By: Dylan Lenz
The English Oak above me was courageous to plant itself so near the slope that broke near its roots, but it was mighty and held fast and grew deep. I was tired and my back was sore so I sat down and made my notes and I ate the food I had packed when the air was still cold before the sun rose. I looked up and in its shade I was content.
After a time I stood. I walked around the tree and I saw a beaver’s lodge in the water but I could not see the animal itself. A forsythias bloomed down the path and it made the air sweet. A light wind blew.
I found the lowest branch and it was easy to climb so I made my way upwards. Looking out over the lake and the woods and the dwindling orchards, I could see a storm coming in. The wind was brisk now, but it was warm so I knew I should make my way home before the rain began. The sound of nails being driven made me uneasy and Lydia was waiting for me, but I lingered and I was afraid because it all seemed so fleeting.
From the perspective of a Yellow-rumped warbler.
The promises of a colorful autumn and colorless winter would have kept me north, but the lipless whispers of my mother disenchanted the majesty of such a notion.
I had envisioned myself sitting before some branch, midday, looking on the stubborn maple as it lost the last of its leaves. I would watch while the last of its fellows departed the rough skin, then ponder the metaphysical world that filled my mind.
I would wonder if God were present, or just a pleasant ideal put on a shelf until tragedy struck or confidence waned. I would think of my father’s unchallenged conviction, while he fluttered in a fury for us to leave at first frost.
Perhaps below I could listen to the murmuring questions of Sara’s daughter, as the man and child would rake the fallen blades of the mighty maple, standing above , now devoid its former glory, nonetheless present.
It is just the same I should keep pondering such, fall is coming and with it the first frost. I will fly south for winter and along the way I too will curse my branches for not letting us decide when we should fall.
I am a liar. If I told you my name was David Miller I would be lying. I am David Lowe. My grandfather was Arthur Lowe and he was a liar. My farther was Jesse Miller and he was a liar, though I only spoke with him a handful of times and I can’t recall if he ever lied to my face. I am David Lowe because my mother gave me her name when I was born. She was a liar too.
I am awake and it is 3:43am and I need to be up at 6:15am at the latest so I can catch the train into Chicago so I can meet with Hank Gordon. He wants to see if I’m a good fit for the public relations department for his firm. They are venture capitalists. I can’t sleep.
I stand and look out the window of our apartment. I hear Sara breathing quietly behind me on the bed. I turn my neck and see her laying across the twin mattress with her bark hair thrown over the pillow case creating a sharp contrast of thin strands that move as she breaths. She’s peaceful and she always can sleep so easily. I turn back to the window.
I think about the ground below. Directly under the bedroom window is a rosebush in a potted plant that is starting to turn brown at the end of it’s leafs. It’s September and the ground would be cold if I pushed my torso a little further out the window and let go of the windowsill. I don’t think it would hurt if I fell out, maybe I’d get a broken collarbone if I landed on my shoulder, perhaps a twisted ankle. I would not die if I fell out the window, at least I don’t think someone can die from falling from the first floor.
I get away from the window and go back to bed. Sara has one leg up and the other spread out above the covers. I lay on my side next to her and warm my hand by placing it in my arm then move it between her thighs. She is thin and tall and even more beautiful when she sleeps. I move my hand to her stomach and pull her closer to me and wrap myself into her. She turns and pushes her face into my chest. I still can’t sleep.
After the season finished and the crops were done and his father had paid him his share Arthur moved west with Cathy to work on the Grand Coulee dam in Washington state. They lived in Grand Coulee initially in a house that looked over the gully of the dam.
Arthur liked to look out at the dam. It was a simple gray wall that plunged into the sky and at it’s lip held back an ocean. Across the brim were lights that dotted the roadway that ran over the top of the structure. Gulls and the occasional hawk would swing across the gray wall like brushstrokes across a canvas. Every hundred or so feet a stream would erupt and throw a thin trail of water into the meager Columbia river. Before the dam it had been mighty and relentless, but now it had slowed to a meager remnant of its former self.
