Sarah Wrote That

Apples Horses Brides


[first appeared in Parcel]

by Sarah Malone

By August I could only sleep at steep angles, midday, when the town dozed off for blocks. The window fan helicoptered me to a grass hut, and reporters in flak jackets filed the evening news from the high school lab where Dennis and I had met. Our teacher bent over me, horn-rimmed, tortoise-shelled, and I didn’t know what I had done.

In the morning when Dennis woke beside me I had been knotted awake for hours. Buses creaked toward Schenectady and the triplicate perfume of invoices he’d said I never had to fingernail apart again. None of the names we liked—Lisa, Peter, Jennifer, Michael, Paul, Christine—belonged to anyone.

“How about Chet?” Dennis called from the kitchen. I heard him: verse, refrain, bridge, proud Mary keep on boiling—boiling. He peered around the doorframe, his moustache a drooped grin.

“You goose,” I said.

“I’m singing you the perfect egg.”

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I’m so pleased to have this story in Route 9's Alumni Omnibus issue alongside so many others.

[a bit of this story’s evolution]

Last Snow

All day we’d made sure to be ready. Those who believed in umbrellas in snow leaned tightly fastened umbrellas against their desks, and those already irked by the hat hair the forecast gave them an eighty percent chance of having by dinner time tripped over the umbrellas and handed them to their owners, saying, “You do know it’s snow, not rain?” In hallway conversations we were “much winter” and “not very March” to those we regularly volleyed references with, and though we would be the first to call our jokes lame and done, so done if questioned, so was winter, lame, and done, so done, except it wasn’t.

“So glad this is the last snow of the season,” Mindy said, and her supervisor said, “Right?” That was in the ten AM editorial meeting in the eighth floor conference room, which Mindy had to excuse herself from for a meeting with the Ad Sales director who was on fourteen and wouldn’t have heard Mindy’s line yet, and never would hear it from Editorial, who he’d only communicated with by email since Editorial had gotten the retina displays they claimed they needed. As though the Ad Sales director’s CPMs were easy on the eye!  “The nice thing is, after today we’ll have no more storms,” Mindy said, mixing it up a little. The Ad Sales director Could. Not. Wait.

Downstairs, smokers shivered, and when Mindy went out to bring back lunch she thought soup because the next week, when the air would be sweet with earth that things were growing in she would not want soup in the way she wanted to sip warmth and think of snow faltering past the window of some office with a window.

At three o’clock there was still the pre-snow damp and featureless overcast, and it was March and the light didn’t tip toward dusk until we were snapping our parkas, pushing useless umbrellas into bags they fit no better than they ever had, forgetting hats, somewhere dropping one glove, and God knows not going back into the building to not find the glove and get caught when the snow began after all. “At least after this storm, you won’t need gloves,” Mindy said, and, “I can never get a pair of gloves through the winter.” She couldn’t have said how exaggerated that might have been. But better to be someone who lost gloves, so the stranger in the elevator could go into the bright evening with the thought of having lost only the one.

Hunters strode the woods behind my house

I found their shells
plastic empty red
and a right of way warning
rusted waist-high in vines
I could not pronounce PETROLEUM
I was scared not of the pipeline
but of the sign

I found an atlas in brick cities
nothing had been replaced
nothing was intact
I trusted my father’s moustache
and my mother with everything else
until the cold fled and the geese stayed
and places came from movies just like this one
and a dog named Molson ran away with the bird
and took our windy cries for cheering

I have my own way of standing half astride today
you must not think it’s a thing to get over
if so then so is everything
some other time
some other game
we would bring enough
for everyone again

Now it’s meanwhile
tall ships crowd the inbound tide
indoor fireworks are due
we have been in our fumes two centuries
I am certain
I was present
and absent when spars collided
and I am waiting for the sails
I caught this afternoon

This afternoon, a Cooper’s hawk landed in the grass below my kitchen window; eyed my direction, and then the rocks where chipmunks scamper, flew to a pine branch, and off through the lower branches—two minutes, by my Exif data, from landing to takeoff, everything abrupt, and done with incredible ease and precision, and no interest in anything that wasn’t lunch.

"When you start really letting go this is what it’s like. A lick of pain, furtive, darting up where you don’t expect it. Then a lightness. The lightness is something to think about. It isn’t just relief. There’s a queer kind of pleasure in it, not a self-wounding or malicious pleasure, nothing personal at all. It’s an uncalled-for pleasure in seeing how the design wouldn’t fit and the structure wouldn’t stand, a pleasure in taking into account, all over again, everything that is contradictory and persistent and unaccommodating about life."

- "Bardon Bus," The Moons of Jupiter by Alice Munro (via scribblingcynic)

That last sentence is as apt a description of the satisfaction of reading Munro as I’ve seen.

