Check which is the shallow end and note the point where you will be out of your depth.
Who: Becca Yenser
Where: Portland, Oregon
Where We Lived
When I moved out, I was so hungry, but that’s how it was then. The season of green apples, green tomatoes, everything multiplying and me on the front porch in a torn bathrobe.
Kim had run to the 7-11 for brown ale and a pack of cigarettes, though she said she hardly ever smoked. She smoked my cigarettes, but asked every time, and it was only when I had to look through my roommate’s dirty laundry for change that I crept outside late at night and dug through the dead plant pots for her butts. Which was fine, because hers were twice as long as anyone else’s, given the fact that she detested smoking and hated herself whenever she did it.
This was on D Street, before Adam’s house burned down and before the armed robbers killed a high school girl in the middle of the night, right across from the county courthouse. D Street was full of artists and experimental noise kids, but I also lived there. I lived on D Street because there was no where else to live-- the town was carefully plotted as if on a moral grid. Ours was an area that was considered fucked, would be more fucked tomorrow, and after our fucked-up asses moved, it was understood that the new batch of fucked-up kids would take our places without a hitch.
We had love, too. We had barbecues and makeshift gardens, tucked between old tires and toilets. Fresh mint to pound and mix with a bouncer’s stolen gin. Love was a tireless sprint from one high to the next and though it was chemical love, it was as close to the real thing as my synapses could manage, and it felt exhilarating enough, like a decent cover of a brilliant rock song.
It was Sunday afternoon and I was still pregnant. Pushing first-term. Decide-soon-pregnant. Krude walked in (his real name was Morgan Krudevich) to the smoking porch and set those high eyes right on me.
“I can tell,” he said.
“No you can’t.”
“Yes, I can.”
He pointed a finger right above the top of my underwear. He lit up. He fingered a heavy English dart.
I went out back to where the girls were wearing big t-shirts they had made better by ripping and tying to show their backs and brown upper arms. They were all from Idaho-- the daughters of ranchers, mechanics, plumbers. Each of them was so entirely pretty that I lost my breath, but it came right back.
“Hey,” I said, squinting in the morning sun. Aurora jumped up and ran over with something.
“Look at this!” It was a cedar bug attached to another cedar bug by the rear. She laughed, “They’re fucking!”
They looked unhappy to me, either one trying to go its separate way and making it a few steps only to be pulled back again.
“Brilliant,” I said.
“Want to go to the river today?” Purdue asked.
“Nah, it’s too hot.”
“Well that’s the point, dumbass.”
“No, I don’t want to burn.”
“Pussy,” Kim whispered to the ground.
I turned to go back inside, with Aurora still yelling, “They’re fucking! They’re fucking!”
Purdue was building a tightrope in the backyard. She had a different, fancier name for it, but I forget what. I thought of her up on the rope only four feet from the ground, her breasts navigating gravity, the rope split even up her middle, through her sternum and bam into her chin.
It wasn’t built yet.
“How long does it take to string a rope between two trees?” I asked her, the morning after Kim’s birthday party. Flower had a headache and was lying on two sheets in the corner of the room.
“That’s not the point,” she said, “it has to be a special kind of rope.”
She was peeling dirt from under her nails-- long crescents that catapulted to the floor. We were both Plant Nursery Researchers off the Charles Highway. Purdue had dropped out of the circus to work with plants. She had been a Big Top Raiser.
“And anyway, what do you care? When are you and Adam going to Spokane?”
“When we have enough fucking money,” I answered. Purdue raised both her eyebrows like I shouldn’t have used adult language.
This was how it usually was. Four or five of us girls would get a big place together on the edge of town. We would stand in the dew and call crows into formation. We would make pies and press the neighbor’s apples into hard cider. We would lie in the porcelain tub in the summer and smoke from someone’s swirly pipe.
Then winter would set in like disease and we would all pick up our habits again. And the worst of it were the parties. The parties could really kill you. All it took was a punch around the fire, a bad trip, a drunk exit and your tender head could pop to the wheel and the next thing you knew, you were bleeding and letting your sleazy date walk you home, squaring his shoulders and looking like an actual man.
Flower lifted her head and let her eyes change back to blue. She wore a striped shirt. The blood on her head was like a stamp begun to fade.
“Should we make some bacon?” She asked.
Outside, the mountains were lined up gray-crested and brave. I heard the crows calling for us; saw them circling the fields as if they were real live mice hunters, and not just garbage scavengers. Opportunists hoping to match beak to meat. And it was not even noon yet.
There was one girl-- just one-- who always said she was 29. She was 29 for three years, and that’s just for as long as I knew her. She drank as much as the rest of us, but did it ironically. She and Jed lived in a smaller town, about five miles from the rest of us. The place was down in the low part between gentle hills. Hardly anyone lived there, because in the winter you couldn’t get out. The name of the town sounded like an instrument. Like something to be strummed. I just remember the flowers living in toilets in their front yard. They were without a vacuum, so the 29 year old swept the carpet with a broom.
They were in love. This was the major difference between Adam and I and them. But for a long time we cobbled together half-hearted interests in slow pitch and a card game popular on the East Coast. Our boyfriends were best friends-- had grown up together and would likely learn the same trade in the same zip code. But the 29 year old made me nervous. She was all the time looking for a broken wing. I didn’t trust her.
One fine dusk in summer, I left the porch to walk and get some beer for that night’s party. Something in the air was delicious, and I literally had a skip in my step. I nearly swooned. It was that seamless joy that comes along rarely, where the physical world merges with the inner and contentment sweeps over you. At that moment I skipped up a curb, misjudging the height of the jump. My ankle rolled with an audible pop and I lay in the parking lot, sobbing. It was not that far back to the house, but by the time I got there, my ankle was the size of a softball. The boys showed brief scientific interest in my injury. The 29 year old was stoned in the corner of the room. She gave me a wan smile.
