Geographies of the Heart

by Caitlin Hamilton Summie

 Photo by Pech Frantisek  via Pixabay

Photo by Pech Frantisek via Pixabay

 

A selection by guest editor Madeleine D'Arcy. To receive a PDF version of this story to read offline or export to Kindle, please email longstoryshortjournal(AT)gmail(DOT)com.    

 

 

The night our grandfather died was a night without stars, the snow falling in endless repeat, first veiling the moon, the constellations, then the sharp edges of buildings – our whole world. Toward the end, when my grandfather seemed only to be lingering of his own will, I stood outside the main entrance of the hospital, looking for headlights; stunned by the deep and unsettling quiet of St Paul under snow and then by the long keening wail of a siren inching toward Emergency, the neon lights there obscured by snow and ice and hope.

          It was a night of mourning, and the mourning had come early. Grandpa had slipped beyond us at dusk, the rattle of his breathing slowly losing energy and force, the night lengthening and darkening with each diminished breath. Upstairs, my family huddled in his cramped room or took turns pacing the hall outside, each footstep measured like a heartbeat and almost as constant. We leaned against one another, against the pressure of what was coming as slowly and stealthily as that snow, wild in the wind outside yet silent. We leaned past dusk into nighttime, and as the night went on, we listened to his struggling breaths and held our own. In the end he gasped.

          Before he died, I took the elevator down to the lobby and phoned my sister. It was the third time that day I'd tried to reach her. She wasn't home, as usual. Still, I listened for her answer, and I watched the main entrance, hoping to see her slide through the doors, riding in on the edge of this latest snowstorm in a blossom of white, a brief rush of cold. It was late then, and while she could have gotten to the hospital earlier, I doubted she would make it now, and I wondered where she was. She had known how fast Grandpa was deteriorating. She had known, just as I had, to be ready for the phone to ring. And so I called, one last time.

          This was during the first week of November. I had not talked to Glennie in weeks. For the length of the fall, she had remained noticeably absent, despite calls for company, for help with the baby. Despite our obvious, looming loss. I was twenty-four then, and she was twenty-one. She was finishing her second to last semester at the U, and she had recently begun calling at odd hours, when I wasn't home, and leaving messages like telegrams. Am fine. Talk soon. Kiss Amelia. Hi to Al. She shrank into a line, all bone and tumbling gold hair, and devoted herself with religious intensity to school.

          At the start of the semester she had spent her free evenings drafting lengthy essays for medical school applications. In her brief appearances, over coffee down by the university, at our house for dinner, she always wore the same Gopher sweatshirt and a pair of running tights. She chewed her nails. She looked paler than I thought was possible, the rich yellow of her hair making her skin look alabaster, the fineness of her bones growing more prominent. I had tried to talk to her, me leaking with milk that stained my blouses, me with the warmth and curves Amelia had given me, but Glennie's answers were perfunctory, her gaze drifting elsewhere. She was waiting, she said, to hear; and so it seemed she could not listen. I thought of all this that night at the hospital, staring out from the phone cubby into the white of the storm. But I thought she would come, in one last show of love. In the end.

          I waited a long time with that phone receiver in my hand, listening to the flat, buzzing ring. The phone rang so long that the operator finally cut in and asked if I was all right. Her voice had startled me. I thought she was Glennie. I said, "It's Sarah. You better come now."

          When I hung up the phone and walked outside into that silent new world, searching for sight of her car, I reminded myself that she would have phoned if she'd been stranded. We would know. The quiet, interrupted in fits and starts by a siren, then a howl of wind, was broken finally by the ambulance itself, pressing against the wind; against the onslaught of snow. And then again, that deep quiet filled the night. I waited until the cold sent me back inside. And when I turned back to the elevators alone, I turned like others in my family had turned before me, some like milk, others like fall leaves, a little more sour, or ready to crumble at the touch. I turned and something twisted in me when I did.

