Sara Quinn Rivara: “Instructions for Surviving the End of the World,” a hybrid piece for Bad Survivalist

Bad Survivalist: Sara Quinn Rivara

Instructions for Surviving the End of the World

The road to Mouth Cemetery is gravel, hardly a road. Runs past a falling-down yellow farmhouse, three air conditioners thrumming in the windows, a sign nailed to a dead oak: trespassers will be shot! The road slips into beech-maple woods, becomes dirt, then disappears into long grass. Over the dune, Lake Michigan sluiced the beach.

Everyone here has been dead for centuries. Mary, dead in childbirth. Candace, dead in childbirth, Esther, dead in childbirth, fifteen years old. Isabella, Lizzie, Albertine, Maudelle. Wife-of. All the babies unnamed.

One decaying obelisk leans into the weeds. Bees hum around the edges. Somebody’s husband.


At the grocery store, a man in a camouflage hat offered to buy me a drink at the bar across the street, blocked my cart against a bin of apples. Golden delicious. Come on, sweetie, he said. His muscles twitched beneath a white T-shirt.


My son once found the skeleton of a fish at the beach and brought it home in an old mayonnaise jar. We put it on the shelf in the kitchen. His bedroom had a green smell. Nightmares are green, but darker. He slept only in my bed.


I heard the buckle of his belt jangle as the neighbor walked up the driveway. I was pulling weeds, eight months pregnant. Bindweed snaked between the tomatoes. When I looked up, his dick lay against his thigh. I could feel the baby swimming. Keep working, the neighbor said, I just want to watch. I could hear the rattle of my first husband’s truck down the street. If we are caught, whose fault will it be?


Before I was a mother, I was sorrow. Then my mouth was full of Petoskey stones.

My father once shoved another man’s head into a toilet at a honky-tonk bar for whistling at my mother. This was just another story I heard about love.


If we are caught or not, it is my fault.
I am just trying to look at my hands in the dirt.
(It is always my fault.)


My son never knew me to be married to his father. He slept with his feet wedged beneath my hip for nine years. If I got up he would cry. He asked, did you know birds abandon their nests after their fledgelings are big enough to fly? I held his hand in mine.

The nights he wasn’t with me, I slept curled around the dog who whimpered and twitched when he dreamed.


At twenty-five I put my fist through the bathroom mirror and my first husband told me I was crazy. At forty I sat alone in my car near midnight and considered pointing it into traffic. There were cedar waxwings that morning in the snowball bush. My boy drew me the skeleton of a raccoon. My second husband texted please come home I love you it will be okay you are safe. When I come home I smell like water.


The doctor tells me I look good for a woman who’s had a child. My throat hurts, a small fever. He runs his tongue over the smooth white pebbles of his teeth. Open wide, he says. The clinic smells of Old Spice, soap. Stethoscope cold on my clavicle. He clears his throat. His white-coated voice: you’ll need to take off your shirt.

Sara Quinn Rivara’s work has appeared recently or is forthcoming in West Branch, Indianapolis Review, Cherry Tree Review, Whale Road Review, and elsewhere. She is the author of two collections of poetry, Animal Bride (Tinderbox Editions) and Lake Effect (Aldrich Press). She lives in the Pacific Northwest with her family.


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