The Wave

Cathryn Rose

There’s yellow dust everywhere. A thin layer texturing the cars left in the driveways, sticking to the windows in the heat. Gathering in the corners of the sidewalks. Crusting up the mailbox hinges. The mailman, on the rare days he does arrive, doesn’t step out onto the curb, only leans out of his truck to reach the box, which is becoming more and more difficult to pry open. In the mornings I wait near the front of the house, staying quiet, just to hear the sounds.

When I was a child I found my great-grandmother’s beads. The beads were in a box. The box once held chocolates and still smelled of them. My great-grandmother had planned to make jewelry in her old age but never did. The beads were all clear blues and greens, plastic, in a thick Bakelite style, the sound of them rolling around pleasingly in their box as I lifted the lid. They were so beautiful I told no one. I moved the box to the space underneath my bed. At some point I began placing one bead at a time in the back of the kitchen junk drawer whenever I felt the urge to open it, which was often. I could not explain it. It was a secret kept from me, kept by something other than myself. I would have go into the kitchen, I would have to open the drawer, full of batteries, used-up empty pens, torn envelopes. I would have to stare into it, I would have to place a bead inside.

Now, I sit with my back to the window and I paint. I don’t want to paint what I see, just what I can remember I’ve seen, or what’s in my mind. I don’t know what I’m preserving or for whom.

This morning I thought I heard the mailman and turned to the window only to see a different car. The car stopped at the top of the hill. For a while it was just me and the car and the window, yellowed. I could see a shadow moving in the driver’s seat. The shadow held a cigarette, which would seem to disappear whenever it was pulled in close.

I painted a white porcelain bathtub overflowing with water, the faucet still running. I painted an aloe vera plant in the desert, a piece of itself broken off and lying in the sand. I painted a knife inside an orange, the blade completely hidden, its blue handle sticking out like a nose.

When I returned to the window, I saw someone leaving the car and walking down the hill. It was strange to see a clear human shape, with broad shoulders, coming down the hill towards me. I went outside. I hadn’t been outside in many days. The world looked too wide, as if it had been stretched. It was no place to be inside of.

I narrowed my focus and walked towards him. He walked towards me. Soon we were standing too close to each other but neither of us gave way. Did your car break, I asked him. He smiled a little and said No, my car didn’t break. Did you drive far, I asked. He laughed and said You don’t want to know. He was wearing sunglasses. He gestured towards the ground and was talking but I was looking at his sunglasses, trying to see past them. Then I heard him say They’ll have to burn it till it’s inert dirt. I didn’t know what inert dirt was and he told me it’s dirt with no minerals, with nothing left in it. His hair was grown long, it was beginning to curl.

I painted two adjacent lakes, each resting on the other. I painted the outlines of a faraway figure, arm lifted up, pulled back, throwing something into the lakes.

He was asleep, so I knocked on the car window. I’d walked all the way up the hill. I’d walked all the way up the hill. I knocked harder till he startled and popped the door for me. His eyes were open and green. We sat in silence for a minute before I passed the paintings to him. I try to give people their space. First he said Hey that’s me and then You got my nose right and then That was a joke. I threw my phone into the water once, he said, But it was the ocean, I was drunk, I was yelling about something.

From the hill I could see all the yards, square after square. They are turning darker, near black, and bubbling at the edges. I notice it now. Something moves underneath. The last time I knew a man, he had been a cab driver. One night, dispatch sent him to the Red Cross, but there wasn’t anyone to pick up. Someone there put a box of blood in the passenger seat and told him to drive it to the hospital. Just the blood, alone. It was such a lonely way to be saved.

Cathryn Rose's work has appeared or is forthcoming in Hobart, Pulpmouth, and Dream Pop, among other places. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

The Wave first appeared in issue 10 of Tammy, 2019