 

That winter, there were constant reminders of Grandpa's passing with the holidays to background his absence, with Glennie's strange new behavior to accentuate all the change. When I was growing up, we had all lived in one house, the generations piled in layers, like the number of floors: three. Every time I went over to Mom and Dad's, the downstairs where Grandpa had lived was silent and gaping, and I realized again how much he'd marked my growing up, how I'd lived less by a clock than by his rituals: his alarm clock sounding into the early morning and waking me where I slept upstairs, or the chinking sound of the beer cap falling onto the kitchen counter at five o'clock, when he pulled a chair onto the front porch and watched cars drive by. I’d often joined him, and he would tell me what I was seeing: a house finch, cumulus clouds, an 84 Ford. I had grown up fingering the yellowed newspapers that had announced D-Day and Kennedy's assassination. I had watched the ritual picking of the cucumber yield and their slow progression into sweet pickles, Grandma patiently stirring, Grandpa quick to swear if he sliced a finger, which he'd wag at me. I understood references to the point system and knew old Navy jokes that no small child should know. I learned when to fold in a poker game. Every room held a slim memory, like a sleeve.

 

          During Grandpa's last few weeks I kept an old list in my wallet of what medicines he took and for what ailments, out of habit and just in case. I kept a separate old list of doctors names and beeper numbers. And toward the end, when the world reeled in that endless snow, I kept vigil, shooting straight up in bed each late night the phone rang, or not even sleeping at all but staring out the window, watching the next storm ride in.

          I made two emergency trips to the hospital that winter, once in the early afternoon, when Mom had taken a break and gone home, and once on Halloween, at dawn, when my car was the only one that started, coughing and spitting into the morning with all the reluctance I felt. The exhaust rose behind the car like a premonition.

          His doctor had told us that Grandpa's systems would slow and then stop one by one, as if someone were systematically going through a house and shutting off all the lights. I still haven't gotten over that image. And that last cold October morning, with my Honda sputtering in the cold, with Amelia snug in her car seat and smiling against what seemed to me a gray and dismal day, I wondered what was stopping now for Grandpa, what system had finally come to rest.

          At the hospital I’d handed over the soft, worn lists and watched as a nurse unfolded them and scanned the names and numbers. Yes, she told me, we have this information. I let my thoughts drift to Glennie, who had left another breathy message on my machine the night before. Her voice had sounded tentative. Really busy. Can’t talk. Call me. I had instead stumbled to bed, guilty for not calling but swept with a fatigue deeper and more rooted than any I'd ever known. Now there I was in the hospital, wondering where she was and what the hell was wrong. I wondered if she was okay. But of course she wasn't, and I knew it.

          The nurse called Dr. Hines, her voice low; and when she knew her answers, and I knew Grandpa would be all right, when I had sat with him for a minute and fixed his hair and covered his feet with a blanket; after I had called my mother and she had calmed down; after this I lifted my cooing and beautiful daughter higher on my hip and marched us both over to the row of pay phones to call the sister who was narrowing. Herself, her heart. And mine.

          I left Glennie a message. About fatigue and Grandpa and the baby. My voice was sharp. I demanded to know what the hell was wrong. I was holding Amelia in the crook of one arm, and she crowed into the receiver, leaving an aria for her aunt, who barely seemed to have words left, or the energy to speak them. We MacMillan women, thin-skinned from an overabundance of snow and sadness, let words lodge like icicles inside us. We froze.

          What the hell, I had said into the receiver.

          Glennie later told me she'd needed a break that winter, but a break from what I've never fully known. Never once did she make it to the hospital before Grandpa died. She did not help sort through his things. She called Mom and Dad, leaving messages in the same telegraphed language, which heaped one worry upon another, and she arrived at the funeral looking disheveled and as bitten as her nails. And this is where it begins, rising like a blister over the same worn spot. One might imagine we are too old for old grievances, that we have moved beyond. But how do you move past an absence like hers without taking notice?