"You cross the George Washington Bridge and dip down and around and slide into the gentle curve of the West Side Highway, and the lights and towers of Manhattan flash and glow before you, rising above the lush greenness of Riverside Park, and even the most embittered enemy of Robert Moses—or of that matter, of New York—will be touched: you know you have come home again, and the city is there for you"

- Marshall Berman, All That Is Solid Melts Into Air: The Experience Of Modernity. Berman died yesterday. I remember the shiver, first reading this, and reading his descriptions of the Bronx blasted apart by Moses’s Cross-Bronx Expressway construction a few pages above it. His sense of the “sanctity of ‘things as they are’” was bracingly freed of nostalgia by the rigor of his inquiry, yet did not shy from acknowledging the affinity driving it.

Camping After Labor Day

I am four when this happens. We’ve had to move our tent from a site where sand and orange dry pine needles are soft under the pines’ soft swaying to the side of the park that’s not yet closed for the season. Our new site is much larger, but it is sun-packed dirt, bare to park roads on two sides. On of them the land drops sharply toward the lake that is still out of sight through the trees.

We have a Coleman lantern, red-hatted over a clear tube and tall gas canister. We stand the lantern at one end of the picnic table as we did at the pine site. Every time I look in its direction my glance bends to its mantle, mantle the same word as above our fireplace at home, but this one is a knit sack nose, gently alight at the end of the night after the marshmallows are finished and we empty dud popcorn into the fireplace, and my parents set the logs on end and stir ashes over the embers. A warm, steady, indoors kind of light, the lantern. Few lights of any kind show through the woods, even here on the rangers’ station side of the highway.

In the morning when we unzip the tent, the lantern is gone. Daylight at this hour is no longer summer daylight. Shadows are longer. There is no one at the ranger station until after breakfast. My father brings back news. The rangers have had several reports from around the park. It is this way every year, after Labor Day. We can buy another lantern in town—too bad about the cost—but for our few remaining nights, we’ll make do with the fireplace and flashlights.

I miss a time before theft, but I don’t miss the lantern. I don’t tell anyone. I’m old enough to sense that no one else is terrified of the red-hatted, mantle-nosed man who is out in the pines or miles down the road to town. When people came in the night to take him, and were right outside our beds, we didn’t wake.

"A brilliant night outside in New York City. It is Saturday and people with debts are going to restaurants, jumping into taxicabs, careening from West to East by way of the underpass through the Park. What difference does it make to be here alone? Even now, just after eight in the evening, the trucks are starting their delivery of the Sunday Times."

- Elizabeth Hardwick, Sleepless Nights

Dog Walking On Pesticide Day

Flags are set out this morning, all around the neighborhood where I am staying, red flags among the plantings and along the edges of the properties whose owners have asked that their names be added to the management company’s list for no pesticide applications. The grass and flowers are dry; we heard thunder last night, north and south, and high nimbuses bloomed into anvil tops in late sun, but here they parted without rain, and this morning underneath the castanets of the cicadas or cicada-like insects that crank to a frantic pitch and snap off, the August peepers have begun. It’s cooler than it’s been for the past ten mornings, maybe more than ten mornings, and the dog has a merry quick-quick to her step and suckles at my fingers when I hold out her treats.

The trucks are curbside at the trunk roads into the neighborhood, white cabs, outsized for the white tanks melded to the flatbeds behind them, oblong tanks, corners slightly rounded—white yogurt containers elongated to draw the eye from ordinary yogurts, on the shelves of a supermarket stocked from bio-hygienic labs. The company that owns the trucks has green in its name, in green type, a two-word name I half-notice, and then turn to pull the dog from the lawns where white flags have been placed, with a green leaf and green letters, PESTICIDE APPLICATION.

The dog ignores the truck. She notices the men before I do, and pulls toward them—two men per truck, sturdy, not young. They wear yellow rubber boots and hats with wide brims, and walk bent with the length of the hoses they haul behind them, a hundred and more feet of narrow hose, semi-translucent, clotted, blotched yellow on the inside.

The men do not wear breathing masks. I suppose a carpenter’s or surgeon’s mask might be insufficient to screen out the application’s particulates. I feel more than smell them—a sparkle on the tip of my tongue, back along it and on the roof of my mouth, and then numbness, the sense of the mass where I have lost feeling. I breathe shallowly, and trot, and the dog picks up on my pace and I’m running to keep up with her, and we’re past the sprayed lawns and there is no scent at all. A rabbit, a young one, hops under a juniper. It is the only one I see, the duration of our walk. I hear no children, no dogs, no cats. Two women walking, and a man on a mobile phone.

I have been forwarded an email with details of the application. In seventy-two hours, the email says, it will again be safe to let children play on the treated areas. There is no mention of pets, or description of what effects, within those seventy-two hours, are to be avoided.