Anna B. Sutton


       Wilmington, NC

The Seneca Guns fire their invisible rounds into my home. A sonic boom that lingers, rattles the windows until lead paint flecks and settles on the sill. In the backyard, the dog stands at attention, barking toward my spectral face, my palm pressed against the clattering glass. Maybe a meteor has come screaming into the atmosphere; maybe a sliver of the continental shelf has slipped into the open mouth of the Atlantic abyss. Or the vapors of decomposing organisms have pushed their way through the sea in one final, shuddering gasp. There are a dozen scientific explanations, how our dead remind us that the earth is just a lovely grave.

The building where I work has seen a hundred deaths, survived the unremarkable ends of its architects and owners, stood blank-faced in 1898 as city leaders gunned down black citizens, rolled them into the river, uncounted, watched new asphalt spread like soft butter over the bloodstains, a burial. Today, at the coffee counter, a half-dozen paper cups fell from a sealed plastic sleeve and landed themselves in perfect sequence, each cup six inches from the previous, open mouths pointing toward the front door at precisely the same angle. There are whispers among us about footsteps at night, throats cleared in the empty building.

A week before her twenty-first birthday, a fragmented blood clot traveled up my friend Leah’s left side and stopped her lungs cold—a side effect of a birth control pill that we’d both been prescribed. Just out of the shower, Leah died naked. Her roommate attempted to resuscitate her, but she was already as rubber-lifeless—as senselessly slack-jawed—as those CPR Annie dolls, their disinfected mouths gaping in some closet.

There are five lesions across my torso—rippled pink ellipses where hoses and hooks were inserted, a gall bladder regurgitated or born like a calf. That sacrificial organ—scar tissue—my salvation from the side effects of swallowing what I was promised. Laser surgery, the doctor told me, means no scars. Another lie. He was an old classmate of my father’s—not a friend, though I recognized his turtled face from a few Christmas parties—and for an hour, I laid open underneath him: naked, senseless.

I have left the television on. I have let the electric drone of hushed sitcoms lull me to sleep. When I wake, the sun is warming the edges of my window and the bold purple language of a class action commercial is rising in me: you or anyone you love… The flash of familiar packaging and I can almost taste that bitter pill, can almost feel it poisoning my long-lost piece. The gall bladder is not as useless as they liked me to believe, but it’s amazing how we shift to forget what’s gone.