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ARIEL BERRY

 

 

 

 

 

ariel berryAriel Berry currently resides in a small town in Indiana.  Her work has appeared in Stolen Island literary magazine, as well as Paradigm, and Caesura.  She received the Kimberly Ruth Irvine Prize in Creative Writing in 2011 and second place in the Steve Grady Award in Creative Writing in 2012.  She recently earned her MA in English with a creative writing concentration from the University of Maine.  Her runner-up story in the Seán Ó Faoláin competition was taken from her master’s thesis, a collection of short stories, written under the supervision of her advisor, Dave Kress.


 

 

 

 

To the stranger in the corner drawing
wings on a napkin with a felt-tip pen:

 

 

 

each time you find a book you love, you routinely purchase a second copy so you can blend it into paste and eat it on toast. I know, I’ve seen you do it a dozen times, in my mind. You got this idea, once, that if you slept in words you might dream them into a story. You collected hundreds of old books and shredded them into little strips with a pair of scissors. You made a nest in the corner of your apartment beneath the bay window. It didn’t work; you still dream normal, boring dreams about what you ate that day and bowling, but you sleep in the nest every night anyway. When you wake in the morning, your skin is imprinted with words: raincoat, molasses, wings, wallpaper, monkey, prune. You wear thick tights in summer so you don’t have to wash off the ink.

            You are always picking things up and refusing to put them down again. Sometimes it’s a pebble by the sidewalk, amber colored and smooth as glass. Or it’s an earring, found in the parking lot, or a tiny brass bell meant to hang above a door. You never steal, exactly: you just don’t question where things come from. You accept them as gifts from the universe, smuggle your treasures home in the pockets of your dress, bury them in your nest. You want beautiful things around you, even if they do gouge your back and arms while you sleep.

            You’re probably vegan, partly for the reputation, but also because you once held a baby chick in your hands and smelled his downy wings. You like things and people who are very old or very young—wrinkled. You listen to bands like Eisley and The Hush Sound even though they’re not as popular any more, though your favorite music comes from Iceland. You want to move to Iceland, but the thought of transporting the contents of your nest through airport security gives you panic attacks that keep you up in the night, huddled in your nest, your trinkets and keepsakes pressing red indentations into your skin.

            The panic attacks are getting worse. You’re not sure why, but it may have something to do with your mother’s upcoming visit, or the shapes you see in the dark when you’re falling asleep and when you close your eyes. Going blind is your greatest fear, along with skydiving, getting in a motorcycle accident, and public speaking. You don’t own a motorcycle, but you’d like to, an Aprilia.

            Your mother says she’s coming because she hasn’t been to see you in five years, but you’re pretty sure something is wrong. You’ve concocted stories about what it might be: your dad didn’t really die in that wreck; really he faked his death and moved to Seattle. She has breast cancer. She found out about the time when you were five and you took her ring that looked like a rose and hid it at the bottom of your toy box. She wants to apologize. Or she’s sorry, which is different. You’ve asked her to bring your stuffed monkey from when you were little. Squeaky.

            You tell yourself it’s probably something disappointing. After all, she’s old. Theatrical. Lonely. Maybe she just wants to visit her only daughter “before it’s too late” as she likes to say. Maybe she broke up with her mechanic boyfriend again. Maybe Meals on Wheels stopped delivering. That’s probably your fault, somehow. She’s always been critical of you. When you were younger, still living in her house, most things that went wrong were because of you: when the mail was misdelivered, or the piano needed tuning, or if she burned her macaroni and cheese on the stove. 

Not that she blamed you openly, of course not. Always just that sharp comment, the little cut. You were always a disappointment to her. It was as if the words were crammed in her throat and just had to spill out. “Your new glasses look better on you than your old ones did.” “Do you want me to help you fix your hair?” “I’ll go on a diet with you if you want me to.” She means well, doesn’t she? Maybe. You try to think that way. It’s just easier.

            She’d have a fit if she knew you put two creams in your coffee just a minute ago. Of course, she’ll go ballistic when she sees your apartment. “Foolishness,” she’ll say when she sees your nest, your wind chime collection hanging from the ceiling, the sculptures you twisted out of coat hangers. One of them is of her, but she’ll never recognize herself. She’s the cat.

            Today, staring into your coffee cup, this is the moment that you realize: you’re not happy. Happiness has never been your top priority; you’ve always been one to make yourself miserable for the greater good. Sewing all your own clothes, for instance, to avoid buying garments from factories. But you always thought, or perhaps felt, which is different, that once you got out of there, that house with the peeling wallpaper and the lacy pillow shams, that Midwestern town full of Walmart Supercenters and Toyota dealerships, it would be like crawling out of a dark cave into a summer day. You thought happiness would descend like obligatory rain. You don’t mean to be entitled, but you are confused, now, that it hasn’t come.

            You don’t know this, but your mother isn’t coming for a visit: she’s coming to stay. When she gets here, she’ll inform you that a moving truck carrying the rest of her things will arrive in a few days. The two of you will fight. You’ll run outside, just like you used to, and take a long walk by the pond, watch the ducks. She’ll stay. You’ll spend most of your time curled in your nest; she’ll spend hers dusting your apartment and cursing softly when she knocks over your collection of porcelain birds. The dark shapes will get larger, or closer, which winds up being mostly the same thing, because they will block out the light. When they get so dark that you can’t see, she’ll lead you from your bedroom into the kitchen.

            “It’s sunny,” she’ll tell you, helping you into a chair. “Can’t you feel it on your face?” When your arms curl inward, frozen like wings, she’ll push your hair back and spoon alphabet soup into your dry mouth. “It’s good for you,” she’ll say. “Soup is good when you’re sick.”

 

 

©2013 Ariel Berry

 

 

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