Are You Almost

There are only two kinds of people in the world and the last anybody heard from her, Kala was going to be right back: this was seventeen days ago, she said she was on her way to pick up some fruit at the farmer’s market, it’s what she told Double when he approached her on the path and asked where Eduardo was and if he could come play later and she said sure, he could have some blueberries and tomatoes, and when Double saw her he still thought “She’s ocean,” had even told that to Kala, that she was ocean, though she never knew just how much of her ocean he’d seen to make a judgment according to. Double was walking a stick down the street, from one patch of trees to the other, and when he got there he laid the stick very gently among some other sticks he’d transported earlier in the week, it was summer, of course, the time when sticks are always needing to go somewhere new, then he sat at the edge of the copse of trees, thinking to wait for Kala till she got back—she’d have to pass him to get to her house—until, after some time, he forgot why he was sitting there and turned around and said “Alright, sticks, who wants to go to the other trees?” and waited, listening for which stick would volunteer, listening like how Kala told him to.

It was supposed to be a lake but leeched by milfoil it was a swamp, a fester, raisining in the sun. People still called it Witch Lake, the same way the youngest is ever called Baby Damian or Little Janie, and just more than three years had passed since the donut summer, some local theory postulated that rampant weeds could be consumed by glucose, destruction derailed by sweetness. Sunday mornings brought families touting white wax paper bags brimming with glazeds and chocolate with sprinkles and long johns and custards. The mayor every weekend with a box of two dozen pastries, the local rabbi bringing kosher bagels. On the count of three someone was always calling from the perimeter of the lake, noon or midnight, three am or just after the morning shower. On the count of three and arms were everywhere cocked, arcs of donuts heading for the lake. The usual grumblings, of course: someone says Squandered sweetness enough and it becomes a chorus.

Kala’s gone, Kala’s gone, she was fond of saying there were only two kinds of people in the world, and she never got over, really got over, that she didn’t have a basement. Midwest houses=basements, she’d think, frustrated if she couldn’t find where she’d placed the scissors or the arts section of the paper she’d been wandering around holding and had set down at some point to pick up the scissors, maybe, or her tea or a cookie or to scratch Eduardo. She’d laugh, spastic, bats from nighttrees, staring from bare countertop to bare countertop, thinking The scissors must be in my basement. Double, the eight year old from next door, was scared of basements because no matter what his mom said those creaks and knocks were not from the ‘heater’, they were from the devil, and the devil made bad noise, some days such noise that Double couldn’t even sit in the house, couchbound and casual, watching Thundercats and eating Cheez-Its, such noise that one day Double sprinted from the couch, out the front door, right down to the lake and near the tucked-away copse of trees he’d, by the time he turned 18, have spent a total of 477 hours hiding within, Double saw Kala, naked, sunset above, prostrate on the sand that stuck to skin anyway but with donut detritus really found ways to cling. Double saw Kala and wish now he’d been sixteen at the sight, that he could use words to describe the woman’s beauty, the figure she could manipulate like radio-controlled mercury: carmel limbs muscled inarticulately, waist+hips=highway curves, black hair like a forest’s memory of quiet, small feet, breasts and palms of hands and ankles: resisting words.

Troy into the empty house, seventeen days she’s been gone, and here’s how he found everything: first the dark entry way, second the living room with the table at the center of it, third the kitchen with the clothesline stretched, fourth the bedroom and the doorknobs. It’s the summer of the radio song with the line “Never trust a weapon from a woman, never trust the hand of a man,” and everybody knows the words by heart. Everyone who can, whistles. Kala moved into her house that summer, three years ago, donuts like sunsets, and Troy’s pretty sure the first thing she did was put two doorknobs up in the bedroom and install the second entry way. Troy ran the paper store next to the hardware store and she always smelled like cloves, he says, but not clove cigarettes. What happens when you move into a small town with a lake that people throw donuts into is people say “So, where ya from?” and you’re supposed to say more than “Port Townsend,” and when they ask why you moved you’re not to say “Well, it was here or Unalaska,” certainly not to laugh that there’s a place called Unalaska. Troy thinks only two doorknobs at first because of the twenty-one only two have different writing underneath, different scribbles from different pens. “More you,” underneath one, “sleep,” the other. She didn’t move in with a man and so of course neighbors whispered sentences ending in ellipses: “Do you think she’s…?” Was she that kind of liberal? Twenty-one doorknobs by the time she left and Eduardo the dog appeared last fall, just showed up tagless and pink tongued one afternoon. When she saw him the first time, two kids petting him and his eyes little slits against the sun he lazed in the warmth of on the sidewalk, Kala laughed at Eduardo, pointed one of her beautifully knuckled fingers at him, and kids will be kids, telling their stories, “It was broken when I found it,” and the like, but both kids there that day next to Eduardo claim the dog laughed back at her. Twenty-one doorknobs all in a line, maybe seven feet off the ground, each with a little yellowed strip of paper underneath, addresses, phrases, mystery: 915 Stryker, 2232 Culligan, the story about the newspaper delivery guy, 1162 Veronica, News From Foxtrot, 4am and I’m awake again, and, the last doorknob before the door, One Name. The rest of the bedroom: a bed, bedside table, a book titled The History of Every Damned Thing, which turns out not to be ironic at all: a history of all the nouns every Pope ever damned.

