Where You Might Find Me
by Kara Kinsey
The old man awoke with the sun. Always before us, my sister and me. I slept in a t-shirt, his, or hers, the old woman’s. Maybe it was the bicentennial shirt with mickey mouse on it, if it was clean. Sometimes I chose one that had been a tester shirt for iron-on decals, with decals on both sides, the ones on the inside always stiff at first, but would soften with the heat of my body. Because I was the eldest, my sister got second pick of the shirts. We wore them as nightgowns, the thin cotton draping the lengths of our small frames. I wondered whether the shirts had been my mothers; relics of her high school days, days that weren’t that far behind her yet. The slow light filtered through the brown patterned curtains, the folds in the fabric obscuring the images and the words. I stayed under my quilt and watched the curtains change with the strengthening daylight. I scanned the words, looking for patterns, not knowing what these things were, knowing that it didn’t matter, not yet, anyway, “Noilly Prat” becoming lodged in my head, a meaningless mantra that would return at bedtime, only this time illuminated with the light of a reading lamp by the bed. He would come inside, through the back door, having returned from his morning bike ride down the small mountain and into the nestled town below, returning as the day began to warm. He smelled of Old Spice and denim. We rushed to meet him, paper box in his hand, the box tied round and round and round with red and white string, the string always needing to be cut rather than untied. The cast-off strings somehow always found their way to the tiny drawer of the telephone desk, joining the nest of thumbtacks and paper clips, forgotten pennies and dried erasers. He cut the still-warm doughnuts in half, so we could all sample a bit of each. The maple roll would be cut in fourths, so each of us could sink into its temporary, sugarcoated heaven. They finished their coffee, and he would head up the winding dirt road that led out back to the shop. My sister and I threw our shorts on and rocketed outside. We heard the old woman’s quiet voice pleading for us to be careful only between the clattering of the slamming door and the gentle rush of the sink’s faucet, morning dishes already under way. We bounded through the back yard, bare feet slipping through the moss and the grass, still damp from the morning dew, to the leafy patch in the far corner. We threw ourselves to the ground at first sight of the miniature strawberries creeping across the lawn, gobbling as many of the delicate fruits as we could find, the search for more always steering us towards the foot of the of the hill. The hill had slate steps built into the side that led to a tiny concrete pagoda. Our legends told us that he had built the pagoda long ago, before my sister, before me, and the steps, he built those too. I knew the old woman loved the pagoda, so I loved it as she did. I left acorns at the pagoda’s base in offering to the spirits that I felt there, the ones that watched us and kept us. Kept all of us. The pagoda sat at the top of the hill, at the edge of the woods. The woods remained dark even on the brightest of days, canopied by the foliage of the ancient trees that spread as far as we could see. It was a place of mystery, of wet leaves and low, hidden stone walls. The landowners before us built the walls, long before we were there, he told us. Now the walls were mostly scattered piles of stone and moss. Once we saw a snake there, its body a long, black, motionless coil. It had found a sliver of sunlight on one of those toppled rocks, warming itself, oblivious to us, oblivious to our shrieks of horror, horror and delight, at thing so big as we were. Past the pagoda we leaped into these dappled woods. We ran down the next slope, over the walls we knew so well to look for, the locations of gnarled roots and dips and holes already memorized by our feet. We flew down to the next clearing, past the animal pens. It was there I broke my leg the day my mother gave birth to my sister. He never forgave himself for letting go of me, for letting me fall from his shoulders. He caught my tiny leg in his grip an instant before I hit the ground. I never understood why he was so upset, so troubled by this. Better my leg, than my neck, right papa?, I implored, more often than was seemingly comfortable for him. Yes, better your leg, he would offer, eyes wet, but smiling. Out past the animal pens we burst through the thicket and into the brilliant sunshine. We paused a moment to catch our breathe, deafened by the chirping and humming and scraping of a million hidden insects. The sun was so strong now that we squinted. I pointed, wordlessly, and moved into the tall, reckless sway of the gardens. The gardens were overgrown to the point we caught glimpses of the very tops of the others golden head through the thick vegetation. There were the wide, heavy asparagus stalks. The crop was so hearty, only the most tender of the shoots would end up on our plates. The impossible sunflowers bent under the weight of their own crowns. There was a tangle of leafy rhubarb plants. She liked to rinse the shiny red stalks and serve them with a saucer of simple white sugar, nothing more ever needed than that. We sat down under the towering plants, and inhaled the secrets of the earth. We wondered which cabbage they had picked us out of. Daringly, we crept to the far edge of the gardens, out towards the drooping sumac trees, and dared each other to touch one. We cajoled each other into discovering the horrible maladies the sumac could cast upon us. Whatever the sumac could do to our delicate skin, the old woman never told us. She only told us not to touch it, and so we didn’t. We never would. We cut back through the overgrowth of the garden and galloped up the dirt road, past the forlorn, rotting boat sitting on its trailer. We skipped wildly past the rusted snowmobiles, the dented oil drums, and the stacks of greying planks; a sun-drenched graveyard of things once needed, once useful. We ran past these things and up to the shop. We arrived at the shop with a gust of the soft tan dirt from the road, winded, grinning. We knew we could find in him in there. He was always there, tinkering, building, laughing with the other men. The other men were much younger than him, mostly friends of my uncles. They were the kind of men I never looked in the eye. The shop smelled of sawdust and gasoline and the air was heavy with sweat. The radio blared with the buzz and rumble of a car race; while the announcer bleated with a fever I didn’t understand. The men were either roused into shouts of victory, or into back slaps of condolence. Beer cans cracked open, while women with flowing hair, hair like my mothers, leered at us from the fading calendars. He smiled then, and walked us back outside into the sharp brightness to the low, cooled house, a house of dial soap and clean laundry. Her house, his house, their house. He led us to where they lived, and back inside to eat our lunch. As soon as the plates were cleared and we were excused, I ran back outside, my heart bursting with an unknown need to gather it up again, as many times as I could. And so I stored these senses, these memories into a vast reserve that I will often call upon in my grown years. The sunshine, the blinding beautiful sunshine, it belongs to him, it belongs to her, it belongs to me. They live there now, in this sunshine. If I only close my eyes, I can feel their warmth radiating over me again.
________________________ Though Kara was born and raised in New England (New Hampshire, more specifically), she considers herself a California girl at heart. Despite studying at a few well-regarded universities in Boston, first in astronomy and physics, followed by a stint with art and film, Kara has yet to earn her college degree. So she moved to San Diego, where she spent some years bartending at the dirtiest bar in town, running her own booking agency for underground bands, creating posters and album art, and hosting a weekly pirate radio show. After that came a spell in San Francisco, where she met her (now) husband, and together they drove cross country with their cats and some books and records, and settled in Brooklyn. They live in Greenpoint, with their four year old daughter, Clementine, and those same cats. Kara works in advertising, collects crystals, reads constantly, loves nachos, and drinks too much beer on the rare occasion she has a night out. Sometimes, Kara still goes to shows and sings (poorly) in bands when people let her.