I passed a sign for Erie, so I’m making decent time. Some local radio station’s playing Magic and Loss. Horizon’s a blur, though, like I’m reading a map underwater. Flat, flat, flat out here, Z. Just goes on and on, the color of old oatmeal, winter mush for days. Chicago eastbound, turns a girl old.
In preschool we sang a song about that. I got a mule her name is Sal. I remember, I remember the melody line felt heavy, a beat-up wooden cart in a minor key, and for some reason back when I had pigtails, I only liked songs that looped sad like that. Told my dad they sang like lemon juice. Then he told his friends as if it were a punch line, often with me wrapped around his leg, a joke in his pocket. She’s a good ol’ worker and a good ol’ pal.
I drove past this field—Ohio, outside of Cleveland—that’s why I’m calling, I guess. There were these cows in a field, the ones that look like pets. Last year heading west, we passed a whole herd, and I said they’re my favorite, and you told me what they’re called. Named for a place. They have the sweetest faces, not like cows at all, more like rabbits or golden retrievers, something that could curl up behind my knees. But all those brown cows, the ones I passed on 90, they weren’t standing around grazing. They were seated, two dozen of them facing the same direction. Waiting. Legs tucked under their brown cow bodies. Dead grass stretching from highway to barn. Shredded wheat on the ground and a big, blue sky overhead. I thought cows sat down when a storm’s coming, when the pressure drops and the clouds roll in. Didn’t you tell me that? The sky was clear blue, Z., turquoise blue, I swear. Blue like our water glasses, St. Thomas blue, a blue like time creeping up to your chin. So I drove a few miles and thought about those cows and the blue sky, and the Erie Canal, and I thought about all the broken glass—there was so much glass, Z., I still have slivers in my feet—and that’s when it all seemed backwards. It’s like the cows. And I know we’re done, I know I left my key taped to the shower drain, and, hell, my jaw aches, feels like purple fingers clawing down my throat, but then there’s the blue sky and the goddamn cows, Jersey cows, Christ, that’s it, and my jaw hurts more the further east I drive, and I keep picturing shards of broken glass, how the window shattered when you missed my face, and that moon, Jesus, did you even get a look at the moon?
It fell like nighttime snow, the glass did. Not a sound. I know we split skin. I know we puffed up pink and red, but wasn’t it just . . . wasn’t all that glass the most beautiful thing you ever saw?
The Erie Canal’s not in Erie, Pennsylvania, after all. It’s in Buffalo. If I had any life left in me, I’d stop and see it. There’s a large blanket gathering up ahead, white clouds with gray folds. Would ya look at that? Fifty minutes younger, I didn’t see it coming. No clue. How could I? The sky was swelling overhead, a bright blue tidal wave. Enchanting, Z. How it hovered, always cresting. Always about to crest.
Notes from Guest Reader Christopher Allen
The rhythm and accumulation of detail in this gem of a story are stunning. Such a solid example of flash fiction.