Authors: Kathryn Davis
For a period the curly-haired girl had enjoyed limited notoriety as a poet but her books had never garnered what you’d call widespread critical acclaim. She had lived here, she had lived there. At some point she moved to be near her little sister, who’d ended up happily married to a man who owned his own grocery store, and after that she didn’t move around anymore. She’d had lovers but she’d never been married; she’d known happiness and she’d known sorrow. She was not so very different, in other words, from the dead woman, except for the fact that she was alive. When Janice called to tell her the news she’d been having one of those boring dreams that pass through your subconscious like an endless train of boxcars. She woke up drenched with sweat and filled with dread and the phone was ringing. The first of you to go, Janice had said, and the next thing the curly-haired girl knew she was crying as if her heart would break, despite the fact that she hadn’t known the deceased all that well, not even long ago when they were girls together.
What she means is nothing
happened, said the farmer. She looked over at the opera singer to make sure she’d got it right.
Exactly, the opera singer said. She was staring toward the back of the yard where there was a little birdbath that had a statue of St. Francis standing in the middle of the water, looking down at it, watching a gray-brown bird. What became of all the interesting parts, she asked, things like getting taken up into the sky, or being part horse, or being immortal? This story doesn’t have anything like that going on in it. In this story things like that aren’t even possible. She cleared her throat and began to sing: You are lost and gone forever, dreadful sorry, Clementine.
Well, duh, Janice said. That’s the
Haven’t you been paying attention? That’s the Great Division, like I was saying. That’s the hinge. On one side, St. Francis there receives the stigmata. On the other side, he isn’t even a saint. He’s a stonemason, something along those lines. She took a seat at the patio table and lit a cigarette. Maybe he gets lung cancer, she said, blowing out smoke. Stranger things have been known to happen.
I don’t understand, said the chemist.
The farmer was looking at the flowers growing around the birdbath. The deceased had a green thumb, she told us, a doting expression on her face.
Anyone can grow zinnias, someone said. Zinnias, marigolds—who cares.
the opera singer persisted. What about those other parts? The parts before it gets boring? There must have been some parts like that in her life.
Oh, honey, Janice said. She opened her arms wide and waved them around in an attempt to take in all of us, the backyard, the birdbath, the sycamore trees, the whole wide world. They’re over, she said. They’ve been over for forever. Look at you, she said. Just look at you! What do you expect? It was your past too—how could you forget it?
What’s so bad about zinnias? the curly-haired girl wondered. What’s so bad about being brightly colored at a time when everything else is turning dark?
I want to go home now, she thought. She didn’t know what she meant by home, only that it wasn’t here. As usual no one was paying attention to her and her heart was heavy because of her failure. The serving person returned carrying a platter of miniature crab cakes. A second serving person appeared with a bottle of red wine. It doesn’t matter, the girl thought. She opened the gate and was surprised at how quiet it was on the other side of the stockade fence. The house across the driveway looked empty, the windows dark, the curtains drawn. It looked like no one had ever lived there but of course that wasn’t true—it was the house she’d grown up in. Maybe everyone was at the reception.
She hadn’t had that much to drink but even so she was careful as she started down the drive. She was wearing high-heeled shoes and on this side of the street the driveways were very steep. Soon it would be night; soon it would be autumn. Soon it would be winter and then it would be cold.
It wasn’t until she arrived on the sidewalk that she realized how late it had gotten to be. Most of the streetlights were broken but one of the ones that still worked was shining down on a big gray hare. The hare was hesitating in the center of the street on its hind legs, its front paws lifted and folded neatly against its chest. The girl spoke to it softly. Here, boy, here, but it just looked at her in exasperation before hopping off down the sidewalk in front of the houses on the opposite side of the street.
Hop hop hop. In another moment down went the curly-haired girl after it, never once considering how in the world she was going to get back again.
The houses on the street were all the same, it was just the people living in them who were different. The people who lived in the house where the girl had grown up had terrible taste in curtains. The brick of Janice’s house had been painted pale blue. A little dog barked behind the door of a house where no dog had lived before and instead of the ivy plant in its bow window there was a gold lamp shaped like a naked woman. The large holly bush at the corner was gone.
The vacant lot, though—the vacant lot was still exactly the way it had been when the girl was a girl. She threw herself down on the short green grass, heedless of getting grass stains on her good silk skirt, and somehow tearing a hole in its hem with the heel of her shoe in the process.
The lot was a place you weren’t supposed to linger in; in that way, also, nothing had changed. She tried to remember how long ago it had been that she’d felt the fluttering in her pocket that she’d thought was a common garden fairy but that turned out to be nothing more than her heart. It was so easy to get the two of them mixed up.
The sun began to get low and all the west was dyed red.
Uh oh, said her friend the lustrous black ant.
When the Space Drift finally took place it was like everything—everything that is and has been and always will be—became for a moment like a huge thick velvet curtain, and everything that ever considered itself to be separate from anything else no longer was but only just for that moment, the moment of the Drift, while space was carrying away time in its soft dark folds like a lover.
Suddenly the curly-haired girl perceived that the grass was growing up between her and where she’d been. It had long spearlike leaves, it pushed up long pipes of green stem, and they whistled. She began to have a curious feeling as if all of this had already happened, and then half her sorrow faded into wonder, and the feeling grew upon her that these things had happened a long time ago. She drew a little nearer. It was a long time ago, she repeated.
Thank you to the Bogliasco Foundation and the Lannan Foundation for their support.
“Descent of the Aquanauts” appeared in
“The Four Horsewomen” appeared in
Mischief and Mayhem.
“The Rain of Beads” appeared in
“Through the Wormhole” appeared in
New England Review.
A very different version of “Body-without-Soul” appeared in
My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me,
edited by Kate Bernheimer (Penguin, 2010).
A part of “Yellow Bear” appeared in
edited by Joshua Glenn (Fantagraphics, 2012).
I also want to thank Louise Glück for her help with the manuscript.
The novel is haunted by the ghosts of Sappho,
Mopsa the Fairy,
and “The New Mother.”
KATHRYN DAVIS is the author of six previous novels, the most recent of which is
The Thin Place.
Her other books are
Labrador, The Girl Who Trod on a Loaf, Hell, The Walking Tour,
She has received a Kafka Prize for fiction by an American woman, the Morton Dauwen Zabel Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 2006 she won the Lannan Foundation Literary Award. She is the senior fiction writer on the faculty of the writing program at Washington University.