirts with the stickers on the collars. Now that he was no longer living his life, the things that surrounded him were miraculous.
One day, we pulled up in front of a small blue house with a weedy chain-link fence. The gutters were heavy with wet leaves, and through one of the windows, we could see where someone had hung a striped towel in place of a curtain. Stanley said that he used to live in that house, up until he was three years old. He said that he had some very early memories from that time—like watching a large bubble float over his playpen in the backyard—how the weight of the membrane shifted and swirled until it found the bottom, condensed into a droplet, and burst.
“You remember the bubble,” I said to him. “But the details you are just filling in from your general knowledge about bubbles.”
“Well, how about this one,” he said, and he told me about the night he awoke in his toddler bed, how his mind was his own and not that of a young child. “I thought with clarity,” he said, suddenly impassioned. “In complete sentences.” The room, he said, was painted red and dark purple—the kind of colors that he would later associate with anatomical illustrations of internal organs. Spleens were always yellow. Were they yellow for me too? Yes, I told him. Spleens were always yellow. But even then, Stanley continued, he often felt as though he were sleeping inside the belly of a large beast. He had an idea that it might have been a sound that woke him and that the sound was coming from downstairs. There were only two rooms upstairs—his and his mother’s—he explained, then spent a while describing the layout of the house while pointing through the windshield. It was as if I could see right through the walls, into the thick-carpeted hallway, the frightening shadows through the shower curtain, the lamp by the television that had once been knocked over by the cat.
Stanley told me that he went downstairs and forgot why he was there, so he opened the refrigerator. The white light spread over the kitchen floor and up the wall. It fell onto part of the back door, where something was not right. There, caught in the light of the refrigerator, was a man’s head resting on the rubber welcome mat. He had stringy brown hair and wide eyes. The man’s head was breathing heavily with his mouth open. It reminded him of a fish that needed water. He wondered—he remembered this thought distinctly—if heads without bodies were perhaps just like fish without water, and so he went to the sink, filled a glass, and poured it over the head on the welcome mat. The head sputtered and shouted, and this woke Stanley’s mother, who came down the stairs, calling, “Stanley, Stanley!” It took her a moment to see the man’s head by the back doorway. Stanley said that her whole face jumped back, exposing her teeth and the whites of her eyes. She screamed and with the bottom of her bare foot, she stomped the head—stomped and stomped it until it was gone.
Stanley looked at me then, smiling. His long hair had become untucked from behind his ear. It gave his face a kind of roguish intelligence.
“So,” he said. “What do you think that was all about?”
“I don’t know,” I said. By then, I was very hungry and wanted to go back to Stanley’s and cook rice.
“Some kind of nightmare,” I said. Stanley seemed put off by this and closed his mouth, which had been open in expectation of my answer. He put the car into gear and we pulled away from the curb. I watched the little house slip away, with its weedy fence and rainy, overgrown yard, and I thought about what Stanley had said about his mind having been his own, even when he was little.
Sometimes, my father would give me a can of ginger ale when I got into the car. We would drive to another town, have lunch in the basement cafeteria of another hospital. There, we would buy little flattened sandwiches for thirty cents and eat them in a booth by the window. We’d get in through a back doorway by the loading dock and make our way through tunnels, following the cabbage smell of hot lunch. During these trips an enormous sense of peace would come over me, as if all our back roads, back doorways, and tunnels had brought us far away from an ominous pursuer. There we were, beneath all the floors of the hospital, eye level to the tires of the cars in the parking lot, in an alternate reality where sandwiches cost a dime. I was often very sleepy on these trips, and when I had eaten as many sandwiches as I could, I would fall asleep, right there in the booth, and no one would mind, because the only other people there were the food service boys pushing their carts through the elevator. I liked the smells of the hospitals, the breath and power of the building. The only place where you are allowed to give up, to bleed, or to die.
Once, when my father and I returned to the Pavilion, we happened to see my volunteer on his way out the front doors. He had been reaching for the cigarette behind his ear when he spotted us crossing the parking lot. I had forgotten that it was my volunteer’s day to come and I wanted to explain to him that I had been confused, that I was sorry for missing him.
I liked the volunteer. Sometimes he would take my hands and turn them over in his as if searching them, as if he might find something there to tease me about. He was always teasing and laughing when he wasn’t sulking.