Like fingers had decided to do a drawing of knuckles using only T-squares and oak tree roots, that’s what her hands were like, and sometimes when Double would pee at her house he’d finish peeing and look at himself in her bathroom mirror and somehow he could see her, some phantasmic ethereality crossing the mirror while he tried to focus on himself, but it didn’t scare Double—Bow, his dog who’d been hit by a car when he was seven and a half, saw ghosts all the time and Double learned to bark to scare the ghosts off if they were mean—the quick shadow-passing Kala didn’t scare him at all, but sometimes he’d wash his hands and try to move like Kala always seemed to be moving, she was never at rest, she was always, even if only a little, getting away, moving beyond. He loved how she got away, never really gone.

The kitchen’s actual floor space was relatively diminutive, maybe 7×9, and when the Pendroys lived there Troy says they used to cram every last one of them in that kitchen, the two parents and the four children, just to say grace before retiring to various rooms to actually consume. No one’s sure how the Pendroys fought and loved and ate and slept there, four kids, a two bedroom house, but live they did, thrive even: Frankie, their eldest, graduated with honors from Notre Dame. No one was really sure Kala was gone until Troy came in, led by Eduardo, and even then he wasn’t positive until he saw the bag on the countertop, the setting sun’s blaze deepening the thread’s redness into lust, revenge. Nowhere was where Kala went without that bag, and Troy wouldn’t even touch the thing, though he was scratching Eduardo with one hand and his own rear pocket with the other at the moment, his eyes drifting up from the bag to the clothesline, this was June. “What the Jimmy is that?” was what Troy asked Eduardo, who was corner sniffing, offering his rump for Troy to scratch, and Troy wasn’t sure if it was the spoons that spooked him (there were thirty-nine of them) or the two forks mixed between all the spoons, or if it was the way the sun caught all the dull metal, or whether it was the little note above the installation that read “there’s plenty of night left, Deerie,” but spooked he was, Troy, and he turned right around to walk outside, past the table he’d seen on the way in but hadn’t really looked at.

Only two kinds of people in the world, and the couch is still in the front yard where Kala left it, if you linger long enough you can trick yourself into smelling her, fresh laundry and turpentine, cigarettes and summer rain. The story everyone tells about Kala—and tell they do, and everyone is really everybody, for now, seventeen days since she’s been missing: when she was a child, this is how she told it anyway, when she was just a wee lass, running because her brain could conjugate some verbs but her legs had veered off-track with to run, she spent her nights clutching a hammer, a nail, and a mason jar, running, catching fireflies, g-d as blinking insects, g-d as lumens of sex, g-d as summer nights in yards of winks. She’d catch a firefly, screw the lid, tap the hammer-hole needed to keep life working, and watch the insect glow, and when one night she had a bad tummy, too much ice cream and not enough water, she watched how the fireflies showed the trees where the ground was, and showed each grass blade to the other grass blades, and the world to the sky and vice versa, and when her mom asked if her stomach felt better that night Kala said “Yes,” but didn’t say it was because now there was a firefly in there to show her stomach what was making things hurt.