          Distance doesn't always make the heart grow fonder. Sometimes, I've learned, it makes the heart grow harder. But I called. Finally. It had been years since Glennie and I had really talked. Our conversations usually circled the controversial and relied on the secure, though even then I had a tendency for the quick jab, the sarcastic remark. She'd come by and have dinner, maybe linger over a drink at some brief happy hour, but I didn't know the details of her days or what she thought about the M.D. now that she had it, after all those years of fight. I didn't know her any more, or she me; and so I took a look at my calendar one morning, saw my thirtieth birthday approaching, and decided to give myself a gift. I'd take her on a mini-vacation. Pull her out of her hospital, away from her milieu and away from mine, and on neutral territory we'd try to connect again, not with who we were or what we'd shared in the past, but with who we had become.

          I'd laugh if I felt like laughing: she was still impossible to reach. I had to leave a message. So I did, a staccato, stammering message that made me feel a sliver of recognition, like a shiver. I said: It's me. Your sister. Please call.

*****

 

I hadn't planned anything extravagant. A bed and breakfast, a three-day weekend, maybe a little more wine than usual. I planned only for us to get away, as if that effort alone overtaxed my imagination.

          I arrived at her hospital late in the afternoon. It was hot for April, steaming even, and I kept the station wagon running and aimed every vent in my direction, let the tepid air bother loose a strand of hair. A fistful of daffodils bloomed at the base of the flagpole, and every once in a while the flag lifted with the breeze and a ripple passed over the clutch of blooms. I let my head fall back against the seat. I closed my eyes.

          Her hospital, which is what I have always called it for no clear reason, was in St Paul; her apartment nearby, within a stone's throw, as my grandfather might have said. The drive from our house was short, but we didn't make the route often, Al, Amelia and I. We dropped by on holidays. Remembered her birthday. We had perfected – I had required that we perfect – the brief, cheery visit. The fifteen-minute family.

          The station wagon was a relic from the 1970s that Al had magically, and with great love, revived over the course of spring semester. Early on Saturday mornings, when his only company was an occasional house finch or the low rush of a passing car, or occasionally a curious Amelia drawn by the clanking and crashing and frequent string of curses, Al backed the wagon out of the garage and tinkered, got his mind away from papers and books and students, from the heavy questions which defined his profession.

          Al had never looked like a religion professor, rounded as he was, and with his white-blond hair. He looked like an athletic coach, a man who could cheer his team on to great feats. And he did. Each semester, he cheered on the students who refused to work or read, who called his assignments too hard because, in effect, they did not want to think. He had graded the first round of papers that spring with a sagging spirit of optimism. Then, halfway through the semester, with a stack of miserable midterms dominating the dining-room table, he found the car. I think it came from a junkyard, but it may have come from Larch, an aged family friend who still runs a bar downtown and seems to accumulate all sorts of strays. Suddenly the car appeared in the driveway, rusted, with two flat rear tires and a caved-in driver's side panel. And Al beamed. He thought it was wonderful.

          The station wagon had fake paneling on the sides and a rich blue accent and when I drove it, the car hummed like it was happy to be back on the road. I was happy to be back on the road, packed for a vacation.

          "There ought to be room," I had said to Al that morning, "for Glennie and I to grow apart and come back together again. There ought to be a little room for fluctuations."

          But I was really saying that I hoped there was. She may be the surgeon, and I the mother, but we came from the same places, the same hopes. We had to understand a little of one another, enough at least to share new ground. We were sisters, after all.

          And that's what I kept thinking as she tumbled through the hospital doors, wriggling out of her white coat as she walked, each footstep efficient and clipped. She looked like a race walker as she came toward me, elbows jutting into the air. She climbed in, loosening the bun that held her hair and like her it tumbled, hair that I've always loved.

          "We're off!" she said, raising her hands and laughing, her laugh flickering, light, resonating throughout the car.

          For a moment, I stared at her, uncertain, but then I nodded.

