Heavy against the windows, the opaque night
isolates and infiltrates, sends
the dogs flying
to my side, and even in the warmth,
under the wash of the firelight, their ears hear coyotes
and the pressing sky plays with their minds.
With the lights off I can ease my mind,
see through the gaunt mask of night,
that the darkness is not thick but light and coyotes
navigate it like reflections and shadows alike. Their cries send
me reeling, fighting my urge to hide, knowing that warmth
and flames will not feel so much like flying.
I climb until I could be flying
and let the stars replace the thoughts in my mind.
The trees do not understand my warmth
but still envelope my spirit in the dying night,
guide me to the forest floor and send
me on my way, to search for the coyote’s stardust eyes.
At your side I imagine we are coyotes,
our laughter echoing down suburban streets, hearts flying
when we spot the cop car that sends
us leaping off the roof and into the sky, no time for our minds
to create the fear of heights as we sprint into the night
and at the end, collapse into each other’s warmth.
With the tingling warmth
of the woodstove and Eastern light, I think of coyotes
and the dream I had curled into you last night
where I may have been flying
or falling, but really, the difference is in our minds
and wings are only weights pretending to be godsends –
the devil sends
something different, a little less like warmth
but I doubt the angels mind;
they left their wings behind to run with coyotes,
and without them are flying
through trees in the starlight, in the crystalline night.
I feel warmth, but not fear when I hear coyotes
and the stormy breeze sends my hair flying.
In our minds, this ozone blackness is not night.
This content is intended for mature audiences.
or, enter your birth date.*
Ellie jolted out of bed as her bright ring tone lilted through their dark room. She groaned and scrabbled at the bedside table, wincing when something that sounded like a cup full of pens crashed to the floor. Finally her fingers found purchase on either side of her phone and she croaked hello, patting Jake with her free hand to signal that he could go back to sleep.
“Mom, it’s six a.m. here,” Ellie groaned, untangling her legs from the sheets to shuffle from the room.
The cat streaked out between her legs before she shut the door and Ellie followed it to the empty food dish.
“He had another heart attack,” her mom said, “Your dad.”
“Another?” Ellie paused, crouched next to the dish, “How many is that now?”
“Three this month.”
Three heart attacks. Minor heart attacks, but still. Three unnatural pauses, silences, skips in a track. Ellie imagined her dad, working with the cows, scraping mud from their bellies, stopping and pressing his hand to his chest. An unnatural absence caused by a simple clot fixed by a not so simple surgery.
Mo stopped circling Ellie’s ankles only when the scoop made a promising scraping sound against the dry food.
“The doctor wants to operate but your dad refuses. I’ve tried to convince him…”
“If he’s made up his mind, mom, there’s not much you can do,” Ellie interrupted.
She trailed back to the kitchen, turning on the burner underneath the kettle and then staring out the window to hear her mom say: “I wish you would come home, sweetie.”
“Mom, we’ve talked about this.”
“It’s been years since you saw him last, El. He’s mellowed out a lot.”
“Congratulations! He’s only twenty years too late,” Ellie opened the wrong cupboard by accident, slammed it shut and opened the right one, setting her mug down on the counter with the sharp click of ceramic on marble.
Twenty years too late to take back the bruises on her brother’s face or the way her heart had pounded when her father yelled. Twenty years too late to comfort the girl sitting in the corner, crying, while sirens drew closer and the woman on the phone repeated hollow comforts.
“Has Jordan come home?”
“I was hoping you’d talk to him for me,” her mom said after a pause.
“If Jordan won’t come you know I won’t.” Ellie said.
“Just talk to him Eleanor, please.”
“I love you.”
“I love you too mom.”
Ellie set her phone down on the counter and stared out the kitchen window where the day was unfolding gray and foggy. Orange leaves pressed through the dimness, brushing against the window. When the kettle began to whistle, Ellie’s entire body twitched and she turned the burner off with a snap, staring at it for a moment as if she had forgotten it existed.
When Jake emerged from the bedroom an hour and a half later he found Ellie at the kitchen table with a full mug of a tea and a crossword spread open with only two answers filled in. Her right hand played with a tarot card as she stared out the window, her boxing gloves strewn to the side as if she’d started to put them on and changed her mind.
“Morning reading?” Jake asked.
Ellie grunted and flicked the tarot card to the side, “Five of swords. Apparently today is a day for self-destruction.”
Jake bent to retrieve orange juice and eggs from the fridge, “Was that your mom calling?”
