Everything Must Go

by Alyson Mosquera Dutemple

Alyson Mosquera Dutemple is a writer from New Jersey with an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best Small Fictions, and longlisted for Prism International’s Grouse Grind Lit Prize for V. Short Forms. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Flock, Little Patuxent Review, Construction, Pigeon Pages, Fiction Writers Review, and elsewhere. She is a fiction reader for CRAFT Literary. Find her at www.alysondutemple.com and on Twitter @swellspoken.


 

In the summer of my 17th year, I took a trip, for the first and only time in my life, to the town where my mother was born.

By dumb luck, it happened to be on the same day as their town-wide garage sale. The morning we arrived, me and Duck, we watched all the residents roll the contents of their lives onto the streets on so many rickety card tables that it felt as if the whole town were collectively pulling out its pockets, going out of its way to show me that it didn’t have any dirt on the mystery that was my mother. Her whereabouts, her origin story. It was as if by making me, her daughter, look so closely at the scattered sum of their lives they were insisting there was nothing to see.

Not that I expected there to be. My mother had never even lived in the town or at least that’s what I’ve been told. She only happened to be born there because her parents were passing through on a road trip. As a child I imagined her nativity not unlike that of baby Jesus, a travelling affair, replete with camels, wise men. But by the time of my arrival with Duck, the only wildlife to be seen were dogs tied to chicken wire fences and the occasional tom with a missing ear, or an eye scratched blue from brawling. Royalty being in short supply in Central Pennsylvania coal country, I knew not to expect kings or even a prophetic star to guide me to her. The truth was, I had long since given up the hope of any discovery at all about my mother. This being the woman who, as a private investigator told my dad years ago, appeared to have taken “particular pains” not to be found after she left us.

“What does that even mean?” I remember asking my dad as the detective pulled away from our house in New Jersey for the very last time, leaving my father’s car alone again in a driveway built for two. My father stared at the empty space, his breath fogging the window and his reflection along with it. “It means,” he said as his face re-emerged, a ghost in the centre of the steam, “it means sometimes they stay gone.”

On the night before our spontaneous trip, when Duck knocked on my bedroom window with a black eye and his father’s stolen wallet in his shaking hands, asking me where in the world I’d like to go, anyplace at all, I panicked and named that anonymous town not because I was thinking about my mother but because it was the first place that popped into my head. I was surprised I even remembered its name. Even before she left, my mother had rarely spoken of it, and, when she did, tended to refer to it as the town of “Blink and You Miss It.”

It was only after we arrived that I fully understood why. To get there, we crossed state lines, bumping along county roads in my car before eventually finding the long lonely pot-holed stretch that spit us into the centre of town, if you could even call it that, a little collection of low buildings and convenience stores that somehow managed to incorporate itself. I tried not to feel disappointed by the ugliness of the place, but the truth was, even though I had no expectations for it, even though I knew it was just a random placeholder for a few hours on a single day of our lives, I still managed to feel let down.

The misspelled word curled from the mouth of a painted coal miner so covered in dirt and grime that it was impossible to tell if the effect was the product of age or artistic license.

“I guess this is it,” I said as we pulled into a lot alongside a cluster of residents hard at work placing colour-coded pricing stickers on used potholder looms and collections of coffee-stained World’s Best mugs.

“This is where your mom is from?” Duck asked. “Jesus, that’s depressing.”

We stepped out of the car to stretch our legs under a sign sponsored by a long-ago chamber of commerce that bid us welcome with an extra “L.” The misspelled word curled from the mouth of a painted coal miner so covered in dirt and grime that it was impossible to tell if the effect was the product of age or artistic license.

Duck took one look at the miner, at the splintered “wellcome” unspooling from his teeth, and announced that he needed a drink.

“It’s barely nine in the morning,” I protested, but he gave a bony shrug from under the dark mantle of his trench coat.

“Then I’ll get some orange juice too.” Duck pointed to a liquor store across the street, its fluorescent lamps buzzing in the morning light. “You want anything?” he asked. Before I could answer, he waved me off. “Suit yourself.”

