All the Bodies

All the Bodies
William Stobb

About the Recording

Poetry and shorter prose forms come more naturally to me than does a longer piece like “All the Bodies.” I find it really hard to write all the way across the page without just hitting return and creating a line break. All those words! It takes forever! So, on the rare occasion when I produce a longer form work that has any merit whatsoever, I really want to make sure it gets every possible bit of exposure. Because of the story’s context and the real-life events that it incorporates, “All the Bodies” is a piece that I have a deeper-than-usual personal connection to. I was grateful to Gilad Elbom for selecting the piece for NDQ, which has such a great history of publishing top notch fiction. Once the story came out, I immediately wanted to do a voice recording of it. I’ve worked in radio and other audio media on and off all my life. Right now, the lit zine that I contribute to, Conduit, has a great audio archive, and I record and produce versions of poems and stories on my Soundcloud page. I just really love listening to good voice-based audio art and also creating it–working with the voice and breath in audio recording and production adds such an intense dimension to a piece. After my colleague Ariel Beaujot and I worked on recordings for a local oral history project in La Crosse, Wisconsin–the Hear, Here project with its Hear, Here Poetry section–I enlisted the help of media specialist Jeffrey Kerkman to produce this piece. I’m especially grateful to Victoria Campbell for her production work on “All the Bodies,” and also to Marley Kaiser for recording the vocal intro and ending to the piece, and to Eric Caldera and his great band El Valiente for permission to use their sounds on the track.

~

All the Bodies

They went in the kitchen window—the girl and the boy. Pried it up, little sill-hop, leg swing. Easy every time.

Inside, the old man had the same linoleum, cupboards, counter-top with white microwave. Same as everyone. Different smell, kind of darker, soaked in. Then the dark hallway, carpeted, and the carpeted stairs up to the bathroom where he kept them. The pills. He slept up there, but he was so old, they couldn’t even guess, and they’d done it so many times, he didn’t even care. The boy carried a tiny light, which was all they needed. Go slow, shine each step, go quiet. I imagine them holding hands. I imagine them smiling.

I wonder if they thought their lives were going to be like this for a while. They were seventeen. Were they addicted? Or did they just take the pills sometimes to zone out, listen to music, touch each other and feel it more.

“He must’ve been so afraid,” the neighbor said, but I guess anger must’ve been stronger when the old man brought the shotgun in. And that night when he heard them close the medicine cabinet and slowly tiptoe back down the stairs, he just turned the corner and fired down the stairwell. Two barrels, two blasts.

And then the part I can’t say yet. I have to stop and look away and maybe come back later and say what he did next.

*

“I’m gonna need that Clapper and that First Alert,” said my dad. He slurped coffee, set it down, snapped open the paper, but I could see him looking out the window, evaluating his dry half acre of lawn. His mouth tightened.

“I’ll do the watering,” I said.

“I’ll do it,” he replied, and looked back at the Star Tribune. The day after we’d buried his wife of sixty years, my mother, he dressed exactly the same—western shirt, tight polyester pants. His colored hair was slicked back and his colored beard trimmed.

“And one of those weather radios with the alerts,” he said. “And a police scanner.”

Three separate times that year he’d told me that his shed had been broken into. I figured he was slipping. The chainsaw’s missing? Maybe he loaned it out and forgot. Maybe he sold it. But he showed me the window screen, which someone had clearly sliced and peeled back. The “shed” was a large Quonset building full of various implements—a 1939 Ford pickup truck on blocks, a skid-steer front loader, three push mowers and two riding lawn mowers, one set up for winter with a snow blower attachment, a full-size John Deere tractor from the 1950s, plus all manner of saws, drill presses, tool cabinets, gas cans, five full-sized oil barrels. These remembrances of farm living decomposed slowly in their curated environment, and if a few things went missing from the collection, it’d be difficult to say.

It was chilling to imagine that the shed had become a burglary target, because the big trial had gotten underway just that week. A local military retiree of approximately my dad’s age, Lloyd Gustafsen, killed two teenagers who’d broken into his house, just two miles up the road from my parents’ place, to steal money and prescription drugs. “They’ve done it a lot of times,” Gustafsen said, “but they aren’t going to do it anymore.” Gustafsen was on trial for murder, but most people thought he’d be acquitted, since the kids had broken and entered his home. When I asked my dad what he thought, he said the teenagers got what they deserved. “They thought he was vulnerable, but he wasn’t,” said my dad, “and they found out the hard way.”

