Tag Archives: boundaries

Thresholds – Winning by Michelle Bailat-Jones

 

 

A bright morning in the third week of May. Here is our Lia in the garage below the small condominium where she and Evan now live. She is yelling, her hand in the box she has dragged to the foot of the stairs and opened, certain that although he is pretending not to, Evan can hear her.

“Where is it?” she yells one last time. Silence from the upstairs.

Lia is not to be outdone by a Christmas ornament.

To understand her, we must go back to breakfast and a small dispute. A detail needing clarification.

“It was like those awful hair angels you used to put on the Christmas tree.” Evan was talking about a doll one of their grandchildren had selected at the store on a recent trip. “Why would any child want something so ugly? And let’s not discuss that it’s Ben who wanted the doll.”

“Hair angels?”

Evan dismissed her outrage with a flick of his spoon. “Yes, the ones you bought from that hippie store. Made of human hair. The girls were little. They loved them.”

“You’re insane, Evan. We’ve been living different lives. I’ve never purchased hair angels.”

He returned to reading his newspaper and Lia descended immediately to the storage shelves in the garage below. She has kept every single Christmas ornament ever acquired.

She rifles through the box at her feet. “Unless you threw it…” She begins but she gulps the sentence, not willing to give him a way out of their disagreement. She has kept her ornaments safe from every single one of Evan’s “spring-cleanings”.

At seventy-six and seventy-three, Lia and Evan are now like the two moons of Mars. They have found their orbit around the planet called their Life and they stick closely to it. Surveying it, watching it. Discussing its topography from a perfect height as they circle gently above.

There is a thump on the ceiling above Lia’s head. She smiles and shakes her fist. “Don’t stamp your feet, dear one, you can’t rattle me. I’m going to prove you wrong.”

Of course he does not answer. This is an established game. One of many the moons have discovered, useful ways to keep a careful watch on Life. Because Life has a way of shifting suddenly, turning into the darkness for a moment of obscurity. Blurred details.

Fifteen minutes later, maybe more, she emerges from the garage, a cobweb on her sleeve, dusty fingers clasped triumphantly around a delicate angel. It is not made of hair, but gold silk cords. She admits it has a certain 1970s handicraft look to it, but it is not gaudy. Or kitsch. Well, it’s certainly kitsch, Lia knows this; but Christmas cannot be otherwise.

“See,” she says, “I win. I always win. When will you…”

But Evan is no longer in his chair at the breakfast table. He is on the floor. His piece of toast has fallen with him and there is jam on his collar and in his thick white hair. Raspberry jam that looks like blood.

There is no blood. This has been the most peaceful of deaths. For Evan.

For Lia this is chaos. At first she does not understand the scene before her. She is sharp for someone of her age, but the impossibility of Evan joking with her a moment ago and now lying still on the kitchen floor creates a disconnect too broad for Lia to cross in a few easy seconds. This is an ordinary morning. Nothing extraordinary must happen on an otherwise ordinary day.

“This isn’t funny, dear.” But she knows this is not a joke. His stillness is the kind of stillness they have been warned about for the last few years. They are nearly elderly, many people—doctors, friends, their daughters especially—tell them this. So what has happened is not extraordinary at all.

Lia does not touch him right away. How can she? This is no longer Evan, and although her mind does not yet accept this, her body already understands.

But she needs to be sure. She takes his hand. There is something too taut about the muscles in the palm of his hand. She presses on them, bullying them, raging at them. She passes a gentle hand across his forehead. Evan.

No longer Evan.

How long was she in the basement? Why does she always have to win?

Back down the stairs she must go, slowly now, slowly, hold the hand rail. You have suffered a shock, Lia, take it carefully. Find the garage door opener, open the garage. Greet the angry sunlight, cross the untidy garden, find a neighbor.

Lia has left a medical alert device back inside the house, in the kitchen drawer, between a roll of masking tape and an expired coupon for hot chocolate, but she did not think to push it. This is not a medical emergency. This is her Life. There is no button.

Halfway across the street, she realizes she has left Evan alone. On the floor. She remembers her oldest daughter insisting on the medical alert. How she did not want to ‘impose’ on her parents, but she wanted them to be safe. Just in case, she said.

In case I win, Lia thinks.

She swivels to return to Evan and trips, twisting her ankle. Several minutes later, Mr. Dougherty comes out of his house because there is so much noise in the street. He wonders how this old woman still has such a voice. Lia is sitting on the curb, holding her ankle.

“He’s inside!” she says when she sees him.

“What’s that?” Mr. Dougherty is deaf.