          Yes, we were off.

          This was it.

          Finally, despite all distractions, despite even ourselves, we were going.

 

I remember the oddest things about the winter Grandpa died. I remember in detail how the sun looked coming into the kitchen early one morning, falling in a lazy, generous beam, and how quiet the kitchen was. Al was asleep, Amelia was asleep, and I sat alone with a cup of peppermint tea, relishing the solitude. But a great deal else is only an impression. The hospital is a blur of white, as are the roads I traveled to and from; even Amelia learning to roll and chirping her first word (car) are memories crushed like flowers against the pages of a long, dense book, one that rivals for attention, one that demands.

          But I remember Glennie.

          Downstairs, curled on our sagging leather couch, exhausted from the semester, she slept through most of Christmas and we did not wake her. Al played pinball softly on Grandpa's old machine, but even when the bells and whistles clanked and sang, even when he hooted in victory, Glennie slept on, like a bear in hibernation, like the princess poisoned.

          I watched her sleeping once. I placed my hand in front of her face until her breath moved softly against my skin, and I stayed to make sure her breathing remained even. Maybe this is the root of all trouble in my family, or in me: fear. I checked to make sure Glennie was still alive, drove the silent winter roads to Grandpa consumed by dread; she stayed away, then after the new year stood at the mailbox in the dead of winter, half-covered in an ill-fitting down jacket, waiting for her grades. All As, but not a glimmer of relief in her eye, just a look harder and more determined, as if she were doing calculations in her head. And I believe that she was. She was figuring her chances, the percentages, her acceptance rate. She hit it on the head, too. So dispassionate, so objective. She looked at herself like a pool of admissions counselors would and knew what to expect.

          But what had she lost that winter to do it? Always, like a rumor, something insidious and whispery inside my heart: what had she let go of to become so cool?

 

In the car, Glennie rolls down her window and lets her head fall back against the seat.

          "God," she says. "What a day. I kept thinking that all I had to do was to get through it, and then I'd be on the road."

          "Me, too."

          Glennie looks at me. "This will be fun," she says, and I am grateful for her effort, her small offering.

          "Yes," I say, pressing my foot on the gas.

 

Somewhere outside of Minneapolis we break down. I should have known to take the Honda, I guess, but the large floating-boat feel of the station wagon appealed. The space appealed. And Al was so proud of it.

          It is sweltering and dry on the highway, and gusts of warm air balloon toward us, gently rocking the car. My shirt is cool against my back, and I imagine what I look like: sweat rings darkening the underarms of my white blouse, my hair pulled back but falling in wisps, and wetly, around my face; the lines around my eyes and mouth, the tired look to my gaze. The day is slipping away, near dusk, and neither of us know a damn thing about cars.

          It doesn't take long to find a gas station, since we'd just passed a ramp heading into a small town. The attendant, an older man with gray hair and a deeply lined face, agrees to give us a lift back in his tow truck, where he says he’ll hazard a guess. He drives us back onto the highway, back into the dry, slow wind, and toward the station wagon, which suddenly looks not much different to me than when I'd first seen it. I think of Al's careful attention, as careful as his commentary on papers, as thoughtful and precise, and I don't want it to fail, I don't want him to know.

          "It's nothing," the old man says, and his voice is a whisper, dry like the wind, and as hot against my face.

          He tows us back to his shop, and we sit thigh to thigh in the front seat, arm to arm, bumping down the ramp and into town. He smells of oil and dust, and Glennie smells of soap, something sharp that reminds me of spring. I know I’ll remember that distinctly, that fresh smell off her in the heat.

          Glennie and I walk through the highway underpass while the man works, shirtless, his back the sandy brown of a construction worker's and as smooth and muscular as a young man's. We steer ourselves past graffiti, around pop cans and stray plastic bags, past cigarette butts and random, sad purple flowers and walk the cracked sidewalk into downtown Belton, a pocket of shops nestled up against the highway.