That day’s Star Trib byline read “Lost Innocence: North Country Youth Addicted and Desperate.” The story featured the teens’ senior pictures, which stunned me, not only because the two kids looked like such harmless preppies, but also because the pictures were taken at the exact same studio as mine had been, twenty-five years earlier. The girl’s photo actually featured the same stupid white ladder that I had posed with. As if we were painters. Times may have changed—maybe Minnesota’s elderly really were arming themselves against aggressive young junkies—but you wouldn’t see the difference in the grad pics.

I wrote thank you notes while we watched on-demand episodes of Ice Truckers. We drank a second pot of coffee and made a third. When I found myself having unusual feelings about my mother’s body being in the ground—the whole under-surface of the Earth felt strangely pregnant with my dead mother—I took the initiative to set up the sprinklers: an elaborate process involving five different hoses running from any of nine different spigots around the yard. By the time I had them all running, the ground was back to normal. Mom was still under there, somewhere, but I no longer felt like the ground was swelling from some strange pressure. While I was out, Dad switched to a World War II show. Both of my grandfathers had survived combat duty, and my parents loved the stories of that war. They proudly displayed pictures of their uniformed fathers, their medals and memorabilia. Dad and I napped to the comforting buzz of sprinklers and P-40 Flying Tigers, artillery explosions on Midway, and the solemn voice-over narrating Normandy, Iwo Jima, the flight of the Enola Gay.

Late in the afternoon, Dad stood up.

“I know they have the Clapper and the scanner at Ace,” he said. “Not sure about the First Alert. Might have to mail order that one.” He was slightly hunched, not stooped. The dye-job on his hair and beard wasn’t too obvious—he looked younger than his 82 years. He seemed cogent most of the time, though sometimes his anger about the overall corruption and decay of the world seemed a little disproportionate. He attended church services most Sundays, and he had favorite waitresses at the local Perkins, but when I left town in a few short days, he was going to be pretty alone. Holed up. Wearing his alarm bracelet in case he fell in the shower, waiting for the police scanner to warn him about approaching packs of drug-addicted teenagers.

“I think it’d be a good idea if you just came and stayed with me for a while,” I said. I hadn’t been planning it, but the reasons popped up immediately: I hated to think of him alone, afraid of every noise he heard in the night, plus my schedule was flexible, and I could spare the second bedroom in my apartment. It all added up.

Dad sat back down, changed it to CNN, looked at me with unusual directness, frowned.

“I think you’re probably right,” he said, and that surprised me. I figured he’d resist. He and my mother had spent their lives administering programs that helped farmers and low-income families. They were the helpers, not the helped.

*

Within a week, I understood: Dad saw himself as the helper. There were several key ideas about life that I hadn’t acquired, and with the passing of my mother, he felt the pressure of time—if he didn’t straighten me out now, it’d soon be too late.

For the first few days, Dad watched TV from the time he woke up until he went to bed, composing instructional monologues based on show content. In particular, he would riff off the character qualities of the various drivers on Ice Truckers. These were all “real people,” but they were defined according to pretty recognizable stereotypes. There were some “good guys”: an earnest, hard-working one, a grumpy curmudgeon with a heart of gold, and a middle-aged woman who’d lost her teaching job due to budget cuts and now was making a go of it in a man’s world. There were a couple “bad guys”: a careless, obliviously selfish one, a dishonest sleaze, and a tough young woman who was promiscuous and swore. And there were a couple of wild cards: an aspiring photographer with a lot of philosophical ideas, along with a quirky, sweet 25-year-old with dyed blond hair who wore sweater vests and was surprisingly expressive of emotions.

“You see, she just has no self control,” Dad said about the slutty one. “This life is not all about appetite. This consumer society will make you believe that anything can be purchased. You have to watch out for that.” I agreed, though it felt a little ironic. All their lives, he and Mom had accumulated consumer goods—books, knick-knacks, cheap memorabilia, and a lot of tools and garden gadgets. Something about the combination of manual labor and innovation appealed to their farming ethos. With some elbow grease and a practical instrument like the RonCo Garden Weasel, they could defeat invading weeds lickety-split. Well, now my 82-year-old dad owned a Quonset-full of neglected implements that had become a target for desperate meth addicts.

