Gone Lawn
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Gone Lawn 31
Winter, 2018

Featured artwork, Batty, by Holly Day.

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New Works

Darla Mottram

Twigs


I tell her I'm leaving. She shatters a vase. For generations it had been in my family, a cobalt ancestor leering from the shelf. Now the broken pieces glint and jeer; bits of blue where the pattern was not enough to hold the thing together. I am attracted to these edges, created in haste. A moment ago there were no edges, only smooth sides and a round opening. I am attracted to the chaos of it—one piece large and rectangular, another small and arrow-shaped. Her eyes are arrow-shaped, tilted toward me, clear, no hint of tears or the fog of disbelief, which is something I've always admired about her: her split-second ability to detect a thing's veracity.

She is sincere as an artichoke and just as fierce. She says she loves me and will not beg. Prolonged silence; the shadow of our prelude still reaching over us, even now. I pack my bag and purposely leave my toothbrush on the tray by the sink. She will throw it away without hesitation, but will be forced to think of me first.

I am stunned and delighted by my capacity for cruelty—stunned at the extent of my selfishness; delighted to find I am still capable of surprising myself.

I steal one last glance of this present-moment self in the mirror: the doughy folds beneath my pond-water eyes are not going anywhere, but the dull ache at the back of my seeing has subsided, at least temporarily. I feel both stimulated and stunned by what I've done. Eleven years moving placidly in one direction; today I have taken scissors to my life. Hands full of confetti. What a mess.

*

I cry the first night. Then masturbate. After that I masturbate first and then cry.

*

A fly lands on the table. I have been living in my new apartment for a week. There are three bananas on the counter. One, two, three, I say out loud, as if I am trying to keep track of them, as if I don't know exactly how many there are. One, two, three. The fly appears ordinary from a distance, but up close it is ornate: the iridescent hues of its body—dark blue fading to cerulean, cerulean to chartreuse—giving way to translucent wings and silver helmet, the vast red conglomerate of eyes, front legs like a cat's paws, cleansing its face. A feline feeling paces the edges of my consciousness; my extremities tap rhythms on the floor, the table. I eat a banana and think about calling her. I put on a movie instead. Hit the mute button. Onscreen two women are gesticulating. Their motions conjure more motions. The fly walks in circles, stops, changes direction, walks the same circle backwards.

*

When I was a kid I watched Jurassic Park for the dinosaurs, for the terror and pleasure that filled my abdomen as it tightened in response to them. As an adult, I watch it for the look on Laura Dern's face when she first sees the brachiosaurus striding through the park. Panic-delight-awe-terror-fury-love-wonder.

*

I could tell you my decision was carefully considered, or that it was sudden, and each would be in a similar manner misleading. The truth is that I love her and can imagine no one better suited to me, and that such knowledge does nothing to dissuade my listing heart of its fantasies: often I have entertained scenarios of abandoning her whereby I discover some new facet of myself, and it's this newly discovered facet which excites me more than anything.

For many years the fantasies came in waves and there was a time when I thought I'd outgrow them. They were only fantasies after all. Until that morning, when I'd gone to wash the mug she'd left on the kitchen table in its usual corner, a thin pool of coffee still glazing the bottom of the cup. There was nothing new about it, nothing that should have sparked in that day a different course of action from any day that had come before, but for whatever reason, the lipstick stain at the top of the cup, so familiar, so suggestive of a life with unseen dimensions lingering just beyond the rim of the visible, spurred in my chest a hazardous rumble like that of a herd of wildebeest blurring the horizon. I no longer belonged to her. And it wasn't that I couldn't go on belonging to her or that my survival depended upon eradicating myself of her affection: it was nothing so dramatic as necessity. Yet it was dire. It was this: both impulses had long existed, and despite years of denying one while acquiescing to the ache of the other, they continued to swell and throb in equal measure. A matter of fairness, really—I had neglected one possibility for so long that any law of averages would insist I rectify the imbalance.

*

The dinner before me is simple but it is mine. That is: I made it, and I alone will eat it. I sliced the zucchini and laid it on the griddle; I stirred the pasta in the pan. Now I pour a glass of Zinfandel. No one watches me as I take first one bite, then another. The fan makes a fanning sound. There is no one to whom I narrate the events of the day; it is simply over. I revel in my mellifluous solitude. I sift through thoughts, one after the other, committing myself to none. The minutes get away from me. The hours.

*

A sparrow has been building her nest outside my bedroom window. When I first moved into this apartment, there was the empty hallway, and windows that wouldn't open, and the refrigerator with its bright light and bare shelves. Now from room to room I spot little messes: a pile of newspapers and a day-old cup of coffee on the kitchen table, hair scattered in the bathtub, dirty underwear on the floor by the bed, evidence of myself, my living. And outside the window a sparrow tucking twigs inside of twigs, leaving room for the future.

