SmokeLong Quarterly

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Parameters of a Kingdom

Story by Laurie Saurborn Young (Read author interview) December 18, 2012

art by Laurie Saurborn Young

Out for a morning walk and eating his breakfast apple, Ralph does not care to see if the shadow in his backyard is animal, mineral, or redneck hunter lost in the woods. The moose, again? Difficult to discern. He pulls his tweed hat down, brim level to his eyebrows. Slanted, the autumn sun is bright, but he is empty white room and he is small metal box. Get away from that he yells at his old mutt, a beagle eating rabbit shit. Ralph looks at the creek and wishes it were bigger so he could enclose his wife—Renee—within it and she would rush away, past the abandoned farms. Down to the ocean where she could become sea-green glass, a pelican’s beak, periodic waves scooping against shore.


Not a black squirrel. Not the neighbor’s mangy cat. Maybe just branches, throwing a pattern that resembles a moose’s broad head and long barrel nose. When did he first see a moose? Probably in Maine, on a road trip with their daughter, Railene, when she was ten. The girl ate so much Pilgrim-shaped maple sugar candy she threw up in the backseat of the rented, silver Cadillac, while Ralph drove around for hours making sure they saw everything on the list and Renee fanned her sunburned face with the torn map.


Taunting Ralph, the dog weaves in and out of the moldering bamboo, trying to get just far enough away to make the clouds sink further down. Yellow sunlight crowds in at every angle. Ralph’s plaid flannel shirt—wrinkled, as Renee stopped ironing casual clothing last year—is tucked into his khaki pants, which are belted tight. The legs are short enough so the grass does not leave dew on the fabric, just on his waterproofed shoes and his socks, which he will change as soon as he goes inside. If the band of his hat were larger, he could pull it over his eyes.


Through an open window he hears his wife on the phone, laughing loudly. Like a crow. He thinks again of the creek, of his wife floating away. Not dying, Ralph says aloud. Not dying. Or flying, though he thinks that is what a crow would rather do. Behind him, the moose nods from the corner of the yard. The dog is now a copper spot on a white gravel driveway. Ralph opens the front door: sycamore leaves in the hallway. Grit on the kitchen’s slate floor. The smell of sweet bread, baking five minutes too far.


His father ate Limburger cheese and liked to start the day off with a cold beer. After church, the old man always offered a sweating can and once Ralph replied, It’s a little early for me. Then caught Railene staring at him before she went onto the sun-bleached back deck, down the grey stairs his father never re-stained, and over to play in the creek near where the dairy cows drank. Watch where you step, Renee yelled and the girl stopped, unlaced her shoes, and left them paired together—as if in a closet—before continuing through the damp purple clover.


Now downstairs, sitting at the computer, Ralph opens a file. A picture of his wife. He draws a small square around Renee’s face and crops her sisters from the photo. All those women. From the window, Ralph sees the moose shift into the sun. He thinks about a woman he used to work with in the tax office, after he retired from the research department at the local chemicals plant. She was an element of perfume, wore high heels on her feet, draped little pink sweaters on her shoulders or over the back of her chair. His wife smells like celery, wears low-heeled shoes, does not own one object of pastel-colored clothing, does not gloss her lips or skin. She would enjoy the creek. Renee would like drifting away.


Centered, the moose becomes undeniable. So the only mail Ralph saves in his desk is what keeps the moose in the corner, and not in the middle, of the yard. A years-old letter from his pious, gin-loving sister, declaring her objection to Railene’s living in an unmarried state; a missive from his mother, vowing she would pray for Renee when she left Ralph for a week in 1983; a disciplinary notice from his supervisor at work, after Ralph began arriving later in the day and leaving earlier. A bulging disk. The sky at his office was very high.


To an email, Ralph attaches the photo of his wife. The face may have important things to tell, messages only his daughter can decipher. On the mantel, beside an Erlenmeyer flask filled with branches of bittersweet, leans one dusty picture of Railene, from the year she graduated high school. Light reflects on the monitor and his face covers his wife’s. His bangs swept off to the side; moustache trimmed; wet, flat eyes on her grey eyes and silver earrings. Handsome, he thinks. More handsome than you, he says towards Renee’s inert head. Through the bay window Ralph watches the moose’s shadow spread. Years ago he kept schools of tropical fish, until his daughter smacked her tiny hands quite hard against the glass.


Early evening. He walks outside with the dog, and she trots directly back to the bunny shit. Renee is on the phone again. Though it has not rained this week, the creek seems higher. To the deepest part the moose has returned, wide snout stuck in reeds. Ralph holds out the faded picture of Railene, this square of few colors. He thinks of the topographic state map he helped her construct for a social studies project, years ago. How the cotton balls were meant to approximate elevation but looked more like punctured clouds. The moose appears to list. Ralph, now binoculars, surveys the grass. Burned spots. Idiot dog. A lawnmower starts, and it’s almost time for his dinner.

About the Author

Laurie Saurborn Young is the author of Carnavoria, a book of poems, published by H_NGM_N BKS. She holds an MFA in poetry from Warren Wilson College and studied in the Program for Poets and Writers at UMASS-Amherst. Poems have appeared or are forthcoming in Bat City Review, Borderlands, Crazyhorse, Forklift, OH, iO Poetry, Jellyfish, Narrative Magazine, The Collagist, and elsewhere.

This story appeared in Issue Thirty-Eight of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Eight

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