And if we’re talking about appetite, why not mention Dad’s Internet habits? Mom called me one morning: “I can hear him in the office watching pornography! The women are all [insert sound of 70-year-old mother imitating the fake orgasm cries of porn actresses].” I tried to tell her it was nothing serious, but she should talk to him about it if it bothered her. I didn’t hear about it again, but in those first days after Dad moved in, I kept an eye on my laptop. He didn’t know how to delete the browsing history, so I was able to confirm that, indeed, my 82-year-old father was looking at pornography just about any time I left him home alone.

“You know, that kid can really be proud.” Dad was talking about the earnest hard-working driver, who was in his mid-thirties and was trying to start over after a lot of years working as a bartender. “He just couldn’t bear watching his community sink in the bottle, so he pulled himself up….” His voice trailed off, and he fell asleep. His apnea had become pronounced, near to narcolepsy. He slept seven or eight different times throughout the course of a day, snoring violently. About 2 AM, he would turn off the TV and sleep in his bed for a few hours.

I realized that if I didn’t propose something, Dad was going to repeat this depressing routine every day until he died, in however many months or years. So, I persuaded him to start going with me to the YMCA. At first, we used the pool and then the fitness center, and he managed pretty well in both settings—he could paddle or just walk his lane in the pool, and in the fitness center, he could use the nautilus machines. Soon, the Y’s friendly, caring employees suggested a variety of programs for my dad—not just exercise programs, but reading groups, computer classes, and social events. True to their branding, the Y really was “more than just a gym.”

*

Shredded below the waist by the shotgun blasts, the two teenagers lay at the bottom of the steps. “They were laughing at me,” Gustafsen said. “They thought it was all a big joke.” And it was true: the members of the high school diving team—their teammates—all agreed that they loved to laugh, both of them, the boy and the girl, both excellent divers, having appeared on the list of all-conference athletes published in the county record that year. “They were such a great couple,” the girl’s best friend said. “At least they were together,” said the boy’s younger brother. “I mean, if it had to happen, at least….” For the friends and family of the teenagers, it was very difficult to imagine the bloody horror of their final moments. Easier to remember them launching from the high board, making sharp arrows of their bodies, plunging, then submerged—was there something about the pills that was like diving? Was there something about being high together that felt like sharing one body in suspension in the cool blue moment after punching through the surface? But then, shot, they would’ve crumpled and tumbled. It was hard to imagine them laughing, when their legs were suddenly blown away and their precisely elegant bodies were falling and crumpling and emptying out so that a pool of blood was forming around them. Shock, maybe. Or maybe they were high. Or maybe the man, Mr. Gustafsen, was so angry. Delusional. They could’ve been whimpering when he came down the stairs, when they were dragging themselves away, trying to drag themselves, and when he went out to the shop and returned with a tarp. When he returned with the tarp, it was hard to imagine them laughing.

*

We quickly found a routine. Between TV, sleeping, and programs at the Y, Dad seemed fulfilled—happier than usual, even. I was happy too. My window-cleaning business was in a good groove. I worked each morning from four until about nine, hitting each of my clients twice a week. I would swim and exercise with Dad after that, then leave him for his programs. I’d use that free time to nap, read, watch day baseball, or visit with friends who would meet me for lunch or a couple of afternoon beers. The situation felt surprisingly sane.

One day, while Dad was at the Y, I stopped into the Fed Ex store to mail a Rolling Stones box set I’d just sold on EBay. The manager was Mindy Mooney. We had mutual friends, and had hung out here and there over the last decade. We decided to have lunch together at a sandwich shop down the block and catch up. It’d been a while. Over salads, I explained the situation with my dad, and described how much we were enjoying the Y.

“One of the most interesting aspects,” I said, “is that I’m noticing people’s bodies more.” That hadn’t come out quite the way I wanted it to. “I mean at the Y. Before my dad came, I mainly noticed younger people’s bodies, but now that my dad’s here, I find myself comparing his body to other old people’s bodies—like, in the pool and in the locker room.”