I sat on the bug-splattered bumper of the car, feeling dizziness and disappointment roll in alternating waves. Though it was still early and I didn’t want to admit it, I realized that I too would probably need a drink. I felt hopeful that Duck would find a way to procure booze despite being underage and having what I believed at the time to be the world’s lousiest fake I.D. He had a habit of following through when he put his mind to something in a way that I found both admirable and disturbing. And even if he wasn’t graced with that particular gift, it didn’t look like people were often turned away from “Glen’s Liquor Land” anyhow.

On his way across the street, Duck stopped to let a couple of kids on bikes cross and though he waved to them in a friendly way, they just pedalled faster without returning the hello. I could tell that he frightened them. I could also see why. There was something menacing about the look of him on that dark summer day, in his heavy trench coat with that bruise swallowing up one eye.

While Duck was in the store, I watched a trickle of visitors pull into the parking lot around me, survey the garage sales, and drive off in defeat. But when Duck emerged, he held up a victorious paper bag, smiling at me in a rare genuine way. My stomach lurched and heat lightning flashed in the distance, but he didn’t so much as flinch or even make a move to take off his heavy coat as he approached through the humid air. Even though we were 200 miles away from them by now, I knew that the fact that his parents hated that jacket so much was enough to make him leave it on all day. That, and the fact that he was running out of time to wear it.

True to his word, Duck bought orange Gatorade to go with the vodka.

“Breakfast of champions,” he said, pulling the tamper-proof seal on the liquor with his teeth. With his mouth set that way, you could really see how much weight he had lost that summer by the way the veins roped his throat. He spit the seal onto the ground and took the first swig from the bottle before wiping it with his sleeve and passing it.

“So what do you want to do today?” Duck asked, squinting at the sky as I took a stinging mouthful. “You want to walk around or something before it rains?”

Thunder rumbled as if in response. I shrugged. “You tell me. This is your thing.” It was my way of trying to get him to talk about what prompted the trip, the bruise, but he just laughed and said, “Got that right.” His hands wrung the neck of the vodka bottle until the paper around it started to tear.

When Duck took another long pull I said, “Maybe you should slow down. Or at least get some breakfast.” But Duck just drank a little faster to spite me so that by the time we began walking, he was wasted and becoming belligerent. He cradled the paper bag to his chest as he dragged me from table to table, house to house, making a sport of gleefully unnerving all the people who greeted us along the way.

To an old Polish lady in the trailer park who asked if we were looking for anything in particular, he responded, “A length of rope and a sturdy tree branch would be nice.”

To a young Mexican father selling housewares from the back of a station wagon with a baby strapped to his chest, he said, “I don’t really need a shaving kit, but I sure could use some razor blades.”

The man looked blankly from Duck to me.

“Don’t be an asshole,” I murmured to Duck. “Lo siento,” I said to the man, buying from him a comb and a plastic sleeve for photos I didn’t need.

“Lo siento,” Duck repeated but in a mean, mimicky way when we were out of earshot. He was beginning to get on my nerves.

“What’s your problem?” I asked him.

“I don’t have a problem. I’m just, you know, shopping for school supplies.”

“That’s not funny,” I said, giving him a shove. He responded by grabbing me and slinging his arm around my shoulders in an awkward approximation of affection. Duck and I never dated, which a lot of people found peculiar seeing as how inseparable we were, but we had, as Duck like to quip, “a friendship without benefits.” I knew he was only teasing when he said that, but still it hurt my feelings.

… but most of the time, talking to Duck about any kind of emotions was like casting off in a pond with no fish.

“So are we just never going to talk about what happens next?” I asked, trying to sound cavalier from under the comfortable crook of his elbow. I had been trying for months to get him to speak about the military school his parents were sending him to in just a few weeks, but most of the time, talking to Duck about any kind of emotions was like casting off in a pond with no fish.

“That’s the plan.”

“A stupid plan.”

Duck nodded agreeably.

“I hate you, you know that?” I said, though we both knew that wasn’t the case. The truth was, I put up with Duck because I was a little in love with him and because he was a lot confused about a lot of things. And even though he never told me so, because we didn’t discuss such matters, I knew too that that confusion was a big part of why his parents were shipping him off to military school in the first place.