“Who else regularly forgets that there’s a three hour time difference between Indiana and Oregon?”
She winced as he started opening cupboards and letting them bang shut again, clanging the frying pan against the stove.
“What did she want?” Jake asked as he shifted the contents of the cupboard, searching for a bowl.
Her hand, resting next to her mug, began to clench until she had to squeeze her eyes shut to shove down the irritation. Every sharp noise felt like a jolt in her chest, like a door slamming in an empty house at night. She breathed.
“For me to come home.”
Jake stopped moving, turning so that the light from outside glared off of his glasses. She hated those glasses, the thin blue wire frames. He never wore them outside of the house and she’d only seen them for the first time five months ago, when she moved in with him after . They reminded her of high school, of boys who sulked in the corner at the homecoming dance, who wore rejection openly on their faces.
“Is it your dad?”
Ellie nodded and then leaned forward, squinting as if trying to decipher the next crossword clue: Little crawler, sometimes called a roly-poly. She knew that she knew it. The word was somewhere in her head, bouncing around with the rest of her crossword knowledge and childhood memories.
“Is he – Mo get off the counter.”
Ellie heard the thud of the cat hitting the ground on all fours followed by the thin noise of eggshells cracking.
“He had another heart attack. The doctor wants to do surgery.”
“You can take a few days off from your internship, right?” Jake said, “I have some vacation days saved up I can use-”
“I’m not going,” Ellie replied.
“Why should I?” Ellie retorted.
“Ellie I thought you said you’d worked through this.”
“Do you really think I can just work through it? As if a couple therapy sessions can just smooth everything over like it never happened,” Ellie snapped.
“Maybe you should talk to the therapist again,” Jake suggested.
“I’d rather not.”
In the silence Jake’s eggs sizzled and Ellie crumpled up the crossword puzzle.
“I’m going to go into the studio,” Ellie said, “To paint before the ten o’ clock group session.”
“It is not your job to take care of me, Jake,” Ellie pushed back her chair with a scrape.
The leaves crunched under boots as she strode down the broken streets toward the warehouse. Past laundromats, abandoned, rusting gas stations and the one homeless woman who always sat on cardboard on top of the cracking stone. Ellie unlocked the front door and padded down the dark hallway, stopping first to find the thermostat and kick in the heat. In the few years since the program had started, the university donated enough money and people to transform the gray stone, to cover the ceilings and walls with plush rugs and layers of paint. Ellie climbed the stairs to where the afternoon light scattered across temporary walls and curling corners of paper. None of the other interns had arrived yet, though they all had their own studio space here. Most of them were undergrad students in their third or fourth year. Ellie was the only one not going into art therapy.
She plopped onto the swivel chair in the middle of her studio space and stared at the paintings lining the walls: some figure paintings, a few tiny landscapes, and one self portrait. All unfinished. With her feet she scooted the chair closer, then stood and picked up a paintbrush and hovered above her messy palette. It was obvious now; the shadow under her cheekbone needed to be bluer. She dragged her brush through the paint on her palette and dabbed it onto the canvas. Immediately, she made a noise of disgust and grabbed a cloth from her desk, wiping the paint off again. It left a blue smear across her cheek, underneath the blush red. Ellie threw the paintbrush down, retreated to her swivel chair, scooted it up to the desk, and slumped forward until her forehead rested against the stack of art catalogs. She could picture them, the bugs. Tiny, ribbed and gray, curling into balls in her palm.
Sluggishly, she fished out her cell phone and typed in a number. She sat through six rings, still slumped over, and then the voice told her “you’ve reached the voice mailbox of Jordan Brower. Please leave a message after the tone.”
“Jordan, it’s me. I know this is out of the blue, but please call as soon as you can,” she said, then pressed end.
She opened up the messages between her and Jordan. They’d grown few when he moved down to Texas after college and Ellie figured he was trying to put distance between himself and Indiana, between himself and his family. In her first year of undergrad, Ellie was too distracted to fill the distance. By her sophomore year Jordan only texted her on her birthday and on holidays. Until this year, when she’d started receiving texts again: late night, four a.m. his time. They were links to articles with titles like “Homosexuality Linked with Childhood Trauma,” occasionally pictures of his cat or his boyfriend, often texts with misspellings that Ellie sometimes replied to and sometimes didn’t. The texts felt like a dance to her: how to bridge a gap without bringing up the past.
Yestrday I ran over a frg wth the lawn mower, he said, and, Tim ased me to stop drinking. I dont think i can.