“Evan!” she yells, and this time Mr. Dougherty understands. He has been orbiting his Life alone for some time now.

An ambulance arrives. Lia insists someone help her back inside her house. People in uniforms with careful voices and steady gazes take charge of the situation. A man walks into her home and comes out again much too quickly.

“Are you even trying? He needs your help!”

But the rush and panic are for her. She is injured. They want to take her to the hospital.

“You’ll need x-rays, ma’am.”

She fights them. She wants to stay with her husband. She tries to walk back inside the house but they hold her in the front yard, they make her sit down again, run their thick fingers along her swollen ankle and wrap it tightly. All these minutes, fussing over her, while Evan lies alone in the kitchen. When she cries, finally, one of the men, the younger one, takes pity on her and helps her back to Evan.

They’ve put him on some kind of a board, strapped his body for easy carrying. She kneels beside him and fumbles for a hand. What have they done with his hands? Someone is helping her to her feet again. Someone hands her a cell phone and gently tells her to call a family member.

But she cannot dial a single number, because which of her twin daughters should hear the news first? The kitchen stills, waiting for her. She presses buttons at random on the phone. She pictures her daughters—one at work in the city, the other in a university office—she closes the phone and returns it to the first outstretched hand. Someone will do this for her, someone who doesn’t know Evan, someone who feels nothing at the extraordinary event of this morning in May. But not Lia. Our Lia’s Life has cracked this morning and she does not have enough love for either of her daughters at this moment to give them the news.

 

‘Winning’ is an excerpt from Michelle Bailat-Jones’ novella-in-progress, Hush. Michelle is a reviews editor for Necessary Fiction and can also be found engaging with books at Pieces.

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Thresholds – Rear-View Mirror, by Kenneth Porteous

 

 

rear-view mirror

 

Back seat of the car. Passenger side.

Rain hits the window and the droplets

make their meandering diagonal descent.

She drives. Carefully. Cautiously.

Scared of the rain. Scared of all things

unseasonal.

 

I watch her. Smooth skin, worried look.

She concentrates so hard on the road

around her. In the rear-view mirror I see

her eyes, brown and whole.

She is obsessed with her mirrors, constantly

checks them.

 

The water lets up. The windows clear.

The tension stays in her shoulders. I want

to tell her it’s OK now. She’s safe. We both

are. But still her eyes flicker towards that

rear-view mirror. Still she can’t rip them away

from what’s behind.

 

We stop. Water sprays up as the car draws to a

halt beside the pavement. The driver behind

pulls up a few lengths back. A dark figure steps out

from behind the wheel and pulling his hood up,

stalks in our direction. She starts to shake as

she watches him get closer.

 

Her knuckles whiten. Gripping tight on the wheel.

I sit forward and watch her eyes. Gauge the panic.

She’s so certain that I can’t help but brace myself.

The figure walks straight past, rushing to get out

of the rain. She relaxes for a moment, but quickly

returns to her rear-view mirror.

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Thresholds: an online lit reading

Boundaries, thresholds, doorways. Space, hybrids, dichotomies, taboos. The girl, the woman. The wilderness, the city. I’ve been interested for a long time in these points of tangent and overlap and crossing which appear in literature. Now I’ve had the idea to host an literary reading along these themes.

 

This is a call for entries.

 

This is an address to you, for your writing to be broadcast online some time around the end of June. All you need to join in is a webcam and writing that you feel fits this broad theme.

 

How it will work – my friend A has video editing skills, and has agreed to help me put together our show. What I’d like is to have enough entries to select about 40-60 minutes of readings. I’ll then broadcast the show on either Livestream or Youtube at a time when hopefully most people in the West at least will be able to watch it live. This date will be announced nearer the time. I already have one writer down, and I’m very excited to see others join. This will hopefully be just as well-viewed (and as good as) an evening of fiction/poetry in person. There may be a chat function, there most certainly will be a video put up afterwards. Of course, no free wine- BYOB, or whatever you’d like. And snacks.

 

Interested in submitting? I think the best way to submit would be to upload a short  (5 minutes max) recording of a reading of your work to Youtube – you can make this private (i.e., don’t upload to the general stream – here’s how to do that, if unsure) and send me a private link. My address is: wheresthebread[at]hotmail.com. If you have any queries leave a comment below or email me.

 

If you’d like to submit something in another language, please feel free to do so – providing a transcript in English (so we can sub). I think it would be nice if in the reading you presented it as if giving a reading in person – however you feel that applies to you.

 

The deadline for submissions is the 24th of June. I can’t wait to start seeing what you come up with.

 

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