“You don’t belong here,” he liked to say. “I know a fraud when I see one.” Part of that made me angry, but it felt good to be angry at someone. At night, I’d lie awake in my room feeling the drowsiness cradle my head, not exactly fighting it, but not giving in either, just gently pushing against it, because there was nothing else in the world to push against. I used to hate the dark as a child—not because I was frightened of it, but because of the wide, greasy feeling it gave my eyes, the fat of them up against the blackness like that. Eventually, colorful, goopy visions would begin to form, spreading like oils, never colliding. Sometimes, when a patient’s family came to visit, that patient would be indisposed, uncommunicative. The nurses would tell the family members that the patient was “down in the valley.”
“You can go in,” they’d say sweetly. “But he’s down in the valley.” Sometimes my volunteer would take my hands in his and flip them around as if searching for a mark, and I would let him, because otherwise I’d be floating in space.
“Come over the mountain with me,” he’d say, and I would wonder if that wasn’t just another thing that people said.
Stanley was becoming moody. One morning I went out to meet him on the deck and saw that the spring horse was no longer there.
“I dumped it,” he said, anticipating my question. “It’s sleeping with the fishes,” he said and laughed to himself. I looked over the railing and saw that it was there, beneath the shallow water, upright as if planted there in the silt. I felt Stanley’s hands then beneath my dress and his weight against me.
“Sleep with the fishes,” Stanley said just as my feet lifted off the deck floor.
Stanley said that the man’s head appeared again on the kitchen floor mat. Again, he had gone downstairs and opened the refrigerator door, letting the white light spread over the linoleum and into the man’s eyes so that they looked very wide. The head adjusted itself, moving from supporting itself with its cheek to its chin. This meant that when it spoke, the whole upper jaw moved with every syllable, like a skull speaking from a tabletop.
“Hey kid,” the head said. Stanley said that he was afraid that his mother would come downstairs again and be angry with him for being out of bed, that she would stomp the head away with her foot. The thought seemed unbearable to him, so he put his finger to his lips. To his surprise, the head continued at a whisper.
“I’m yer daddy,” it said. It adjusted its position again so that it was resting on the other cheek and smiled. Stanley noticed that the head had not shaved. He had a strong urge to stroke the hair on its chin. He said that it felt like the most natural thing in the world. But then his mother had come again, and he saw that she was not afraid this time but angry. He remembered that she removed her slippers and held them together at the heel and began to beat the man’s head across the face. He grimaced and shouted between slaps like a growling dog. And then he was gone. His mother closed the refrigerator, took Stanley’s hand tightly, and led him back to his bed.
I did not fall into the water. Stanley caught me around the waist, and we fell back onto the deck. I saw him spit out his cigarette through the wooden boards, like it was gum. It landed in the water below us with a little plop.
I had been wearing an old nightgown with a bleach stain, something that his wife had kept to line the puppy crate. I had not known that there was a dog. There were so many things that I did not know—the names of his children, for instance. I knew from the chinks in the doorframe that one child’s name began with B and that the other was S, and the only names that I could think of were Bobby and Sally, which were old-fashioned and probably far from the truth. I thought of these things as Stanley lifted the nightgown over my head. It covered my face, and for a moment, I could only see a vague spot where the sun shone. I imagined what my body must look like, decapitated like that, skinny from eating white rice and pieces of lettuce. I felt and saw nothing, just the little cataract of sun through the blue fabric. I assumed that Stanley had left me there, perhaps to humiliate me, but then I heard the boards creaking and the click of his lighter. When I sat up and pulled the gown from my eyes, I saw him leaning against the railing, smoking and shaking his head, like the whole thing had been my idea.
When I was a child, I saw my father restrain my mother. I had been hiding behind the low boughs of a pine in the backyard, watching the argument unfold through the sliding doors that led to the kitchen. My mother, standing inside, had just thrown a glass tumbler against the doors with enough force to break the tumbler. I had hidden under the tree when I heard my father’s shout, muffled by the doors, and then watched as he wrapped his arms around his wife. He stood behind her so that they were both staring out at the backyard. I could see my father’s lips moving. He seemed to be speaking slowly and deliberately, as if giving directions. I thought about what it would be like to have a man stand behind me like that, holding me firmly, speaking firmly to me. I wasn’t a child who enjoyed punishments of any kind, but this did not strike me as a punishment. Clearly my father was not pleased, but there was more to it than anger. He was using force to keep my mother from breaking another glass. He was keeping her from moving and she was allowing it. I found this fascinating. It had never occurred to me that a person could want something and not want it at the same time. I had never seen adults locked in such a conflict. It seemed to me that it would never end, that one desire would never overrule the other and my parents would remain strangely entwined for the rest of their lives.