What did Ellie say in response to that? What could she say? Without warning, the instructor popped her head into Ellie’s studio.
Ellie jumped and rolled away from the desk.
“Come in to work on your self portrait?” Jen asked, moving into the studio and leaning against the wall to support the bulge of her stomach at six and a half months.
It was one of the only requirements Jen had for her internship program: complete the same assignments as her patients. At the time it had seemed a small price to pay for the internship experience the college required.
“I had hoped to, yeah,” Ellie said, twirling a paintbrush around until it clattered to the floor.
Ellie sighed, “I just. I hate it, Jen. It doesn’t look like me at all.”
“What did you expect to see in your painting?” Jen asked.
“You’re lucky you’re not one of my patients,” Jen said, grimacing, “And you’re lucky you’re not going into art therapy.”
“I just paint, Jen. I can’t help people find themselves,” Ellie replied.
Jen ignored her comment, “Your nose is too small.”
Ellie turned to look at the painting again, comparing it to her own face in the mirror next to it.
Jen sighed, “Eleanor, you have to be able to actually look at yourself. Your nose is too small because you think it’s that size, because you’re not actually looking at your own face. If you paint it the way you think it should be it’s never going to look like you.”
Jen pushed away from the wall, moving her hand to the small of her back, “I’ll leave you to it. The ten o’clock students will be arriving soon.”
“I’ll be right down.”
“Take the day off,” Jen said, “If you can’t paint then go for a walk or something. Your nervous energy will overwhelm the class in seconds.”
“Oh. Okay,” Ellie sagged back down onto her chair.
She picked up a fallen paintbrush from the ground and twisted it in her fingers, staring between the painting and the mirror. It was 10:01; Jake would be leaving for work in the next fifteen minutes. Ellie stood and zipped her coat back up, trudging down the stairs. In the therapy room – the only cozy space in the entire warehouse – Jen paced slowly among the students at their easels. If nothing else qualified her for the job of therapist, her voice alone did. It was soft, unobtrusive, but carried through the room. At home with the dust motes shimmering in the smudged light from the overcast sky.
“This painting may be the most difficult thing you do and it may be one of the most important steps to recovering. If you want to heal, if you want to move past what happened, then you must reclaim it. Reclaim the face you see in the mirror. If you have physical, visible scars, you must paint those scars. Look at them in the mirror, find their shape and their color, and say that they are yours now,” Jen stopped next to a girl bowed in front of her self-portrait and her voice dropped to a whisper.
Ellie strode away, lifting her phone to call Jordan again, the wind outside swirling both in her hair and in her stomach. When the answering machine asked her to leave a message, she hung up.
The day became rainy as she napped, waking up to a dark spot of drool on the couch cushion. She shuffled to the bedroom and lit a stick of incense, watching as it curled through the muted light. The smoke pressed against the insides of Ellie’s nostrils, thick and heavy and musty. She sat cross-legged and shuffled her deck, the tarot cards smooth and cool on her fingers, the cards making a dry sound as they slid together. She set the deck down, cut it into three, and gazed at the piles, sliding one a little further up as the cat sprawled and threatened to bump it with her outstretched paw. Ellie flipped the top three cards off the middle pile, placing them face up on the hardwood among the cat hair and dust.
The Tower: A tree struck by lightning. Upheaval.
Ace of cups, reversed: Repressed emotion.
Judgment: A white dove above bats. What, justice? Punishment?
She stayed silent for a minute longer, gazing down at the three cards. She flipped through the booklet that came with the deck, reading the brief, unhelpful description, then flipping to the next, then flipping back, then staring.
“What does it mean!” she burst out, setting the booklet down with a smack.
The cat, sprawled on the floor next to Ellie’s right knee, jumped and scampered from the room, sending tarot cards spinning across the floor. Ellie dropped her head into her hands, her fingertips pushing her hair back until it tugged at the skin on her forehead, then let it fall forward, shoulders sagging with a sigh. Jake’s footsteps approached and stopped at the door.
“You know you could always talk to someone for life advice.”
“I am not in the mood right now Jake,” Ellie interrupted, pushing out of half-lotus position to her knees to reach for the cards that had scattered.
Jake stayed in the doorway, watching her pull bits of cat hair off of the cards before restacking them. Cards his mother associated with witchcraft and Jake associated with naivety.
“Tarot cards aren’t going to tell you anything you don’t know,” Jake said.
Ellie set the stack into their box and set the box on the bookshelf, knocking the ash off the end of the incense before snubbing out the ember.