*

I go days without speaking to anyone. On weekends I read, go for long walks through the neighborhood where I commune with cats and peonies, take baths with no music to distract me from the slowness of it. I spend an evening piecing together a nebula puzzle only to find the completed image less satisfying than the possibilities I laid to rest by completing it. I brush my hair. I feel my hair falling into order, my scalp tingling from touch.

Other days I am wound up tight by a frantic energy; I meet friends, I stay out late, I think of kissing someone, I trudge home in the cold, swirling dark, blistered by longing.

*

Lying awake, listening to the sound of rain, the sound of a raccoon or an opossum scuffling about in the dark, I feel blood of my body coursing and murmuring, I feel this moment expiring, I feel the universe talking to itself through my ache, my utmost, innermost me: a small gap for eternity to slip through.

*

I have begun flirting with a woman from the library. Her hair is grey and like a wave. I imagine braiding it into the steel bars of my headboard, tying it securely but gently, not so tight she cannot move her head, removing her soft, coral skirt as she fucks my name with her wanting words, my name I haven't heard fucked in months, the moan of my mouth against her pink, petaled opening. I ask her her name. She tells me Miranda. I want to fuck the letters of her name with my tongue, feel them against the roof of my mouth. Miranda, I say, can I make you dinner? I don't know you yet. I don't know what you'll want to do with me, or if. The fantasy is compelling; more titillating still is what remains unreachable inside it. Your response. What will it be?

*

An entire day contains a single action: I sit by the window and watch the wilting of a succulent I placed on the sill. The succulent has grown some sort of proboscis, at the end of which blooms a single yellow flower. The proboscis is covered in a soft fuzz. The base of the succulent is shriveled and brown, though the bloom has all the exuberant hope of youth. The sun moves from one side of the sky to the other. I drink a glass of milk. An ant scouts its way across the windowsill, then hurries back. I will die someday, I think, then revise: I am dying. I trace the outline of a tiny petal, think of plucking it, don't.

*

She calls. I didn't think she would. She asks if we can talk about it; what, after all, had she done wrong? Surely there was something worth salvaging, or at least explicating? Not wanting to draw this line of questioning out to its inevitable chain of clichés and platitudes, I say the least cruel thing: my curiosity got the best of me. To my surprise, she laughs. Almost a snarl, there's so much hurt in it. But there had been hurt before—before my leaving. There had been missed opportunities, petty manipulations, nights spent sleeping in separate rooms. And though she doesn't say it, I suspect she is not without relief. The worst has come to pass, and she survived it—is surviving it. I don't think I speak only for myself when I say: we humans, we like to be tested. We put ourselves through immeasurable pain just to know we can make it back out again.

*

It's not that I don't have regrets. When I see the dry, pale remains of the succulent, for instance.

*

The sparrow has filled her hollow project with eggs. They are tiny, white with brown speckles. I watch her and wonder what the hatching will bring. Can she feed them? Can she keep them from falling too soon from the nest? What about wind? There are all these questions when embarking. She settles into her nest and sleeps. I settle into the haziness of evening. I reach for nothing. The light seeps from the room like water from a cracked cup. I am the light; I am the cup.

*

Tomorrow, strictly speaking, does not exist. It is an act of pure imagination to say tomorrow. To speak of what I desire, what I plan, what I expect is only to project my current mood, thoughts, belongings into a space which does not guarantee their perpetuation. And how lucky for me, for who am I to know what I will want, what I will need, what I will come by inadvertently in a time that is not now?

When I dust the shelves whereupon my books rest, when I change from a pair of wet underwear to dry, when I pick the scab of my blistered big toe, when I laugh into an empty, sunlit room that does not echo: this is my life.

*

Miranda comes for dinner. I make veal with fingerling potatoes and sautéed chanterelles. I confess to her that I've never made veal before, but find the word veal rather sensual (its sound so similar to 'reveal' and 'conceal'—both equally seductive) and that I planned the whole meal around words that made me want to murmur them, so veal and fingerling potatoes and sautéed chanterelles are piled atop our plates. I had been thinking for weeks of how to seduce her, whether to offer her a second glass of chardonnay before dinner, or to touch the low of her back when offering her a seat, a thousand other miniscule considerations that would either culminate in or deviate from the much-anticipated fantasy.

As it turns out, she seduces me. She is clumsy but unashamed. Shall I lick yours clean as well, she asks, and who could say no to all those L's.

*

It is morning. I wash the dishes in the sink. Miranda leaves early, her lips puffy and parted to reveal or conceal something jagged. I do not know if we will see each other again. The sparrow flies the nest in search of food. Her eggs have hatched; their eyes have yet to open, but already they are hungry. Hunger is the first thing. I crack an egg into a frying pan, watch the butter sizzle. I am no longer thinking of the sparrow as I flip the egg on its other side, a little yoke pooling into the pan.



Darla Mottram is a writer residing in Portland, Oregon. She works as a florist and occasionally teaches creative writing. She has an MFA in creative writing from Portland State University and is the creator of Gaze, an online literary journal interested in the intersection between seeing and being seen.