We ended up walking around mostly in silence for the rest of the day, or at least that’s how I remember it, passing the bottle companionably back and forth, trying to conserve our money and our words, as if both were suddenly in short supply between us. Maybe that’s not exactly how it happened, but when I think back to that day, we seemed to move through the grey town as if in a dream, or a silent movie, the ending of which was unknowable.

By late afternoon, we had covered the entire place on foot and we were nearing the end of the streets. The trees grew taller around the few houses that still sprouted up and the yard sales began to appear more sporadically. By the end of the last street we walked on, there weren’t any homes at all, just a dilapidated self-storage facility made of what looked like a series of garages stacked precariously on top of each other. “EXTRA STORAGE,” the sign exclaimed in all caps to no one, “FIRST MONTH FREE!” Then below it, spray-painted, caps-less: “going out of business.”

I slowed my steps, wanting to tell Duck it was time to turn around, but not wanting to break the silence around us.

“Just a little further,” he said, grabbing my hand as if he could read my thoughts, “Please.”

We turned down the drive of the storage facility and I saw that the place had set up its own version of a yard sale some time ago, a motley collection of ill-used furniture out on display on the rocky, muddy grounds. Mildewed couches and warped dining sets cropping up between trees like toadstools.

I watched Duck bounce on a few eviscerated couches and aimlessly open and close dresser drawers. Inside a mouldy bedside table, he found an old polaroid camera and pointed it at me, hiding momentarily the bruise on his face.

“Knock it off,” I said but he snapped the button anyway. Miraculously, the camera churned to life and spit out a picture with a grinding metallic noise.

“Duck,” I said. “We have to go back.”

Duck said nothing for a moment, turning to finger a collection of snow globes in a curio cabinet splatted with bird crap. Then, apropos of nothing, he asked, “Don’t you wish we lived here?”

My feet were sore from walking and my head was starting to fog up, a feeling I used to get sometimes when the barometric pressure dropped too quickly. I sat on a damp Barcalounger and reclined myself, studying the sky. Sure enough, angry fast clouds were rolling in.

“Well? Don’t you?” he repeated.

“Wished we lived in this town? Not really.”

“In this driveway,” he clarified. “Sleeping on a different couch every night.”

I idly grabbed the lid off a teapot, wishing one of us had the forethought to bring some granola bars. The teapot had a painted hula dancer in coconut shells. She looked so unlike how I felt at the moment, healthy, well-fed. Developed.

“Not really,” I repeated.

Duck continued to explore the curio cabinet. From one shelf, he picked up a snow globe of a Christmas village that had a long silvery crack in it. He shook it and the crack opened, soaking the sleeve of his coat in the glittery liquid that had held the tiny village in a vacuum for god knows how long.

“You know who used to collect these things?” he asked. “Jimmy Hamm. Remember him?”

I was careful to arrange my face into something unreadable.

“Sure,” I said.

“Everybody does, right? Everyone remembers Jimmy.”

I hadn’t thought about Jimmy Hamm for a long time before that day in the woods, but I could tell from the way that he was talking, that the same wasn’t true for Duck.

I nodded. Because everybody, everybody, did. Jimmy was Duck’s best friend back when Duck first moved to town. And back before Jimmy moved away after rumours circulated that he tried to kiss another boy on the lips at a party after an eighth grade football game. Jimmy claimed he only did it because he was drunk on wine coolers somebody brought, but nobody believed that. He stayed in school for a few tormented weeks after the incident until things became so unbearable for him that his parents ended up taking him out of school and eventually, moving away altogether. Though people didn’t talk much about Jimmy anymore, his name still haunted the graffiti on the wall behind the gym in the form of a couple of crude pictures with the words “Hamm Sandwich” scrawled underneath. He had become more cautionary tale than real person. I hadn’t thought about Jimmy Hamm for a long time before that day in the woods, but I could tell from the way that he was talking, that the same wasn’t true for Duck.

“I used to spend a lot of time at Jimmy’s house, you know, when I first moved to town. A lot of time.”

I nodded again.

“And sometimes…” Duck started to speak, but his words abruptly ran out. I waited for him to finish his sentence, but he just shook his head.

