The Sky Is a Well

by Claudia Smith Read author interview December 15, 2005

It is the night before Christmas. My brother has his stocking on his head. He thinks that is what a stocking cap is. I show him the picture from our little Golden Book. A stocking cap, I tell him, is what old men wore in the days of yore. They also wore nightgowns. Our own father sleeps in the nude. Friends’ fathers wear pajamas, or boxers. Only ladies wear nightgowns, my brother says. But he knows that if I tell him something, it is probably true.

There are pudding pops in the freezer. We each take one, then tiptoe outside in our bare feet. Or, as my brother calls it, berry feet. It’s too warm for Christmas. Too cold, really, for bare feet. The pudding pop sends icicles through my teeth and pierces the top of my skull. Brain freeze, my brother says.

Every Christmas I pray for snow, but I’m beginning to think that is unrealistic. God probably doesn’t bring snow to the desert unless you are say, a prophet spreading his Word. Or at least a saint. Or a beautiful, innocent child. I am not innocent, and I’m cute, at best.

Under a gnarled mesquite tree is our sin. I’ve buried our sins for us in little scraps of paper. There is also a small puppy there, one we found on the side of the road after a hard cold night. He’d probably frozen to death, I explained. My brother is too little to write his sins for himself so I wrote them for him. But he is too good, he’s never done anything really bad. Here is what I write for him: I used a pop gun in the house. I passed some gas at the table and said it was my sister. Sometimes I get so mad and I want to hit someone. I had a frog and I didn’t feed him, and then he ran away.

My sins are folded into doves and stars. I won’t tell him what they are. I hope, buried beneath the earth, they tangle up with the roots of the tree. I want them to stay down there, get strangled by the roots and eaten by worms. One night, I dreamt the doves came alive, tried to chirp, then suffocated. Evil, dark, dank thoughts.

I’m cold, my brother tells me.

Wave to the moon, I tell him. And make a wish.

We look up at the moon. She’s shivering in between branches of our little tree.

About the Author:

Claudia Smith's stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. Her flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (reprinted in the book), A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense books, respectively. Her new collection of stories, Quarry Light, is now available from Magic Helicopter Press.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.