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January 10, 2021

Two Stories

Connor Goodwin

Bolaño’s Campground

More of a junkyard, really. The grounds were cluttered with mobile homes on cinder blocks, potted plants, wires fastened in the dirt by duct tape, rust hollowed in outlets. To flush, you pulled a string and a tank above relieved itself, or didn’t. The pool was closed, green from neglect.

It was less a junkyard than a zoo. A tabby marshaled along a rooftop, between cacti overhung like ivy. A bird with the throat of Mariah Carey cycled through an alphabet of sound—the whinny of an ungreased bike, a whoopee cushion, a child crying, something animal, TV anchors. Wolves bellowed morning and night. Parrots called back, echoes of a lonely well. Disheveled roosters. All of them hungry.

It was less of a zoo and more so a library. I had nothing to read. The only sound was gravel underfoot, a sound I’ve always loved. My lungs vacuumed the sea air. Healing, they say. The salted air mixed with fruity shampoo and dog shit. Everyone attended to their books with serious looks. Only so much light left. Continental philosophy, tomes of Russian souls, Don Quixote.

It was less a library than a highway. A ribbon of road, black as tar, and hot. Paved expressly to sell cars to the Last Man. The crystalline sea below rocky cliffs. Everyone stops for a photo. Proof of its marketability.

It was less a highway than a bar. The mast of a tree, same as my neighbors’ growing up, stood smack dab in the middle. It’s chipped bark, flecked all ashen, brown, and mint. The bar was empty. Perhaps on account of the parrot barking at the dog.

The men here, I do not know what to make of them. They are shameless.

Bolaño, at last, returns. I am seated at his doorstep, under a quaking light: notebook open, pen in hand. Do not move, he says. I scooch over anyway and he stays standing. You know, I’m not who you think I am, he says. Borges died long ago, I say. Lost in a high labyrinth, in a forgotten language of his own making. I thought it was a moving staircase, he says. Do you play chess? I ask. Yes, though I can’t remember how.


My Prairie Home

This house I once called home is so cold and so full.

I sleep in scraps of fabric, organized into heaps of color. Where does that leave me? A green creature who dreams in blue, writes in red.

Outside, snow spots the lawn, like the hide of a very sick cow. Our side of the street always melts first. As a child, I felt this—the sun being against us—to be a curse.

The cold here is bone-deep. I imagine the settlers living in sod houses, bugs parachuting down, no wood to burn except the piano and the armoire. How did they bear it? Why did they maroon themselves on a continent they decided was theirs?

Black ice kills, breaks backs and is easy to make by hosing down the driveway, which we do. I stay out until my hands hurt, remind myself of mind over matter, build an igloo and doze until the last light, when everything hushes blue.

I call to mother from the foot of the stairs. This is the loudest I ever speak and I almost always say, “What?!”

I wear long underwear all day. Sometimes, before bed, I’ll take them off if my leg hairs hurt. The hair stands electric.

I cleared a small pathway in a room I once shared with brother. Now I share with mother and her hobby. She quilts and gifts. I once thought this to be cheap. Then I understood labor and, yes, it is cheap, but it is more like love.

The house is dark because Mama is too short to change any of the bulbs. Once a year, I come home from the city to harvest and replace all the dim bulbs. But usually she does not have any fresh bulbs or, if she does, they are the wrong kind and she lives in darkness for another year. Besides, it is not so bad, this darkness. We learn to move through it, shuffling between islands of light.