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Grains and Names

Story by H.M. Cotton (Read author interview) October 5, 2015

Art by Paul Bilger

In twenty or more colors, sand artists capture slivers of the Painted Canyon in twisted vases at the fair. I honeymooned in the Painted Canyon. It was hot. It was dry. It was filled with grit.

Last week, I imagined my husband’s head in a giant glass jar, the one we keep our wine corks in. Steve lolled about, bodiless, but still alive. As he rattled off the statistics of every Baron’s game from the past century, I imagined spooning layers of red and green and yellow and blue sand on his head.

He sneezed with the red, choked on the green. And when the yellow covered his nose and rimmed his tear ducts, he looked up at me with his violet eyes, and I thought he looked like an ostrich might if its neck stretched through the earth and popped up on the other side. Blue sand caught in his lashes, but I didn’t have enough to cover him completely. His hair poked out the top like the burnt grass outside my mother’s home in Florida.

Yesterday, while dusting, I broke our unity-sand container. The colors had faded to the bland grey of our bedroom wall and no long held their layers. I replaced the container with a jar from Walmart and filled it with sand from the kids’ sandbox. Ants are trapped inside the glass. They’ll dig their tunnels and build their happy homes, but eventually, the air will run out.

I don’t know what they have at the fairs anymore. The last time I went, a man dressed like Ghandi sold hundreds of names engraved on grains of rice with the promise that if you couldn’t find yours he would engrave it for you right then and there. The children insisted on getting one for me. Of course they couldn’t find my name. No one can ever find my name. So we had to sit there, and of course Ghandi spelled it wrong. But I didn’t tell him that, and the children didn’t notice.

I kept my name in my pocket, or sometimes in my purse. Sometimes, I would lose it. I once heard of a man who wrote his name on a strip of paper. He swallowed it and died a week later. It sounds easier to keep your name in your belly. Last month, I cooked my name into a chicken casserole. I don’t know if Steve ate it, if I ate it, or if the dog did.

Tomorrow I’ll make another casserole, this time with fettuccini. I’ll draw our family tree on every noodle and mask the flavor with cumin. And when Steve asks me why it tastes so good, I’ll tell him it’s the bell peppers and how good of a crop we have this year.


Notes from Guest Reader Kara Oakleaf

The twisted vases, the head buried in layers of sand, the ants trapped in the jar, and a tiny family tree carved on a noodle—all those images stayed with me long after I finished reading. The scenes are so short and small, but they express all the complexities of a marriage.

About the Author

H.M. Cotton is a graduate student at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. She works on staff with the Birmingham Poetry Review and is the poetry editor for PoemMemoirStory. She is on staff with UAB’s English Department and hopes to one day write/illustrate children’s books.

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This story appeared in Issue Fifty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty

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