Peter K. is a student living in New Hampshire. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Catalonian Review, Pear Noir!, > kill author, LITnIMAGE, and others. He is the Editorial Assistant with The Medulla Review and Founding Editor of Sandpaper, a print publication for student-composed creative nonfiction.
If I could dig a backyard ocean, I would make myself jetties and sailboats and mansions. I might find a reason to catalogue these fortunes, the things I’ve always wanted. There are days when this envelops me. These are the thoughts that bind me.
My mother plants me geraniums. Every Tuesday, and I notice. Their fingers lift the soil with viscous delicacy. It is the two of us. She needs another cat or my father again. And what I have to fix: there is land where my water should be.
It is her, and it is me: we are spitting pumpkin seeds. We are laughing minnow gills. It is spring, and my backyard ocean will not pond. Mom and I sit on a stone the size of our ribbed porch. My tiny-tiny ocean has no scent today. We miss peaches. She wonders why the ground I pull flattens. The things I touch, their sudden density. The waves, their should-be metallic shine.
I say, It’s the rain.
She says, Someday.
I backyard-whittle until the earth pops. Another rain, and fish settle. Weeds vine. I pour salt inside and everything clots. I no longer wish for sailboats. I wish for bandages and loveliness. Sometimes, birds for our windows and trees. I have no ocean-making experience. These things I thought would inhabit me with time.
I don’t trust myself. My ocean clogs. Trees whirlpool. Our backyard flatlines, and I discover geometric planes in grass. I am silent, and I am silt. A storm blooms—something jade—and my ocean sinks. Mom asks the geraniums be saved from the torrent. Take them first, she says. I pluck four sunflowers. One is maybe a mutant daisy. She knows how to best grow these conundrums: simple and thin. These days, rain curtains the roads for miles. These are the things I wish against.
A car crash, the other day. The points of this have been rarefied. I learned that my skin is narrow skin. That horns drill less severely. The sunflowers thin on the windowsill. When these are gone, I will be less capable of controlling myself.
It is okay to want to be lovely and small. The things I’ve always run from.
That’s it. Tomorrow I will buy the shovel. And I will love myself on Thursday.
Aunt Susan comes to take space over me. She owns a stiff posture and face freckles from arcane heat surgery. Sometimes, she sleeps with all our windows open. It is not spring anymore. Leaving sadness is real. Discussing her funeral. Dispatching to uncles I do not know. Maybe when I am older and noticeable and boyish.
I try again to finish my backyard ocean. To tip it with dolphins and octopus and small whales. Whales the size of paper planes. Whales that will make me happy in the mornings. Something new. It is mostly pathetic in its size and stagnance. I can hardly tell where I’ve been.
Come inside, aunt Susan says.
I’m fine, I say. I am fine.
No, she says. I cry. I miss Mom. I miss peaches and not knowing aunt Susan so closely. Her freckles are like eyes to me.
Fine, she says. Catch hypothermia. I think she means pneumonia. Something makes us prouder than yesterday.
These are the things that pry. The things that needle their ways through us. I do not wish to be fabric. Aunt Susan is burning her toast. It is simpler to chew, she says, when the toast cracks for you. The crisp arithmetic of diving boards: one spring and one swallow.
My ocean stales. Nothing in it moves. There is swirling in its bottom, but these are only leaves trying to find their corners. Trying to crop this ocean wider cannot be done daily. Maybe in squares. Relegated plots of sea. It is about as wide as me. It is about as deep. That doesn’t mean anything more than size. I am bad at measurements.
I miss peaches singly now. I will not let aunt Susan miss them alongside me. Our alignment does not branch so fiercely. She prefers toast anyway.
Come inside, aunt Susan says. Her voice is tinny. I sweat at it.
Fine, I say. I am fine. I am nauseous and find interstates in ceilings. Night seems to steep inside me. I bake inwardly.
Continuing tomorrow, I will find a fossil, but my shovel will sever it widthwise. I will glue it back together. It will last until I am old. A few years before I pass, it will crack lengthwise. It will appear as a target or axis, quartered to quadrants. I will miss Mom intensely then. The places I go, the places I need to conjure for her.
Aunt Susan wakes me in the night. Every window open, the teeth knocked from our home. She does things even Mom never understood. Mom would whisper, Just don’t tell anyone. As if there were something to be kept or held. Something to feed, or maybe schedule feeding for. Aunt Susan shovels dirt back into my ocean. Sounds like gravel rain and shitting. Where we lost our grace. Storms passing, a rapid saturation.
Stop, I say through windows. Cross-breezes abound. I see trees, a bowing moon. Where I am, where I will always be.
No, she says.
She says this like I am wrong. Solitaire and baking cakes, her novel aunt vices. The rights she always is, or claims for herself. It is five in the morning and the sun is probably and barely in California. Let’s just take a step back, Mom used to say. I’m not so sure about this.
Aunt Susan digs up earth to mound over my ocean, now one convex, inverted horizon. Dirt fills me at the sight of this. I will not listen. I will not wonder again. Our backyard, a frozen tide.
In five years, I will drug aunt Susan and leave her spread-eagled in a cornfield. She will be disoriented and not find her way home. I will wait two days, then save her. She will thank me when she sees me. She will say, thank God. And, Let’s get something to eat. She will be gaunt and tolerable. That night, we will have dry chicken and canned peaches.
Months, and an ocean sleeps beneath our grass, as if laid to rest. I crack the earth as winter colors our lawn. I dig up my ocean, but it does not breathe. Waiting for another spring. Watching cemented waves go nowhere.
Aunt Susan and I discuss time. The ease in measuring half hours. So much broken to place. And done so fast: in twos. My afternoons. My years. Sometimes they chase each other to this place. Passing the carrots. Aunt Susan says she is sorry, but I don’t understand her. She has trouble breathing out and I wish to know her windows. I could open them up and give her world a clearer, momentary pulse. Her voice then has a shine to it. The time I want her and Mom to know each other as sisters: only now.
A storm slips upward. Air sates to rain. A pond, a lake. My ocean pools. The ground grows wide, and from it appear my doleful whales, effervescent dolphins. Our home becomes submerged in this water, the windows similarly insatiable and lucid. Pouring in from angles I have not seen. What I’ve been waiting for, the things I do without.
I wake. Wind at my side.
Cracking. Aunt Susan has cemented my ocean’s starting place. She has taped its heart closed, constricted its nautical, nascent cadence. Tomorrow I will dig under and up. I will pop this crater like a bandage. I will plant geraniums if this ground does not heal.
In ten years, I will try to become a therapist. I will see one client (a woman with an acute stutter) before I stop. And I will stop in other ways, similarly, as if cued to. I will not live with buoyancy. Most of this remains to be seen.