By Maya Sonenberg
Featured art: The Vanishing Race (Navajo) by Edward Sheriff Curtis
Eight o’clock, nine o’clock, ten o’clock on a summer evening—it’s time to close the eyes, allow the breath to deepen, and sleep. The neighbor’s cat sleeps under the camellia bush and the neighbor’s baby has given up her screaming and sleeps in her crib; the hummingbird babies sleep in their nest perched on the Christmas-light wire strung across the porch ceiling; boys and girls everywhere put on their pajamas and brush their teeth; grandparents, all four of them, rest underground. In this house, though, the children call for glasses of water, kick off their sheets and pull them back up, ask for stories about the grandparents they’ve never met, count airplanes going in for a landing at SeaTac, their red lights blinking down through the trees, tell each other jokes through their open bedroom doors, and throw pillows at the back of any parent who dares suggest it’s time for sleep. Yes, darlings, you’re right: while light still fills the sky and the first star appears and then the others, and while your parents sit on the porch steps with their glasses of wine, trading stories, it’s impossible to think that this vast middle—life—will ever end, that anything will ever die. Now, before dark sets in, watch all the colors fade to gray: the last stripe of orange sunset in the west; the blue sky pulsating overhead; the cedar and eucalyptus and dogwood all dissolving into dark—a gray and then a darker gray that is the color of our house walls, headstones, and storm water rushing over Snoqualmie Falls. At the falls today, after playing in the hot sun and the icy rocky riverbed, attempting to catch minnows, you hiked the slowest hike in all creation back up the steep slope you’d run down an hour before, scuffing the gray dust with your toes, and moaning about your aching legs and parched throats and sweaty backs and lack of ice cream, but once we got back to the city, you decided you hadn’t had enough of the outdoors and insisted we stop in Volunteer Park where you, Ezra Jacob (grandson of Jack and great-grandson of Jake) and Phoebe Rose (granddaughter of Phoebe and great-granddaughter of Rose), sat side by side on the swings and pumped yourselves up and up and almost out over the fence separating the playground from the cemetery, out over blackberry bushes and hydrangeas, out over the chain link and then the short clipped grass and the monuments, so that if you’d let go, you would have sailed toward a waiting angel who would lift her stone arms and catch you, happy for the chance to save someone, happy for the reprieve from guarding a grave.
Maya Sonenberg’s story collection Bad Mothers, Bad Daughters is the recipient of the 2021 Sullivan Prize in short fiction. Previous books and chapbooks include Cartographies, Voices from the Blue Hotel, 26 Abductions, and After the Death of Shostakovich Père. Other writing has appeared in Conjunctions, Fairy Tale Review, Electric Literature, The Collagist, and DIAGRAM. She teaches at the University of Washington, Seattle.
Originally published in NOR 9 Spring 2011