Psychological Moment

If the land itself bore any signs of the years when there had been so many children on the farm, Nora couldn’t tell. For as long as she could remember the field stretched behind the barn, a carpet of leaves she couldn’t identify and didn’t want to learn, and the woods shot back behind the house, the two swaths meeting neatly at a split rail fence that had to be mended every few years. Her grandfather had told her stories about how he and the other Channels kids–his sisters and their cousins–had traipsed through the woods at dusk, looking for fireflies, and had built a fort down by the magnolia tree that now sheltered only the grave of a nephew who lived for just a day. Nora tried to imagine what the farm had sounded like then, with seven children to fill the air with all their noise. Seven children, born over just six years, as though Nora’s great-grandparents and great-aunt and great-uncle had sensed the psychological moment for childbearing and seized it like they had no other opportunity. She was her grandparents’ only grandchild and she often wondered if she might have learned to behave better if only there had been other children on the farm when she was younger. It was her uncle’s fault, for never having married, never having so much brought a girlfriend home. 


Howard had left the window open. It was early still, but the space beside Elizabeth in bed was cool. She rolled over and put her face on his pillow, breathing in the ghost scent of his hair, the sweat that had lingered on his scalp. The morning air came in through the window, bringing in the clanking of cowbells, the voices of a brother or a cousin, that nearly overpowered the curtains’ whisper against the windowsill. Elizabeth turned her head and listened to the organdy swish. She wondered where Howard was: the chicken coop? the barn? the garage? She heard the engine of a tractor turn over and she wondered whether she had long overslept, whether Howard would have let her do so.

Elizabeth put her feet over the side of the bed. When she stood her toes kissed the cool wooden floor and left a piece of her behind with each brush of skin against wood. She went to the dresser and pulled her hair back, then went to the window.

Howard was standing in the front yard, arms crossed over his chest, watching Lou, who knelt next to the tractor and fussed with the front wheels. The engine hummed, and some part of Elizabeth quivered with the thought of some unexpected mechanical motion that would sever Lou’s fingers. Howard looked unconcerned, but Elizabeth grazed her own fingertips with her thumb, feeling the padded skin there, fleshy and grooved. She wondered whether siblings’ fingerprints might resemble one another’s, whether dactylography had anything to say about sisterly compassion.

The breeze turned then and the curtains pressed–if organdy can be said to weigh anything–against her. Howard looked up at her, uncrossed his arms to wave.