Monday, November 22, 2010


There is an hour when the sun hovers on the horizon and the light is filtered by the dusty atmosphere of dusk. Looking out over the expanse of fields that stretched unto eternity in every direction, the wind often whipped an anguished sound from a farmhouse miles away. Maybe a pig slaughter, though she couldn't be sure. Grace knew that cruelties were dealt out in equal measure with the vast spaces the way you cut cold butter into flour to make biscuits, that in the end one could not tease out the pain. Her body is poised tautly in listening. She can hear the whispering stories of wheat and grass, the story of a ghost of a girl standing at the edge of the Farm-to-Market road, where the cattle trucks fly past leaving a wake of hard, bitter wind. The rust colored seed-heads of prairie bluestem and the violet tips of aristidas and grama grasses shimmer, heavy laden with the weight of light and the memory of a young woman running across the road and into the fallow field that slept at the edge of the stripped-bare fields of cotton, a field that erupted in the sudden iridescence of grasshopper wings.

Grace has watched her countless times, young Lizzie, darting between the veils of time like a lithe deer through the grass. She seems half animal, each cell cocked to bolt away and disappear at the cracking of a twig. Lizzie approaches an old screen door hanging by a single hinge, the wind slapping it in spasms against the doorframe. This moment of apprehension is imprinted in the metal of the doorknob: catching her reflection in the warped glass of the kitchen door, Lizzie gasped. Her entire life was articulated in the clotting thunderheads rising out of the north, but Lizzie could not decipher the tragedies to come. How could she? She had never learned to read the future in the summer clouds. Had she been born in this desolate landscape, had she drunk since birth from wells dug deep down into the heart of the limestone channel where prehistoric water coursed beneath the surface of the prairie for millennia, she might have developed, among other things, a certain proclivity for reading the future in clouds, or for sensing tornadoes coming miles away. Hours before the sky turned greenish lavender and the birds ceased to sing, the local women would feel the hairs on their arms and necks keening toward the sky, and they would begin moving things down to the deep cool of the storm cellars.

Grace’s father is waiting for her there at the kitchen table bent over a tattered volume of Emerson’s sermons, his skin flushed and reddened by the wind and sun. He was unaware of the chaotic slapping of the screen door, or of the hour kept by a clock that once ticked over the mantel of the fireplace in another unthought-of room; he is unaware even of the irregular rhythm of his own heart. The click of the door stops time.

She stands there before him, nervously shifting from foot to foot on the musty kitchen linoleum beneath the naked bulb, shivering though it is still summer. The blood had abandoned her veins. Lizzie struck him as a bird that might suddenly start beating its wings against the ceiling and windows. When he pulls her close to him, enfolding her in his warmth, her heart hammers against his rib cage, and his heart reverberates in her throat. Before long the beating is synchronized through the miracle of the secret language of cells that recognize each other and are reorganized in this recognition across the vast distance of muscle and skin.

What followed always appears before her both as story and memory, seen from above, what the cobwebs would have seen, or what was reflected in the cut glass of the tiny, crystal shades on the light bulbs over her father's bed. She wonders if this is love, this luminous fluid circulating through their bodies. Lizzie was a squiggle of liquid light, her body trembling, like a moth emerging, unfolding, at seventeen, an image overexposed on a pale sheet, glistening in an angle of desire. Watching from the ceiling or the sky, Grace waited for the right moment to pour herself into them, hovering there so long, disembodied, not feeling or hearing or smelling, but yearning to experience the weight of flesh, the confinement of skin, the delirious sensation of taste and touch and sound. Lizzie’s eyes were pressed closed like the new petals of a rose, so peaceful, as they wrapped their pale wings around one another, unaware that their spirits bled in and out of one another’s bodies and the air like a vapor. Grace clearly remembers the moment when little pearls of her father were held inside her mother, and then she slipped like a gasp into the opalescent drops of fluid and it was done.