A LANDLOCKED STATE
Apple Valley Review:
A Journal of
Volume 12, Number 2
Copyright © 2017
by Leah Browning, Editor.
All future rights to
in the Apple Valley
Review are retained by
the individual authors
Essay by Lauren Fath
She will take your arm and pull you into her bedroom, walls
painted turquoise—“like the ocean,” she will say, and you will not tell
her that the ocean is more black than blue. Long ago, you lived in a
San Francisco apartment that overlooked the Pacific, an apartment
where, if you slept with the windows open, you’d wake up in sheets
gritty with sand and salt. She has lived her whole life in New Mexico,
a landlocked state. What could she know about the ocean?
She will insist that you both undress yourselves and you will silently
refuse, reaching for the button of her shorts, the hem of her shirt so you
can pull it over her messy red hair. It is mid-afternoon, and filtered light
from the west will find her through the curtains: sharp hipbones, defined
biceps, tiny breasts. You are shy and she is shy, and you will try not to
look too hard at one another’s bodies, instead curling up in a sickle
C-shape atop the covers, which you will not bother to turn down. She
will close her eyes silently, and afterward, when you’re resting your
head on her shoulder, will tell you she likes the way you move your body.
You will not think, yet, that this girl is mean, because she will lend
you soft sweatpants and a T-shirt, and the two of you will modestly get
dressed and then hold one another on the couch, watching TV and
ordering Domino’s for dinner.
“Look at you, wearing my clothes,” she will say, pride in her sly
You, too, will gloat, but silently. For six months before asking her
out, you had admired this girl in faculty meetings: her easy laugh, the way
she sat sideways with her arm draped over an auditorium seat next to
her, as if looking for someone to fill a void. After one date and two
days, you have already fallen in love with this girl, with her Albuquerque
adobe house, with the elliptical light in her bedroom that is not, in fact,
the color of the ocean. But you don’t tell her these things.
You will not think, yet, that this girl is mean, but you will know that
she is not gentle. You will wake the next morning with bruises on your
thighs, an ache in your hips where she ground you down. Over brunch,
she will tilt her head and look at you, ask about the red mark on your
neck. She will claim to be ashamed at her work, but she will also look
smug, satisfied—fifty-three and still giving girls hickeys.
For months, a whole summer, you will love this girl, something you
finally will tell her. Actually, she will tell you first, again in the middle of
the afternoon, again in the non-ocean bedroom light. She will be on top
of you and say, “I know you’re not supposed to say it during sex, but I
love you.” You do not know this taboo, but will stay quiet and let the
mean girl touch your body; you will touch hers. You will say, “I love
you, too,” and think you are telling the truth.
Eventually, you will turn mean. Eighteen years’ age and a two-
hour drive down I-25 will prove to be too much distance. You will
scrutinize the wrinkles around her eyes. You will find new lines on her
body, even as she closes her eyes silently on top of you. Weeknights,
when you are 120 miles apart, you will sit on your deck and drink wine
and say cruel things into the phone because you are searching for
something that’s wrong—a reason not to love her—and inventing it
where you can’t find it.
When she leaves you, she will stop by your house one morning
with a grocery sack of all the things you’d left in her bathroom. It will
take you a month to put its contents back on your shelves—a month to
see she’s not taking you back, that eighteen years and the two-hour
drive down I-25 were not long distances at all.
A friend, trying to console you, will say, “There are other fish in the
sea.” But I live in a landlocked state, you will think. And you will
wonder whether you’ve been wrong about the ocean’s color, all along.
THE END OF THE
SUMMER AND THE
Essay by Lauren Fath
We wake before dawn, when even in August, in Albuquerque, it’s
just fifty degrees. Your alarm is a country song about sitting on a pier
and drinking a beer, and I’m accustomed to opening my eyes at its first
few guitar chords, reaching for you. The brown dog knows the song,
too, and runs for the back door, tail a tight spiral. You nudge my hand
from your shoulder and follow her: slipper-dampened footsteps on
kitchen linoleum, hiss of steam as you start your espresso machine. The
white dog stays under the covers next to me and sighs at the obscenity
of rising from the warm bed so early just to run, to run in the cold—the
cold, cold morning. I look toward where you were and already miss the
shock of your red hair on the pillow. I am not allowed to run my fingers
through it at night; this wakes you up. So it is morning before I might
touch you, when you make your espresso and return to bed, prop
yourself on a pillow against the headboard and sip from a tiny porcelain
The brown dog follows you, finds her place at your feet. The white
dog wedges between us. I want to touch your hair, your tousled red hair,
which has in your sleep come untucked from behind your ears. I would
smooth your part with my palm, run my fingers down until they touch
your shoulders, where your shirt is slipping sideways. I would kiss your
cheek, skin the most velvet I’ve ever felt, soft lines the repository of
eighteen years between us. But instead of touching, we run: shivering,
trade our pajamas for shorts and tank tops, drive to the mountainside
trail where we are fast and untouchable for miles, our bodies warming
In midday’s bright-blinding light, we work on your house—a fixer-
upper you bought a year ago. You are on the roof, repairing your swamp
cooler. Below, I smoke cigarettes in the shade and toss you clean rags
and plug in extension cords for your tools. I watch the older, slower
brown dog chase the wily white one, who tears across the dirt back yard,
kicking up dustclouds and trampling tomato plants. Like you, the white
dog runs with abandon, without looking back.
You always say you aren’t a good lesbian, but I think differently
each time you come down the ladder: suede tool belt slung around your
hips, Budweiser T-shirt with cut-off sleeves, fiery hair peeking from
beneath a baseball cap, sweat soaking the back of your neck. The ways
I want your body are twofold: I want to touch it and wish I had it, myself.
Flat chest, awesome biceps, and sweet-smelling, even when you sweat.
Sturdy hands—long fingers that surprise me with their softness, that
surprise me, these days, by touching me at all.
After dinner we walk the dogs a few blocks to the park, where they
kick up divots of grass and strain at their leashes. On our way back, the
white dog stops to mark yucca plants, landscaping rocks, and the thick
stems of hollyhocks—maroon faces wide, drinking slanted sunbeams.
The brown dog tugs her way ahead, knows the way home by heart.
In your back yard, we lounge on wrought iron chairs and don’t say
much, either because we’re comfortable with silence or because we
have nothing left to say—I’m not sure. Your cigar smoke smells of cedar
and ash, lingers above us in the still air: the perfume of summer nights
that are almost over, like we will be, too. I rest my palm on your knee,
crisscrossed by smooth, pale scars from surgeries in your days playing
college field hockey. You place your hand over mine—gingerly, as if
you might break me. Sunset shines on the Sandias to the east, mountains
so named for the color of watermelon they become as the day dies. Your
hair matches the mountains at this hour, at the end of the day, at the end
of the summer and the touching, too. I’d nearly forgotten the rare, balmy
nights just weeks before, when the gloaming and smoke overtook you,
when you’d pull me inside by my arm and say that you wanted to make
love. I should have memorized you in that light.
Lauren Fath received a PhD in English and creative writing from the
University of Missouri, an MFA in nonfiction from Oregon State
University, and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern
University in Evanston, Illinois. Her work has appeared in Fourth
Genre, Post Road, poemmemoirstory, Gertrude, and elsewhere.
She is currently an assistant professor of English at New Mexico
Highlands University in Las Vegas, New Mexico.
◄ Previous page Apple Valley Review, Fall 2017 Next page ►