Notes Regarding the Old House on Bent Knee Road
Dawn West

Besides the hardwood floors being beautiful, they are a lesson in discipline. I found solace in the routine—the dust mop hard in my hands, the sound of my body making it sweep, the little piles of debris like storm clouds gathering around me. The dust like ashes. One day I took my father’s urn out of the closet. I sat on my haunches and compared a handful of him to a handful of dust. The hair in the dust was the only discernable difference.

It gets cold in that house. If you move there, pack wool socks, long underwear. In October the wind screamed so loud I would wake at random, mistaking it for someone hurt in the road. Jon slept right through it. He grew up there. To him, home was the clamor of autumn storms followed by silent hills of snow. I bought a sound machine and thick, no-nonsense boots. I started taking long walks in the afternoon. I started to enjoy the cold. I started coming home flushed. I would tear off my clothes and drop them around our bedroom while something thin and frantic tore through my body. Happiness has always felt like that to me.

Jon’s first wife chose to grow blackberry bushes where most would put planters. I hated her but I let them stay. I made us blackberry cobbler five nights a week. We spent the summer picking seeds from between our teeth and fanning ourselves with old half-read New Yorkers. We’d cancelled by then—tight budget—which had allowed us to play catch up. He’d sold my car to pay the mortgage. “Cheer up, honey! Now this really belongs to us,” he said, waving his arms around the dining room. I kept my eyes on my plate and quickly swept the tears away. His first wife never drove, he used to mention. His first wife loved our home, he used to say. His first wife died a blessed woman, an angel, a god damn slice of humble pie. Why couldn’t I be like her? His eyes asked this of me across the table, the table built from the same wood as those hardwood floors, the deliberately visible planks and beams, all assembled by him and his father, Jonathon and Langford Dean. I was surprised how easy it was to smile sweetly and take him by the hand.

The sixth ascending step squeaks. Remember this if you come home later than expected and don’t want to wake the man you love. Don’t take a shower—don’t be that cliché. Spritz your chest, neck, and thighs with a light perfume. Wash your hands, your face, brush your teeth. Climb into bed naturally. Kiss his mouth in the morning. Look him in the eye when you speak. Say nothing about sitting alone for hours in a bookstore, reading in an aisle on the floor. Don’t tell him you fell asleep on the bus alone. Don’t tell him you ate a jumbo fajita burrito while sitting on the trunk of someone else’s car. Don’t tell him you cried after you did this. Just tell him you’re pregnant. He will lose you in the midst of his congratulatory kiss and breathless gratitude and the thunder of his feet as he runs to call your families. He will lose all memory of your absence if you do it like this. Unless, of course, you’d rather trip.

The old house is accustomed to miscarriages. His Aunt Cora, his mother Belinda, his first wife Elaine. I was there to make it even. I held snotty ribbons of blood and tissue. I slowly loosened my fist, felt them slip down the palm of my hand. The ribbons looked like the slender spines of children. I fainted then, and when I woke up a doctor was there to tell me what went wrong, but all I heard was the word gone.

Dawn West (b. 1987) reads, writes, and eats falafel in Ohio. She can be found online here.