“I’m not gay,” Duck said suddenly. The leaves trembled and the birds twitted, signs of a coming rain. “I know everyone thinks I am. I know my parents do.”

He put the globe down and tried to shake the wet off his hands but like proverbial blood, it was more viscous than water. Bits of glitter stuck to the lines in the skin of his fingers. Phalange was the only word my brain could come up with.

“I don’t know what I am,” he said, wiping the glitter down the front of his coat and refusing to meet my eye.

I returned the lid to the teapot with a quiet clank. My heart stuttering. “I think you do, though.”

“I don’t.” He turned to look at me for the tiniest moment, just long enough for me to realize that this trip might have meant something different to him than it did to me.

“Duck, look, it’s—”

“You know that’s why they’re sending me away, right?”

A breeze kicked up and flapped his jacket. He looked for a moment like he was trying to fly.

“What’s going to happen to me?”

“You haven’t even gotten there yet. It might not be so bad—”

“Don’t,” Duck said. “Just don’t. You know I won’t last in a place like that.”

I was quiet because I knew he was right. I knew what happened to people like Duck in places like that, just like I knew what happened to people like Jimmy in the places where we grew up.

As we were standing there, the rain finally made good on its threat. The sky opened above us and for a few moments, neither of us made a move, not even to shelter ourselves. Not when the thunder rumbled in angry bursts. Or the lightning cracked around us like a whip. There was no protecting us anyway, stuck as we were in the thick of it.

After a minute or two, Duck said something to me over the din of the rain, over the violence of the storm.

“What?” I said. But when he spoke up again, it was only to say, “We can go back.”

I remember pausing to touch the collar of his jacket. Soaked with rain, it lay even heavier on his shoulders and made it look like it was pushing him down into the ground.

“We don’t have to. If you don’t want,” I said and I meant it. I would have left with him that afternoon if he only said the word. But instead he just shook his head and water rolled down his face and the fibres of his coat bloated and stretched. “Time’s up,” he said.

The ride home seemed to go faster than the ride out there had. The whole way, I kept wanting to say something about what Duck had tried to bring up in the woods, about him and Jimmy, but he wouldn’t give me the chance. Instead, he went back to cracking lame jokes and drinking more and more until eventually he was so drunk that I knew it was no longer even worth trying.

I dropped him off a few hours later and right before he disappeared into his house, he leaned into my open window so close that I thought for a moment that he might actually kiss me. Instead, he placed into my palm the broken snow globe from the woods.

“Here,” he said. “A souvenir.”

There was something about the way he said it that made me afraid that something terrible would happen to him, that I might never see him again. And for a while I didn’t. My phone calls went unreturned. I never saw him around town. When I rode past his house on my bike, the blinds were drawn tight and undisturbed as if he had already gone away.

In the dark, dreamy light of room, it looked like watching him grow at double speed.

But a few weeks later, Duck showed up at my house again. He appeared at my window, just as he had in the early morning hours on the day we took the trip. Only this time, it wasn’t to take a trip together, but to say goodbye before leaving on one alone. It was the night before his parents were delivering him to military school, to that place that terrified him so. It was very late and I had gone to bed early and annoyed and heartsick for not having said goodbye. At first I thought the tapping on the window was only part of a dream I was having. But when I got up and parted the curtains in the pre-dawn hours I could see the unmistakable profile of Duck huddled outside. The air conditioner was on in my room, so I couldn’t hear what he was saying through the glass. I could just see his lips opening and closing. I unlatched the window and pushed it up. As I rubbed sleep from my eyes he curled himself in a tight ball to squeeze through the window, and then unfurled himself to his full size. In the dark, dreamy light of room, it looked like watching him grow at double speed.

“Where’s your trench coat?” I asked.

“My parents took it. My dad said the first thing he’s going to do after I’m gone is to light that thing on fire in the yard. Said he’ll pour his best bottle of whiskey over it and watch it burn.”

I nodded, thinking about Duck’s father doing that in the place that Duck called home. The whiskey on his father’s breath feeding the fire even without pouring the bottle over it, like flames spewing from the mouth of a dragon. Like something off one of those dumb D&D cards I knew he and Jimmy used to play with.

