|Please Send a Published Copy
to 101 Harris Road
Fiction by Rachel Ephraim
I imagine you at the end of the driveway. In the background the white
Subaru is parked next to your father’s truck. Your mother’s in the front
garden, a cigarette in hand. You’re still fit and handsome, and your top lip
still curls into the same wide “M” as always, but it no longer stands for “Mine.”
Maybe it means “Me” or “Mary’s” these days. It could be that it’s stopped
meaning anything. Maybe it’s just a top lip. You casually open the mailbox.
Perhaps the sun is shining. Perhaps the birds are chirping. Maybe you read
about a murder in the paper this morning.
You’ve stopped anticipating my letters. Your mom has ceased filtering
the mail and weeding out (at your request) anything with my return address.
I’ve stopped writing, almost. Your smooth and gentle hands flip through
envelopes like a magician handling his cards. Expecting something? A prize
from Ed McMahon? The spy kit you ordered when you were six that never
arrived? No, you’ve stopped expecting anything. Amongst the pre-approved
credit cards and bills, you find a literary journal.
It sits on the walkway table until you take it to the bathroom three days
later and open the pages, reading its words with the same enthusiasm as you
would the directions on the tube of toothpaste. You were never much for
drama. It takes four or five trips before you get to my story. To this. You
see your address as the title, my name as the author. You feel paranoid, like
the world is watching you.
I imagine your dad intercepting my message. He’s curious and thorough
and finds this story as he sorts through the mail before you awake. He hands
it to you over breakfast on a Sunday afternoon. You are too old to be living
at home, but every week you enjoy these twenty minutes with Dad. You
pretend you are just visiting
“Did you see this?” he says. He scratches his peppered beard and slides
over the magazine. He’s not sure if he’s doing the right thing, but there is
already much to regret in his own life; he doesn’t want to start on yours.
“See what?” you reply. The kitchen nook is unchanged. The breadbox
is still falling apart. The curtains still smell like Parliament Lights. Your sister’s
picture is still attached to the refrigerator at the same rakish tilt. When she
died your mother could not take it down. What’s different now is only the
way you look at the breadbox, the curtains, the picture. The picture.
“There’s a story about you, written by her.” I try to imagine that your
dad’s not too old yet. He’s a complicated man who still needs time for
“Oh yeah?” you say, lathering the ketchup onto your potatoes. “What
does she say?”
“I’m not sure, but I think she’s sorry.”
“What for?” you ask.
“I’m not sure she knows,” he replies. “Everything?” Maybe your eggs
taste a little better this morning. Maybe they don’t.
I imagine your mother in a clingy v-neck, tight jeans, and fashionable
boots. She’s on the back porch. Smoking a cigarette for breakfast. How
many cats are left? They seemed to drop each time we got back together.
Four or three or two or one surround her legs. They purr in the sunlight.
They will never access their memory of my smell again, but I find comfort
that should I arrive, one day, they will know who I am. Your mom’s
puffing away and reading my words. She thinks I’ve gone too far. I still
think she looks like Diane Lane and not like Sally Field. She smiles at
She snubs the red lit tip into an ashtray and walks inside as though
nothing has happened. She knows you’re not home, but prepares how to
react if you should walk through the door. She could pretend that she
doesn’t hear you when you ask, “What’s that in your hand, ma?” She
could run as fast as she could to the shredder. She could light the house
on fire. My words might burn your flesh if you’re not fast enough in your
escape. She practices these scenarios in her head. In the end she just
stuffs the journal in her underwear drawer, a place she knows you’ll never
look. Of course, you look there when you’re 65 and you’re cleaning out
her stuff after she’s gone. You bless her for keeping all these words a
secret because now you have 3 kids you can’t imagine living without, and
a grandson who plays basketball the way you wish you had. And a wife.
You can’t bear the thought of never having kissed that crease of that nose.
Please know that I realize we will only reunite by chance, an
awkward “hi” as if we were strangers wearing the same shirt. I only
wanted to think about you a bit as I wrote this, and perhaps to say I’m
sorry and I was wrong. And maybe you don’t live here anymore. Maybe
you moved on.
And then, perhaps this will never reach you for other reasons. Maybe
I will never be good enough for anyone. Maybe this will never get
published and my cowardice will win, and I’ll never get to share with you
all the thoughts in my head ever again. But I must try, an attempt as
pathetic and desperate as driving myself to the hospital.
Because. I was young. The eventual novel’s dedication will bear
someone else’s name. Because it’s too late. Because I really did mean it.
For the last word. For the final “us.”
When and if I get my free author’s copy, do you know what I’ll do?
I think you do. I will jump on my bed, arms outstretched above my head
and reaching for the ceiling. My first published piece! In a shower of
feathers, I’ll forget that it is the reminder that you still exist somewhere
that has reverted me back to the unbounded delight of a child and not that
my name is in print. It’s been so long that this isn’t even the bed where
we used to make love.
Rachel Ephraim is a writing instructor for Writopia Lab, a non-profit
organization that holds creative writing workshops for kids 9-19. She
lives in Brooklyn, New York.
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Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of Contemporary
Volume 3, Number 2
Copyright © 2008
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to material
published in the Apple
Valley Review are retained
by the individual authors