It was the middle of the summer. During the
rainy season the land around the river was almost like a marsh, but
in the middle of the summer it grew dry and cracked. This dry land
seemed to stretch for miles with only a few buildings and only a little
grass. Then a paper bag or a can would blow across the land. Sometimes
I wondered why I had wanted to live on land that looked like a destroyed
place would look, but there was something calming about it too, as
if it wasnt required to be anything, as if no one would bother
it for a while.
My husband was away, but I was here,
in this place. I had chosen it because my family had lived here.
I didnt know many people. Sometimes
I would go to my friend Paulines house to visit her and her
young daughter. Pauline would show me Johannas drawings and
I would sit down at the desk to look at them one by one. They were
often very small, drawn on bits of paper, and they were ordinary.
One, a yellow flower on a black background, she said Johanna had drawn
just recently. For me, this one represented something I could never
That summer I got headaches. Once I had such a bad headache I couldnt
walk. I stopped and sat next to a field. At times the headache waned
and when it did I started to wonder what my husbands life was
like. I had an image of him waking up in the morning and making his
bed while it was still dark out. I knew the land where he was living
also looked destroyed, but I didnt know much beyond that. I
wondered if he was happy there.
When my headache finally subsided, the
field looked clear. I saw the outlines of everything around me --
a house in the distance, a wooden fence not far from where I had been,
a leaf under my hand.
The summer passed slowly by us. I wrote just as slowly. On some nights
I only wrote one sentence. On Tuesdays my husband called and we talked
for half an hour. On those nights I wrote more.
In a few weeks Ill get to
visit for two days.
I thought of Johanna. She often wore
something that made her look like a wolf and she had to hold it so
it wouldnt slip off her head. Why do you wear this?
I had once asked her. Why do you want to look like a wolf?
Thats great news.
I miss you.
I miss you too.
I looked at my reflection in the mirror.
Why should someone want to look like a wolf?
When he came home we went to a dance not far from our house. I danced
with him while Pauline danced with a man she had just met. It was
a waltz. After a while we stopped. The men began to talk. Pauline
and I walked out to the porch.
Its past Johannas
bedtime, Pauline said.
Johanna was playing in the grass with
another little girl. She didnt look tired.
Johanna, Pauline called
in a way that didnt seem to wait for an answer.
Do you like the man you were dancing
with? I asked.
A little. She watched the
flame inside the glass lantern. Theres supposed to be
a meteor shower tonight. But she wasnt watching the sky,
she was still watching the lantern.
Loam as night. When my husband and I first moved here we went to look
at a geyser. The ground surrounding the geyser was sandy and it looked
like there was salt on the sand. I dont think we paid attention
to the geyser that night.
I stood there squinting into the darkness,
feeling like something was stuck in my throat. I never felt like an
adult and I didnt know how to handle what was happening.
My husband put his hands in his pockets
and moved outside of the light.
The car ride home was awful. I had a headache and I could think of
nothing but my bones. I opened up the glove compartment and pulled
the things that were inside it on top of my lap.
What are you looking for?
he asked me.
I wanted to find something I could pull
apart lightly, stitch by stitch, so that it looked like a new thing
when I was finished.
I see you, I wanted to tell Pauline.
She was a woman you might accidentally
miss if you didnt consider her for a long enough time. In fact,
she told me she had once felt invisible. She could seem insignificant
in an old brown coat, but she was not. She was funny, something I
never thought myself to be. Sometimes I was in harmony when I was
with her, sometimes I rode on my own body like a blanket I couldnt
I wanted to write about Pauline, but
I didnt know what to say about her, and I didnt really
know how to describe her either. And since she liked to read what
I wrote, I knew she would be confused when she read what I had written
I didnt write about her.
One night we ran along the river until
we couldnt run anymore. Then we collapsed on the bank and she
told me a story about Johanna wetting her bed. Johanna had cried.
I turned on my side and watched something cross the land away from
us. I dont know what that thing was.
Im not a good mother,
Theres no father for Johanna.
I wanted to write about that night.
The next time my husband came home he stayed for a week. He made love
to me and took me to a play. When the lights went down and the actors
came out onto the stage I replayed us making love. I had watched my
knees the whole time. Now my husband took my hand and held it in his.
We watched the play.
They say when a horse breaks free, you
can not speak. When a person who has reformed leaves a prison, something
exists that cant be put into words.
At Paulines house, I helped Johanna put away her toys.
I had carved into the frozen river that
morning with a knife. The things I carved were barely visible. Without
knowing they were there, no one would have been able to see them.
I hit the ice with the knife as if I were angry, to try to make myself
angry, and though a little anger arose, it was not very much.
I felt hopeful. I had seen something
in the ice. There a small green stone was wanting heat. I had hit
the ice with the knife over and over again just to make myself feel
Johanna, I asked, whats
I held up something loose and ragged.
That one is you.
Amina Cain lives in Chicago where she teaches
at Columbia College and co-curates the Red Rover experimental reading
series. Her writing has appeared in journals such as 3rd bed, Spinning
Jenny, the2ndhand, Sidebrow, and Denver Quarterly. She
has just finished work on her first book, a collection of stories.