Duck shivered under the air conditioning vent and he looked all at once strange to me without his coat on, sort of like a featherless bird. I wondered if he felt as self-conscious as I was about him being in my room. Because as inseparable as we had been, he hadn’t really hung around my house too much, and never in my bedroom. It was always me chasing after him down the trellis outside my window and into the night.

“Do you want to sit?” I asked awkwardly.

He shook his head, toed at the carpet. “I’m leaving pretty soon.”

“I know,” I said, taking a seat on the edge of the bed.

“Do you think … ” he started after a long while. “Do you think we could just … ” he cut himself off again and sighed heavily, running his fingers through the hair that would be shaved off in a few hours. When he frowned, his faced was lined, and it made him look older than he actually was, older than a person his age should ever be. “Do you think we could just, you know?” He looked at me for a second and in the lamplight from my desk, I could see how his ears were glowing pink and see-through. Tiny veins were visible under the skin, so small I wondered how anything, even blood, could pump through.

And I’m not sure how I knew what he meant, or how I even felt about the whole thing by that late point in the summer, by that late point in the night, but averting my eyes from his, I looked at my lap, at the place where my thighs touched, and I gave him a small nod yes.

Duck stepped forward to click off the light. I felt the weight of him sink beside me on the bed. We began to kiss and I was so distracted by the fact that I hadn’t brushed my teeth, that I didn’t notice at first how he trembled. Didn’t see how badly his hands shook until he tried to push up my shirt.

“Duck, listen. We don’t have to … ”

I heard him sigh in the darkness and then felt his head rest for a moment on my bare chest, as if he were winded, or listening hard for a heartbeat.

“Duck?” I whispered, but he just shook his head once more before climbing up on top of me, determined to accomplish what he intended.

It was difficult work. We tried unsuccessfully a few times, and with each attempt we both grew more embarrassed and less enthusiastic. He became impatient when I had to coax him along. In the end, it was only after he closed his eyes and willed his way through that we finished, not in a fit of passion, but with a grinding and grim determination. It was an arduous and painful ordeal and when it was finally done, he rolled off me without a word and curled up under the blanket. I tapped him on the shoulder after a few minutes as if to ask if he were okay, but he refused to even face me.

We lay naked together in the hum of the air conditioner, and in that moment, I realized that it was the first time I ever could remember feeling uncomfortable around him. Our usual ease was suddenly burdened with something heavy and regretful. As if we had added yet another ghost to the other ones we both already dragged around with us.

… I got the strange sensation that he was a child and I was tasked with the job of telling him a bedtime story.

Beside me, Duck began to tremble again and his breath came out in soft, jagged intervals. And because of the way he was crying softly, because of the way he was curled up into himself in the darkness, I got the strange sensation that he was a child and I was tasked with the job of telling him a bedtime story.

“Duck?” I said. “Can I tell you something?”

I expected him to nod or grunt, but instead he just moved slightly, almost imperceptibly, away from me. And after he had settled into place, over the sounds of his choked little sobs, I began to speak into the darkness a secret, telling Duck a story that I had never told anyone else before. And though Duck had no way of knowing that at the time, he listened beside me without interruption as the words poured forth, so suddenly, so effortlessly, that it was as if I had been reciting that story for the whole of my life. As if there was never a time I wasn’t telling it.


Once, a couple of months before my mother disappeared, my father left her and me to go on an extended business trip during a cold snap. I was nine years old and it was spring, but a brutal one. The nights got frigid, temperatures dropping so suddenly, so late in the year, that whole swarms of bugs could be seen the next morning frozen together on the ground.

It’s how my neighbours knew they had termites. A swarm of new hatchlings searching for warmth had burst from under their house in the cold night air only to freeze the instant that they got there. They fell to the ground like unseasonable black snow while we slept, my mother and I, and blanketed the neighbour’s lawn. The neighbours had to clean them up with shovels. When we awoke the next morning, we heard them stepping over the bodies. And because there were so many of them, it sounded like walking on glass.

