Oak and Maple by Janice Pisello

I still see it. The deterioration of this old house. She has masked it with navy paint and new shutters, but it is drowning. Sinking into itself. There are snakes and raccoons in the walls, clawing at night like twigs over siding. Exterminators have been called. Redialed.

There are days I wonder if the orange rust on the gate is real, or an apple pie slice of my childhood. I cling to this. Fruit plucked from branches, skewered with brazened swords made from basement pipes. My wife removed it years ago, when our son was old enough to start running his fingers across the table top in search of sugar.

We vacationed in southern California. I’d never seen palm trees. The way they breathe in salty wind. We vacationed in Florida and Texas and upstate New York.

New cracks on each return, dragging wheeled luggage from airport rails. A baseball appeared in the living room, shards of glass our new décor. I dropped an afghan over it.

She told me we’re moving. She sold the house, ghosts of my former self dragging red and green crayons across the walls at Christmastime. We’re moving to Seattle. It doesn’t rain there. It mists. I spray the hedges before we go.

Our new home is the same. Doors and windows and tiny cracks in the pavement where weeds poke through. Rust on the gate. We’re going out, she tells me. She tugs footie pajamas on our son, who is struggling. He slaps her on the arm. She doesn’t flinch, but focuses on the thin fabric.

Heartbreak is not something to dwell in, she tells me during dinner. Seattle has great coffee. I have three cups and my hands are trembling.

She explains this like heartbreak is a community packed with sad eyes and torn jeans. The kind I have in the back of the closet for the Saturdays I can’t manage to leave the house. So I paint a picture. Or flip through television stations. Or water the cat. It never snows. Only a misting of rain -- enough to feed the pot holes. The locals stand on bird legs, craning wrinkled necks to find some semblance of hope. I dwell there, real estate on the edge of town with shutters I painted in a downpour.

When we split, the cut is not jagged. We unknot the seams and go the same direction for a while, before she turns down Oak and I down Maple. My basement is flooded and there are cockroaches in the kitchen cabinets. I keep the doors closed. They like the adventure. I keep my own doors closed. I like the solidarity, my fingertips erupting. A blue stain holds my attention. They are here, too. Faded movements of my fingers smudging pudding along the chair rail. Over the light switches. Under the table where years of bubble gum accumulated like chipped china at an antique outlet.

It takes high-wire balance to get the mail. Remedies do not come in envelopes. They come in pill bottles and paint cans and paper-cuts. My eyes are stuck as I edge the gate back under splayed fingers.


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