Nilotic Landscape

by Cody Klippenstein

Your parents say Yes because, after eight months of marriage counseling, they want to make a decision that has not been prescribed to them. Supervised, they insist, and so my father too relents. I pack sandals with a little heel; you pack your swimming trunks, you wear the cross around your neck. They’ll sleep, your mother reasons, with a bible between them. To Wells Beach, Maine, five hours of driving up the coast. The cottage is mothballs, daddy longlegs, well water out the pipes. At night, you swipe packs of toffee from the freezer and we shatter them against the steps of the back porch, unzip the red wrapper with our teeth, and let the candy shards melt in our hands, our laps. Maine leaves bright red mosquito welts against your neck, on the birthmark beneath your chin, and I add my sticky fingerprints to them. You sweat them off. Your father barbeques and passes out on the lawn chair with the dog, Budweiser dribbling into the grass. Your mother mixes her capsules with something strong, distilled, swigged from a shot glass, and wakes on the dock with her feet dipped in water. The ancient Egyptians, you tell me in bed, used to sew monkey bodies to the tails of fish, stitching thick black cord into crossed lines from the heart to the fins. I stare at the bible’s spine on the floor and try to think what this could mean. The morning after, something’s changed and I too feel cleaved apart. After breakfast we leave your parents to their hangovers and head for the Atlantic buckled into lifejackets, red and overpuffed like two swollen eyes. We kayak out past the marina, aiming to breach the little islands where gulls come to rest—stinking nests of pebbles and gutted crab shells, tall razor grass, loamy pockets of seawater ribboned with dead kelp. And sea glass. So much sea glass: salt-clouded, watercolored, corners beaten to blunt curves. I pick one up and hold it to the light. Tell me more about the monkey-fish, I say. You toss a dark red shard into the water and it skips twice, drops out of sight. There isn’t more, you say. The ocean rasps at my feet. None survived long enough to make it to the water.

Cody Klippenstein’s work has also appeared in The Fiddlehead and Joyland. She grew up on the coast of Connecticut, attended the University of Victoria’s creative writing program and currently lives and writes in Vancouver, British Columbia.

You don’t see the word “Nilotic” everyday. What led you to that word and what role does it play in this piece?

    One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to hang out in the ancient Egypt exhibit at the museum. That’s where I discovered the Nilotic landscape, Egyptian art depicting nature around the Nile as well as human lifestyle and their working dependency on everything the river offers. I was thinking about the waterscapes of my childhood when I wrote this piece—both the ones I imagined and the ones I grew up around—but also about human relationships: how sometimes, the practice of togetherness is so much more flawed than the concept.
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