Issue > Fiction
Leslie Pietrzyk

Leslie Pietrzyk

Leslie Pietrzyk is the author of two novels, Pears on a Willow Tree and A Year and a Day. She teaches fiction in the Converse low-residency M.F.A. program and the graduate writing program at Johns Hopkins. 

Josephine Louise Dabrowski, Née Wysocki


The end is you falling once, and one fall is one loose brick; one tree root jutting uncomfortably from the leftover heave and thrust of last winter's storms; that one odd, unexplained crack where there wasn't a crack until now; the sudden shift in your balance when you look up at the sky. One fall is the end of your life in this house, your life where you're in charge, your life. Even with your mind half drifted aside you're aware—always—of this one fact of one fall.

Outside in the sun: worn, sloppy slippers—the dippity-dip butterfly—the back porch (still my back porch, she hisses across the years)—that crack-root-brick-crack—and the crash of this disaster, this tumbling fall. September, no ice or slithery rain to blame. Just the ground where it shouldn't be, under your back: your fat blob of a useless body falling, failed.

And pain. More than you remember.

Pain.

Lying here, that old TV commercial singsonging: I've fallen and I can't get up. I've fallen and I can't get up. You have. You can't. "I've fallen and I can't get up."

How to believe those words?

Are you stupid?

What have you done now...your daughter's voice...oh, honestly, Mother.

The sky curves like a robin's egg.

You pass some time resisting: roll, twist, reach, roll, push, pull. A step, a rail. Pain, pain. Reach. Knocking into the red Kroger geraniums leftover from Mother's Day; the crash satisfies, and the sudden mess, but no helpful neighbor tumbles outside. Only the buzz of a bee, easy to hear from where you are on the ground, and see: the plush yellow and black stripes, thick like fur. That fox he gave you with the heads and little feet. Your daughter took that from you, you know she did, wanting it for herself. Always whining how she would bury those poor things, so's it got to be unpleasant sliding the fox on for church, with her mumbling about dead puppies and such. Them eyes are watching, you'd tell her, them eyes know you're a naughty little girl.

Yelling.

Yelling.

Shouting.

"Help! Help!"

Until your voice fades to a thirsty, papery croak.

You might die out here. You might die.

Are you stupid?

The sky, that blue: His blue eyes. His Polish blue eyes. You wish—

Hours, an hour, a minute: your life.

Close your eyes and count to a hundred and someone will come before you're done. Don't cheat, don't open your eyes or you have to start over. Start over. Start over. Count to a thousand. Numbers and their orderly, proud line marching onward and forward, so purposeful: more should be like that.

Are you stupid?

No.

NO!

People get what they deserve. No use to ask for better or more or different. Prayer no grander than exhaled air, hope just a tatter of thoughts.

Your daughter will call. Your daughter won't call. Your daughter will drive to your house to bring a big blue tin of those dusty cookies she thinks you like. What are those called? What is her name? Why does she say such awful things? (You never liked her—there. You never liked her, your own daughter. Not her fault, not her fault at all. Couldn't she smile?) Could be you'll never see your daughter again.

I mean it, Mother, this time I really, truly mean it.

Good.

She should have had her own daughter. Not your fault. Not your fault at all. Mary is a pretty name, Marie. June. Cecilia. Girls' names now like boxes of detergent or streets: Addison. Kayla. Peyton. Dove. Ivory.

That's the soap brands sitting by your sinks. Are you stupid?

Seven, twelve, sixty, forty-one, ninety-three, one-hundred.

That orange butterfly and how you never thought maybe to notice butterflies.

Never looked straight up into this sky like this, flat on your back. You never—

"You never loved me."

A glass of thirst inside you, a bowl. A bowl of thirst always inside you.

Someone will come. A black man to read the water meter. The black man to read the water meter can help you up on your feet; you'll let him touch your arm this one time only. Don't bother with the ambulance, you'll say, dancing with these fresh

jabs and stabls crushed inside your leg, your hip—pretend they're not there; let no one know they're there—I'll be fine. I'll be fine.

Goodbye. And thank you, sir!

In time for the pretty lady you listen to on the TV, her fluff of blonde hair; she talks that fast, knowing everything about everything. A handful of cookies. More cookies. The rest of the cookies. The rest of the cookies until the cookies are gone and the crumbs are gone. (Lick your fingers, lick the tin.) Unless the cookies are already gone. Unless you already ate them.

It should be better than this, it should be more. Not alone in the backyard, off the porch, the scratch of the grass, alone, the butterfly, the sky, alone. The bee buzz gone. Broken geraniums. Something else. More.

Now and at the hour of our death, amen. No prayer—

His blue eyes. His blue Polish eyes. Goddamn those blue eyes.

He had to go and do that. "You'll get yourself killed." Didn't listen to you and got himself killed; you were right about that.

Are you stupid?

Years stack up, time stacks up: a crooked pile of sticks to set fire to. One butterfly blaze. Geranium flames.