“And?” asked Mindy.

“They’re just fascinating. Like, all the different kinds of bellies and arms—skinny arms, flabby arms. The huge, obese bodies, and then the tiny ones. Have you ever seen a hammer toe? There’s a guy who swims who has a hammer toe—the middle knuckle of his second toe—is that your index toe? That knuckle sticks, like, straight up, probably at least an inch above his other toes. It must be impossible to wear a shoe.”

“And what about the you-know-whats?” asked Mindy, a sneaky smile in the freckly constellation of her round face.

“What?”

“In the locker room, you must see all their junk.”

“So you’re asking about my dad’s wiener?” I said, and we laughed, and I eventually admitted that I noticed the penises, too. “Big ones, little ones, long droopy ones, little firecrackers.” She laughed, and then a few minutes later, suggested we go back to her place, set up the massage table, and notice each other’s bodies for a while.

“I’m not in the greatest shape,” she said, “but my body’s gotta be better than those old dudes at the Y.” It was a perfect joke to make the thing happen in a sweet way, but I kept thinking about it, even when she was lying on her stomach on the massage table, her body thick and strong, soft and responsive, even when I moved my hand up the inside of her thigh, when her breathing changed—even then, I was thinking about bodies better and worse, living and dead. When she rolled on her back and I saw the color in her face, her determination—this was definitely happening—then I finally fell out of thinking for a while.

*

Getting ready to leave, I kissed Mindy maybe a little too hard. She seemed almost surprised by it, but then she matched it, and that felt as good as anything. I pulled away and squeezed her elbow and began to turn.

“What would your dad say?” she asked.

“I think he probably dreamed his whole life of doing what we just did,” I said, and headed home. What my dad did in fact say, though, after I walked in just slightly later than usual was, “you smell like pussy.” I was stunned. On the one hand, it was the kind of thing I never imagined him saying. On the other hand… was he telepathic? Did I smell like wine, or like Mindy’s shower products? Smells he might associate with something feminine? I was caught off guard and it must’ve showed, because Dad immediately understood that he’d been right.

“Jesus Christ, did you just hire some prostitute off the street?”

“No, Dad,” I explained in a voice pleading for calm. “I have a girlfriend.”

“What? You have a girlfriend and you don’t even introduce me?

“It’s not like that,” I said. “It’s just—sometimes I have girlfriends.”

“Plural?” he half-squeaked. “What in the Sam Hell? What did I tell you about appetites?” He just shook his head a while. “I’ll pray for you,” he said. “I really will.” Stunned as I was at his powers of intuition, I was also flustered by the hypocrisy, and I wasn’t able to hold my tongue.

“Wow, Dad,” I said, “I wonder what porn sites you were looking at while I was having actual sex with an actual person.” He turned bright red, immediately, and resorted to one of the classic lines I remembered from my teenage years.

“You know, if I had spoken to my father that way, I’d have scars to remember it by.”

*

 

The tarp. He came in from the shop with a tarp. He would’ve stepped over them, or around them, to the shop and then back with the tarp, rolled or crumpled in his arms. He would’ve opened the door and carried it down the plank stairs to the cellar, and they would’ve heard him spreading out the tarp. They would’ve been bleeding but trying to believe it wasn’t really a tarp, that he wasn’t going to use the tarp the way he was using it. The neighbors all said he was afraid, so afraid that he spread the tarp at the bottom of the cellar stairs and then, first the boy and then the girl, pulled them by their shredded, bleeding legs down, so they must’ve been racked with pain and maybe passed out as they bounced, their heads must’ve bounced down the steps, until their bodies were on the tarp, on the stone floor of the cellar at the bottom of the stairs. One of the blue, heavy-duty tarps? Or a painter’s clear plastic sheeting? Was it effective in limiting the splatter, then? When he did what he did what he freely admitted he did he said he loaded his Luger and “gave them each a clean finishing shot up under the chin.” Was it clean, what he gave them? Could they feel the cleanliness of the gift? Did the tarp help it to feel wrapped and clean like a gift?