“Did you call Jordan?”
“He didn’t answer,” Ellie said.
“Did you leave a message?”
“Yes,” Ellie responded, coming to a stop in front of him. “I need to get through.”
Jake sighed and turned his body to the side so she could pass, his fingers brushing her side. She tensed, paused, and kept moving. Walking away was a skill she’d learned years ago, after getting into too many fights defending Jordan in the school hallways. Though older than her by three years, he was quieter, receiving others’ anger and pain and keeping it, blaming himself for it. Watching as Ellie gave and received bloody noses in his name.
“Ellie, I’m not saying that you should forgive your dad by next week, just that maybe you should think about seeing him one last time before deciding to cut him out of your life for good.”
Ellie turned to face him again. Light from the bedroom lay across the tops of his feet and pooled at the connection of his nose and cheek. She blinked, imagined her father, sitting at the dining table in the late afternoon light. He’d seemed mysterious at times, like an old man from a picture book. If she could forget for a moment about the yelling.
“I don’t need to see him to know that nothing has changed,” Ellie said, “And I don’t want to talk to him or hear him apologize or listen to my mom explain away his behavior.”
“What is the point of going to therapy if you’re not going to listen to anything they say?”
“Don’t you dare bring that into this!” Ellie smacked her fist against the doorframe.
“Why not?” Jake’s voice rose higher and he leaned toward Ellie, his hands filling the space between them as he gestured, “You agreed to go to therapy when we moved in together but it doesn’t count for anything if you refuse to change!”
“I’m going out,” Ellie said, turning away from him again, “Don’t wait up for me.”
She left Jake standing alone in the dark hallway and swiped her phone off the counter. She texted with one hand as she struggled into her boots: Are you free tonight?
As she latched the door behind her Colin responded: For you.
As she walked, the buildings grew taller and cleaner and the streets more crowded. Where the sun disappeared behind the skyscrapers, Ellie pulled her coat tighter around her and folded her arms to keep it closed. When she approached the storefront of Little Africa’s Ethiopian cuisine, Colin was already there. He lounged against the brick wall outside the restaurant, his dark hair pulled away from his face into a bun. Ellie stared at the angles of his face as she walked up: the delicacy of his cheekbones and eyebrows. She knew that underneath his baggy sweater and leather coat, the planes of his stomach, the shallow dips of his collarbone had the same angularity, lines she’d painted over and over and over again.
Colin looked up as she approached and breathed out a stream of smoke to smile, his septum piercing glinting. He pushed away from the wall, body momentarily suspended between leaning and standing. Then he fell forward, dropping his cigarette, and Ellie’s knees buckled a little as his arms came down and around her shoulders. He’d been modeling for her for only a year but they had two years of boxing classes and late night, tipsy tarot readings before that. Colin made Ellie want to smoke a cigarette and believe in witchcraft, but the most she could do was tarot.
When he pulled away cool air rushed like floodwaters into the space between them and Ellie shivered. She reached out a toe and pushed the fallen cigarette into the ground, the cement grating against her rubber sole.
“After you,” Colin held the door open.
He followed Ellie into the dim restaurant. His warmth hovered behind her, cigarette and sage, as the waitress led them to a booth with ripped cushions. Their knees knocked together as they sat down and Ellie shifted until they weren’t touching. She could picture exactly the way his stomach dipped down toward his legs and it made the fabric of his jeans feel thin. She began to rearrange the condiments on the table, pushing them into a more symmetrical arrangement.
“So, what brings us together today? Need me to pose for another painting?” Colin asked, leaning forward with his elbows on the table.
“I haven’t finished the last one,” Ellie admitted, “I can’t get the face right.”
“So you’ve brought me here to stare at my face for inspiration,” Colin replied.
Ellie smiled but it felt like the crackling of onion skin.
The waitress stopped at their table and Colin ordered a bottle of red wine, then leaned over the table toward Ellie, “Really though. We haven’t talked in weeks, El. What’s up?”
Ellie peeled the wrapper away from the straw, careful not to look up at him, “Just family things. My dad’s in the hospital again. Jake wants me to visit. Jake’s mad I’m not taking therapy seriously. Yadah yadah.”
She flapped her hand in the air and let Colin infer the rest.
“Well, you can’t expect him to understand; his childhood was what, a white suburban dream?” Colin said, smiling at the waitress who brought them their wine.
