It was evening. We were standing near a line of trees that looked like conifers; the sky was darkening behind the trees. It was time to go back. This was the last crossing: our damaged equipment would permit no more. We had seen things that were almost impossible to believe. Ahead of us, our scientist turned a dial as her assistant busied himself next to her, attaching leads, connecting wires. Before long we saw the familiar blue flames, the portal hanging in torn space. One by one we stepped through. As soon as we emerged on the other side, we hurried down the corridor and up the stairs: it was necessary to conceal the equipment. We had already been away for too long.
In the small room at the top we worked quickly, boarding up the passage to the stairway, dragging bookcases across the room.
One of us stopped working. It was the scientist’s father. He looked around curiously, as if he had forgotten something, pushing between us, peering short-sightedly into the corners of the room. When he didn’t find what he was searching for, he looked at us, searching our faces for what we all knew, although none of us knew how to tell him. As his eyes looked up to one of us, that one of us would look towards another helplessly, who would then shrug and turn his own gaze towards a third, who herself would look away with a small gesture of impatience towards a fourth, and in this manner his terrible expression was deflected between us like a beam of light, until, with a sudden violent gesture he began undo our work, shouting and dragging the bookcases away.
But the bookcases were too heavy; he took the books down from the shelves, but the piles of books proliferating at his feet made it impossible for him to drag the bookcases away; and when we, taking pity on him, began to help, we ourselves only blundered, getting in his way and in each other’s way; and when at last we had removed the bookcases, it still remained to pull the boards away from the boarded-up passageway; and with every new delay, he became more frantic and inconsolable, and we milled around and watched him, hardly knowing what to do.
Then, quite suddenly, the way was clear. I followed him down the passageway and down the stairs. The portal was still open, burning at the end of the flickering corridor. It was difficult even to move through its blue light; impossible to actually approach it. Through it we made out, for the last time, the scientist and her assistant making an adjustment to their apparatus, preparing to close the portal forever.
The scientist’s father raised his hand. He was crying inconsolably. The scientist, glancing up through the portal, stopped and raised hers. They stood there for a moment, looking at each other through the burning doorway. Then it flickered and went out.
Tom Payne lives in London. His work has previously appeared in Lighthouse and The Sun.
Here, this darker map of sand. Piss
and otherwise. There, your steel bowls—
water and dry food. The tarp
blocks the sun’s worst,
but you keep to the shadows
of your house. You’re a brooder—
no pacing, no bark, bite indeterminate.
From dark oblong of doorway,
yellow eyes give away nothing.
Sometimes you emerge, pad across
cage to watch the children
howling and wild. No tail wag,
no expectation, perhaps a longing
forgotten. Shepherd, pastor alemán.
Your master whistles past,
garden artichokes, sheets fresh off the line,
passes two fingers through links
for a quick scratch of forehead
and thick fur. From the balcony
of the ancient farmhouse, between
hills a tease of glowing sea,
blue promise. You can’t see that from
here, where days are numbered.
Gaylord Brewer is a professor at Middle Tennessee State University, where he founded and for more than 20 years edited the journal Poems & Plays. His most recent book is the cookbook-memoir The Poet’s Guide to Food, Drink, & Desire (Stephen F. Austin, 2015). His tenth collection of poetry, The Feral Condition, is forthcoming from Negative Capability Press.
One October when I was eight, I made gravestones of me and my family. Perhaps I had a fascination with death. Perhaps I wanted to feel the stickiness of glue between my thumb and forefinger and the permanence of a Sharpie in my hand. I asked my mother to buy grey and brown construction paper—grey for the headstone, brown for the dirt—so I could make them and place them against our foyer wall so trick-or-treaters could see them when they approached the front door.
I grabbed one of my old wallet-sized school pictures and glue-sticked it to the grey construction paper underneath where I had put my name and birth and death dates in black permanent marker. I made one for my mother, father, and two younger brothers. I even made one for the dog. By the time my mother figured out what I was doing, it was too late. The paper gravestones were taped along the very bottom of the wall, the brown paper taped to the scratched hardwood floor directly in front. When my mother saw them all she said was, “I don’t like that.”
“But it’s decoration,” I said. “For Halloween.”
To me, they were as spooky and brilliant as my mother’s orangey-yellow glittering pumpkins she set up on the coffee table or the purple and black-clothed witch with the oversized boil on her crooked nose that sat on the bay window ledge.
“I don’t like seeing that,” she repeated.
“Well, I like it, so it’s staying,” I said, proud of my art.
But when I came home from school the next day, my art was gone. You could faintly see where the tape marks left diagonal lines of dirt from the day before.
I don’t remember what my mother said when I asked her where she had put my gravestones, except that it was probably as vague as what she told me the previous day when she first saw them.
Perhaps seeing her family all lined in a neat and tidy row at the bottom of a wall made her feel small. Perhaps she didn’t want to be reminded every morning when she’d walk past the foyer into the kitchen for her morning coffee that we would all end up at the bottom of a wall, beneath a floor, sinking further and further away from this earth. Perhaps it was just too soon.
“Too soon,” she said about a decade later when my father died at forty-five.
“Too soon,” she said two years after that when my grandmother died at sixty-eight.
Too soon. Too soon.
But these realities are everywhere in her home. She just masquerades them as something else.
In that same foyer is a staircase my father built that leads to the second floor. Photo frames hang in a diagonal line that ascend or cascade depending on which direction you’re going on the staircase. One diagonal line that runs parallel to the staircase has individual 8×10 frames of me and my two brothers. The other three or four lines hold various sized frames of my grandparents at my aunt’s wedding, my brother and one my cousins when they were about four in the Azores, a black and white photograph of my great-grandparents before they immigrated. It is a collage of family and life.
But all I see is a graveyard. A graveyard with its bony, dripping, crusty claws outstretched trying to grip another photo frame.
Every time I visit my mother, I’ll take a moment to lie on the cat-scratched twenty-year-old couch with my hands folded underneath my head and stare at the staircase wall. And then I’ll count the faces in my head.
Dead, dead, dead, alive, dead, alive, alive, dead.
No matter what, it’s always too soon for the living to turn dead.
Sarah Chaves is a 28-year-old Portuguese-American writer who strives to bring another strong female voice to the Portuguese literary world. In 2007, her father died in a car accident while her family was vacationing in the Azores, and since then, she has been working on a memoir that details her experience in the context of a grief and coming-of-age narrative. She completed the first draft during the 2015-2016 year as a Fulbright Scholar in Portugal and is now revising the second draft at Grub Street as part of the year-long Memoir Incubator Workshop.