M

Three Micros

by Kirsten Kaschock

 

Dry Crackers

He asked me, and I did it. There is the seduction of someone needing, you supplying. In this way, I am a reluctant pusher. Think about the babbling, the ma ma ma ma: this is what distress sounds like. The response alleviates—a breast, a hug, a needed change. If only we could get clean again. Once I drove 1000 miles to be rid of an old life that followed me, arriving some months later like a dog lost in a cross-country move. Those dogs are always retrievers, often golden, but what is the shine? Do they truly secure the family? A front door without dog is possibly fraught with all that’s outside. I should mention, at this point, the agony of the pre-pubescent boy who has no idea the animal was left behind by design. And this, because the parents could not leave the child or, more to the point, each other. In more terrible universes than this one, mothers abandon their families to start new lives in strange parts. Daughters of these women sometimes grow into novelists. And the leavers? I’ve heard stories. Bands of waitresses, living in dilapidated Victorians in Buffalo, in New Orleans, sharing tips like hits of acid. Happy hinge-less spinsters careening off ropeswings hung from the Appalachian canopy into rivers like starlight. When my son begged me for a sixth lullaby, I crumbled dry crackers—the kind served with Chesapeake chowder—into his mouth, intensely open as a bird’s. I said, “That’s enough now. You’ve had enough.”
 

Danger, Will

He wasn’t thinking. He left the robot in the yard because the robot was his friend, the robot was a constant, because robots cannot die. All should have been well, the tent zipped. Apparently, this was unexpected weather for September, usually drier. A swamp formed in the low sparse grass beneath the mulberry where he’d pitched camp and slept the whole weekend. Robot too. Robot was comforting, not soft like Jigs the elephant but a welcome companion, what with his pulsing abdominal light and clock to tell when they’d reached midnight as a crew, always a tent goal. Monday was the first day of school and there’d been a fuss on Sunday afternoon—he’d been rushed from the yard for shopping and Robot was forgot. That night a monsoon moved through, but he was not awake for it though thunder tended to wake him, the lightning a strobe he would watch and time. He had four separate notebooks where his charts lived. His bedroom was way up on the third floor, and Sunday night he’d huddled in a dormer beneath brand new Star Wars sheets, dreaming of weapons of light, of mind-made motion. He woke up, got dressed, ate right triangles of French toast, drank pulpless juice, and walked to school on his own. There’d been an extensive negotiation. Mom knew that he knew not to stop, not to dawdle to pick up artifacts from the gutter along the curb, and not to talk to anyone but the two crossing guards, Miss Cheryl Foultz and Mr. Dave Trombley, a tall man other kids called Trombone or even Bone but he did not because that was not the man’s name. The worst part of the whole ordeal was the mud. When he got home needing to impart to Robot the awful day that had followed the triumphant walk—the teacher’s screech and lunchtime pandemonium, his stammer, the snickers he’d hoped would remain in last year’s grade—his act of neglect announced itself loudly through static like an intercom in the brain. He ran out back and unzipped the tent only to find Robot dark and frozen, shorted with sludge. Jigs was there too, his faded grayness soiled with seepage from a poorly-seamed nylon corner, as if there’d been, or he’d had, an accident. The stuffed elephant would be just fine if a little lumpier, tomorrow wafting the chemical smell of mountain breeze. Robot, however, was gone. He knew immediately that this belonged in the category of mistake he could neither undo nor repair. Some friends can survive the machine, while some friends are themselves machines, and thus cannot submit.
 

Game Boys

Boy boy boy, goose. We played that game with those words although boys, if you look deeply, are, in fact, geese. They arrow away from cold. They are loud in groups. They have strong necks. I would tap the three on their heads as I passed them—crossed-legged and nervous—then squeal as the chosen chased me. I could’ve easily made it once around, I’d longer legs at the time. The oldest was such a good sport, not spoiling the thing, all the while knowing I was under-running, that the pleasure was mostly his brothers’ plus a bit of his own pleasure in theirs—and then mine, folded in but always temporary. He would play over and over, as much as they asked, and when I had to go annotate or write or rewrite or revise, he played some more. So warm was our nest. Between toddler and child, neck and shoulder, son and mother, boy and goose, there should be more in-between spaces, and more seasons. On the other side of the room, I worked on my dissertation. Near the end of those years, I came upon an undertheorized definition of melancholia: a state where wise and startled limbs unfold to propel a boy from floor into pursuit across the surface of a crick mottled with leaves bright as buttercup, his webbed toes drawing furrows in the clear brown ale before he lifts up above the trees, to be lost to distance or the mist. And then another, and then another.

 

Kirsten Kaschock, a 2019 Pew Fellow in the Arts and Summer Literary Seminars grand prize winner, is the author of five poetry books: Unfathoms (Slope Editions), A Beautiful Name for a Girl (Ahsahta Press), The Dottery (University of Pittsburgh Press), Confessional Science-fiction: A Primer (Subito Press), and Explain This Corpse (winner of Blue Lynx Prize from Lynx House Press). Coffee House Press published her debut speculative novel—Sleight. Recent work can be read at Crazyhorse, Thrush, and Conduit.

 

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What surprising, fascinating stuff can you tell us about the origin, drafting, and/or final version of these three pieces?

I rarely tell lies in this deeply autobiographical way on the page. My fictions usually stray further afield, but as I get ready for my last child to leave the house… I’ve been thinking about the complex array of feelings being the mother of boys has thrust upon me and about the wild negotiations of personhood that being my child must entail for them. These three pieces are the result of those musings.

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