March 21, 2022 by The Citron Review
by Luke Larkin
My grandmother showed me her ghost once. We were sitting on the porch of the house she’d die in and she was smoking a cigarette that’d kill her not a year later, though at the time I didn’t think much of anything could kill her. She knew it was coming, though, and its approach loosened her tongue. She wanted to impart.
“I have a friend on the way,” she said. And I might have been surprised—it was past midnight and everyone in that mountain town was old—had it not been for the strange way the moonlight soaked into the snow and the air hung heavy and close despite that. So I only nodded.
The woman was more or less impenetrable, and even today that’s mostly how I remember her. Face stony and set, pushing a plank of oak through a buzzsaw. Always busy with creation. There were moments she softened for me, like when she showed me how to snap a pane of stained glass—score, score again, clamp—or, toward the end of her life, the little tree she’d bent from wire when her hands had grown too weak for wood and glass and clay. I knew from the start this would be one such moment, but I couldn’t know how.
“Any minute now,” she said, and we waited, and she said nothing more until from the edge of the lawn, somewhere in the tangled stand of aspens, something snapped, and rustled, and from that disturbance: a buck. It stood taller than the jagged horizon and traveled meters in one stride. The animal (and I call it that only tentatively) stopped in the center of the yard, steam rising from its glossy coat, and turned its face to us, antlers ripping at the sky and releasing a soft snowfall. “Better keep on,” my grandmother said and nodded, presumably to the buck, and the buck turned and continued on its way, across the yard and into the woods on the other side.
“How did you—” I started, but my grandmother shushed me with a finger and a drag on her cigarette, the smoke of it indistinguishable from the fog of her breath. “That’s not the half of it,” she said, and motioned to the edge of the clearing, where the buck had emerged. “Watch.”
And so I did, and nearly saw nothing. But there was nearly nothing to see, after all, only a slight impression in the snow, in the shape of a boot sole. Then another, a little ways ahead, pressing into the white down like a stamp. And above, at eye level: faint puffs of air. Here, then gone. Then there, and gone again. The prints stopped there in the yard, in line with my grandmother on the porch, and she regarded whatever was out there with a cool gaze, and it regarded us with nothing but its intermittent breaths. Eyes I could not see, seeing me. Or, more likely, seeing only her. Again my grandmother nodded, and I felt for all the world as though her ghost nodded back before he continued on his way, unseen boots falling soundless after the buck, across the clearing and into the trees.
Moments later, the blast of a rifle. Or perhaps only a tree bursting in the freeze.
I could not speak.
“I know him,” my grandmother said, and pressed her cigarette under her bitter foot. “I know him like a buck knows a bullet,” and she rose and went inside.
Luke Larkin is an MFA candidate at the University of Montana, where he helms CutBank. His work can be found in places like HAD, No Contact, Popshot, and others.