A Northwest Based Literary Journal

Excerpt: Fiction 2

The Summer Before the Fall

Rebecca Starks

After I stopped bearing children I began to bear memories. I’d feel them take shape in me, stirring vaguely, drawing a heel across my womb in pantomime, and, when they had no more room to move about, dropping head first to arc their way out of me in a dream or a waking dream.

I’ve nursed one memory, the last one, longer than I should have, babying it, hoping it will stay with me, the discomfort it brings still a kind of comfort. Like Qelimath, my delayed daughter, who came to me when I thought I’d have no more children. A welcome stay against old age, even as I felt too tired to begin again.

But I could talk to her, and she listened. She knows what I wanted her to know, maybe more than is good for her. She loves me the way only a grandchild can, separately and wholly. We don’t argue like mother and daughter struggling to determine which body is ours. I don’t mind letting her be mother to me, the one I never had, now that Adam is gone. I’ve told her everything but this last memory.

My first memories are the ones Adam gave me as I lay by his side, touching the swollen lip of scar below his rib cage. My scar, as intriguing to me as our children’s navels would be to them; it was where I’d come from. He told me the story, beginning with the dog that had followed him for two days and liked to lean in against him whenever he squatted down in the shade. A great big black dog, head hip-height, with slightly curly hair and watchful eyes.

On the third day, Adam decided to climb the tree of life for its view of the garden, partly to shake the restlessness he felt in the dog’s presence. The fruit was nothing to reach for; the tree’s virtue was as a pollinator. A bee stung the palm of his hand as he grasped a branch, and he unthinkingly let go. The fall snapped one of his floating ribs so that it protruded from his left side. Ripping it out with an unearthly cry, he tossed the curved bloody bone to the dog, who had nudged his wet nose against Adam’s hip when he began to climb. Encouragement, he’d taken it to mean.

The dog was the only animal Adam failed to name, and names always came easily to him. He named all seven of our children. At a glance he knew: Cain, Abel, Seth, Azura, Awan, Lebuda and Qelimath, the names becoming more baroque as he went along, a sign of dissatisfaction, I thought, or that he found daughters more complicated. Maybe it was his way of keeping them out of the white light of history.

 

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