He didn’t see it all at once, of course, Troy: first the kitchen, “there’s plenty of night left, Deerie,” the thirty-nine forks and two spoons, and the next time he looked into the bedroom, the twenty-one doorknobs, the only spooking he got that time from the garish One Name note right near the real doorknob in the real door, and on his way out again he paused at the table but he had to get to work, and the small length of pure redness on the table, like a thin rope made of blood, gave him a little case of the heebes, he’ll admit now, and he was almost ready to ask Double for help, ask a little boy for help, because fine, sure: Double, only eight years old and someone who talked to sticks, but he was the one Kala spoke with most, couch-flopped in the yard describing birds to each other that weren’t there, describing the bacteria that was there, underground, but in ways and with handbags the bacteria didn’t carry, probably. When he came back a third time he invited Double, only two kinds of people in the world, and when Double saw the table he went and sat down and asked Troy if he wanted to play. The table had two chairs, one on either side, and with Double sitting on one side like that, looking just shy of mesmeric or unhinged or malicious, Troy, for the first time, wondered if Kala was dead: no one had thought to ask it because by the wind with the wind was how someone phrased it and that seemed pure: she had showed up and now she’d gone. Do you want to play Double asked with that glint of something you didn’t want to dig to find the source of and the game wasn’t clear, the table had what seemed to be a straw dead in the center of it, full of red liquid, and a stack of note cards to one side and a dice to the other. Do you want to play Double asked and Troy noticed that the table, the edge of it, had Kala I Can’t scrawled in marker, under which he could watch Double’s feet swinging as he shook the dice, rolled it, said Four!, shook it again, rolled it again, said Snake Eye!, shook it more, rolled it more, again and again, all Troy could hear was Do you want to play? and suddenly it was the kitchen and the bedroom and now the table: There’s plenty of night left deerie One Name 4am and I’m awake again I can’t Kala. No playing! Troy thundered, turning to walk out right as Double shook and rolled and said Six! My turn!

There’s only two kinds of people in the world and Kala’s favorite question was Are you almost? which Double didn’t really understand, for sure, but Kala said she was almost and so he decided he’d be almost too. After playing the stick game, or maybe just lazing on the couch outside, deciding to go inside and get an Orange Crush, Double would walk through the first door and Kala would hear the usual clicks and she’d told him that he should shut the first door before he opened the second but that didn’t make sense to him: it wasn’t fear of the dark, it was that he was going to be going out the doors again in just a second, so why close them? Most houses in the area had leaded glass, a demure chandelier, some rugs and an umbrella stand where Kala’s had nothing but darkness. He’d be standing in the black entrance and Kala would call out, her voice how symphonies dream, Are you almost? He never figured out a good answer, and when Double asked Kala why she always asked that question, she said there were only two kinds of people in the world.

Troy called one of the professors at the college who came and said it was all art, one big installation, the professor had even asked Double questions, who was too young to know to lie to adults who wore glasses and smelled too inside. The kitchen, the bedroom, the table in the front room: art. When Troy asked what was in the straw on the table the professor explained how if you vacuum-pack any life it keeps from rot, meaning: the rose petals were crammed so tightly they were beyond oxygen, would stay forever red unless cut, exposed, unless, cellularly, they were invited to death. The professor said It’s an homage to the impossibility of authority, he laced his fingers together often, unlaced them as often, he gasped twice in the kitchen, hand in front of his mouth, nodding when he said Love despite ourselves, and in the living room, with the table, Troy and Double and the professor standing in an isosceles triangle, Double asked if any of the art was almost, he wondered if this was what Kala meant, and the professor actually ruffled the boy’s hair, and so Double went outside to ride his bike and look for Eduardo, who’d been hiding since he’d shown Troy into the house. Double biked around thinking of how he’d got in trouble for touching art before and so was sad figuring he couldn’t touch the table to play the game unless Kala returned and told him otherwise, unarted things, but that night during the stick game, walking past her house, Double remembered the professor hadn’t said anything about the doorway so Double went into the darkened space between the two doors, the first thing Kala had done to her house when she’d moved in. He brought a stick with him and sat down, leaving the door open so he could see outside and so the outside could see in, and between the two doors there was flat black paint over everything, the space a dark comma between clauses, but he didn’t open the inside door, just sat there, holding the stick across his lap, until after awhile he got tired and yawned, wondering if any fireflies were out above Sticky Witch Lake, flashing hopeful, and he stood, leaned the stick against the black wall, and on his way out closed the first door all the way, felt the click and even mimicked it, said “click,” but a few steps away and he stopped, turned to stare at the door, wondering how long it’d stay closed.


Weston_Cutter-Weston_CutterWeston Cutter’s from Minnesota and is the author of You’d Be a Stranger, Too and All Black Everything.


Weston Cutter
Weston Cutter lives in IA and has works published or soon coming in Ploughshares and Cave Wall. He has a book of stories, You'd Be a Stranger, Too, coming this winter from BlazeVOX

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