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Monthly Archives: May 2012

The house was filled with stuffy hot air and bad history, ready to explode, as Chase staggered down the hallway of his grandparents’ home, an aimless endeavor he had endured the past several months since Seinna had taken his children and gone to parts unknown. He sat on the unmade bed, the one his father had slept in while growing up on in a neighborhood of tangled streets named after the Big Lakes. He tried to recall the point of today. It’s meaning. The tall pines hovering high, swaying in the summer breeze near the bedroom window, and the dark blue walls filled his head with a sense of claustrophobia, as if he were drowning or locked away in a closet that was tailor-made for abusing those who were without defense.

Chase rolled his class ring between his dirty fingertips while it spoke to him in an ancient dialect. A language of youth and innocence. Talk of opportunity and simple choices. Visions of high school passed through his mind. “Mad Dog!” his high school classmates had chanted after he had pinned an opponent with undisciplined aggression. Sienna had always stood on the sidelines, quiet, tolerant of the risks of wrestling and weary of the violent nature possessed by her unborn child’s father. Neither one of them dreamt that his family’s dysfunctional history would slowly, over time, invade their world.

Chase wanted to ask his grandmother again where the ring came from. But he realized her mind was filled with distrust for all things of this world and her heart empty of compassion, while her zest for living hung by a shoestring. She had been a victim traveling down the hard road longer than anyone. “Some guy,” she had answered, stiff and stern. It made no difference where the ring came from, he now realized. It had returned to him thirteen years since its disappearance. There had to be a reason for its finding its way back to him today, he dreamed. That is, he thought, if reasoning and dreaming could fill the same void.

Chase had finally left his mark, just like his father and his father before him. It was the sort of mark that left both physical and mental bruises on others while, afterwards, always leaving him questioning his judgment. We were so young, he thought, now thinking more about the past and who he had become, thinking more so now about such things than any other time in his adult life. Jobs came and went. Arguments with anyone and everyone were lost and re-lost. Troubles stirred his and Sienna’s world for so long, he now wondered how he had not noticed the subtle shifting in the balance of his life, as it slowly fractured, forming into either a piece of lost-opportunity or a fragment of callous-disregard, until finally she had told him, “This is the last time.”

The ring, heavy in Chase’s palm, must stand for something, he judged.

Regret. Reflection. Remorse. Redemption. Redo.

Resolve began to fade.

Chase set the tarnished ring on the nightstand and lay down on a bed that knew plenty of nightmares. His thoughts drifted toward childhood and children, angst and slumber. And then he started to doze off. An old lost ring could only do so much.

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Not with zeal, but rather deliberateness, Ernst scraped his face with the straight edge. Each time he scuttled the cold blade in the charcoal-colored basin, the mixture of lather, water and whiskers turned that much more dark and filthy looking. A clean shave always left something else dirty and in need of cleaning.

The morning felt cold, indoors more so than out. The kitchen scrub board had never, and would never, face the rising sun. It was colder that morning than Ernst thought it would be when he had wondered about it the night before. The old two-room shack spoke the language of the frigid and sad, with boards that creaked in a stiff wind and cried with the weight of a heavy storm.

Ernst watched Paulette through the small, clouded mirror as she filled the old stove with wood. He could hear Peter lifting wood from the woodbox, with all his little might, and handing to his mother. A sickly lad, thought Ernst, while rubbing his chin as he watched his wife’s auburn curls dance over her shoulder and across her cheek. It was beyond too late, ten years exact, but Ernst knew she had the wrong complexion for this part of the territory. She held her beauty with each passing season. The frontier had spared her looks. Ernst had done her father a favor, taking her out of the old country, to settle in America, his dream, to share, to etch out a farmstead. But the land did him no favors. Instead, he found himself filled with doubt and regret. A failure as a farmer. A pretend husband and father.

“The parson’s waiting on us.” Ernst dunked the blade one last time.

“Good.” Paulette smoothed out her Sunday dress. “He’ll have something to say about putting up fences between neighbors.”

“And other things he could tell us about, no doubt.”

Paulette ignored him. “It’s a shame when one’s neighbor leaves an impression of untrustworthiness. I can’t remember a time when we’ve ever lost a single grain of wheat to thieves, let alone a neighbor.”

“A fence makes a point. And not a dull one at that. And there are cattle.”

“On the other side of the hill. Marten’s cattle have never strayed so far from the pasture.”

“It’s Marten, is it?”

“Mr. Andersson then.” Her voice now tense as she quickly added, “And a good neighbor for many years.”

Ernst checked his expression in the mirror. He saw the agitation quaking throughout his square jaw and his anger-filled eyes. He pressed the straight edge against his clean cheek, noticing its color of dull gray.

“Papa, will you teach me to shave?”

Ernst quickly turned and looked down at Peter and stared into eyes he no longer recognized.

“Come here, my son.”

Ernst turned Peter on his heels and bent down behind him, both now facing Paulette.

“It is a father’s responsibility to teach his son many things so that he will someday become a man.” Ernst pressed the blade against Peter’s cheek, just below his ear, with fiery eyes staring up at his wife. Her expression assured him that the blade was not dull in spite of it’s color. “And so he will not make the same mistakes as his father.”