August 2007

Claudia Smith


Claudia Smith Claudia Smith's stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond, and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. She has twice been nominated for the Pushcart. Rose Metal Press will publish her collection, The Sky is a Well and Other Shorts, this June.


The morning of my sister Willow's wedding, I stayed inside, watching the rain. There were tarps, just in case, in the garden of her future mother-in-law's country club.

She would wear our great grandmother's dress. The dress had been so delicate, we had to hand wash it and bleach it in the sun. Our grandmother had worn a corset, but Willow was slender and didn't need one. She was the one who took after our mother; tall, double-jointed, with creamy skin that flushed easily.

Our father wasn't coming. Our mother was dead. It was the two of us, looking out the window in that hour of the morning that feels most fresh and makes you think, somehow, that you can make your whole life better if you get an early start on the day.

"I'm not going," my sister said.

"You are," I said, "of course you are. What are you talking about?"

"No," she said, "I know it. I'm not going."

We drove, instead, to a park in another town. She played A.M. radio. A song came on about a cake left out in the rain. It was the sort of song we made fun of, but, in a weird way, I loved that song.

"It looks like a shipwreck," she said. There was a scuffed plastic playscape and a giant pink dinosaur. The dinosaur's belly had been tagged.

"There aren't any slides like the ones when we were little," I said, "have you noticed that? Remember the tall metal slide that was here? We put wax paper under our butts to go down it faster?"

"And there wasn't rubber to fall on. Why didn't they think of that when we were kids?" she said.

We kicked a muddy soccer ball some child had abandoned. We ate cold ham sandwiches and got soaked.

"When we had sex last week," she told me, "he held my wrists like this." She lifted her hands over her head to demonstrate. "It was like, pinned down."

"I see."

"Plus, I didn't tell you, he had porno."

"Don't a lot of guys have porno?" I said.

"I don't know. They are going to hate me. I'd better get, like, out of the state or something. I hate it when people hate me." Her new perm was frizzing in the rain. She'd just dyed it strawberry blonde for the wedding. There would have been buttercream frosting, fresh flowers on the cake, and a new condo. The two of us had never lived in a place that we owned, or that our parents had owned.

"Mom would have stuck it out," I said.

"Yes, she would have."

"And we can't do what mother would have done."

"No, we can't." She agreed.

We didn't have much to pack. We had plenty of money for gas and cigarettes. On the way to the bank, I started to think about the two pets we'd had for a couple of weeks, when we were kids. Our mother was alive then, and we were living in a clean apartment, one with a swimming pool and snack bar. Two turtles, Eggs and Ham. When we left late that night, the way we always left apartments, our father carried them both out in a box and said he was taking them to the wild. My sister cried. I didn't. But we whispered in the back seat, wondering how our turtles would survive. We thought we'd domesticated them. We'd painted their shells with magenta polish.

"Remember those turtles, Eggs and Ham?" I said, knowing she did, because we talked about them sometimes.

"The ones Dad took to the dump?" she asked.

"He didn't do that?"

"Sure he did. He was too lazy to take them anywhere else."

The next day, she said she was sorry. She was married by the JP, in a plain dress, her wild red hair pulled back in a cheap barrette. I see her in cards, with her boys and her husband. Her husband, she told me a few years back, is unkind, but only in a slightly objectionable way.




My husband is the one I miss the most. We had a dog named Jet, jobs with the same company. We went on the low-carb diet together. We cooked lean meats, slept in on Sundays, woke up to coffee and omelets. He was very handsome, a little fat, and had the sweetest eyes. He asked me to tell him my secret. We would play a game, lying beside one another at night, listening to night sounds. We would remember one moment and tell it.

I am looking out of the window at a cloud that looks like an old banana, keeping a secret I don't even know I'm keeping, but I am. What is the secret?

At night, after those confessions, I would kiss my husband's forehead and whisper I love you, I love you, I love you. I thought I could smell mold, even though we lived in an apartment complex, even though I sanitized the place every day. My husband opened all the cupboards, even pulled up the edges of carpet. No mold, he said. Maybe you have allergies? Maybe it's something else you're smelling?

Don't you want to live someplace, I don't know, less anonymous? He asked me once. I told him no. I told him I wanted to wake up in a place that smelled of new carpet, a place where the neighbors were never there for long, a place where he was the only person I knew. We could wake up every day, together, and go someplace new every weekend. Someplace no one knew us.

I used to think you were joking, he said. But it isn't a joke with you, is it? People need to know other people.

I came home with a spider bite. When I came home after that time in the woods, I couldn't even look at him, after.




Claudia Smith: Fiction
Copyright ©2007 The Cortland Review Issue 36The Cortland Review