She stands behind her husband on their northeast Philadelphia doorstep as he fishes for his keys. The night air smells of crackling leaves. A shooting star curls over the roof. A sharp wind picks up. Suddenly, time folds into itself and five years vanish. Everything is still possible.
The phone has not yet rung. Her son still eats pizza with friends in a red plastic booth, the boys roughhousing under buzzing lights, shoving, showing off for each other and the girls at the next table. Scrape the boys’ surly surface and bright sweetness still wells up. But the tattooed manager has had enough, yells, Out! Laughing, they take their time.
Like tonight, it is a gusty November night. The boys have not yet bounded into the windy dark. They haven’t darted across the highway in their low-slung pants, identical black sneakers with the glow-in-the-dark arrow. Below scudding clouds, her swift-running son who has shattered every district record, who has college coaches watching him race, is not yet the last to cross. (She will never stop wondering how he could have been last.) He is not yet pinned in headlights tearing round the blind curve. He is not broken, not stopped, her boy who runs.
In another life, she lost her parents in the first Markale Market massacre of Sarajevo. Later, her husband and twin girls—she had gone to stand in line for water—when their house was shelled. She did not even have their bodies to dress for burial.
After the war, she needed little. Bread, soup. Occasional, anonymous arms to hold onto when the howling inside became so loud she could not find herself.
One man, who had also lost everything, whose scarred hands often trembled with rage, sometimes whistled as he walked or fixed a bicycle tire. This man pointed out things that did not hurt when they vanished: a blue pebble, a cloud shaped like the male organ, an old woman eating baklava in the sun. He held a cigarette to her lips with a tenderness she knew was dangerous. Still, she ate appreciatively when he cooked for her.
Panic seized her when she finally understood the nausea. She would not. She could not.
She called him that evening. He was silent on the phone. An hour later, he appeared at her door. This man who shared her view that God was a hoax and life a farce, this man clasped her to him. He murmured her name. He implored, coaxed, promised. They would leave Bosnia, they would leave Europe. They would make a home in America where they would not have to hate their neighbors. He had broad shoulders, capable hands, a stubborn, willful happiness.
How had she believed this would not bring another reckoning?
Their son’s birth, and fourteen years of cautious joy. Then a windy November night. Like this night.
She is split to the root again. Howling. Pummeling. And this man she beats and beats and beats against, this man who asked too much of her—accepts her blows. He hunches his shoulders. Grunts. His face and gaunt chest will be bruised for weeks. He accepts and accepts and accepts. He opens himself, says her name, over and over.
is a writer and painter living in central Pennsylvania. Her poetry collection, Taking the Long Way Home, is forthcoming in December from Kelsay Books. Recent stories and poems have appeared in San Antonio Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Literary Yard, The Drabble, Vita Brevis, Flashes of Brilliance, Literary Heist, and Writing in a Woman’s Voice. Two narrative poem projects, La Scaffetta and Accidents of Being, were adapted to stage by Tempest Productions, Inc. and produced in NYC; State College, PA; and Philadelphia.