Monday, September 13, 2010

"Not For Resale" by Catherine A.G. Bayly

The number is hard to come across—and I have to get the address from a friend. It is one of those syrupy sweet charity houses for teens “in trouble.” The colonial looks like any other on this quiet suburban street. Butter yellow, with pink geraniums in the window boxes. We could live here, I think as I steer my new model station wagon smoothly toward the house.

It is decidedly chilly, and the light is just beginning to slice through the trees. I turn the key. The engine shudders into silence all around me. I slide outside and stretch for a moment in the driveway, feeling my loafers rooted solidly to the asphalt.

There is a fist of twine sleeping in the pit of my stomach, and it sneaks upward through my esophagus. It is still summer, but there is autumn in the air—smelling of burnt leaves, balling up its huge hands and screaming out, harvest.

For a moment, I let myself feel the impending death of deciduous times. Then I shake my head slightly and look past the empty pink car seat, made mauve by its 11 months gathering dust. On the floor sits a box, marked Office Samples—Not For Resale. I carefully run my hand over the flaps of brown cardboard. I caress all the way to its base—then start to carry it gingerly toward the chipping, green-painted door. 

I reach the stoop, and my finger hovers at doorbell height. My breath catches in my throat as I see another box by my left foot. A size that might house a good set of kitchen knives or a pair of men’s winter boots. My lungs fill back up with air—is that air?—as I nudge the box with the tip of my shoe. No sound. Ever so softly, I push it again, willing a shrill cry to shake me to my core. Preparing myself to gather another woman’s autumn baby to my aching breast. I drop to my knees and open the box hungrily. I am an atheist secretly seeking out bright packages under fragrant boughs. 

A note reads, Donation. And yet I lose myself for an eternity, digging through folds of freshly-knit pastel blankets. My heart breaks beautifully as I imagine some much younger girl’s baby wrapped up in my tears. When I can no longer bear to search the dwindling crevices of yarn, I close the box.

I shiver in the slanting sun now, feeling an almost-intrinsic shudder toward apple orchards and pumpkin patches—the reaping places of the withering season. Places that cry out of the jack-o-lanterns left grinning and rotting on our porch late into last season. Places that remind me of the soft hiss of leaves as they drop onto small grassy spots, like babies sleep away forever amidst tidy perennially-gardened houses and hay maze front walks.

I sniff hard to regain my composure and set my box of formula on the bricks beside the blankets.

(Yes, I've stolen some of these passages from my own self. I synthesized a new piece with an older one for Gulf Coast, never submitted it, and revised it again.  You'd think I have all the time in the world, right?)

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