The situation really started to seem desperate after the death of a fake plant. Its fabric elephant ears were found shorn straight down the middle, fuzzy with the crosshatching of thread at the break. We knew maintaining a real one would be too much for either one of us, so this had seemed like a safe route at the time.
But things had already gone awry before discovering the plant. Squirrels were gnawing into our house but we hadn’t done anything about it. Maybe because it was the perfect physical representation of our neuroses. They leapt from limbs and tightrope-walked across power lines to reach their ultimate destination: our roof. And from there, devoted themselves to utterly desiccating our eaves and unsealed corners.
You could say we were too tired. My brother worked at the hospital but refused to talk about what he really did there. When asked about work, he told a stock story each time about having to select the music for a brain surgery, about getting it just right to extract the best performance from the surgeon. That was all anyone could get.
I worked the front desk of a hotel so that I could study when things were slow and said things like “Accommodations have been arranged,” too often into the holes of a plastic receiver.
The hotel was near the old church-turned-bar, beside the old warehouse refurbished into a hive of expensive condos. As far as I knew the hotel hadn’t been any other kind of building before its current purpose.
Really I should’ve never agreed to live with my own brother. I just didn’t know of a better option. Reese suggested the idea one night while languishing on his waterbed and my mouth had automatically agreed. Even the best suggestions become submerged when the suggester resides on a waterbed. I didn’t want to ask what painted van he had excavated the relic from, couldn’t work up the stomach.
This is the same brother after all who lurked down streets to spit into sewers so that his DNA could travel through the systems and rivers until it reached the Atlantic Ocean. So that he could be everywhere. I guess the thought of only being present in one physical location at a time filled him with a sort of scientific disappointment. Like grasping the strict, schoolmarmy principles of gravity. He also left clumps of hair in people’s rugs, behind couches. I caught him extracting a single leg hair and tucking it into the seam of a floorboard on a home tour once. He catalogued each one of his leavings to keep track of all the places he could find himself if he needed to.
So I could say that I was concerned about his mental state and moved in to take care of him but that wouldn’t be entirely honest. This was a few years after my wife had vanished. It shouldn’t have been a total shock but it was. I caught myself saying things like ‘She would have laughed at that mug’ to myself when she was still around and I knew.
We found the squirrels’ attempted point of entry and shrugged at it. This violation still seemed appropriate to us. The work in progress was at least tucked away at the roof line. They were showing some discretion. Unlike their shockingly white stomachs and their haughty poses struck upon hearing unexpected sounds.
Our neighbor, Napoleon Bonaparte Stevenson, offered to shoot them. We thanked him for the offer but declined. Close range rifle shooting would not be the main topic of controversy at the next neighborhood meeting. At least not because of us.
I couldn’t just call this neighbor by one name. I had to use all of his names. So I usually just addressed him in a nod or a “hey,” and used the full three names when talking about him rather than to him. From my room’s window, I could see directly into his living room. He had this crocheted yarn picture of the historic town carousel hung on the wall in such a way that I basically couldn’t avoid looking at it. I’d read books and imagine the scenes occurring in the pictures beside the carousel even if it didn’t make sense. Especially if it didn’t make sense.
To commemorate our first home together, my wife and I carved into the sycamore beside it, accomplishing both kinds of sappy. Returning to the house a couple years later didn’t have the hit of nostalgia I was looking for. Our carvings were barely morphed by the tree’s growth, still recognizable as letters, revealing a short history.
People say “your truth” or “my truth” but it seems less like there are multiple truths and more like there are multiple realities. They can’t contradict each other because they don’t occur at the same time but replace one another, shifting into focus only when the previous reality abruptly dissolves.
The reality of her hadn’t shifted enough yet. She was one of those women who didn’t like other women and I didn’t know what to make of it. But searching for issues was easy to do when forced.
Throwing rocks at the squirrels only made them burrow deeper into their new home inside our home. They made noises that sounded too much like laughter.
To avoid them, I had accidentally taken up roaming. My legs alternated and my feet strained back and forth and my body walked itself away.
I found myself near an elementary school. One of the moms was parked with her window down. Her eyes shifted toward me simply because I was a movement in her peripherals. She said “I love you” as we locked eyes, presumably in the midst of a hands-free call.
Then I passed a street newspaper dispenser filled with chewed gum, brimming with small pink and green brains. Reese’s work was verging on poetic.
Power lines hummed straight above the train tracks in their steely extremes of silence and noise, parallel to the stretch of pavement with the right mixture of asphalt to absorb sound, swallowing my steps as they traced yet another linear path. I wasn’t going to let things happen to me like that. I turned, broke through the high weeds on the other side of the road, collapsing onto the cracked surface of an abandoned parking lot. My shoulder took the brunt of the landing. I was probably bleeding and definitely relieved.
Claire Hopple’s stories have appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Bluestem, Quarter After Eight, Jellyfish Review, Timber, and others. Her story collection TOO MUCH OF THE WRONG THING was released by Truth Serum Press. She’s just a steel town girl on a Saturday night. More at clairehopple.com.