With a broken-down oven, in a hotel kitchen, on an uninhabited island
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Brenda Miller is the author of five essay collections, most recently An Earlier Life. She lives with her dog, Abbe, in Bellingham, Washington, where she teaches at Western Washington University and the Rainier Writing Workshop and sings to terminally ill patients with the Bellingham Threshold Singers.
I’m at my father’s bedside, his hand resting in mine. His skin feels thin, but his nails grow thick and long, creeping a half inch beyond the rounded flesh. They’re the only part of him that seems healthy. How can the nails keep growing like this when his heart pumps barely enough blood to keep him alive?
Dear Young Artist:
Thank you for your attempt to draw a tree. We appreciate your efforts, especially the way you sat patiently on the sidewalk, gazing at that tree for an hour before setting pen to paper, and the many quick strokes of charcoal you executed with enthusiasm. But your smudges look nothing like a tree.
I’m sorry I gave it away, that nightstand you made for me so many years ago. Well, you didn’t really make it; you revised it. You found the battered table at a garage sale, saw its potential (its “good bones,” as you often said of imperfect things), and somehow — in secret, in the basement — sanded down the wood, puttied every hole, fixed the drawer, and added a shim to make it level.
Everyone who came over said of the cherry, “Great tree,” especially in July, when its fruit started to ripen. The squirrels and the birds took the lion’s share, mocking me by dropping half-eaten cherries on the patio and the lawn. I ate only the ones I could reach simply by pulling down a branch and plucking. I’d had Rainier cherries from the store, but these fruits were a surprise: the flesh so sweet and yet so complex; the firm skin giving way to the textured meat beneath; almost like a golden plum, but small and round and mine.
Sheba is just the right height for a toddler to pat her on the head with a fist, or walk under the archway of those enormous legs. Eventually the girl will haul herself onto Sheba’s back and squeal, “Giddyap!” and the dog will comply, moving slowly, swaying like a camel.
This child is not my own, but still the words of possession slip from me: “My baby girl. My sweet baby.” Although I’ve never seen her before, I think I know what she needs: the lights at her hospital bedside dimmed, her loose arms girdled securely against her chest. She has no name except “Girl” and a family surname typed on the identification card at the foot of her crib.
A man I like is coming for dinner tonight. This means I don’t sleep very much, and I wake disoriented in the half light of dawn, wondering where I am. I look at my naked body stretched diagonally across the bed; I look at the untouched breasts, the white belly, and I wonder. I don’t know if this man will ever touch me, but I wonder.