Arthur found meaning in his work running the night shift maintenance of the turbines that turned inside the manmade mountain. He liked feeling as thought he was a part of something larger than himself like he had in Duluth. He also liked the constant roar of the water that became a silent comfort the longer he lingered in the dam. He liked that Cathy was happy as well.
Cathy had enjoyed their marriage. Arthur doted on her more than her father had doted on her mother which Cathy perceived as one of her few successes. She was happy to have a man like her father, who paid the bills and spoke to her when he came home, but at the same time contained a masculine reserve to not indulge in the pettiness of her day to day quarrels with the other wives on the street.
Cathy had managed to make a name for herself early on when they first arrived in October. Arthur had received a photo of the company house that they would stay in before they took the train from Fargo to Spokane and Cathy had been busy making arrangements for the place before they arrived. When they finally did make it to Grand Coulee she met with a seamstress that she had already been in contact with, and had new drapes put in the house. Arthur had given her an allowance to keep her busy over the winter.
It was the seamstress, Muriel Andersen that introduced Cathy to the other women of Grand Coulee. Muriel was the wife of Hank Andersen a company foreman and had marginal power in the group, but enough standing to take part. As the wife of one of the engineers Cathy was given a sort of priority many of the hourly laborers wives were not. The wives of the executives and the men with educations met at the Blatchford Hotel conference room every Thursday and played cards and planned the social calendar for the utility company as well as indulged in a healthy amount of gossip.
Helen Jackson was originally from Texas and had moved with her husband and two young sons to the dam when her husband took began to run the utility companies interests in Washington from a small office in town. They were from Houston and she possessed an instantaneous air of superiority that most of the Midwestern middle-class women could not comprehend beyond the fact that it seemed to make her the best leader of the social group. She liked Cathy.
“Where are you and your husband from?” asked Helen, in a soft drawl that was both refined and rural and seemed almost put on. Cathy had not encountered many southerners in Fargo and was pleased to be speaking with such a character.
“Fargo, North Dakota,” said Cathy. Helen was taller than her with long blond hair that seemed to have a natural curl and hung halfway down her back. Cathy could not quite place her age, she would have been in her mid-twenties or mid-thirties but didn’t look a day over twenty-four. Cathy would have been more accustomed to seeing her in a beauty pageant in a gown rather than in a sundress with a gimlet in her hand.
“You, know I’ve never been to North Dakota. I’ve seen Chicago, is it at all similar?” asked Helen.
“Not really, it’s mostly farms,” said Cathy.
“Ah, well my husband had mentioned you were from the Chicago area but he must have been wrong.”
“Arthur studied there at the University,” said Cathy wishing she had been to Chicago so Helen would find her interesting. She wanted to tell a joke or a story but had none. She wanted to keep Helen next to her so she wouldn’t seem so alone in the room.
“Ah, that must be it.” Helen paused a moment then thought of a new conversation to have that Cathy would be able to contribute to.
“Your husband is quite the charmer I hear. And handsome too, have you two been married long?” asked Helen.
“A few months only, though we’ve known each other for years. Have you met him?”
Muriel came up to them and nudged Cathy.
“Cath, we gotta go, the babysitter says my kids actin’ up.”
“Okay,” said Cathy looking at Helen again for a sort of reaffirmation.
“We I’ll need to have you and your husband over for dinner sometime,” said Helen.
“Yes, we’d like that. Or for you to come to our house, Muriel just made us drapes,” said Cathy.
“That sounds wonderful,” said Helen turning and commanding another conversation.
In the car ride back to Muriel’s Cathy talked about the day.
“I really like that Helen Jackson. She’s so nice and kind, like a movie star.”
“She’s alright,” said Muriel. “I’ve never had a run in with her though.”
“What do you mean?”
