After the rundown middle school
where I tutor a thirteen-year-old who reads
at a second-grade level, and really we just read
comic books and he pretends he
is asleep and I feel helpless
though showing up is half the job,
to which I say, what is the other half?
I buy beer, come home,
plan on drinking off and on
throughout the night. I also
buy a pizza that proclaims on the
box, “Feasts for One!” and is
proud to be microwaveable –
as if us Ones are so busy and
have somewhere better to be, we
can only spare a minute to
cook a pizza, a Feast – and I put it
in the oven, because I think it might taste
better that way. Though you would
have told me that the oven just heats up
the house and we can’t afford that.
Moving in can taste like sour honey.
An extra curtain in the bathroom closet,
dirt in corners and under cushions
mixed with pieces of broken plastic.
Pimento stains and cocktail
rings, visions of past losses,
waiting for release not coming.
The vapors coming off the radiator in the bedroom
have the smell of late autumn in Oxford.
There was a cat here once. I break
out in hives. The bits of paper and wine stains
around the breakfast nook is a lesson
on how to lose her.
When we saw this place first, and the
landlady squared us in the eye and asked us
if we were married, I pointed out
that the lease said nothing about the
relationship of cohabitants, or family
size or commitment to each other.
I wondered why she bothered. Was it
something about the clouds, so
far away, reflected into the kitchen
and the shadows on our faces?
You suggested that we brave the
coming thunder to go buy gin.
Gin sounded good to you on every
afternoon that it rained hot
Tragedy is everywhere, you said.
It’s not something to be anxious about.
Lightning storm over the San Juans.
Waterspouts absorbing a fishing fleet.
Trip over a cat, down some stairs
and land on concrete. Simple.
You told me this at our first home,
as we watched a house floating down the interstate,
backing up what little traffic there was.
Nearly every low-lying field and yard underwater.
New lakes on roads near rivers where a levy breached
And thank god that we only had this little apartment
on the third floor. I confessed my sin of complaining about the furniture
when we were moving in. The couches were so heavy. And Christ,
we had to use a pulley system to get your mother’s
roll-top desk up to the bedroom.
All this only a month after the honeymoon. But it was nice
to walk around in the rain, both of us
under the umbrella, explore a brand new world of
islands and long-disused fishing boats
as we splashed around
in puddles and flung water with our hair.
And that thing with the tap water: I didn’t mind so much.
You said: We won’t take as many showers.
We’ll wear clothes we haven’t worn
in years. Eat off of paper plates,
and like we’ve always
wanted to do anyway, drink only beer
and wine with each other.
about the author:
Mark Petterson grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas. Since then, he has lived in England, back to Lawrence, KS, St. Louis, and the Pacific Northwest. You can find his fiction and poetry in journals such as The Summerset Review, Mojave River Review, elimae, and others.