The obituary Caroline’s brother emails the day after the death is brief. The ending is what gets her. He is survived by his wife and their two grown children. She thinks of Jonathan, married with car payments and a small babbling son—yes, perhaps he is grown. But Caroline, still the baby of the family at thirty? Caroline has hardly begun. She rests her head on the edge of the table and weeps.
At the nature preserve that afternoon four people sign up for her tour, a couple and a boy with his father. Most of the estuary is obscured by fog, but as the group makes its way across wet trails and boardwalks Caroline stops to point out a heron poised in the shallows. The tourists, zipped into bright nylon jackets, snap pictures. The dense air smells of cedar and the outgoing tide. An estuary, Caroline explains, is a transitional zone, a place of overlap. Creatures thrive here that thrive nowhere else. As she speaks she sees the father struggling to keep his son from tearing off into the delicate marsh grass, and she interrupts her script to tell the boy he will be asked to leave if he can’t follow the rules. Usually she is halfhearted about misbehaving children, but today her reprimand is fierce. She reminds everyone of the work involved in keeping an ecosystem intact. Embarrassed, the young father apologizes, and the boy, four or five and suddenly aware that the whole group is watching him, scrambles back to his father’s side.
In the evening there is a message from her mother. Caroline stands at her kitchen window and watches the sun emerge from the clouds just before it drops over the lip of the earth. Pacific, she thinks. Sometimes she is surprised by where she has ended up. “I got you a flight for tomorrow,” says her mother. “We’ll have people over on Saturday. No service, just a party.” There is a pause and Caroline hears her mother sigh. “Your father wanted a party.”
Later, when Caroline returns the call, she forgets it is already past midnight in Maine, forgets it is already Wednesday. As soon as her mother answers, disoriented and mildly alarmed, Caroline realizes her mistake. “Oh Mom,” she says, a terrible lump rising in her throat. Before she knows it she is sobbing. Her mother clucks her tongue and begins to speak, but Caroline interrupts. “What are you going to do by yourself?” she cries. “What will you do alone?” From the other end of the continent her mother laughs softly and tells Caroline to hush.
31 Flavors and None That I Want/excerpt
from Colorado Review
Out the window I could see the runway beyond the strip mall. The air traffic tower glowed in the evening sun. I turned back to the room. I would have loved the color scheme as a girl—my radio mouse would have looked perfect against the lilac pillows on the waterbed—but now it just seemed cloying. I sat on the bed’s edge and tried to keep my balance as a wave moved beneath me. I pulled open the nightstand drawer, carefully, so I wouldn’t wake the boys. Inside was a small white candle and a book of matches. A tube of cherry ChapStick rolled to the front. I took off the lid and smelled it. It reminded me of the lozenges my mom used to give me when I had a sore throat. They had always made me gag. I recapped it. There was also a hand mirror and a pack of cigarettes. I tipped one out. At the back of the drawer was a box of condoms. I took one from the folded strip and stuffed it in my pocket. I tore off another. That left three, which seemed fine. Quietly, I shut the drawer.
Together We Shall Go Until We Die/excerpt
from Epiphany Magazine
The drive to the lake takes forever. Traffic is bad and construction in Augusta slows us down. I feed Matt’s Zeppelin tapes into the player one after another, and he alternates between cigarettes, a joint, and a giant iced coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s the kind of day Mainers call a scorcher. Matt’s Cutlass is a hand-me-down tuna boat with no AC from his stepfather, and we have to stop every sixty miles or so to dump a jug of water into the radiator. He takes care of this with some amount of manly pride—head under hood, cigarette in hand—while I wait with my feet on the dash, eating gummy bears and watching the RVs rumble by. Mostly, the tourists stick to Route 1 and the outlet stores, but some head inland, motorboats and jet skis in tow. I crane to see the plates as they breeze past—Nevada, Nebraska, Alberta, New York—and imagine life in each unimaginable place.
