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“In Memoriam: Lot 69097,” by Kate Garklavs

Sweater Sketch (02)

Julie called me at work to say Kurt Cobain’s sweater was up at auction.

“The famous one?” I asked, picturing dewy midtone green with golden contrast at the hem. So collegiate. My phone’s face blinked red: angry reminder of an unattended inbound call.

“They’re all famous,” said Julie, “right? But look at the listing. I just sent it.”

Sources verified that Julien’s was a respected dealer of rock and pop-culture memorabilia, everything from Cher’s Reebok sweatband (aerobics purposes only) to Clinton’s roach clip. Fifty grand would put you in the running for the mohair sweater of Unplugged fame.

Fifty grand: Where would I get it? I wouldn’t, I knew in the pit of my gut, the locus of my rational mind. I’d just surpassed the thousand-bucks-in-savings mark. I imagined phoning exes, all of them better off now than back then, asking for smallish, interest-free loans; presenting the circumstances — straightforwardly framed — and embellishing with the florid, sexless detail of my ten-year-old-self’s dream. My parents might be good for a few thou, though the nearer retirement came, the less likely they were to indulge romantic nostalgia. Aunt Oona had never had a lover, but even she couldn’t be immune to the memory of a first rock crush, piquant as the night breeze to ocean-damp skin.

Decades back — two, in fact — I papered my walls with full-bleed spreads torn from Rolling Stone. Kurt, halo-haired, anchored the collage. Kurt in stripes, in outsized plastic shades, in tatty tees draping lushly from his slender frame. Always the same unfocused gaze to middle distance, dangled cigarette, occasional sneer to the camera and imagined watcher. Oh, how I wanted to leave my hair to snarl! To set my mouth as a pensive line, maintain an animal silence, fuck the police — anyone who wouldn’t listen or believe I knew the best next steps toward becoming myself. Instead, I brooded. Snapped my flavor-sapped Juicyfruit, the boombox’s volume hovering at 6: loud enough for clarity, quiet such that my mom wouldn’t rap on the hollow-core door and demand that I turn it down, already. Oh, who I would have maimed to see a live show, feel the reverb shuddering through my chest! To stay up past bedtime and beyond. I longed, as we all did, for any tiny modicum of freedom. There at my desk, miniblinds parceling the unctuous noontime light, I could almost feel the unvacuumed shag against my cheek as I lay on my bedroom floor, Unplugged on repeat on the Sony.

Leagues from my childhood bedroom and heady with memory, I retreated to the Xerox room — the only workplace door with a lock. Kristi’d left a big job running, and the copier’s light shuttled back and forth beneath the lowered lid, gold spilling out in warm flashes. I cleared the work table of conduct handbooks and memos and lay down to study the ceiling patterns: to recenter.

Plastic laminate against skin feels the same regardless of surroundings. I let the cool of the tabletop rise to meet my downturned palms and move through them, studied the pinprick scatter of the crumbling tiles above. My heartbeat slowed to match the thrum, click, return of the copier. I closed my eyes.

When the sweater arrived, it would be wrapped in royal-blue tissue, wrinkleless, encased in protective plastic. The exterior box would be nothing fancy, its plainness a deterrent to would-be thieves. Its only signifier of prestige would be the embossed gold J of the return address. I would coordinate my opening of the package with the weather, waiting for the ideal stretch of misted fog — conditions to enable maximum contrast between my body and the air. Running a knife along the box’s long edge, I’d mute my inhalation as I smoothed back the tissue.

Of course, skin-to-mohair contact would be the only way to capture whatever essence lived in those fibers: incorporate it, atom by atom, and draw its strength. Bare feet, too, the necessity of cold running from the blank tile up through my willing footsoles, the low evening light dully patching the leaves of the rubber tree, captive in its red slipcast pot. A walk around my apartment in the brittle garment would reveal a newness to the space, each thrift-store lamp and candlestick endowed with a fresh graciousness: inherent splendor made visible by the erasure of familiarity.

Outside, the mist would gather into droplets; streetlamp auras would widen and burn. The sweater would warm to a living heat and carry me from the evening into the day, day into evening, the cycle forming its own routine. I’d mask the original brown pocketside stain with coffee spills of my own, would smoke leaning from the bathroom window for the purpose of accreting cast-off ash, burn holes to circle the cuffs and climb the lengths of the sleeves, rivaling the damage done by the former wearer. I’d tug loose threads to let the weave grow wide, the humid air move in and through.

When the sweater ceased to keep its form and became instead a network of threads — more a memory of the thing than the thing itself — I would unclothe and prepare the garment for unravel. Spritz the threads with chicken stock and blot them dry, interlace the buttonholes with bacon. Lay the garment spread-armed in the courtyard, out of plain view but not hidden, and wait for my departure to signal welcome to the animals who would unthread arm from body, body from itself — a disappearance detached, unwitnessed, and feral.