Over the next few weeks, photos of the neighbour’s termite damage were taken, experts were called. The newspaper ran an article about the freak freeze and the problems it had uncovered. Apparently the infestation was so bad that there was lasting structural damage to the neighbour’s home. Words I didn’t understand then and still don’t now, sill plate, joists floated past my window.

A few weeks after the swarm, while my father was still on his trip, the neighbours packed up and a big truck with a savage looking fork-scoop on the end of it appeared and began to butt itself up against their house and then inside of it, knocking it over in big clumps. I remember wanting so badly to go explore in the rubble, but my mother wouldn’t let me outside for even a moment while the claw was out there mashing and crashing. So I just watched from my window day after day as dumpster after dumpster was filled and hauled away.

From my bedroom, I had a perfect view of the machine operator in his glass perch and the levers that he gripped to control his machine. Those levers looked like they belonged in a video arcade and gave me the idea for a good game. I began trying to distract him, waving and smiling the way I sometimes did at truckers that passed me on the highway, hoping that when the clouds of dust cleared, he might notice me and nod, or wink, or, even better, waggle the giant teethed claw for me, but he never took his eyes off the task at hand.

I began to try harder to get his attention. I made silly faces. I waved my arms like a survivor on a desert island saluting a passing ship. I jumped up and down until the collection of ceramic cats on my dresser shook ominously. Eventually, I realized that he wasn’t going to look up, no matter what I did. And that is when I got the idea for an even better game. I became more daring, trying out one or two rude gestures I had seen the older kids in the neighbourhood use. I made a fist and tapped my opposite hand to the crease in my elbow, a gesture that I knew to mean “up yours.” I stuck out my tongue. I flicked my hand under my chin, but nothing seemed capable of distracting the man controlling the machine.

Pleased by the game, I next moved up to what the kids called “flipping the bird.” I held up my right hand and made a little cranking gesture, letting my middle finger uncurl up and up until I was cursing him properly. I flipped the bird over and over again in the window, my heart beating wildly, the machine operator, unaware, only a few yards away, and it felt so good and exciting that I raised my other hand and unleashed its twin bird. I flipped both middle fingers up and down, floating them past every inch of window from pane to sill, working myself up to an almost spiritual frenzy that carried me next to tasting the dirtiest words I could think of in my mouth. Shit. Bitch. Ass. I opened my mouth wide and shaped the words “Fuck you!” slowly, lasciviously, with my lips, just once at first and then over and over again, repeating it forcefully but silently so my mother wouldn’t hear me from down the hall. And still the claw ate at the house and still the man in the glass perch lorded serenely over the devastation, refusing to meet my eye, refusing to bear witness to the bad stuff that was making me feel so good.

Eventually the anonymity of the terrible things I was doing went completely to my head and I began to dare myself to think about what could be the worst thing, the absolute worst thing, I could do unnoticed at that window. And when I got a weird warm rush in my stomach at the mere thought of one particular idea, I knew that I had to do it. To try it. Scratch that itch.

Knew I was going to go through with the plan that had given me the exciting, liquid-y feeling deep inside.

So I began to kick away all the toys and dolls and stuffed animals that had accumulated on my floor since my dad had left, and I created an obstacle-free lane that ran the length of my bedroom from my closed door to the large double window next to the hungry machine. And then I pulled out from the back of my closet a pair of uncomfortable plastic high heels that I had gotten for my birthday two years before. Though I found them to be a disappointing gift at the time, that afternoon I tucked my long toes enthusiastically into the plastic and grabbed a pair of sunglasses, and I began to parade through my room like a model on a catwalk. And though later I would lie to my myself and claim that it was an impulse, a sudden, wild idea that popped into my head that very moment—the devil made me do it!—when I hit the end of the catwalk in front of the wide exposed window, I knew exactly what I was doing. Knew I was going to go through with the plan that had given me the exciting, liquid-y feeling deep inside.

Imaginary music pumped in my ears. Imaginary flashbulbs popped. An imaginary crowd assembled on either side of the catwalk, and I began to sashay terrifically on those heels, not even stumbling once. I stopped at the end of the catwalk, at the end of the line, and, checking once more to make sure he still wasn’t looking, I turned my back on both master and beast, and I dropped my pants all the way down to my ankles, underwear included, and mooned the unaware construction worker to the wild applause of the imaginary crowd in my head. I shook my bare ass in front of the window, feeling bold and bad and confusingly grown-up, when the door flew open suddenly and my mother entered.