Not your fault at all. You'll get yourself killed. But, I got Eddie's helmet, he said. We rode one in the war, he said. Crazy fool, always boasting on about his mother's pierogi, her secret recipe in the grave now, that sour-stitched woman never liked no one. Scattered like dust off a mop, those eight children of hers, scattered far once they could, leaving him—the baby—him leaving you, and then only you. Years of you and her, eyeball to eyeball, living in her house (your house, yours now). Her coal-black heart like tar, night, soot, ink, like the bad luck cat jinxing the path. Evil.

People get what they deserve.

Not your fault.

No, no. Remember? You took the fur to the church rummage yourself, wrapped tight in a paper bag from the Kroger. Two years, ten years ago. Those beady black fox eyes judge someone else now.

He's gone. He's gone. Shout all you want, cry. No one to listen. Prayer is—

The orange butterfly, like light, like that thing you can't reach, won't have.

She took you in—not you, but for the baby. Soft, sweet, fatherless baby, precious thing, looking like his dead pap—and you. "Are you stupid?" A stone of anger wedged inside her darkness: You killed my son, she said. Give—

Black silence layered that house. (Your house, your porch, you, you. Was it her spirit waking to shove you after all these years? Did your watchful eye droop?) Silent kitchen, sizzle of butter, cherry pie in the oven; pitting every cherry yourself, juice staining your fingernails deep red. Your pierogi because she refused. The kettle lid's loose bounce and clatter over boiling water. A sigh when the match caught the gas. Silence enough to hear each breath slip from your body. That woman.

You killed my son.

Who wouldn't think of escape?

Now and at the hour of—

I've fallen and I can't get up.

The baby, the sweet baby boy. Wrong to change his name to his father's but she expected it, and maybe she could be satisfied. Give up your son to her. The flickering TV, watery blue light. Ed Sullivan the one who talked in your dreams, asking how you were.

Your whisper: I'm lonely.

He gave you the fox knowing how you needed one thing special all your own.

September blue. Your daughter could knock but when you don't answer, she'll turn around to drive home because she claims you sulk, you pout, that's how come you don't answer the door. That head doctor of hers knowing everything about everything. You promise that you tried to like your daughter.

Day, night, day, night. Sticks burning down to useless ash.

Your whisper: I'm lonely.

He went to your church.

Whore! Are you stupid?

Blue.

His hands. The cracked boots he wore saving money. He looked fancy in a necktie. Smooth bronze shine of his hair. That man was the best whistler. Shadows off the streetlight sliding into the backseat of his car. At church, he stood to the side, by the statues of the saints. Lips. His lips, his hands.

Now and—

Not your fault, not your fault at all.

The high and low, the up and down of the butterfly across the yard, the back and forth. You would fly like a butterfly, not straight lines like an airplane.

The same silent house, this silence, this. Still can't leave. Not your—

A bowl of thirst.

Cookies. "Cookies!" Not your voice, not you.

His blue eyes.

You left your son behind for those hands. You left. You left him. You—a bowl of thirst. You left him. You left him. Six months, but you wished it to be always. Not your—the silence. You left him. You left. A stone of anger, hers, yours, his. The three of you carried a stone of anger. You did everything wrong. You left. You shouldn't have gone. You should have stayed away. You never should have come back. You left him. You left.

"I've fallen and I can't get up!" Your whisper.

Six months. Long enough.

Jimmy: who he should be is the name you picked. But somewhere in California, he's Tadeusz, or Ted or Tad or Junior. You let her take him. You threw him away first, so he threw you away when he could (like dust off a mop, you're dust to him, dust and ashes), and you don't know where he lives, you don't know anything about your son: he left. He's not here to help you now. He sank like a stone. You cling to your one secret word, Jimmy.

The daughter, the girl who knocks on the door holding a blue tin of cookies. She comes back. No matter what you say or do, she comes back. Geraniums spilling out red. People get what they deserve.

A bowl of thirst. A butterfly. The house. The porch. The sky. The crack that made you fall, the crack that put you here. The pretty blonde lady on TV. The bee, the buzz, the pleasant buzz.

The endless sky.

Fox eyes watch the naughty girl.

Years and days and hours and only this, those six months. Time is nothing, time laughs loudly. If you hadn't gone, if you had stayed. Would it be different, or would you be right here? Would you have seen that butterfly? The life you get.

You were weak against her wall of silence.

They wanted you to be sorry. When you were, they wanted you to be sorrier. Yes, sorry that you came back, sorry that in her face, you saw only his blue eyes, haunting and mocking. And how were you supposed to love that? Poor sad lost girl. Be sorry now. Can you be sorry now? Can you be sorry? Are you sorry?

The endless sky, so pretty and fast.

There should be more.

One butterfly. One fall.

"Anna." The name you chose.

Only this.

Anna, I want you to know that one thing. I want you to know now.

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