Once, at the Pavilion, I threw an empty Coca-Cola bottle at my father. It hit him in the forehead with a hollow clunk of plastic and then rolled beneath his chair. His reaction was to bend over to reach for it, his body pitched forward, revealing his bald spot. He fumbled for the bottle and did not notice that, by then, I had already been restrained. You expect certain actions to have great importance, when in fact, they feel warm and benign—familiar even, if a little disorienting, like, I imagine, having some action performed for you as an adult. Being spoon-fed, or carried. Part of me wanted them to hold on forever. At the time, it felt like the most generous feeling, this slight pressure, this reaffirming hold on the world.
I had not been looking for a reaction from my father. The Coca-Cola bottle was meant as a kind of experiment. When you are in a place for long enough, exposed to certain behaviors, you begin to wonder what it would be like to venture outside of reason, where the world might take on a different quality, like exploring a very low tide. And so I threw the bottle to see if the consequences would be devastating, and they were not.
There was one morning that I woke at Stanley’s house and went outside to find the world wrapped in fog. The trees in his front yard loomed in shadow, like giant blooms of algae in a murky ocean. Stanley and I had driven by many houses over the course of a few weeks and sometimes we would see the hairy shapes of hanging plants behind closed shades. The shapes in the fog reminded me of that. It also smelled like smoke and water, and when I walked out into it and lost sight of the house, there was Stanley, standing up to his ankles in the wet grass. He saw me and motioned for me to come. When I reached him I saw that there was a herd of deer grazing just feet from where we were. A buck shook its antlers as it ripped the grass. The sound of their chewing was thick, like breaking snow. Stanley put his arm around me and I wondered if he was thinking about his family again, if this was how he saw them always in his mind.
That day, we got into his car and drove through the fog. It was very thick, so the trees appeared like dark, tousled shapes. The lights of oncoming cars slipped around the bends and over the hills, coming slowly and carefully. Everything was very still, like the morning after a snowstorm. Stanley was once again speaking of memories, and I thought that we were so much like children, telling each other the names of our parents or our cats, bereft of worldly things.
“I remember being a little boy, sitting down to pee. The taste of antibiotics. I remember my new neighborhood, the woods behind my apartment building. There were older boys who hung out in the woods, taping together the bits of pornography they found scattered out there. They showed me a page that they had reconstructed, where a woman was holding herself open for the camera.” Stanley rolled down his window and breathed smoke out into the fog. “They showed me a log lying on the ground covered in the tracks of the bark beetles. They told me that the tracks were claw marks from tigers in heat. ‘Touch them,’ they told me and took my hands and made me feel. ‘Feel their love,’ they said. It was one of the strangest things that ever happened to me.”
My volunteer was always the same: bloated around the eyes, his jaw tightening often enough for me to wonder if there was something in his mouth. There was a rolled-over look to him, like a coma patient who has spent too much time on one side and needs to be flipped. Some days he spent the allotted time trying to right a wobble in the chair using a folded napkin, refusing my offer of a different chair. On other days he was animated, interested in conversation, offering me brief, seemingly random details from his life. The lock on the passenger-side door of his car was broken, he said. When he was a child, he had a cat named Ball. When he was a child, he liked the smell of his grandmother’s basement. He liked the smell of his mother’s armpits. “What do you think about that?” he wanted to know. I told him about the Coca-Cola bottle, about how I had been restrained.
“What was it like?” he wanted to know, suddenly alert. I told him that it was unsettling, but familiar, like being carried as an adult—startling, but controlled, like slapping yourself in the face. I told him that it was strange, but welcomed, like urinating outside. He straightened himself and looked down at me. Then he took a scorecard from the game that we were playing and wrote something on it.
“Here,” he said, handing me the card. There was a number written on it. And a name. “Call me when you get out.”