          Our choices are a steak house and fast food. We choose the steak house. We are our father's daughters, after all, raised on summer cookouts and the juicy first bite of steak; raised on the smell of it cooking. Inside, we slide our trays along the grooved countertop, craning our necks to see the menu. The restaurant is empty, save for the young chef finishing the last of his cigarette and a girl who piles droopy lettuce into a container for the salad bar. We choose a table in the center, under an air vent.

          Glennie is hungry, but I've never known her to be less. Hunger is in her. She is starving or famished but always thin, always a reed.

          "Dad used to cook the best steaks," she says.

          I glance at her. On the tip of my tongue are the familiar old words, the bad habit: he still does, but I check myself and perhaps she senses this because she looks at me while she swallows, and there we are, face to face with it, the same old tension.

          I lift my coffee cup and take a long, slow, easy sip, letting the liquid fill me with something close to strength and security.

          "Have you been over to Mom and Dad's lately?" she asks.

          "I was there last night."

          "How are things?"

          "Things are fine. Things are good."

          And it’s true, or true enough. She ought to know that Mom complained of stiffness in her hands, of stiffness settling in her everywhere, as though she is filling with cement, but I tell Glennie things are fine and hope it spares the two of us something.

          Glennie watches me. I nod, suddenly hesitant to give voice to my lie again. I hold my coffee cup in front of my face, look out the window at the highway, at the brightness of the day slowly receding.

          "Mom's enjoying her garden," I say.

          "It won't always be."

          "What?"

          "It won't always be fine," Glennie says.

          I look at her over the rim of my coffee cup. I hadn't expected this, and I stare at her for a moment, then set down my cup. We have decisions coming. We have more farewells. But those were far off, and what seems more relevant to me is that we do not have each other.

          “That isn’t what we need to talk about," I say suddenly. "That's not what this weekend is about."

          Glennie says, "Isn't it?"

 

On that cold night, when Minnesota blessed us with temperatures warm enough for snow and we gathered without Glennie to say goodbye to my grandfather, I let go of a tradition, of what I understood a family to be. The snow came down and piled itself softly as though to cushion the blows.

          The hospital had a machine that cleared Grandpa's lungs, but he had waved it away the last time he'd had strength, and now we were down to it, as he might have said.

          "We're all here," Dad had told him, squeezing his hand. "All here."

          Al leaned out the door and asked for a nurse, and Nancy came in, her footsteps hushed against our breathing, her movements swift. Nancy, who had over the weeks taken a place among us. She gave him a painkiller, or maybe that's what I'd like to think, the memory of his breathing, of the fluid in his lungs, too much to bear without the slim memory of relief, true or not.

          I don't remember Nancy leaving, only that when we filtered into the hall late that night she was there, arms spread outward, as if she could hold us all. Only that we listened to the rattle of his breathing, whispering him onward, whispering our love, until all we heard was ourselves.

          I didn't ask Glennie why she never came to the hospital that night, nor did she volunteer, and I said only one thing to her when she finally did appear the next morning, rushing into the hospital restaurant. Dad and Al had left to call Larch, who even at his age, and in that snow, was already waiting in the lobby, waiting while they called him at home. Mom had gone to the ladies' room, and there were Glennie and I seated at a small table, staring at each other. She asked if he'd gone peacefully, and I wanted to break her in half. I was grieving, and afraid: of her, whom I no longer knew; of her pencil-thin wrists; of how supremely angry I was.

          I looked at her and said, “Don’t.”

          Al said maybe she couldn't handle what touched her family, but I've never agreed. How much would it have required of her to appear, even briefly? At any ceremony, at any ritual, there were always six of us, then seven and eight with Al and Amelia, and I could not believe, am slow to forgive, that my grandfather died without the full measure of support he was due; that one small voice did not join our chorus on the only day it mattered.

          “What if she just isn’t as strong as you?” Al asks.

