He’d been dry for the year
they lived together, because
he loved her and her daughter
and he’d rather take a bullet
than expose either one to madness,
but the landlord and landlady wanted their house back,
and he suddenly relied less and less upon her touch.
An old familiar thirst crept back in his throat.
Both agreed that separate living was the answer
and a rummage sale was in order.
Folding tables and a second hand stereo transformed
the garage into a thrift boutique
of the collected debris of living.
When she left for work in the morning,
he'd steal one of her clove cigarettes
and mill about the tables filled with mismatched sets
of dishes, novelty kitchen utensils, and clutter.
At night they would lie together in silence. Some nights
she would roll over and wrap her arm around him.
He would feel her heart beat, breathing,
and another mistake blossoming.
More of their lives disappeared at the end of each weekend
until all that was left was battered and scarred debris
in tote bins and black bags left roadside
in a rearview mirror silhouetted
in a blood orange sunset.
I get a call from my mother
to stop by on my way home.
She has an uncanny way
of knowing where to find me
even at the houses of strangers
I visit once or twice a year.
My sister has spent Saturday at our mother’s,
sleeping, antidepressants blossoming in her blood.
I recognize the roads I’ve walked
in her eyes. I’m asked to follow her home.
She talks too easily of death, carries new life
inside her. We pull from the curbside,
my headlights locked on her bumper.
Past twilight we reach the viaduct, the residue of sun
outlines silos, pines and Amish farmhouses,
curtainless windows alight with kerosene flame and candles,
billboards and light box signs. We press forward
between marshy ditches and fields of drowsy cattle.
Missing an antenna in a car wash mishap,
I settle on an FM signal in the middle of
an all ‘70s Saturday Nite House Party. A song
is playing, lyrics about a lonely night amid studio
jungle sound effects, resonating from my car’s interior
through the windshield, into the pines and back into 1975.
I follow my sister into two land highways as trees and farms recede.
We pull into her driveway. Before I leave we hug,
she holds on to me tightly, as if sensing and absorbing
some of the faint essence or recall from the fragment
of a forgotten Top 40 song. I have kept my promise to our mother
to get my sister home safely.
—Troy Schoultz, Marshfield, WI