The Rough and Steep
He met this girl and she made him happy. But next day there was no happiness, only degrees of pain, degrees of want. Happiness wasn't even in the same stratosphere as what he felt now unless you call blind love anything close to happy. As to their in-deep-ness, two never measure equal. One glides longer than the other. One shrinks. One has more staying power. Or less. This was the less, what he here now endured.
Where he moved was a house for one and it needed his help, severe help. Nice to be needed again. Peeling from the rafters, and rotting up from the baseboards, and collapsing in at the walls, it was a haunted house, and he helped haunt it alone. Except for the every other weekend the kids came to stay and he played dad. He had never been in the theater, not even in high school chorus, and he was cruddy at memorizing. Not to mention stage fright. Was he afraid of his own boy and girl? In this house, yes.
This place he had landed, half-broke and all the way sorry, required mending, as he did. Haley found an apartment for her and the kids, partly subsidized by her father. Divorce felt anticlimactic, she'd been talking it for so long. He wanted her happy. He wanted to be happy. He didn't know which of their two happinesses deserved fulfillment, or if it was a competition.
"Can't we both be happy?" Haley had once said.
He didn't sit around the moldering place, moping. He rolled off his mattress each morning and crafted rustic furniture in the backyard. As a designer, he knew how to build things. He had ideas—too many crazy ideas, Haley said—that never emerged how they'd sparked in his head. A gallery owner had termed them interesting, but didn't take it further. He would sell these pieces at the Flea Market down on Highway 11. For Christmas he would buy the kids a Wii.
In this summer of drought, rain rarely hurried him inside, but when it did he mended wiring and scraped at the walls while the ceiling came down into random buckets and pans, sometimes in chunks.
After birthing Haley, her mother had slid into post-partum depression. Haley owned that for all her life, tied it to her first precious, precocious memory of her mama knotting bedsheets together so she could lower them and herself out the third story window. Innocent babe that she was, Haley watched silent from her crib. When they placed her on her back, on her back she stayed, wrapped like a package --swaddled or swallowed, something with an "s." This kind of shaping and caressing and curing (think ham or a sausage) occurred in Haley's infancy. She had a passive aggressive streak, and it generated from her mother's post-partum, or so many hours of therapy had concluded. She loved her mother, had loved her all her life, thus Haley didn't trust these conclusions. When she and Kelvin fell into their ditch, she refused to consider the counselor's supposed truths. She attended, her heart manacled inside her ribs, unreachable. She arrived for the appointments, endured the dredging, week after week, Kelvin in a chair next to her. She never once stretched out her hand.
She moved with the children, Stacy and Keller, to a two bedroom apartment her father subsidized. Keller got his own room, though he was younger and the girls (Haley still thought herself a girl), the girls had much more stuff. Combined, they had a ton of stuff.
She said to Stacy, "We're going to sell off a shit load of this at the Hi-11 Flea Market. So comb through and make piles. To save and to keep."
Haley had observed her mama, ghostly naked, climbing down the white sheet into the snowy lawn. Night absorbed color. She didn't remember blood. Snow muffled sound. What is the sound of bones crumbling two stories into snow? To a baby on her back in her crib this is the sound of a moth batting against her mobile. Except all the moths were dead or hibernating in the woolens.
"Get rid of those sweaters," she said to Stacy.
Stacy said, "They're itchy anyway."
The pile reached Haley's shoulder, then toppled. The apartment had wall-to-wall carpet or she would have used them to dust mop the floor. She needed a vacuum cleaner. How is it Kelvin got all the cleaning appliances? Oh, because she got the car.
The sun went in the way it always does, as in behind a cloud. Because there are always clouds skudding across the October sky. One minute we've stowed our rain gear in our pockets and the next we pull it all back out. The flexible, fold-up ponchos make us into orange helicopters if we swirl around in circles, which we do because we can't stand still. We are seven and eight. We got ants in our pants, our dad says. When he says this, ants touch the absolute height of good. Our parents are ahead of us on the trail, smoking cigarettes and capping and uncapping the flasks in their hunting jackets. Their smoke is sweet, their voices divine, their divorce a zygote, our voracious sib.
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