          The question passes into each new year despite my efforts to forgive, despite my best intentions. I know what he's wondering. Does she sometimes question me, too? But I question only Glennie. Not her competence. Not her brains. But her compassion, which I believe is essential to love.

          This year, though, as the subject made its way to the surface once again, Al asked a different question. It was a Sunday. I'd dropped Amelia off at a friend's house and returned home with an armload of groceries and some grievance. A bad driver ahead of me, a surly grocery clerk. I don't remember, only that the irritation arose and transformed itself and grew and suddenly I was back in that hospital again, and Glennie was not.

          "For God's sake," Al finally said, quietly, as he peered into the engine of his rusted renovation. "Sarah, what the hell is this really about?"

          He turned to me, away from the car, accepted in silence the pop I had brought out to him.

          "Family," I replied. “Values and commitment and family and love. It’s about how we were raised. It’s about a way of life. It’s about her not being there. For any of us. And certainly not for me.”

          And there it was, in all its bald and ugly and broken self: I had needed her that night. I was tired of holding up, holding together, holding hands. I needed her, and she was not there, and she did not come to us, like we had hoped. She fled somewhere else, to someone else for comfort, and left me waiting, standing at the phone bank in the hospital lobby, alone.

          I blinked at Al, who turned back to the car, his gaze out to the road.

          "You're letting bitterness eat you alive," he said.

 

The cool air in the restaurant lowers a degree or two, and the background music abruptly switches to classical halfway through a whining and overdone love song.

          I pause. "How are things with you?"

          Glennie shrugs. "The same," she says. "People come to the hospital, and I try to help them, and sometimes I succeed."

          I don't want to ask about failure. I can imagine what her feelings are. But I do want to know how she defines loss. At one time she'd confided, then at least gave the semblance of it, passing on news of boyfriends and school fears and snippets of dreams. But sitting there across from her, the two of us alone for the first time in years, I know she squirrels most of her life away; that we have broken apart, like continents, leaving a gaping ocean between us. She would not tell me what loss was, and I would not ask.

          "Amelia shot up three inches this year," I say.

          Glennie smiles. "She's going to be a tall one. One day you'll be looking in her eyes."

          I laugh, but the laugh is short and high. I think, someday we all have to look each other in the eye, and I say what I’ve wanted to say for years.

          "I've always been angry that you were never there." My voice sounds soft and even, but Glennie looks away, shakes her head.

          "How much would it have taken out of you to be there for just a minute?" I ask, the question pressing forward with the weight of years.

          "People aren't always perfect." She sounds worn at the edges, her answer running over my question.

          "Were you eating at all?"

          Glennie shoots me a glance, and her face, her jaw, seem rigid. The question goes unanswered.

          "Where were you?"

          She's staring out the window at the thin line of cars snaking along the highway, slowly for some odd reason, as if dusk is treacherous. And maybe it is. Dusk brought us to this place, where I no longer count on her, or she on me; where our roots fill different pots, and we reach for different light.

          "He didn't know I wasn't there," she says, "so why do you care so much?"

          I can't answer. Something inside me has suddenly ripped open.

          Glennie pulls her gaze away from the road and back to me. "Just because I wasn't there doesn't mean I wasn't grieving. I was."

          Forget the peaceful landscape, forget the quiet bed and breakfast where we could drink wine to take the edge off. It is now, over steaks and coffee. It's here. I'm suddenly too tired to get angry. “Why couldn’t you come, just for a little? Why couldn’t you just say goodbye?”

          I wait. I'm not good at waiting.

          "I didn't want to be there," she says finally, leaning forward, her face close to mine. I smell the steak sauce on her breath, watch the lines shaping around her mouth, lines that I know are not laugh lines. I never look away.

          "I'll never want to be there. For anyone."

          “Then why are you even bringing up the subject of Mom and Dad?”

          Glennie takes a deep breath, one that she seems to have been gathering for years. "I don't want to see the people I care about … I don't want to remember them that way."