About the Author:

Kate Garklavs lives and works in Portland, OR. Her work has previously appeared in Ohio Edit, Juked, Matchbook, and Tammy, among other places. She earned her MFA at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and she’s currently a reader for the Portland Review.

Special Note:

This story won The Conium Review‘s 2016 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Leesa Cross-Smith. It will also be republished as a limited-run micro-chapbook for distribution at the 2017 AWP Conference in Washington, DC.

Image Credit: © pylypchuk25 – stock.adobe.com

“Salvage,” by Marsha McSpadden

 

doodle cloud with rain

1.)

First of the month, sirens startle and scare. Even though he says, one of them drills, that’s all, her eyes go black with worry. Then the wailing. That old familiar dread. He runs for the hatchet. Sturdy, sure where wood dips into blade. He hacks and hacks until the plywood comes free. Look, baby, nothing but bluesky.

How long has it been? The rescue teams have cleared out. All manner of debris sorted and carried off. Signs for free counseling folded and stowed away.

Still, she’s on her hands and knees. Shaking. Shivering. Crawling to the closet.

Matches in her mouth.

2.)

Down at the diner, talk’s turned to runningbacks. Linemen. A different kind of safety.

3.)

He stands in the drive, squinting. Downright mesmerizing, how the sun sparks up the roof. That terrible tarp gone. He pushes the door, ears still screaming, thinking on new beginnings. Of everything hammered down.

And there she is. Ghost of the girl he gave his heart to. In the kitchen floor. Nails bitten to bleeding. Wrapped in that blue plastic nightmare.

4.)

Somewhere the grass greens. Birds chirp. Spiders knit webs lopsided and mean.

But here, days stretch and bend, motheaten with memory. Not even a dog left to yap.

5.)

A full day put down, he lays out for bbq he don’t even like. But he does his part. He tries.

Inside smells like sadness. Like sawdust. Like everything else. The walls hurried into place. Makeshift and bald.

Grayhair at the counter, her hand over his trying to melt calluses, asks, Shug, how you holding up?

 He stares at the sack. Hard to talk on holes that don’t show.

6.)

In the night, an empty rut on her side of bed. He trips over boots. Fumbles, room to room, flipping all the lights.

Finds her pressed in the shallow of the bathtub, under a mess of dirty clothes, clinging to sleep.

He watches, missing her heat. The way their hands would meet in the dark. Seeking. The pulse of that memory nearly dead.

7.)

That wind been going all damn day. Pushing everything about. Impossible to work.

Huddled on barstools, everyone inside thankful for thick smoke and woodpaneling. No windows to be scraped by limbs. To be blown out. To remind him to get home. To her. Where she’ll be crouched in some corner. Crying into the hem of her dress. Waiting for sheetrock to pull away.

He orders another beer. Ready to drain the day.

 

8.)

Dark creeps earlier and earlier. A day’s work slipped between.

His headlights sweep the yard. A flash of silver where she stabs her shovel. Clots of red dirt at her feet. Finally had her fill of that neighbor dog.

He slides from the truck, slow to remember how that dog’s been gone. How everything is.

Leaves, brown and wet, stick to the shovel. Like skin.

April’s coming, she says, smudges on her cheeks. Hair all a tangle. Frantic for a stormshelter.

Across the street, pitch black. Nothing but mud anyhow. Far as the wind goes.

9.)

Thinking on that trailer out at the county line, he scares up the courage to call his cousin.

He snorts. Says, That old thing. Some tweakers blew it straight to Jesus. Everybody wanting to get sideways, I reckon. Why you asking?

Nothing particular.

Thought you was stronger than all that.

 

10.)

That damn sky darkens, colored with smite. Her eyes feral at the tumble of thunder.

All the world ready to rage.

Girl, don’t you do it, he says, sweeping behind, pinning her arms. A terrible noise deep in her gut. Barking. Bucking, going for his shins, trying to yank away, until her shirt rips. He clamps tighter and tighter, a snake around dinner.

Raindrops fat as eggs against the roof. Slide down the window. Witness.

He kicks the door open, slinging them both onto the porch.

Beyond the mangled treeline, lightning opens the sky like a shiv.

Drops fall on their bare feet. Cold as nails. Nails ripped from floorboards. Nails licked by the first frost. Snowed upon. Left to rust.

He hauls her down the steps, into the yard, to that spot where grass is afraid to grow.

Look. See. He lifts her chin to the sky. That weird light they both know. Growing greener.

Still here. We’re still here. His voice slick with wanting.

The rain runs down, onto their skin, trying to wash them both clean.

About the Author:

Marsha McSpadden’s flash fictions have previously appeared in Shenandoah, matchbook, SmokeLong, and NANO Fiction.

Special Note:

This story was a finalist in The Conium Review‘s 2015 Flash Fiction Contest, judged by Laura Ellen Joyce.

Image Credit: © dule964 / Dollar Photo Club