Issue 35, Final Fringe

In Oquossoc

by Jessica Hendry Nelson Issue 25 02.07.2011

He turns and sees me watching, then leaps on the bed like a child on Christmas morning.  He pulls back my eyelids with one hand and pinches my nose with the other.

“Wake up, chicken butt,” he coos.  He wears a grin of boyish mischief, his blue eyes stained pink from lack of sleep.  He grabs a cup of hot coffee from the nightstand and holds it to my lips, the way you do for the infirm.  I sip, more grateful than I’ve ever been.

“I wish I had eyelashes as long and dark as yours,” I tell him.  “It’s a waste on boys.”

“I wish I had boobs like yours,” he says.  “I’d play with them all day.”  He cocks his head to the side, just now considering the implications.  “Well, maybe not.”  Outside, a pitching snow fills the windows.  It is still night, or somewhere in the slim fissure just before dawn, and dark branches slap against the glass.  I feel a survivor’s exultation.

“Get up,” he says.  “Put on a sweatshirt.”  I move slowly, clutching the coffee mug like a life preserver.  If I let go, I’m going back down.  I see that it is four in the morning, the witching hour if ever there was one.  I grab my jacket and put on socks, padding behind him into the blinding hallway.  There is music, I swear, and I hesitate, leaning into the wall, aware only of the flowered wallpaper, thousands of tiny lilies raining to the floor.

“What the hell is that?” I say.

“Nancy’s playing the piano.  She does it every morning.  I told her it wouldn’t bother us.  We were getting up early, anyway.”

“Of course you did,” I say, and he pulls me into the dining room and down the steps and out onto the terrace.  I’m not even resisting this, I realize suddenly, as the snow smacks my cheeks and the freezing wind drags me away from the edge of sleep.  Nick is talking, but the blasts of wind are so loud I can’t hear him.  His lips seem to be moving in slow motion.

“There,” he might be saying, pointing out over the hills.  To the south the sky is colorless and the land behind this frozen air is metallic and drained.  Suddenly, everything feels speeded up, like I am vibrating, which makes me gasp for air and grab instinctively for the terrace railing, my mug dropping into the snow and disappearing for good.  We shouldn’t be here, not now, as the empty sky beats back a silver sun and the dead trees draw arrows for the stars.  I think I see a figure in the distance, his long stringy legs braced against a slanting mountain bluff, two giant, splintering shin bones thrust like javelins into the ice.  I pray, don’t let go.  I look for Nick, but he is at the bottom of a deep centrifuge, smiling up at me from a long time ago.

“There,” he calls out suddenly, and I see the black moose ambling out from behind a cluster of bushes, like a piece of night sky shaken loose.  My heart stills.  He is the distance of a football field away.  The moose chews calmly on the spindly branch of a chrysanthemum, stamping his great hoofs in the snow.  He extends his neck back against the wind and then whips forward, tearing platinum gashes in the dark with his enormous antlers.  From where we stand, he walks the horizon – one misstep, I think, and he’ll fall from the earth’s rim, crashing through the universe and bellowing out to the passing galaxies. I walk toward him slowly.  I don’t want to scare him off.  My feet are numb; the snow is up to my knees.  I imagine reaching out and stroking the coarse fur on his back, clumps of it snapping off like icicles in my hands and falling to the ground.  I want to bury my face in his flank, pressing hard; I want to be inside where it is warm.  I imagine the beast reaching back and softly nuzzling me on, snorting impatiently.  I take a few tentative steps.

Nick squeezes my hand, checking, and I squeeze back.  I’ve forgotten everything that’s come before.

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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.