Two Stories by Delaney Nolan

Other Living

She lived in a cold room with a small bed that always smelled of fresh-cut wood. Pine or cypress. The cold was important and the wooden smell of sleep was important, and little else. She had a difficulty with rising from the bed, some recent problem. She had a habit of stealing groceries, wheeling the carts right out the door. With the groceries she always took sunflowers.

Very early in the mornings she woke up to blue winter and smoked with the window open. Clean cold air moved over the sill from outdoors. She liked to be alive in that kind of light which had not yet committed to day. She liked to be the only living thing around.

She loved a boy, or: she needed one thing to love, or: she did not know who to love and the boy was the other living thing. She visited him and they drank and sat on the floor to talk about people they knew. Before she left, she touched his face like a friend. She walked home with mittened hands dug deep in her pockets, fingering the coin of small moments like those. He never visited her cold room of pine and she never asked.

There was a morning when it snowed. This was a Southern state and the whole town stood at attention. Schools were closed, places of work; driveways iced over and cars became superfluous machines. She and the boy walked together with a blue dog across the town where they lived. They walked to the college campus. A snowball fight was going on amongst dozens of students, and the girl rushed into the thick of it. There was no clear side or division. She ran into the blank space of the field to feel cold hurled at her. It stung her neck, her cheek. The boy stood at the side with the dog and watched and didn’t join in. She felt her skin go pink while she threw ice across the air at strangers who laughed in small groups. She wanted to be covered in cold, overwhelmed by strange and freezing sensations.

When her hands were raw she stepped away from the fight. She and the boy got bad coffee at a fast food restaurant. They sat in booths across from one another, bodies muffled by coats. When it got dark and the snow was a light that followed them everywhere, they went to a nearby bar and she watched him try to talk to other women. She was his friend and she wanted to help. She laughed and showed her teeth in the lamplight. After a while she told him good night and went alone out to the street. She walked over the rail lines and down the road on the hill that led to her house. The road was white and the moon was white and she stepped through other kinds of white from the tracks through the snow. She kept her hands out of her pockets to feel them buzz in the wind, and when they got too numb she put her warm breath on them, trying to remember the hot shock of ice on rarely-touched skin, pressed on her by strangers. The feeling returned to her hands and she shook them out. There was no good place to be known, not for miles around.

A Northern State

When my father died, we were living in a house with no other houses around it, way out in pink sky country. This was in a northern state, on a property where we kept horses. My father was breaking in a new stallion and it threw him, then danced on him for a while. My father broke his back in four places.

He didn’t die right away and I thought I could get him to some safe place. I came into the yard where it was the beginning of a long dawn and the snow was crusted over, had been crusted over for months. I saw him bent in half that way. He wasn’t speaking and he didn’t move at all, and there was nothing to be done but to lift him and try to get him up the hill towards the road.

I don’t know anything about vertebrae, pinched nerves, how the body sends electric signals. Maybe this ordeal was painful for him. I never asked and he never got to say. I was so scared my mouth shook and made noises I didn’t think up. My father was a strong man, built with knots, could lift 200 pounds of baling wire, round up colts, pitch fodder all day and not be sore. My father was light as a parachute in my arms. He was so light it pulled me upwards. I hated him for his smallness.

When I got to the roadside I could only stand and wait for a car to come along. Our truck had died a week back and there’d been no way or reason yet to fix it. I squinted both ways down the long black pavement and couldn’t put his body down. I could hear his breathing, which was like the rough tearing of wet paper. I stamped my feet for cold and to keep the noise out. In my arms he was twisted all the wrong way and I didn’t know how to straighten him out. My arms were shaking from some strain, but still I didn’t put him down.

After some minutes or hours a pickup came along, but before we got to the hospital he was already dead. The paper stopped tearing and I knew it and the driver knew it too. But we were miles into the new day by that time, the sun come arced over the corner mountains, my own home long behind. So there was no point in saying it. He just kept driving and I kept looking straight ahead. My father’s body shifted on the turns. His clothes were worn out back in the closet in the house we’d lived in, and they would become my own. His furniture had become my own. His bedside lamp. His drawer of wrenches. I was become, too. There was no longer a thing on the earth that belonged to him alone. I owned it all.

Delaney Nolan’s fiction has been published or is forthcoming in Guernica, Grist, Hobart, Huffington Post, PANK, The South Carolina Review and elsewhere. She is the recipient of a Buffalo Prize, a Sozopol fiction fellowship, a Klaustrid artist’s residency and a Bread Loaf work-study scholarship. Her chapbook Louisiana Maps is forthcoming this winter.