“She likes to get what she wants. Let’s put it that way.”
At the lunch with my coleague I was able to convince Paula to accompany me to dinner that evening. I assured myself it would be the best way to get back at Sara.
Of the chapter I was working on, I could not write that day, or any of the subsequent days and months that I spent knowing Sara. That is what she had taken. A freind of mine, or rather an acquaintance, explained this occurance to me once. When writers fall in love, particularly men, they often lose their capacity to write. The reason, he explained, was that all of the angst and loathing they had that fueled them to continue their work often evaporated with the calming that good women brought. I did not finish that novel, and even now the manuscript is piled with the starts of many others in a suitcase in Tallahasse with my mother Martha, who lives alone, and tells me from time to time that she enjoys the works that I left with her.
At the lunch my colleague expalined the war and how he was a correspondant in the East for a Polish publication. Sara began to rethink her position. Most of the time I made small talk with Paula who had a brohter who lived Stateside and was convinced that he had gone off to war and that is why he had not written or spoken to his parents for so many years. I was grateful for the more lively discussion with Paula and very much wanted her to come back to my room at Chvoski’s and spend the weekend nude, listening to Jazz. I told her this and she agreed, but quitely and away from the ears of the others.
Paula and Sara departed and my colleauge picked up the bill, it was his turn, and last time we had eaten together he had brought his wife and two dauthers with him knowing I would pay. He patted my back with a grin when I brought guests this time. It was the nature of our relationship to humor the other and slightly compete when it came to members of the opposite sex. He was not faithful to his wife.
That night Paula and I made love the way that only Spanish women know how. I had never encountered an American woman with such ferocity and coupled reverance. Her breasts were small, but Paula was small and thin and so they were magnificent. Her hair was dark brown as were her eyes, and her hand seemed much older than her features let on. HEr hands had the folds and lines of someone who had seen war and peace and then war agian. The hands of a bosun or leather worker that had retired and the callouses of the profession had finally worn away to leave delicate hands that resembled the ropes and hides of their trades. In any case Paula was beautiful and we made love with passion and equal satisfaction.
Afterwards we spoke of Sara. She had brought her up. Paula was laying naked on her back looking at me upside down as I sat in a chair by the window looking out at the street that was plain and without much activity. Paula smoked a cigarette.
“Do you love her?” she asked.
“Who?” I asked turning to her. I knew who she ment.
“Sara.” She said rolling the ‘r’ in her name and saying it slowly.
“I don’t know her that well. Besides I’m with you.”
“But this will not last, and we will tire of one another soon. Probably within the week,” said Paula turning onto her breasts and setting the cigarette in a brass ashtray next to the bed.
“It won’t?” I asked. I liked Paula all the more now and part of me knew I would be sad to see her go.
I got up from my seat and kissed her neck and with my thumb and palm of my hand felt my way down her side until her hip. We made love until the early morning and then Paula left Chvoski’s and we did not speak any further, even at the parties we attended the rest of the summer.
By: Dylan Lenz
A Guide to Loving Your Neighbors
I will wake up early, before the alarm. I will go there in silence; my purposeful steps will not move the loose gravel and weeds across the drive. I will see her there, working away, her slight figure hunched over some complication in her hands. Again I will be quiet and quiet I will remain. I will have rubbed dirt on my arms so I will smell like the garage and the yard, then I will wait and watch without worry. I will stand behind her, hidden by the car.
She will turn at some point and see me. She will jump, but not scream. She knows me; she will smile politely and show me the true depth of those wrinkles. She will ask what I want, the smile never leaving, and I will move closer. Once in reach I will shove her head against the concrete floor, hard. When she fights I will over power her. She will lie on the cool ground, still breathing. I will start that ’79 Cutlass and return to my house.