I am twenty. Matt is twenty-one. Three years ago, our friends voted us king and queen of our senior prom. My mother made my dress and I wore a rhinestone necklace from a junk shop. Matt ponytailed his scruffy hair and borrowed his aunt’s new Escort. His parents still laugh about the home movie they took that spring evening—Matt lurching past the showy lilacs and out of the driveway, grinding the living shit out of the gears as I waved from the passenger window, pretending not to notice. The truth was, I’d learned to drive on a stick and could have taken over in a heartbeat, could have at least offered some tips. But I was beginning to learn the value of holding my tongue. After the dance, we skinny-dipped and camped out with friends, prom royalty drunk on cheap beer and what we believed was our beautiful possibility.
Nothing is Precious/excerpt
Nicholas Lord is not my son, but the son of the man I love. At seventeen he is already four inches taller than me, though as far as I know his ruddy cheeks have never been touched by a razor. Like his father he is impossible to wake in the mornings and like his father he keeps his deepest thoughts to himself.
When I moved in three years ago I gave him rides to school, fighting the urge to wave madly from my station wagon as he joined his friends on the steps. Since then I’ve called on those friends when he’s been late getting home. I’ve prodded him to tell me about his days. From the pockets of his dirty clothes my hands have come away with pen caps and coins, lighters, keys, beads, crumpled dollars and gum wrappers and small bits of paper. I would guess that most boys carry such things. Once I discovered a girl’s jade earring in my palm and, once, a small white bone.
It’s a strange thing to enter a family after it has veered from its original course. There’s a sense of arriving late—the biggest milestones have passed and the difficult business of carrying on has now grown ordinary. You come like a visitor to the door, trying to peer past your host into the lit rooms to see what kind of place it is, whether you ought to remove your shoes, if you’ll be able to get comfortable. But even as you make your way into the heart of things, deep into the center of a family’s joy and its pain, you still feel you’re on the front porch peering in. No one ever says so, but it’s understood, always, that your presence in this place represents a much greater absence, something important now gone for good.
from Crab Creek Review
The sea was rough. The boat bucked and Rusty was sloppy and inefficient all morning. Danny knew what was wrong and he let Rusty be. Rusty emptied and reset the traps but his thoughts tracked Marla’s progress as she drove south on I-95. The wipers would be on high and the pavement would be slick beneath her tires. Now she’d be passing through the tollbooth at York, smiling at the attendant. Now she’d be crossing the long green bridge into New Hampshire. Here he saw Marla crane her head and try to catch a glimpse of the gray ocean through the rain, but then the car sped off without him.
He felt a searing stab in his palm and he tore his hand out of a trap. “Motherfucker!” he roared. A crab went scuttling across the wet deck.
“Easy, kid,” Danny called out, the first thing he’d said all morning. “Keep your head.”
Rusty swore at his uncle under his breath. He peeled off his glove and examined his bleeding hand, then thrust it under the rush of sea water that ran into the tank and gritted his teeth at the pain.
The crab had backed into a corner by the bait trays. It waved its arms fiercely, ready to fight. Rusty prodded it out with his foot. A wave rolled beneath the boat and Rusty grabbed the rail for balance. The crab skittered sideways. Its body was just smaller than Rusty’s hand. He let it move a few inches, then stopped it with his boot toe. “Come here, little bitch,” he said. “Come on princess.” Carefully, so he wouldn’t crush it, he stepped down, exerting just enough pressure to keep it still. Another swell lifted the boat.
Like lobsters, crabs could release a limb when they were in danger. It was self defense—if a leg was torn off by a predator, a crab would generally bleed to death, but if it felt the tug and had time to respond it could just clamp off its circulation, release the leg, and limp away to safety. Another leg would grow in eventually. Good as new.
Rusty squatted, keeping his boot on the crab’s back and one hand on the rail. He waved his fingers in front of the crab and its front claws snapped at the air. The rain hammered the back of his slicker. With his thumb and forefinger he pinched the base of the crab’s right front leg, just where it joined the carapace. He pulled carefully, as carefully as he could. “Let’s have it,” he whispered. “Let go.” In seconds, the crab released the leg and Rusty wiggled it away from the shell like a loose tooth.
After that, it was easy to coax her to drop the rest, too. Gently. One by one.
Rusty picked up the spiny body. He held it in front of his face. “What now?” he said. And he stood and hurled the shell into the black water. He imagined it riding the currents down to the bottom, swaying back and forth like a feather to the ground. A defenseless body and two bewildered eyes. No way of getting itself out of some place it didn’t want to be.