Deep in the woods, there is a house the color of winter moss. It reveals itself only by the orange porch swing and the chimney smoke. In that house, is a dog with thick fur and a sweet, pointed face and an older woman, who is not quite so old. They have a garden behind the house that somehow finds enough light to grow cabbage and chives, squash, tomatoes and other greens. They have no chickens or other livestock, but there are a few ducks and geese who return to the pond each year and often nest at the edge of the woods. Most days, they take the trail behind the garden to check on the deer. Sometimes they walk long after lunch before they find any. Other times, the deer appear before the sun has even finished its rise. And it’s those days she gets almost angry at them, not for eating the buds, but for leaving her without reason for the search. Those days she has to find something to fill the time, quickly, before the longing floods in and she considers driving into town.
She calls the dog with a quick whistle. She never named her because she just wasn’t certain she would stay. There is no doubt that the dog loves the search for deer as much as the woman. It’s a quiet search. She knows not to bark or flee too far ahead. And she often spots them before the woman. She stops, twitches her tail, and looks up at the woman, relieved to see her smile, to see her expression change. The best days are the ones where they think they have finally spotted just one and then discover dozens standing behind and around that one, all frozen and hesitating between the urge to remain still or race away.
~ Megan M. Codera
We arrived at the hotel just before midnight, after circling the deserted block twice to find the entrance. The young guy at the desk had an air of no cares and smirked to as he gave me the key cards and explained that parking was three blocks away, as if the whole thing was ironic. It had been a long trip over the mountains for all of us, but my son had somehow sensed my irritation and ushered us out of there politely.
It was one of those restored motels that might have once rented rooms by the hour. The rooms were narrow, crammed with retro decor, checkered tiles in the tiny bathroom and white bedspreads. The drive had taken seven hours instead of four. We had been greeted with dust storms and a strange sun on the other side of the mountains, while we inched along miles and miles of detour in the middle of nowhere. We ate the sandwiches we’d packed for dinner at a rest stop, which was the only time we’d stopped off the road. And when we finally hit that last stretch of sixty or seventy miles, the sky was so clear, so dark and full of stars, it made me dizzy, almost nauseous.
The next morning I woke before everyone else, as I always do. Anxious and terrified for the day we would be leaving our son at school. I peaked through the golden drapes and it was much more bright outside than I had expected. I opened the door and the landing smelled like every other motel – musty bedspread, cement walkway, ice machine and iron railings. Then the light caught me – the clouds were on fire with the sunrise. I tried to take a picture with my phone, but the top of the motel jutted at disruptive angles. I slipped on my sandals and left the room, watching the clouds glow and shift and I was missing a good shot of it behind all the tops of those buildings.
I walked out to the street and the angles cleared slightly, but then other buildings stepped into the shot. I noticed a parking garage a few blocks down where I might be able to get up to the top level. I couldn’t explain it, but I needed some of that sky.
The streets were wide and deserted. The lights kept pausing and changing, even without the cars. It seemed so unusual for a Friday morning. Wide city streets, lined with massive, historic buildings and absolutely no one around. I thought I heard the freeway a few blocks over, but I couldn’t actually see it.
~ Megan M. Codera
We took the five-twenty train to the city. The commute was over an hour each way, but neither of us seemed to mind. Clara sketched the shoes of other passengers and the curves of empty seats. While I read, or pretended to read, between glances at her drawings. During the winter months, we left the station and returned to the station in the dark, which always made the day feel much longer.
When I first took the job, my parents gasped at the routine. They said it would be much too hard on Clara, that she had already been through so much, losing her father. But I knew we needed the change. It gave us the chance to get away from the middle of nowhere without having to completely leave, completely let go. I probably could have arranged to telecommute a couple of days a week, but partial participation just didn’t feel like an option. And then I found an incredible school for Clara, where she is challenged and excited and already knows more about art history and biology than I ever did. She just joined a program that does a series of field studies out in the rivers and up in the mountains. Clara says it’s like we get to live in two different places. We get a solid slice of the city during the week, and then we get to go home – where it’s quiet enough to hear the wind and on clear nights, you can see stars between the stars.
And then one day, near the end of March, someone followed us home. He walked into the house no more than half an hour after we had gotten home. At first I thought it was one of the neighbors, but then this man in a navy flannel and vest appeared in my kitchen. He said, Oh, Hello. Like he hadn’t expected me to be there, in my kitchen. I held up the knife I was using to trim the broccoli. He held up his hands and asked me to come sit on the couch. Clara was upstairs. When I asked him what he wanted, he smirked and dipped his head down to the left, like a twitch or he was cracking his neck. I told him he should just leave before I call the police. He held up his hands to surrender. No need, no need, he said. And then he smirked and cracked his neck again.