She will not wake but I will watch. I will sip my tea and kiss my husband goodbye. He will walk to the train and drink the coffee from his thermos. I will call the children to wake as I cook breakfast. They will rise and dress in silence. Their voices will be horse as they greet me at the table. We will say a prayer and I will clean my plate, ravished from my earlier deeds. I will drive them to the bus stop and hug them tight. They will wish me a good day, and I will smile, knowing it will be.
I will watch the bus depart then return home. I will clear the plates from the table and wash their place-mats, covered with peanut butter smudges and toast crumbs. I will load the dishwasher and wipe the counter. I will look outside across the back alley and see her garage door ajar.
I will walk over to her house and knock at the back door for appearances only, and then go to the garage and rattle the knob. It will be locked to look as though she intended to leave. I will go to the big door that she would pull open each morning, and force the rusted pulleys to let me in. I will smell the exhaust and rush to the car to turn the key. I will touch her throat, then her wrist, then dial 911. I will wait twenty-seven minutes for the ambulance and another twelve for the police officer. He will seal the garage and take my statement. I will be the good neighbor. I will be comforted and have my arm rubbed by the crowd that will have gathered. I will keep a hand on my heart when they load her in the back.
When home, I will make another cup of tea and treat myself to the extra tablespoon of sugar. I will watch television. I will warm up leftovers, roast beef with turnips and asparagus. I will call my mother and tell her what happened. She will be shocked and amazed, then call all of my sisters to gossip.
The children will come home and do their homework, then go and play in the yard. My husband will come home and tell me about his day. I will mention mine, and he will hug me tight. We will sit at the table and my husband will say Grace, my children won’t peek. Later I will tuck them in and kiss their heads.
“Goodnight mom.” They will say from their beds.
“Sweet dreams.” I will reply from the door.
In bed I will make love with my husband. He will kiss me deeply and I him. I will go to sleep soon after and not wake once.
Then again I could go back to sleep and wait for the alarm, then wake and cross the alley. She will be in her garden and will greet me with the same genuine smile and show me the true depth of those wrinkles. I will apologize for my son stealing all of her roses. She will tell me not to worry and tell me some story of her own son, now in his sixties, doing the same years ago. She will be the good neighbor. She will comfort me and invite me in for tea. I will go home and send my husband and children off to their days. Later I will return and we will go out for lunch in that ’79 Cutlass. It will be her treat, and I will smile and again apologize.
She will drive us back, then rush to the house for something. I will look out at her garden absent of the flowers that are now in a vase in my dining room. She will return and load my arms with potatoes and jams. I will hesitate but she will insist. I will return home and make a cup of tea, treating myself to the extra tablespoon of sugar.
When we take out our trash we will wave. She will wish me a goodnight, and I will smile, knowing it will be.
By: Dylan Lenz
In her senior year Colleen got the lead in a community play. She was currently sleeping with Doug Stern. Doug owned a used car lot in town and had given Colleen a good price in exchange for her company. They would meet in his office on her days off.
The actors amazed Colleen. She convinced herself; along with the acclaim she received from Doug that she was a born actress and that she should become a movie star. Doug negotiated for her to have the lead in the play, telling his wife who was directing the, that it would do wonders for Colleen’s self confidence and that without that kind of opportunity she would probably attempt suicide again.
Colleen had never attempted suicide or been depressed. The only moment of true emotion she had since Dorothy died was the break down she had one afternoon a few months after Dorothy’s funeral.
Colleen was still allowing Frank to have sex with her, and he had convinced himself and tired to convince her that they would get married. Colleen was sure they would not, but still allowed Frank to enter her on a regular basis even though she did not really like him that much. It was mainly because he brought with him a sense of social security and popularity that she did not have. Frank was on the football team and his parents owned a cabin on the lake. He liked to fuck colleen in the ass.
“Let’s go inside,” said Frank. They were sitting on the dock of his parents cabin. It was early November and cold. The edges of the lake had already begun to freeze forming a delicate lace that held the water still. Colleen liked to sit out there. It was quiet in a way that Reardan wasn’t quite. The vacationers had left and no one knew that she and Frank still came out to the cabin for sleep together on the weekends.