There could be no explanation in the whole long list of lies that I’ve catalogued and tried out in my life that could have diminished the magnitude of what I had done in those heels, in front of that window. Of mooning the construction worker, of wanting and not wanting him to witness my abandon. Of the sheer pleasure of doing the very worst thing I could think of. And of the confusing grown up feelings it gave to me to give in to those dark impulses.

Before I even knew what was happening, my mother strode across my carefully constructed catwalk and hit me hard on the mouth with her ring hand, the tiny diamond my father insisted she wear catching on the corner of my lip. I fell to the floor, bleeding at the mouth, tangled in the pants around my ankles. My mother froze, holding her hand out in front of her as if startled by its action, as if frightened by its potential to cause harm. And one word continued to gallop over and over in my head, over the dying applause, over the shell-shock bouncing off my mother. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck.

My mother locked herself in her bedroom after she hit me and when she emerged hours later, it was to find me frantically rearranging the stuffed animals on my bed, as if to recreate the world before this bad thing had happened. Her eyes were ringed with black mascara and tight tiny wrinkles from the salt of her tears. She offered to take me out to McDonald’s for dinner. Drive thru, so no fuss. We ate french fries and went to bed early. I slept with my back to the window.

I didn’t know it yet, but only a few weeks later, my mother would be gone.


My story came to a close just as the sky was starting to pink up outside, leaving me feeling silly and ashamed for talking too long, for ruining the silence of those last precious moments I had left to spend with Duck with the memory of one of the last days I could recall ever spending with my mother. I longed to be able to explain why I had told him that story, but I wasn’t even sure I knew why. It was as if while we were lying together, the words had taken on a life of their own, bubbling up and overflowing out of me like a force of nature. Something unstoppable. An eruption. A sunrise.

The soft light of the new day outlined Duck’s body where it lay next to me, still and quiet, and it made him look as if he were nesting in colours that lined the inside of a seashell. Like he was made of mother of pearl. The glow was broken only by one lone shadow that came from a tree branch outside and crossed the centre of his body so that he was split at the waist, two sides of a magician’s assistant waiting to be fused back together.

I remember staring at that spot where the shadow bisected him and wishing I could freeze us there in that glowing moment. But I could feel it slipping away even as I tried to hold onto it, the first slivers of aggressive yellow already beginning to slice over the horizon, obliterating the fleeting colour of the dawn, erasing Duck’s iridescent glow before my eyes. The longer I waited for him to say something, the louder the silence felt.

When I finally spoke again, the sun had risen fully over the horizon and my voice came out muggy and slow.

“I never told anyone that story before, you know. Not even my dad. Not anybody. You’re the only one.”

I wiped the edges of my eyes on the sheet as I spoke, feeling suddenly hollowed out and weary from the weight of our last hours together. I gathered what remained of my energy after a few moments and managed to say, sniffling a little, “Well, I guess you’ll have to get going now. It’s almost time to leave.”

From where he was lying, Duck’s head was just a few inches away from my bedside table, and the broken snow globe that he gave me that rested on it. And because his back was to me, I couldn’t tell if his eyes were closed or if he was staring right at it, at that tiny doomed village whose protective sphere was broken open and emptied out.

“Your parents will be looking for you,” I said.

Still, he didn’t turn around.

“Duck? Duck, can you hear me?”

Still, he lay stubborn and unmoving as the dead. It felt as if no one at all were there with me.

 


Alyson Mosquera Dutemple is a writer from New Jersey with an MFA from Warren Wilson College. She has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize and for Best Small Fictions, and longlisted for Prism International’s Grouse Grind Lit Prize for V. Short Forms. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in Pithead Chapel, Flock, Little Patuxent Review, Construction, Pigeon Pages, Fiction Writers Review, and elsewhere. She is a fiction reader for CRAFT Literary. Find her at www.alysondutemple.com and on Twitter @swellspoken.

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