I stepped out of the house at dusk, still able to see shrub oaks thinned out for winter, fame flower dead on the ground, dunn clay so wet the smell of it seemed settled in my skin. At my back, pastures spread far, darkened where dairy cows huddled for warmth in a slow January drizzle. I crossed the road, walked the length of my neighbor’s yard and knocked on his door, asking to play the piano. I’d played when I was younger, when one of the houses we rented had an upright in the living room. Here, at my neighbors, I hoped to remember how to play, and for the briefest moments, have some space to be more than second-mother to my siblings. Earlier in the day when I was taking out the trash, my neighbor had called out to feel free to come over and take a break when I found time to slip away. He said he was sad to see someone as young as myself so work-worn.
wasn’t until I was sitting on the piano bench that I noticed, when my neighbor
pointed it out, how my hair fell near my hips. I looked down at the frayed ends
and couldn’t recall the last time it’d been trimmed. He touched it, said it was
soft, lovely untethered. I gave an uneasy smile, told myself he didn’t mean to
leave his hands there so long because I’d hoped to speak to anyone who wouldn’t
ask me for a thing, though I see now there was a question in his fingertips.
didn’t take long for him to show me the crack he kept hidden inside a pot on
top of the refrigerator. He let me hold it—the small milky colored rocks kept
in a baggie, told me how it must be boiled, made liquid in a spoon. I did not
show my surprise, handled the drugs and the information as if it were no big
deal. Because I was never sure what was normal and what was not, I’d been
trying to learn how to keep a straight face when I wasn’t sure how to react to
a situation. Still, I looked across the way, back to where my little siblings
lay sleeping under the covers I’d tucked them into. My instinct told me to move
towards them, so I did, slowly, as if that had been my plan all along, before I
held the drugs. But on the front porch steps my neighbor stopped me and pressed
a small bottle of gold schnapps in my hand: “A girl should have a present on
I didn’t go back inside our house immediately, but walked around to the back yard and sat beneath the largest of two oak trees whose limbs stretch too far over the tin roof of the house, and reached far across the barbed wire fence that separated our property from the farmer’s next door. There was something about the cold, that low calling wind, that told me I would not last in Tennessee much longer.
night I shared the booze with my older brother at the kitchen table, both of us
wondering if the gold were real. We said “here’s to us,” drank fast, the
cinnamon burn stretching grins on our faces, freezing there when our mother
rang from the hospital—another mental break-down. She offered me a belabored
breath after managing a “I guess I should be saying happy birthday.” I hated
her for it—that sigh. I passed the phone to my brother, took scissors to the
bathroom—cut my hair.
Rachel M. Hanson has published
prose and poems in The Iowa Review, Ninth
Letter, Meridian, Juked, The Minnesota Review, American Literary
Review, Best New Poets, and elsewhere. She is a former Olive B. O’Connor
fellow in nonfiction at Colgate University, and she holds an MFA from the
University of Utah and a PhD in Literature and Creative Writing from the
University of Missouri. Rachel is a Visiting Assistant Professor of English
at the University of North Carolina-Asheville.