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“Heritage House,” by Emily McKay

Ladybug sketch

The bodies of ladybugs are scattered throughout the house, withering into wings that still shine through coats of dust, like drops of rusty old blood allowed to dry exactly as they fell. No one has been here to grind them into paprika or bury them under the many overlapping rugs, or build any tombs. No one has broken Rutledge’s curse or admitted to believing in it. The house is in-the-family but the nearest neighbor is a wolf sanctuary on the next Appalachian ridge.

I lost my job in October and no one minded that I came here because no one was here. You can always fall back on family, especially if they’re away. I wouldn’t be long though, just needed a rent-free space while I looked for the next thing.

I perch my empty suitcase on the spiral stack of old suitcases at the foot of the spiral stair. None of them look like mine, they are dusty, they are cracked, they are crocodile, they are unrelatable and unrepeatable, they are shades of green and yellow that nobody wants anymore.

Some ladybug wings lie single and apart and glow when the window brightens, then dim in unison like gaslight.

As I turn in bed the first night, the corner of the blanket sweeps the floor and they snag their way up and across the wooly fibers, and by morning the dotted shards suspend themselves in my jungely bob of hair. There must have been an infestation once, it could have been a decade ago, could have been last week.

There’s no hot water except what I can boil on the stove, so I keep still to never sweat, never bathe. There is no one to speak to, report to, no one to impress. The stillness feels like the only way to be, the only way to ever have been, and it was just a fluke that I ever worked and smiled forty hours a week. Forty hours is too vast a period for the human brain to comprehend. I fold myself into the blanket on the overstuffed yellow armchair in the corner of the living room. Century-old chairs and couches line the walls, and footstools crowd the middle of the room like the black eye of a susan. No one can walk between them anymore. Great Uncle Rutledge—or my great great, or plain uncle braided into the family yarn? He said everything he put here has to stay here, always, and after he died, the family still listened. They even seemed to add more—I could swear that leather ottoman is new. Great Uncle Barlow thought this was bullshit and he died of a heart attack while throwing boxes of lavender soap out the barn window.

I don’t go into the barn. It’s full of blacksnakes, and even if they’re all hibernating deep in the barn by now, their paper lanterns of shed skin hover everywhere with clear eyes. Between the endless stuffed trunks and planks and piles of muted copper kettles are intractable flashes of the story my father told me as a kid, so casually it was almost involuntarily: a barn beam, barn beam somewhere, broke under the weight of his homestrung noose when he was eight years old, after the news of his father’s boozy suicide in an empty field, field emptied somewhere in New York. I wouldn’t know where, I wouldn’t go there, and I don’t go into the barn.

From my yellow chair I see a pinprick of red wriggling in a spider’s web in the fireplace, though the spider is dead.

From my orange chair I see three huddled ladybugs painted into the pale green wall. The paint is chipping and the wood underneath is damp, liver-purple.

From my green chair I see under my yellow chair, inching ecosystem of dust and contracted legs.

I sleep a few hours and wake with only the aim of sleeping a few hours.

I sleep a few hours and listen to the house for a few hours. I think I can hear it sinking for a few hours, for a few hours I can hear the waxing asymmetricality.

I sleep a few hours and I spring out of bed, pointing a flashlight around the house, peering inside the suitcases, inside the trinket boxes, inside the doll houses and the old wine crates. I open all the tiny doors and I open all the drawers in all the cabinets and bureaus and pantries. Rust and mahoghany, burgundy and vivid living beating tip-toe red. Is it an infestation if it never stops, if this is its home city?

I find a bottle of whisky from the seventies. Excellent. Finally. Sometimes I give up drinking, for up to nine days at a time, and it’s incredibly easy. I sleep well and lose weight and feel purposeful and energetic, and I wonder why I don’t do this all the time. Not-drinking is my superpower. And then I drink, and drinking is my superpower, and I sleep a few hours.

Who would have drunk the first quarter-bottle, who was here? There’s an old bottle of gin too, but it’s left a grimy line around its middle, so I put that one back. Two ladybugs sneak out between the panels over to the silverware drawer. I uncap and sniff the whisky as the label flakes in my hand: sweet, and a little buttery, potent. Probably fine.

How beautiful is the closed door of the heritage house, from the inside. The front door is the most beautiful door, I find, closing them all again, to be sure. Yes, it is the only door I can really rest my face on, and sort of hug.

I do not have and do not require any concept of what today was, or what yesterday. Today dies now in these no longer memorable spirits, today just another tired rabbit out of the magic hat.

For you too, ceiling, I feel so much affection. When you finally burst out from under your layers of mold and old rain, I will stare into a dimmer, further ceiling.

And all the magic rabbits scatter as you descend, become wild through the empty door and windowframes, even the hexagons in the wallpaper untessellate like beetles, shaking loose toward the moon.

I should be more hurt, and we should all be more hurt, always, holding our blood knuckle-white until it lets us go.

In the morning the windows frost on both sides and I wrap myself in a fringed Mexican blanket and I am heavy and slow. I wrap myself in an ivy-patterned blanket and I am heavier and slower. I wrap myself in a purple quilt and I am heavy, heavier, slow, slow, slow. There are more and more blankets, with crucially distinct textures and sizes and patterns and histories and social functions and psychological effects, I need them all and I have them, and I do not need to be any shape anymore, under here.

About the Author:

Emily McKay is a Creative Writing MLitt graduate of the University of St Andrews in Scotland, where she studied and then worked as a cheesemonger for seven years. Her short memoir, fiction, and poetry have been published in Glimmer Train (Issue 95), Shenandoah (Vol. 63, No. 1), and Welsh poetry journal Zarf (Issue 2), respectively. She has recently moved to Tallahassee, FL, where she works at a veterinarian’s office and focuses on poetry and short fiction.

Special Note:

This piece was selected as part of the “Dis/appearances” theme, guest edited by Matt Tompkins, author of Souvenirs and Other Stories and Studies in Hybrid Morphology.

Image Credit: © cat_arch_angel – 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