“I know, right?” Ellie said, “I can’t talk to him about it because he thinks I can just ‘get over it.’ Like it’s that simple.”
“I mean, he knows that it’s not just, ‘my dad abused my brother and I; I’ll never forgive him for it,’ right? He knows there’s more to it than that?” Colin asked, “Not that it needs to be more complicated, but it is.”
Ellie dropped the paper she was shredding into tiny rectangles. She pressed her eyes closed and clenched her fingers around the table’s edge until they turned white and pink, until her knuckles began to ache. Her entire world became that ache and the stillness of her body as she held down the rising panic, as she pressed on the pressure in her lungs, forcing the air out like a hole in a balloon.
“Ellie?” Colin asked.
“Let’s talk about something else,” she finally said.
“You got it,” Colin replied, and handed over a full glass of wine.
The waitress came around to their table again, pulling a pen out of her apron pocket, “Are you ready to order?”
Ellie smiled, “Yes.”
Ellie talked and drank wine, picking mouthfuls of food up with the injera bread, which was like sponge under her fingers. By the end of dinner, her knees rested against Colin’s under the table as they talked. Outside, the warmth of her cheeks kept her from noticing the cold until her body began to tremble. Colin pulled out and lit a cigarette as she slipped her phone out of her pocket. A text from Jake.
Ellie we really need to talk.
Ellie typed, watching the words autocorrect from gibberish to: I’m out with Colin. We can talk tomorrow.
Ellie shoved the phone deep into her coat pocket, looking up in time to accept a cigarette from Colin. She struggled with the lighter, her nail too short to hook the wheel properly, wincing as the metal dug into her skin. Finally, she breathed in, the smoke scraping its way down her throat.
They walked and smoked. People passed them – maybe people they knew but Ellie couldn’t pay attention to their faces. Intervals of light and noise washed through them as they passed breweries and bars. Ellie pulled smoke into her mouth and then down, into her lungs, so far down that she couldn’t feel it anymore, then out, the smoke indistinguishable from the fog of her breath.
She smoked too fast.
The world around her became thin and far away. She walked next to Colin, sure that if she reached out to touch the passing trees they would recede like an optical illusion, like a bad dream she used to have as a kid where the world drew further and further away from her until she was a small girl in a huge room and her skin felt like paper. She’d wake up from the nightmare and shake until her father came in to check on her. Back when his huge hands still felt gentle.
Ellie snubbed out her cigarette butt on a passing trashcan and realized that they were outside Colin’s apartment.
“Your deck will take time to get to know you,” Colin was saying, “And you’ll take time to get to know it. It may be telling you something but you just don’t have the right intuition yet to know what.”
“How do you do it though? How do you know what it’s trying to say?” Ellie asked, her own voice making her feel more upright.
“I could do a reading for you,” Colin said, and snubbed out his own cigarette.
The metal stairs creaked as they climbed up to the third floor of Colin’s apartment building. It took him three tries with a rusty key and a lot of jiggling to unlock his front door. Inside, the apartment was clean if only because it was so empty. He didn’t have enough dishes to have them build up next to the sink and piles of forgotten things graced the far corners of the rooms where they felt insignificant. Colin stopped in the middle of lighting candles and peered at Ellie.
“Are you cold?”
Ellie had forgotten.
“A little,” she said, holding her jaw still to keep her teeth from chattering together.
“Sorry, the furnace doesn’t work super well. Let me grab you a sweater,” Colin said, and returned moments later with a pile of them, many he’d tried on for her in thrift stores during their lazy afternoons.
Ellie dug through and pulled one on, a sky blue sweater with cream and black patterns on it. She pulled the sleeves down and over her hands, clenching them closed to keep the air out. While Colin finished lighting candles she rifled through the kitchen and poured herself a drink. It hurt after the cigarette dryness. She topped it off and joined Colin on the floor between the two black couches, folding one leg beneath her and sprawling the other out over top of Colin’s lap.
He handed her the deck.
Ellie closed her eyes and shuffled them, letting them slide as they would, feeling the gaps between cards. She paused when a warmth rested on her leg and kept shuffling, not sure if she was breathing anymore. She finally opened her eyes and handed the deck back, shivering a little when Colin removed his hand from her leg.
“What’s your question?” he asked.
She hadn’t thought of one.
“I…I don’t know,” Ellie said.
Colin raised an eyebrow, deepening the shadow above it for a moment.
“It’ll work better if you ask something specific. Maybe about your father? Or about healing?”
Ellie stared at the shadows on his upper thigh.