          "It's not about you." My voice sounds sharp and tight, and I blush instantly because it is all about her and me and only ever has been. I suddenly can't believe who we've become.

          And then she says, “I was there. In my apartment.”

          She's looking straight at me. It takes a minute for the reference to sink in, and then it does.

          "I'm sorry," I tell her. And I am. For both of us. For the ways we allow fear to preside. But she let me down, let us all down. She abandoned something I loved, and that makes me even sorrier.

          Glennie squints her eyes. "Do you think you're the better person?"

          I look at her, whose hands save lives, the thin fingers delicately putting back into place what has ripped away or broken down; whose precision is notorious.

          "I think you should have been there," I tell her. "But mostly I think we're both selfish as hell and that Grandpa wouldn't like either one of us."

          We sit quietly for a while and the restaurant fills in, and we are an island in the middle, sinking in spongy seats, seated at a hard plastic table, remembering.

          I want to ask about hunger, about how she starved herself down to a nub in college, how she made it through medical school at all. I want to tell her that I have never been prouder of her than the day the provost slipped the mantle over her gown and pronounced her name, enunciated each syllable: Dr Carys Glenn MacMillan. We rose in our seats in one loud roar, all of us, even Larch. I want to breathe into our afternoon something like a prayer for her, something like a hymn for me.

          “I’ll need you there,” I say, my voice trailing off.

          And then, as the truth drifts out into the hot and steaming day, our pick-up time for the car already past, my sister says, "Do you ever forgive?"

          I look up at her sharply, ready to answer until I see her expression, the way her eyes search mine, as though I’m unknown to her; until I realize that she has told me what loss is. I don't like her very much, even though I love her, and I wonder what size I've made her feel over the years, how much a person like me can wear another down, or send a scar straight into the marrow, to stay. I wonder how much she likes me.

          We’re from the same place, but we have different geographies of the heart.

          I stare at her narrow frame with that hair like a prize and think: she consumed herself that winter, allowed herself to be consumed. She left us on the edge of her world, left my grandfather outside it, left simply and for good a part of her heart in the frozen landscape of that endless, relentless winter.

          But so did I.

          The restaurant is filling in, a family tucking into salads, not a word spoken, their attention focused on their bowls. An old man sits alone, his eyes rheumy and faraway, like Glennie's now, again. Like everything, suddenly. Faraway and hard to see.

          I take a deep breath. "I'm going to go. I am going to go to this bed and breakfast."

          Nothing in her expression changes, and so I force myself. Rise above. God, I'm sick of her. Mostly, though, I'm sick of myself.

          "Are you coming?" I ask.

          I wait. She turns toward me again and before I can let her say no, before I can bear up under the force of whatever her expression reveals, I take my chance. I know it is our last. I say, "Come."

          We walk out into the hot day in step but grimly so. The day is dim, and the glow is almost gone, one last streak of light in the horizon. We walk under the highway, past the garbage and the empty coke cans and the scrawled messages of violence and love, and I know I will never forget the heat, though the day has cooled; I will never forget walking with her back to the small gas station, with its one pump and that old man behind the counter, who let us go with only a wave.

          We climb into the car and thread our way back through the side streets to the ramp, and we shoot off, our red taillights disappearing into the open dark of the road. We don’t sing any old songs we know; don’t tell each other stories; don’t relive what past there is to share. We go forward against some great falling crush. The ride is long, and we ride in a kind of relief, glad for the movement because movement feels like hope, driving toward the reconciliation beyond us, but there, like a beacon, or a constellation.

Caitlin Hamilton Summie earned her MFA with Distinction from Colorado State University. Her short stories have been published in Puerto del Sol, Wisconsin Review, Mud Season Review, and Beloit Fiction Journal,and she has had a guest post published on “Motherlode,” the New York Times parenting blog. Her short story collection, To Lay to Rest Our Ghosts, is due out from Fomite Press in August 2017.