about the author

Lancaster Cooney graduated from Northern Kentucky University with a BFA in Playwriting. His work can be found or is forthcoming at Alice Blue Review, Everyday Genius, Matchbook Lit Mag, and Heavy Feather Review, among others. He lives with his wife, two daughters and pup in the Northern Kentucky area.

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This Room Has Reached Capacity

Lancaster Cooney

Uncle Will used the coil spring off an ‘83 Dodge Charger to cave Aunt Elsie’s orbital bone, affecting its duct work, ensuring her sadness overwhelmingly favored that of the opposite side. On another occasion he pursued her with a carving knife (over what, I can’t be certain) severing both the Proper and Common nerves in her left hand, thus negating her inclusion in such auspicious factions as “those who function with left-handedness.” And then of course there was the finality of that lifestyle. Whereupon the arrival of the law compelled my uncle to procure asylum in the back room. Nearly three days he held up there, feeling the weight of it, praying for restitution before the trigger made him whole again.

Not long after that my father started in on the upkeep of the property, routine maintenance mostly with an every now and again emphasis on the inadequacies of the foundation. During the rainy season it was not uncommon to find standing water in the basement or the baseboards a piss-stained yellow. And on more than one occasion I’d tag along to stomp a shovel into the dirt or drag spackle across the cracked avenues at the base of the house.

What drove Aunt Elsie out were the voices, not something she necessarily claimed to have heard, but rather messages that seemed to be pounded into the meat of her brain. She’d write them down on scraps of paper and leave them wadded up all over the house. Entire conversations and cryptic messages, saying such things as “This room has reached capacity,” or “There’s nothing you can tell us that we don’t already know.” She’d lead my father to the back room and hold her hands up to the door like someone warming themselves at a fire, “Can you feel that?” she’d say. “That’s Will.”

In a matter of six months she’d reach out to a man of legality and have the property signed over in my father’s name. She’d whittled down to nearly nothing by then. My father leaned in and spoke to her like a child, “Now Elsie, you sure this is what you want?” But when he took hold of her hand to draw attention, she saw only Will.

A few months later an embolus let loose in the lower quadrant of my father’s abdomen and parked it in the beltway of his pulmonary artery, pilfering his oxygen and leaving him for discovery near the barn behind our house. The rural-poor gathered to celebrate him, wishing nothing more than to hand deliver him unto the recesses of continuum. Their sympathetic breath soaked into the lapel of my suit, and stories were relived right there on the borders of my periphery forcing themselves into my sadness.

My friend Laurent and I drove out to Uncle Will’s on a Friday. Laurent grew up in Montreal and listened to bands like, Tame Impala and Here We Go Magic. We passed a joint back and forth and he sucked it down with ease, like it was something he was culturally born to do. “Listen to this guy,” he said. “Sounds just like John Lennon.” My intention was to walk the perimeter of the house and ensure nothing had been compromised, but before I knew it Laurent cast a high beam and we found ourselves inside. The floorboards moaned beneath our weight. “Might consider staying here?” Laurent offered, for we had only recently met at the university. “Cut your commute nearly in half.”

In a play at pacification my father nailed some 4x4’s into the frame of the door and installed a bolt lock. My father rarely spoke of Uncle Will, only stating on a few occasions, “Will’s simply a bad egg.” We never got into semantics, but it was my belief that Aunt Elsie’s fears were not hers alone. We used a tire iron and cracked the boards back like tendons, let them rattle at our feet. The room was dark and the reach of the high beams offered little light.

“You been in?” Laurent asked.


Laurent entered and I followed. Our breath hung before us and scattered into amazing shapes. We stepped carefully, but this seemed silly. We both claimed nausea and looked for a place to sit. Our minds became inundated with voices that stretched the parameters of sexuality.

“What the fuck,” Laurent said.

“Easy,” I replied.

Something sat in the corner. Laurent stooped and vomited and I followed suit. There was an overpowering smell of roadside death and the floor felt like the underbelly of a tongue. Prayer was swatted from my brain. Sublimation was no longer a concept, but a way of retention. And my heart beat in my chest like rotting fruit. I felt its faults and could not fix them.

Next thing I recall were brake lights, “Laurent! Laurent! Laurent!” My boots were in the house, I’d honestly run out of them. Laurent’s jawbone was broken and he kept trying to adjust it.

We sat at the kitchen table over coffee. Davis Marmol offered his condolences.

“First off Maggie, let me say how sorry I am to hear about Thomas. He was by all things measurable, a good husband, father and mechanic.”

“Mighty kind of you, Mr. Marmol,” she said.

Marmol portrayed himself as that of a simple chicken farmer, but we all knew he was the closest thing to a venture capitalist our little town would ever know. Owned a fueling station off Route 8 and bought up all the land over in Gallatin County. “Opportunity damn near falls in my lap,” he’d often say, exchanging a look of Osh-Kosh-Begosh for one of urban royalty, donning round derby’s and suits of vibrant color that were clearly developed for men of a specific population.

“It’s not without its demons,” I said.

“So I’m told. But my interest lies not in the house, but the land. Have a mind to get back into chickens Pruett, and the way I see it Uncle Will’s property is available, no?”

We watched from the roadside. Marmol barked at the laborers and pushed and pulled smoke from a cigar. The dipper arm of the excavator came up and scraped the teeth of the bucket through the house like a culture. Birds left the trees. Laborers arranged items in spastic piles and set them alight. Marmol slapped at a Hoover fly, the last of the season while my mother whispered metrically beneath her breath, “A deal is a deal is a deal.”

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