Monday
Feb142011

What Are Mine

Rhoads Stevens




My husband gave me an opal ring. I looked into it, seeing blue and green glitter in skim milk.

 

He bought our little son a small dirt bike, training wheels and everything. The task of instructing our son to ride it fell to me. I took him to a cemetery a few towns away that I knew to have wide paths. Most of its headstones were flush to the grass, and this fact comforted me because I had had visions of him losing control of the bike and dashing his head against an old, pitted stone, a stone so old that, with a sheet of wax paper and a peeled crayon, someone might have made a rubbing.

 

My husband confided in me he had burned down the house of a past wife. He had climbed into the attic of the house she had won in court. There, he drove a nail through a wire that ran to a light somewhere else.  Thereafter, every time this past wife turned on that light, it would flicker a little.  Up in the attic, that nail heated to 800 degrees and lit a beam.

 

My husband was off to meet an Italian academic at a fruit and vegetable market.

 

He had our little son keeping watch on a burn pile. The boy stood by a large fire devouring a heap of my grandmother’s furniture. Whenever the fire made a move toward our house or fields, the boy used a hose to contain it.

"How long will I be out here?" he asked my husband as my husband stalked to our broken-spined barn with an ax and a saw. It was a half hour till night.

 

I found my husband replacing my medication with pills he had made.

 

He told me planes were crashing.

 

He told me my brother had not died but had been poisoned.  Someone had planted a radioactive isotope in his sardines.

 

My husband said that crabs eat whatever crap they find in the ocean.

"So how safe is it to eat them?" he said after I had asked him for them for a birthday supper. 

He said that if you took the pale babies of cockroaches, kept them in a covered wooden box, and fed them only the best ingredients—milled corn, beets, Swiss chard, turnip greens—then I'd be looking at the best protein I could eat for a birthday.

 

My husband removed some of our little son’s teeth.

 

I found him and our little son in our broken barn.  They claimed to be playing backgammon. I saw the board and all its vinyl isosceles.

 

My little son came to me while I was still in bed.  He asked for another dirt bike lesson and if it would be possible to ask my husband—his father—to leave our house.

"We could ask him to live at a motel instead of with us," he said.

 

My husband glued match-heads to high-wattage light bulbs.  He screwed these bulbs into the bathrooms of restaurants he deemed insufficient.  He screwed such a bulb into the attic of our first house.

 

He poisoned the cat that lived in the bookstore in our town.  He poisoned the three in the record store and the one in the bike store. He poisoned our cat and cut off its limbs and tail with poultry shears.  He buried it in the four corners of our barn.

I.

My husband.

 

Our little son.

 

We traveled to the north of Spain and ate octopus.

 

We kept bees one summer.  Amazing how you can buy ten pounds of bees from a catalog and have them sent to your home.

 

We wrote a script, picked parts, and tried to film it.

 

We found coral snakes in a box of oranges.

 

In a cemetery, I watched my son—no longer so little—have full control over his machine.  No training wheels, he wove between headstones.  He wheelied.  This was not the cemetery I had taken him to the first few times he had ridden his dirt bike.  This one we were in was much closer to where we lived.  It had raised headstones, headstones off which I had once made rubbings with a brown crayon.  My husband was here now.  He had asked to be buried with his headstone over his forehead—that way, if he were to get up, he would just hit his head and fall back down. 

So we honored this wish of his. 

He had asked that, after his service and twenty-one gun, we leave

not by walking normally.  He wanted us to walk backwards, strange, and wearing rubber fright masks.  He wanted us to do this so that he wouldn't recognize us and so that he wouldn't be able to follow our cars.

So we honored this wish. 

He asked that we kill cats and burn down buildings.  He asked that we act affronted.  He asked that we leave marks on each other's backs. 

These wishes of his.

My son misjudged and rode his dirt bike into an open grave.  Earth spit out of this dark rectangle for a moment, maybe from a spinning rear tire or a kicking leg.  And then one voice, my son's.