In 2008, Melissa Reddish graduated with an MFA from American University. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming
in Wazee, Flywheel Magazine and Foundling Review.
The sky is a long gray board tacked to the ceiling of the universe. There is a sound that is hushed under other, smaller sounds that are not. The branches of the tree outside the window are bowing. A leaf whips past, another. Places to be, places to be! They’re all in such a hurry.
Teresa calls her ex-boyfriend and presses the phone to her face until it is slicked with grease.
“You promised never to take more than three rings to answer.”
“Remember, I don’t know how to communicate properly.”
She pauses. “It’s about to rain here.”
“It’s raining other places too. You’re not special.”
She considers this hard little nugget of wisdom opening and closing its tiny little fists in her lap. Its eyes are squeezed shut because it is new and it has been separated from its mother too soon. There is nothing much she can do for it.
The rain is sudden, tremendous; it sluices down her window in great wide sheets. Her apartment steams. She opens her window, and the rain falls inside and immediately pools on the floor. She wants to take a shower but she is afraid the building will be hit by lightning and it will travel through the water in the pipes directly to her. She shoves an entire plum in her mouth and chews and chews until she can spit out the seed. Juice dribbles onto her chin. She imagines she is an infant in a woven basket washing down the river. Who will save her before she pitches over the cliff? She sees carefully muscled arms, brown, reaching and hoisting the basket to shore. They are not the arms of her ex, so they have no body, no face. Just arms cradling the baby against a slate gray sky.
The rain has stopped and everything outside is dripping in a lascivious way. She opens her fridge and sees her father’s head on a platter. She doesn’t have any platters, so she isn’t sure where it came from. There is no blood, just a clean cut at the neck. He still has the same military-style buzz.
“Don’t leave the goddamned door open. You’ll let in flies.”
The door closes with a suction sound. She is tired of seeing her father. Yesterday she bit into an apple and found his teeth rattling inside. A couple days earlier, her sink was clogged with his beard hair. Last week she found a pair of his moccasin slippers leaning against her bureau. The leather was worn to a fine layer. She pitched them in the dumpster outside and came back to find them peeking from underneath her bed.
Earlier that day, there was a letter from her father in the mailbox. She opened it, but it was written in disappearing ink, and the words vanished before she could read them. She drew a hand turkey and stuck it in the mailbox down the street.
He left when she was ten. She doesn’t like to think about it. He gave her an Indian burn when she refused to take out the garbage. His teeth were large and white. They gleamed. He liked to be the cause of goose bumps. He didn’t like when her mother let her loose flesh sag into the wicker chair. He threatened to cut it off with a knife. There were 78 black squares in their living room rug. There were 318 flowers in the wallpaper in her room but only four curled black bugs on her windowsill. She pressed her finger into one of the bugs and it made a sound like crumpled paper.
When he left, her mother took out a book, Clichés for Everyday Use, and read the ones that seemed appropriate.
“Good riddance to bad rubbish.”
“A penny saved is a penny earned.”
“A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”
“All dressed up and nowhere to go.”
She wants to punch her mother in the mouth. She wants to slice a thin red line down the length of her arm to see her own veins glittering. She knows she is made from broken pottery, worm guts, stars. Everything, herself included, is combustible.
She calls her ex again, but the voice that answers is her father’s. It crackles through the line as though from a great distance.
“Did you take out the trash?”
Teresa traps the phone between her shoulder and ear. “I never take out the trash. My room is a sea of garbage and my bed is a boat I paddle through it.”
“Why are you always such a goddamn smartass?”
Outside, the rain has started again. She can hear the patter on her window like the drumming of fingers. She looks out the window and sees that the raindrops are large hairy fingers trying to poke their way inside. In the sky, her father’s face is a cumulonimbus cloud. His eyes are dark gray swirls of gathered storm. Lightning arcs from one arm to the other.
“Stop being so dramatic,” she says.
The storm gets louder and the wind slams rain, leaves, small branches against her window. The glass rattles. She pulls a blanket up to her chin under the wrecked sound of thunder. Her father once told her thunder was the sound of God bowling. Her father is getting a strike.
“I don’t want to talk to you. Go away,” she says.
All at once, the rain stops. She can hear the sound of water pouring through the gutters into the sodden clods of grass. The water level rises, higher and higher, until it covers doorways, windows, small children and animals. Her tiny apartment is an ark. It detaches from the rest of the building and floats along the flooded landscape dotted with downed telephone poles, floating mailboxes. A small brown dog is sitting on a rocking chair and she scoops it inside her boat. She floats along the street that leads to her favorite Italian restaurant, the one with the basket of different flavored rolls. Once there, she will dock her boat and eat every single roll from the basket. She tosses her cell phone into the swirling brown water. A seagull circles, cries once, and then flies away, searching for land.