“I don’t…I really can’t think of what I would ask,” she finally said.
Colin shrugged, “A general reading then. I’ll figure it out the best I can.”
He cut the deck into three. Ellie pointed at the middle one. Colin flipped the cards over as if this was what he was meant to do, his fingers lingering over each one as he set them down. For hands that knew how to box, they handled the cards with surprising delicacy.
Six of Cups, reversed.
Nine of Swords.
“Judgment again?” Ellie asked.
Colin tapped it with a finger, “It means forgiveness.”
He stared at the cards.
“This is not a happy reading,” he said, “Well. For the most part. If the six of cups refers to your past, then basically it’s accusing you of being…well, stuck in the past. Unrealistic. Naïve. Nine of swords refers to your present, which is apparently full of anguish and depression. Judgment, though, seems to offer a promise. In the future, if you forgive, things will get better.”
“What if I can’t forgive?” Ellie whispered.
“I don’t know. The cards offer a suggestion of a future. It’s up to how you interpret them,” he said.
Colin’s hand came to rest on her leg again, tapping as he thought. His hand curled around her calf, pressing almost as second nature into the muscle. Ellie began to extend her other leg too but Colin gestured her to spin around, sliding the tarot cards out of the way so she could sit with her back to him. His fingers rubbed circles into her neck and shoulders, the wool biting her skin. She closed her eyes and breathed through her nose. She thought of roly-polies and how they’d uncurl if you held them long enough, and how her and Jordan would crouch for minutes at a time, waiting to see the armored underside of the bug, the tiny legs reaching into the air. It tickled when they finally righted themselves to crawl across their palms.
When Colin’s hands slid underneath the sweater to reach her back better, she shivered. She forgot about roly-polies. His fingers rested just against her sides, warming through her thin shirt as his thumbs pushed into the muscle next to her spine. At her neck, his fingers stopped moving and his arms came down to circle around her waist. She fell back into him, sweater riding up her back. His breath clouded against the side of her face, warm and musky. When his hand slid down to the v of her crotch, his breathing was as ragged as hers. She let that unsteady rhythm fill her. The button came undone too easily, the zipper sliding open almost on its own when her fingers touched it. She guided him under the waistband of her pants without hesitation, his fingers cold where it was so warm. She clenched her fist, squeezed her eyes shut, holding onto something: the seam of his pants? like it was the only fixed point.
His other hand moved to her breast, leaving a cold trail up her side to the skin, sliding the bra aside.
With a sound like a whimper or a cry, Ellie pushed forward out of Colin’s arms and fell onto all fours. She breathed like someone torn from her thoughts by a gunshot or a fire alarm. Without looking back, she rose to her feet and lunged for the door, leaning against it for just a moment before tearing it open and slamming it behind her. She made it to the bottom of the stairs before collapsing, her hand wrapped around the cold metal rail, her nails digging into and chipping away the rust.
She bowed her head as if to pray but her whole body shook. She wanted to throw up. She focused on the nausea as if she could intensify it, knowing that if she could just throw up she would feel better, but the nausea wasn’t alcohol and it remained nestled in her abdomen safe beneath her lungs that felt as if they had forgotten how to expand. She swallowed, trying to push down the rising cry, but it came anyway, curving her head forward and forcing her mouth open with the force of its rise.
A door opened somewhere behind her and she pushed away from the stairs, slamming open the door to outside and striding down the streets, dodging trees that she didn’t see until she had to swerve to miss them. She reached the warehouse without realizing where she was going and stumbled inside the foyer then up the stairs. She leaned against the temporary wall of her studio and stared at herself, her reflection, her painting, her face in two different forms. She wiped her nose, leaving a smear of snot across her jacket sleeve. She walked toward the painting in even steps, picking up the scissors from her desk as she went. She held the point above the face, the half-painted, too-small nose, and she dug the point into the canvas and pulled down, the canvas separating easily beneath the blade, nose splitting in half.
She remembered being the girl, sitting in the corner, phone in hand. She remembered dialing 911 and then watching her mother cry after they took her father away. She remembered the months after, the way the house grew quiet as they sold first the cows, then the old tractors and farm equipment to pay the fines and the bills. The way Jordan had moved to college and never come back to visit. She remembered the pill bugs. The pill bugs god damnit, that had rolled so neatly into balls, the way she’d run to her father to show him, the way his mustache bristled when he smiled. The way his hands, big and gentle and sandpaper, held hers as he peered at the pill bugs and waited for them to open up again.