We seemed to be getting deep into the woods again. I did not recognize the area. The fog had lifted completely by then and white stencils of light floated over the windshield as we drove under the trees. The ferns along the side of the road were dusty and brown, everything hardening into fall or flitting down from the branches. Stanley pulled over where the road widened and told me to unbuckle.
“Think about those kids,” he said, “sitting all day in the woods searching for scraps of porn. Someone should have given them a real book.” I felt his hand at the back of my neck, his fingers pressing behind my ears. “I’ve still got all these picture books at the house. Boxes of them,” he said. “We should throw them all into the woods.” With his other hand, he felt for his zipper.
There had been a pair of boys in my neighborhood while I was growing up. They were brothers who lived at the corner of my street who liked to wave at drivers in the road and get them to roll down their windows. Once the window was open, they would throw rocks into the car. I used to watch them from my yard, from under a pine tree that had some heavy, low-hanging boughs. The younger boy would lie on the sidewalk, clutching his throat, making a big scene, while his brother got the attention of the cars. Then, once they were stopped, the small one would jump up and unload his pockets onto the driver’s lap. It was a wonder that they did not have their toes run over the way that those cars skidded away. From where I was hidden, I could see the faces of the drivers clearly and it pained me to see their old faces frowning in anger. I have always been sensitive about tricks, especially those that affect the well-intentioned.
It happened to my father once, although I did not recognize the man as my father until it was too late. The boy had thrown his sticks and stones through the window, and I saw my father’s forehead bind up in shock, his upper lip hanging over his open mouth, pale and exposed in emotion. And then he did the worst thing that he could have done. He opened the car door and started shouting. I do not know why he did not get out, why he sat there with his seat belt on, getting angrier while those terrible boys laughed at him.
“Close the door,” I said to him from behind my pine bough. “Go home, Daddy.” But I did not have the courage to come out, and I knew, even at that age, what a shame it would be for me to burst out fighting in my dress and stockings, my hair full of pine needles.
One night, Stanley came downstairs holding a single earring, a drop of opal in the hills of his palm. His wife had lost it years ago, he said.
“I found it underneath the bathroom sink,” he said. “I had already looked there. We looked everywhere. We looked through the baby’s diaper.” He seemed troubled by this discovery, as if he had just found a note of great significance, something that shattered all that was preconceived about his marriage.
We had been out on the back porch. Stanley was smoking and letting the ash fall into the black water. I could just make out the ears of the spring horse submerged there, beneath the ripples of light around Stanley’s ash. Stanley spoke of his wife again. How, when their first child was born, she had pulled the infant out herself and lifted him into the air. She could take hot bread from the oven with her bare hands. She was a mythical creature. Stanley watched me silently for a moment, then walked across the deck. The boards groaned beneath his boots.
“I wasn’t like this with her,” he told me as he took hold of my waist, the burning end of his cigarette near my ear. “What was her reason, then?”
My father continued to see me. He brought me out in his car and let me roll down the window. The air was thick and leafy and it pounded against my temples. After a while, we stopped on the side of the highway where there was a rut in the weeds, as though someone had parked there only minutes ago. Grasshoppers scattered as I opened my door, bending the grass away. We walked down a small path that looked as though it was leading into the forest. I had a brief fantasy that my father had taken me here to set me free, like the bat he caught in our attic when I was a child, which had swooped peevishly in its new surroundings, looking helpless and nasty in the daylight. But the path took a sharp turn down the side of a hill, which brought us below the road. There were tracks down there, leading to the mouth of a dark tunnel. As we got closer to it, the temperature fell and there was a rocky, oily smell. My father and I walked into the blackness, so black that our eyes felt like marbles that might drop out, and I knew that this was his great effort, his waving of hands behind his seat belt, his gaping mouth. This was all that my father knew how to do and it would not save me or make me better. We had hoped with the bat that it would be disoriented, that it would not find its way back into our attic. In our minds, we saw it soaring out into the night, our problem solved once we could not see it any longer. We would perform this task again and again with the other bats that we found, never once stopping to wonder if it wasn’t the same one.
Genevieve Plunkett’s stories have appeared in the O. Henry Prize Stories; The Best Small Fictions; and journals such as New England Review, Crazyhorse, West Branch, Massachusetts Review, among others. In 2017, she was a recipient of the St. Botolph Award for Emerging Artists in Literature. She lives in Vermont.