That night, we all got drunk as planned. Someone had found me a single crutch at Goodwill. The alcohol made my ankle as far away as Pennsylvania. I looked at it only when someone pointed it out: yes, there it was, wrapped in a bandage and looking harmless enough in a great lump at the end of my leg.
Later we all went outside to smoke and look for the pet rat. The one the old tenants had tried to kill and we had tamed into a party performer that could be lured with a peanut butter-tipped stick. I remember the harvest moon. The kind of moon that reminds you that you’re really on a planet. The 29 year old and her boyfriend were working on a fifth. The 29 year old saw my broken wing.
“Stay away from my man,” she hissed into my ear. The boys were playing guitar and singing.
“What are you talking about? There’s no way…” I tried to explain, looking at his beer gut and his ratty old meth teeth. She pushed me. I fell backwards off the porch and the great lump screamed. She rolled me in the yard and I laughed for lack of what else to do. The boys pulled us apart and I went to bed with pillows under that ankle.
When she came into the bedroom an hour later, it was dark as a cave and I was in the nude. She sat beside me on the bed as if to tuck me in. I breathed.
“I meant it,” she said, kissing me on the forehead and shutting the door quietly behind her.
A picnic. We are at the river that’s a killer this summer. On our drive up, a paramedic is sitting next to a half-drowned kid. His friends are in a semicircle with the stunned faces of people instantly sobered. A picnic. Adam and I are happy. We have brought potato salad, beer, and nuts. Adam is a god of small things when he drives Patience. That’s the name of the car. The passenger side door doesn’t open from the inside, which makes Adam look polite to strangers when he runs around the car and throws open my door. Really he’s just in a hurry. Patience an attempt to counter that. A picnic. We are happy.
The river winds further up the mountain and Patience follows it. Seeds in the air like snow. Adm a god of smaller things. I love looking at him when he drives. Sometimes when he talks I just watch his mouth. Now.
“Should we go higher up? Which spot do you want to go to? That one from last summer was cool. Remember the waterfall?” He laughs, real quiet, like he is alone. “And how Alex put that leech in your water and you almost drank it?”
“That was bullshit,” I say, “I hate that guy.”
We are quiet now. We smoke a bowl. I lose sense of time and stop talking altogether. I find my hand in Adam’s and pull it away. How long has he been holding my hand? Did I say that?
Adam is laughing and stopping the car. We are no longer close to the river. I feel cold. He lets me out and I stand on the lip of the road, next to Adam. We are sequoias. We are gazing down at the earth. The raccoon is a baby and his stomach is a gash. Adam is crying.
A picnic. Seeds in the air like snow.
We are at a biker bar and the nachos are figments. I watch the Angels lose their angles and blame their potbellies. There are no shiny hairs in here. There is a bartender in the middle of the room and she’s been here 40 years-- a mother at the prow of her ship. Krude has lost one eye to his kundalini, which means later he will have whiskey-dick and Kim will be mad. She’s mad already.
Flower comes over to play saint ‘cause she’s seen my face fall.
I am tired of these five blocks. I wish the fire never happened. If I close my eyes when Patti Smith sings, I am almost happy. Flower says, “I met a boy who sleeps on a shelf. Fuck it. We don’t need beds. We don’t need shit.” And then she hums Cider and Cookies with her pretty, crooked mouth that she received from an over-inflated soccer ball in Mexico City. God, that city’s dumb.
Les Schwab Meat
Purdue just got back from Les Schwab and she’s got a few pounds of steak so we decided to have a barbecue. The house has already invited the hicks from upstairs...not because we wanted to, but because otherwise there’d be a fight.
I love the tassels on their shoes; the soft way they fray at the ends. Also, I think they are sort of like a lost people. Like we should respect their ways, their weird geometric patterned shirts and veterinary science degrees, because they are dying out. Jim’s okay, for a hick. He played drums with me in high school and wore those tasseled cowboy shoes in marching band because they were black and that was all that mattered.
I take one of the steaks out of its wrap and hold it in my bare hands. I imagine it throbbing and lively with its work. It is almost a heart. In the back of the fridge is everything I need: soy sauce, teriyaki sauce, lemon juice, mayonnaise, ketchup, sweet chili sauce. Everything goes in the plastic bag and so does the meat. I seal it up, and as an afterthought add some beer. I apologize to the throbbing, lively heart, because I think it was busy in its new world and I interrupted.
Purdue is changing her nose ring to a stud in the bathroom. She’s cursing. I get her a beer and hold it through the doorway. She takes it, cold, and lays it to her nose hole. She sighs. Takes a swig then goes back to twist-twisting that metal through the swollen nostril. Purdue has a boyfriend.
The light is streaming through the window in the bathroom and taking away Purdue’s pupils.
“Is the meat marinating,” she says like a statement.
I nod and we look at each other in the mirror.
“Is Adam coming,” she says again, flatly.
I shake my head.
“Bastard,” she whispers. The metal screw is finally in. Later she will use the other nostril to snort a line. Then she will look at me, this time her pupils bigger, and somewhere in my sped up thoughts I will think of our pupils as just being holes and how we spend our days trying to fill ourselves up and then I will rub my gums with my finger and stop thinking anything at all.
Becca Yenser just drove from Portland, Oregon to Kansas with a U-haul and a dog. Her work appears in The Nervous Breakdown, HOOT, Eclectica Magazine, decomP, Metazen, Filter Literary Journal, Paper Darts, and 1001 Editors. She is the 2016 first prize winner of the New Mexico ACLU All Access poetry contest. Her self-published books include Small, Bright Things and I Am Here to Save You. Another collection of short stories is in the works.