December 15, 2020 by The Citron Review
by Amanda Gaines
I had to admire his timing; breaking up with me two weeks before I moved across the country saved him from a lot of work. This left me with the task of planning a solo sixteen hour drive, packing, tricking two hapless cats into crates, and being without. The task of relearning the sounds and shapes solitude takes.
I’d never lived anywhere besides West Virginia. The potholed back roads, the skirts of ash trees bending over telephone poles, the creeks shallow and clear and full of silver minnows that darted from behind slick rocks like small knives: there, then gone. We had planned on doing long distance. He had told me just weeks prior that we couldn’t have kids any time soon because introducing his new kitten to my cats proved unmanageable. The last I saw him was in a grocery store we visited before he went to work. I blew him a kiss. He told me he loved me and got in his separate car. There, then gone.
A week before my move, my landlord hosted an art auction for his girlfriend’s four-year-old son, Winslow. He invited me, hoping to see me off right. He laid out bottles of expensive wine and finger foods; tart lemon tomato pastries that crumbled at the touch, chips and salsa. Peanut butter and fruit loop sandwiches in honor of the artist. Winslow’s drawings were largely black and white: stick figures of animals around the farm where he and my landlord lived, a visit to an aquarium, monsters long extinct. Kittens of assorted sizes filled one frame, a pterodactyl in another. Sketches of schools of fish. I was nursing my third glass of wine, observing a piece. My landlord spoke from behind me.
“This one tells a story,” he said.
A bird, straight-winged, hung in white space above a series of boxy cars bumbling down a gravel road. An Exxon sign loomed in the corner. The bird’s brothers and sisters, small in their twiggy home, were holed off the right corner of the page. The bird in flight is huge compared to the others; it looks like it’s luuging over an invisible obstacle. It’s flying away from it’s family, towards a steep hill that leads somewhere we can’t see. It wasn’t my favorite. I forced a smile and left the room.
My landlord built his house from the ground up. The cedar floors, the granite fixtures. The stone walls, cool to the touch. The intricate corn maze. The tall, crooked tower overlooking the cattle field. He lugged the bricks alone, assembled the logs into solid walls on his own. I wondered how long it took to get here but didn’t ask. Outside, the air was warm and still. Cattails hung their golden heads in the late sunlight. In the distance, goats bleeted. I sat on the veranda and cried.
Knots bloomed tight between my wing blades. My hands shook with tremors. I imagined my boyfriend in his new house, offering a faceless girl a drink. We had spent the last four months in quarantine alone, together. We’d had a plan. What did I have if I didn’t have each other? I didn’t want to be ready.
My landlord appeared by my side and placed a picture frame on the table in front of me.
“This is for you,” he told me.
It was the birds.
My heart swelled. “You didn’t have to do that.”
He waved me off. “Something to remember me by.” He pointed at Winslow, who counted his new money like beads on a rosary. “He thinks he’s going to be the next Pollock.”
I turned around in my seat and faced Winslow, my elbows on my knees. I envied the time he had, the options, the uncomplicated pleasure a fistful of dollars can bring a child.
“Hey,” I asked him. “is that money for me?”
He tucked his chin into his shirt. His brown bowl cut and white-striped linen pants, very yacht captain.
“No,” he drew out.
“C’mere, buddy” I told him. He bashfully shuffled towards me. I stuck out my pinky finger.
“You ever make a promise?” I asked him.
He grinned and shrugged his shoulders.
“See,” I said, “if you link pinkies with someone else, it shows that you mean business–that you mean forever.”
He wrapped his finger against mine.
“Friends?” I asked.
“Friends,” he nodded. “Now, chase me!”
I stood up without thinking, contorting my hands into claws, and took off after him. Winslow screeched, delighted, as I swooped about the veranda, the edge of the corn maze, trying to catch him. He was faster than I’d anticipated. The harder I tried to keep up, the louder he laughed. And for a few minutes, air rushing beneath my spread arms, I forgot to feel sorry.
We played until I couldn’t. When I finally stumbled back into my seat, my landlord and his girlfriend’s wine bottles were almost empty. I slumped over, Winslow close behind me. He put his arms out expectantly so I lifted him onto my lap. He shivered and I wrapped my fleece denim jacket around his small body. He nestled his head against my shoulder.
“I think,” he told me sleepily, “I want to go home now.”
I looked at the blue mountains and blushing skyline and reminded myself to miss it. I breathed in hay and summertime. I prayed that someday I would be home enough for someone else.
“It’s almost over,” I reassured him, gesturing towards his mother.
Winslow slid out of my chair and stood alongside me.
His face was barely visible in the dusk.
“Catch me,” he whispered.
Crickets sang, hidden in the soft grass. Mosquitos thrummed in the air. There was the crunch of shoes against loose gravel. For a moment, in the last light, the world seemed to glow. There, then gone.
Amanda Gaines is a PhD candidate in Creative Nonfiction in OSU’s Creative Writing Program. She is the nonfiction editor of Into the Void. Her poetry, nonfiction, and fiction are published or awaiting publication in The Oyez Review, Gravel, Typehouse, Yemassee, Redivider, and Ninth Letter.