Issue 35, Final Fringe

In Oquossoc

by Jessica Hendry Nelson Issue 25 02.07.2011

By the time we reach the family cabin on David Pond, it is a shivering dawn.  The trees are heavy with snow and droopy, like sulking children.  The car crunches over rocks and dirt and I am not entirely sure that we are going the right way, but it is not a good time to argue.  Neither of us has slept.  The pond looks more like a lake to me, but I don’t push this anymore.  Nick says my idea of a lake is the “disease-infested cesspools peddling as swimming pools just off city side streets.”  I don’t tell him that as kids, my brother I weren’t allowed to swim in public pools, so we splashed around in fountains instead, picking up pennies with our toes and listening for the ice cream truck.

“I found my Dad in one of those once,” I say.  “He was floating on one of those pool rafts with his work boots still on.”  We pull into the driveway and Nick turns off the car.  I feel the cold immediately, like a swift slap to the face.  The passenger window in Nick’s old Toyota never closes all the way.

“Was he drunk?” he says after a while.

“I don’t think so.  He just looked tired.  I was rushing home from school and didn’t stop to ask.”

“Well,” he says.  We sit in the car for many minutes, too tired to move.  The sun breaks over the frozen pond, catching in the cracks like flames.  Nick closes his eyes and leans back against the headrest.  I watch clumps of snow slip from the elbows of tree branches and tumble to the ground, unraveling as they fall, disintegrating in the colorless light.  I feel heavy.  A wet cold is snaking around my ankles.  There is a piece of cloud in my eye and a liquor burn on my lips.  The cabin is behind us and I am on the shore now, under the snow, picking clean the bones that peek out of the dirt, fingering the joints that fall apart in my hands.  These are old graves and they threaten to split wide and pull me under, the moonless current is strong here.  I see Nick from a great distance, that gentle soul, a boy really, snoring lightly, disturbing no one.  I want to keep moving, always, but I know we need to rest.  He opens his eyes.  He is watching me.  He wipes at my face and pulls me toward him, holding my head to his chest.  We don’t make it into the cabin.  There isn’t any heat inside, anyway.  Every few hours, I hear Nick start the engine and feel the heat blowing on my neck. We sleep like this until morning.

We sing as we drive – a song we make up about moose.  Going on a moose hunt… That’s all we have, so we sing this chorus over and over and dance wildly in our seats, beating time on the dashboard.  We lost radio reception a while back, soon after we pulled away from the cabin.  Before we left, Nick filled three black trash bags with the wet leaves from the gutters while I carefully pulled large sections of broken glass from a splintered window frame and flakes of white paint settled over the snow.  I watched Nick as he nailed a thin piece of plywood over the hole, his face flushed and his tongue hanging out like it does when he is concentrating.

Now, we are moving on.  We are looking for moose.  Waves of shadow skip across the highway in front of us.  A squirrel runs into the middle of the road, trembles, then darts for the bushes.  Morning dissolves silently into midday, bowing and graceful as she slinks off to bed.  I am eating a banana I bought at a gas station five miles back.  Eventually, we grow sick of singing about moose and begin to sing about bananas.

Nick assures me that we will see a moose in Oquossoc, at a place called the Height of the Land, a scenic outpost that overlooks Mooselookmeguntic Lake.  “Moose-look-at-me-guns, chick,” he calls it, “How can we go wrong?”  I am not convinced.  It is too late in the season and our odds aren’t good, according to the bearded man at the gas station.  I don’t know why, but I trust a bearded man when it comes finding moose, I tell Nick, and he shrugs and rolls his eyes, rubbing his smooth chin and scowling.

“The moose is the symbol of self-esteem,” Nick says.  “You could learn something from a moose.”  He eats a handful of Swedish fish and offers me the bag.  There’s one left so I bite its head off.

“When you see one, it means you are confronting all the various planes of existence between the self and the environment.”

“Do you believe that?” I ask.

“Of course not, but doesn’t it sound sexy?”

“Absolutely,” I say, feeding him the tail.  I study the map, run my finger west along the red highway line until I find Oquossoc.  Then I keep going – past Wilson Mills, over the Canadian border and into Quebec, north to Montreal, then to a place called St.-Sauveur-des-Monts (what might that be like?), and on past recognition.  In Saskatchewan, we could eat grilled cheese sandwiches at a roadside diner and a man called Griz might teach us to play five-card stud, beating us every time.  We will see a moose rise from the banks of Utikuma Lake like a past life, shaking off silver water slicks like bad memories.  He turns and looks at us with quiet absolution and we drive on across Canada – into Alaska, perhaps, over breakneck mountain passes so clean, so rich, we eat dinner and pick our teeth with pine needles.

At last, we will come to our new home, a cozy place with a garden on the edge of everything, on a tiny teardrop of land that dangles in Norton Bay, which I imagine is haggard and bold and indifferent.

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Jessica Hendry Nelson

Jessica Hendry Nelson

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Jessica Hendry Nelson’s work has been published or is forthcoming in The Threepenny Review, Crab Orchard Review, Alligator Juniper, Fringe Magazine, and Aegis.  She is a finalist for the 2011 John Guyon Literary Prize Competition and recently won first place in Alligator Juniper’s national contest in creative nonfiction.  She was the recipient of the 2005 Richard M. Ford Award for Excellence in Nonfiction Writing. Jessica is also the nonfiction editor at The Fiddleback, an online literary journal and teaches writing at the State University of New York in Purchase, New York.