“I want to stay out here a little longer,” said Colleen glancing back at him. He was wearing his letterman jacket and a scarf with new blue jeans. She was wrapped in a blanket and sitting at the edge of the dock looking down lip of ice that circled the posts that held the dock. The maple trees and willows had shed most of their leaves and left thousands of them scattered along the shoreline. A hand full of them had frozen into the ice that traced the edge of the lake.
“No I want to go in, I’m cold and I want to get back. Let’s just go do it so we can leave.”
Colleen paused a moment. She had gotten tired of Frank months ago. The first time she let him in her she hadn’t been sure about it, but the alcohol seemed to lubricate things, the way wine does.
“No. I’m staying here.”
Frank was taken aback a moments. Colleen had a tenancy to be agreeable. She had given every part of herself to Frank, usually as soon as he asked. Lately she had stopped which Frank attributed to her not having her period.
“We are going inside so I can fuck you and then we’re going back to town.”
“Just give me a few more minutes,” reasoned Colleen.
In a rage Frank grabbed her by the back of her hair and pulled her until she stood up.
“Get the fuck inside,” he said through gritted teeth.
Colleen did as he said and let him push her inside. When they go to the bedroom Colleen began to take off her clothes. She was mildly afraid. Frank had done this before but she had just ended up bruised ribs, she justified.
Frank shoved her head first onto the bed as she was pulling her shirt over her head and forced himself on her. He pulled down his pants at the front and positioned himself on her back so that he fuck her from behind. With his left hand on the back of her neck forcing her head down he placed his right under her pelvis and brought her closer to him. When he was finished he pulled his pants up and went to the bathroom. Colleen did not cry.
By: Dylan Lenz
The town was quaint and experienced typical growth for a farming community near the exit for Lake Roosevelt. By 1978 when Colleen began to stray farther and farther from her dying mother the town was perhaps five hundred people, but in the summer it experienced a surge in visitors making their way to the lake. Around this time Colleen met Frank Booth who was seventeen with a truck, he would take her to the parties that often occurred at vacationers cabins in the summer time. It was at these parties that Colleen would escape home and find her self, or at least get ideas on how she could.
As Dorothy died Arthur did not ask where Colleen strayed to. In a way he knew what she was doing, he found himself trying to stay longer hours at work, finding extra jobs and other excuses that kept him at the dam late. Many nights he would not know if Colleen was even home, he would simply come to bed and lay next to Dorothy as she slept on the bed they had brought into the living room.
When Dorothy finally did go it was Colleen who found her.
“Mom?” she asked from the hallway.
There was no answer. Colleen walked next to the bed and looked at her mother. She was not herself any longer. Once her hair had been soft brown and her thin face had been full with colored cheeks. They were hollow now. Her hair was pulled back and looked gray, thought it was still brown. Even before Colleen knew the state of her mother, there was a lifelessness about her.
David Lowe was alone. Some evenings, at least recently, he was resigned to sit up late to press his forehead against the glass of his bedroom window and contemplate there not being a thin line keeping him from falling out. If he did fall out it would not hurt, or so he reasoned. It would not change anything. No one would feel the impact of him hitting the ground. No one would know. David’s bedroom was on the first floor.
The other inhabitants of the chattel apartment building where he rented his one-bedroom were largely unaware of the comings and goings of their newer neighbor. They were the kind of people that did not look out their windows when an argument between lovers was taken outdoors, and they did not seem to mind the occasional drug addict sitting on the steps out front. The other inhabitants largely depended on the government stipend they received the third Wednesday of each month and were known to keep to themselves otherwise.
David had a theory about the neighbors. He was the oddity. Despite the mild gentrification of the building the fringe inhabitants remained and so it was imperative to the safe keeping of the contents of their apartment that he acted nothing but cordial to the neighbors. Just incase.