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.
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.
My favorite living artist, Canadian painter Alex Colville, is no longer living. I have a couple of his prints, and sometimes when I’m stumped with writing or just feeling blue I’ll stare at them like they’re pretty Ouija boards to see if they offer me any clues. They usually do.
Pouring out a tube of cyan for my homie today.
A section of this accompanied one of my favorite Alice Munro stories, 1997’s "The Children Stay."
ISSUE #2 OF BRIGHT WALL/DARK ROOM IS NOW AVAILABLE!
Featuring brand new essays from Amelia Gray, Matt Patches, Elizabeth Cantwell, Stephen Sparks, Sarah Malone, Letitia Trent, Sara Gray, and Andrew Root, as well as eight new and original illustrations by artist Brianna Ashby!
“Issue #2 is all about entering strange and unfamiliar worlds, a swan dive into the surreal. In the nine featured essays, you’ll visit many places: dilapidated hotel rooms, ancient Roman battlefields, a monastery built on top of an island in France, a dream-like version of New York City at night (shot on a giant soundstage in London), Sgt. Nicholas Brody’s refrigerator, The 2013 Cannes Film Festival, a trailer in an empty field surrounded by expensive and loud stereo equipment, an all-girls boarding school at the turn of the 20th century, and a portal that leads directly into John Malkovich’s brain…
Get ready to get weird.”
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I’m so pleased to be part of this, and grateful to Chad, Elizabeth, and Michelle for their insightful editing, here and through the years.
Novel revisions. I’ve been thinking about the photo of half-finished Grand Central Terminal that was recently on the Tumblr radar, the façade already clad in stone, the lower tracks and platforms and the loop for trains to turn around on still exposed, and how the terminal’s circulatory system justified the expense, indeed the existence of the façade and concourse. The second half of my manuscript is color-coded with edits, mine in red, my thesis committee’s in blue and green, but it’s looking over the first half where the tracks are covered over, the new text unmarked, that I fret: does it work?Read on →
Storm after storm today.