Outside Our Apartment in Germany, 1996 (after “Clean Slate” by Joanna McNaney)

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December 22, 2016 by The Citron Review

by Cole Meyer

We’re all squinting. The glare of the melting sidewalk snow too harsh. My sister’s bangs droop over her eyes, her mouth agape in some confused smile. My parents, younger than I ever remember them, crouch behind us. Mom’s sunglasses sit atop her head. (You could guess the decade by their size, if not by the color of our nylon jackets.) Her bangs cut a sharp blonde line across her forehead. Dad’s face is like a mirror of mine, now. I lean against his leg, mine crossed like I have to pee. My cheeks pudgier than they ever could’ve been.

In a couple of years, we’ll return to the states, my father’s heart aching. To the Midwest they grew up in but I had never known. A Midwest I now can’t separate from my own identity. My father will shave his moustache and grow a goatee. My mother will don more hairstyles than I can count and my sister’s confusion won’t ever leave her face, despite acing every test, despite graduating with honors from her master’s program. I’ll grow weak and thin by then. I’ll grow angry and quiet by then.

In a couple of years, we’ll spend the summer in my aunt’s basement next to a manufacturing plant in a Milwaukee suburb. Mom will work and Dad will look for it and I’ll spend afternoons watching Bibleman or the neighbor boy smoke cigarettes behind his grandmother’s shed.

Down the walk behind the camera are the landmarks of my childhood: rocks upon which Autumn and I staged thirty-second performances, hay bales we hid behind, a skinny metal slide we refused to touch in the summer. The nettle only steps from the garage, where I’d learn my lesson about untied shoes and riding bicycles. The neighbor’s German Shephard whimpers, its litter restless and hungry.

I doubt Dad was worrying about Grandma. I doubt Mom was worrying about lumps hidden inside her ovaries.

Soon, we will stand from this pose. Soon, I will ask to be carried to the bathroom and Autumn will ask to run to the park and Dad will answer a call that ends with he and I in Sheboygan and my mother will look for a job in her husband’s home state and I will grow thin and weak and quiet and fall in love again and again before I understand what it means to love and Autumn will find a God more peaceful than any I’ve known and Dad will be laid off and Mom will ache and lose her energy and I won’t cry when they arrive outside my apartment with sudden news. I won’t cry when they say cancer. I won’t cry during her surgery. I won’t cry until we are gathered in the backyard of the house we filled together with our ghosts, with the willow trees and the cattails and the deck built with bare hands; with my parents’ friends in folding chairs sipping Miller Lite and red wine and my mother hugs me like it’s over and I hug her back and know that it’s never over and that I won’t let go until I have to.

Cole Meyer received BAs from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in creative writing and classical humanities. An intern and reader at The Masters Review, his fiction has been anthologized by Blue Skirt Press and is forthcoming at SmokeLong Quarterly. He tweets about writing and baseball @ColeA_Meyer.

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