WEDNESDAY AFTERNOON ON BALSAM AVENUE.

by shelby rice

Note: This piece contains mentions of self-harm and imagined death.

i land between the unsullied slip of clouded afternoons that march one after another in settler-lustful jawdrops, each clawing for my attention. the red-tipped cane beside by bed taunts me. at least nightblindness means i can’t see my own wretched form. i cannot face the morning again. i think that the good deeds i do in my dreams should count for something; these days the distinction between what’s written and what’s real is tenable and drawstring-thin, an electric cord wrapped around my neck with the same grassfaced delicacy as a jade-front necklace. my poetry is inscribed on a whiteboard and erased just as soon. my pillows jellyfish beneath my double chin and i cull the peanuts which scatter over my sheets. i am twenty years old and scattering. my grandmother can’t see the scrabble board anymore but still beats me exponentially. aren’t words supposed to be my craft? my strong suit? apparently not, the little wooden squares clack together as i clean up and she opens the refrigerator for the jell-o pudding. i sit in the chair in the corner and feel five again. i am lost in the daze of my grandfather’s friday fish and whipped cream on dessert. i’m not sure he recognizes me most days, but still he clutches my hand and tells me he loves me. something aches just behind my sternum and the chair where my brother sits is painfully empty. the news is on because it’s five thirty and i don’t know if i can process another death on the news. the sick feeling i get when i’m out of my bedroom too long settles comfortably in my stomach. my cane taunts. my phone reads the time out loud; i forgot to turn my screen reader off before leaving home. in the basement the rotary phone rings. my grandma picks it up and i’m left to not think about the sewing machine needle through my spine, the iron hissing on my skin, climbing in the dryer and maybe not getting out. my mother is late to get me. wait, no, i am twenty, not seven, i can leave on my own? can’t i? can i tell them it’s time to go? can i leave my grandmother and grandfather in this tiny house alone? can i clutch them close one last time? can i still see the way they wave through the window as the driveway slopes beneath me and not have the dark curl around my retina? can i slip to see you one last time? can i? can i?


Image credit: Anne Nygård