~ Megan M. Codera
The ferry slowed and groaned long before they could see the shore. Fog hovered over the still water and it seemed unlikely they had already crossed the sound. The trip was supposed to take over an hour, but no more than twenty minutes could have passed. Most of the passengers didn’t seem to notice. When Becca saw several of the crew racing around the upper deck, she tugged at Adam’s arm and pointed. He didn’t follow her gesture and gave her a nod as he started to head for the stairs. She pulled him back and told him she thought they’d stopped already. They both looked out at the water and fog, trying to tell if they were moving. They turned back to watch the crew, without really being able to gauge the bustle. The water was so still, and even as it waved against the side of the ship, it was impossible to tell if they had really stopped. Then anchor released and descended into the water.
~ Megan M. Codera
The other night, a copy of myself appeared beside the bed. I thought I had heard someone coming into the room and had expected our daughter to climb into the bed with us. But when she didn’t, I opened my eyes and saw myself standing there. Her eyes were wide and she wore a printed dress that I didn’t own, but would have bought. At first I really didn’t recognize her. She had her hair pulled up with more twists and waves than I usually put effort. She also seemed a bit shorter and more solid. Though, at the same time, she was familiar enough that I didn’t scream or really startle. She just looked at me, without saying a word, as if I knew exactly why she was there.
I pulled up the blanket and rolled over, closer to my husband. He grunted slightly, but didn’t wake, didn’t even seem to notice someone else was in the room. The more I listened, the louder the room rang with a strange, unresolved quiet. I knew she was still there. I wanted to turn back and get a better look, to talk to her straight. And then I got this absurd idea that maybe I should just let her do whatever she came to do. That maybe she could be the part of me who will help me figure out all these things in my head I cannot name. I wouldn’t have to explain a thing. Or maybe, somehow, we could work in shifts.
~ Megan M. Codera
At 6 o’clock she greeted him with a whiskey sour on the rocks. And then she fixed herself a gin tonic while she listened, or pretended to listen, to all of the miffs and mutters at the office. He asked her about the children and as she rambled, he responded with a nod and an automatic agreement through closed lips. He never asked her directly about her day and she never shared, at least not right then. If she ever had anything important to share, she waited until they were in bed. If she let him do his thing, he would listen to her mental wanderings. It was the only place she felt like she has his complete attention.
And then one Thursday, there was no cocktail waiting for him at the door. At first, he thought it was some kind of joke. But she didn’t answer when he called to her, The children didn’t seem to be around either, which was fairly common for spring. He checked the calendar to find piano lessons ended at five, so it was possible she and Mrs. Royal had lost track of time chatting. But surely the children would have gotten impatient and urged her along. Or maybe there had been an accident and they were all in the hospital and no one could reach him on the train. And if they had the car, he would have to go next door to see if Charles could take him to the hospital and Peggy would have it all over the neighborhood before he even got to his family. The scenarios tumbled through his head faster than he could put the words to them.
He found her on the back porch reading a book. There you are, he said. Must have lost track of time, he tried to joke. She just looked up at him, smiled briefly and tilted her cheek for a kiss. Then she went back to her book. He stood there, still holding his jacket. He looked around the porch, perhaps to sit or set down his jacket, but she had the only chair.
Well, he said, I could use a drink. Would you like one?
Oh, no thank you.
~ Megan M. Codera
No matter what they told me about Aunt Mona, I never believed a word until she failed me. Always dressed to the hilt, my mother would say, as if that was a bad thing, a waste of time. Aunt Mona changed the conversation when she arrived. She smiled and hugged the children first – even the teens lined up, in spite of the latest stories they’d overheard in the kitchen. She wore layered dresses and blouses and smelled like jasmine. When she backed out of her long hugs, she looked right at you and found something about you that you had no idea, until then, that was just what you needed to hear. “You have the longest lashes I’ve even seen…Such an elegant neck… Oh, if only you could bottle that green in your eyes and give me a speck…” She kept her smile true as she greeted her way around the adults, and though her spunk was completely unappreciated, she never seemed to notice.
In her early twenties, she spent several years in a mental hospital, before they had a name for her extreme highs and lows. And when she came out, her husband had taken her children and married their widowed neighbor, Janet – a woman who only wore pastels. Mona was not even allowed contact with the children. When I was older, I realized there had been a hesitation in those compliments following the hugs she gave us, perhaps a ping of sadness…
~ Megan M. Codera