The next day was Thanksgiving, and he hadn’t wanted to bother the Sherriff on an American holiday. He had lunch with relatives, and didn’t mention the children wrapped in a tarp in his basement. He came home and watched football, drank beer, went to bed. He did call first thing on Friday, and an ambulance did come and collect the tarp.

*

Dad was pretty quiet the next morning. Rather than speak, he just squinted at me sarcastically and shook his head at my conversation starters. About 11, we went to the Y. On our way in, the smiling associates at the desk brightened up and shouted “Rudy!” as if he were a kindergartener. He smiled and soaked it in. Once past the gate, he used his deep, serious, public voice to say “good morning” to other men, and a higher pitched, softer voice to say “hello” to women.

We showered and swam, or, I swam, while Dad walked up and down his lane. After about twenty minutes, we moved over to the hot tub, where some young swimming lesson teachers were gathered—three fit young women in matching red one-piece suits, and two fit young men in red trunks.

“Staff meeting?” joked my dad, as he stepped carefully down into the tub.

“I’m gonna hit the gym for twenty minutes,” I said. “I’ll meet you up in the lobby.”

“Not to worry,” he said. “I think I’m safe here.” A couple of the swimming teachers smiled reassuringly, and I felt legitimately happy for Dad, enjoying his new community. Instead of working out, I quickly showered, got dressed, went up to the lobby and called Mindy. She’d be at work, maybe not too busy. I knew it was too soon to call, but I couldn’t stop feeling that last kiss. If she was free that evening, I thought maybe we could go out for a late dinner, once my dad was settled. She didn’t answer, so I texted, “Let’s have dinner. Just dinner. Eating is necessary.”

I poured a cup of complimentary Y coffee and looked at the paper. As arguments closed and the jury went into session, polls showed that Minnesota’s elderly were overwhelmingly supportive of Gustafsen, and believed he would be found not guilty. “He was vulnerable and afraid,” said one local resident, “and he defended his property.” I set the paper down and thought about my parents’ generation—born on farms in the 1930s, raised strictly, raised to work, raised to believe they could improve this world. My parents traveled across the state, returned home late, stayed up even later with stacks of documents on the kitchen table, budgeting, planning, figuring out the future. Then the state closed both of their programs within two years. Forced into retirement, Mom stayed active and upbeat, but Dad seemed defeated. He sat down in his recliner and never really got up. For twenty years, he mowed and watered, cleared snow in the winter, and primarily watched TV while making commentary to his wife about the world’s wrong directions. One day, she didn’t say “Rudolph, stop being such a sourpuss,” and when he looked at her, her right side sagged until she tipped over in her chair.

Now, just weeks after her death, he was meeting other active seniors, mingling in a hot tub with fit, young lifeguards. He seemed happy. I could hardly believe it.

*

Just as Mindy texted back, “yes please I’m starving already,” I recognized the lifeguard hustling to the desk as one of the ones who’d been in the hot tub with my dad. By the time he scanned the lobby and found me, I was already on my feet, crossing in front of the coffee station to meet him.

“What happened?” I asked.

“Your dad is fine,” he said, “but he had a little trouble in the pool.” While we walked back to the locker room, he explained that when the kids started piling in for 12 o’clock lessons, my dad left the hot tub and went back to the locker room, where he must’ve showered and taken off his trunks. Then, instead of entering the locker area, he’d mistakenly walked back out into the pool area, naked. Unnoticed at first, he’d walked all the way down the rail, shuffling on the slippery tile, through that peculiar, shimmery light, under the inspirational sign: “with a team behind you, so much more is possible.” He must’ve had that child-like expression I’ve seen on his face—like a scared Kindergartner walking out on stage, unable to remember his line for the play—and in fact the pool area had suddenly filled with children, while the side bleachers, in front of the big windows into the fitness center, were now full of young moms, the kind of women my father routinely viewed in sexual situations online. It was one of those moms, a woman named Janelle Olson, who first noticed him walking naked through the pool area. Intuitively understanding the situation, she hurried to him and gently explained that he had not put his trunks on, that children were having their lessons, that he couldn’t be naked there in the public pool, that he had to go back. I see my father’s body very clearly—narrow shoulders, firm belly like a basketball, the papery, nearly transparent skin, speckled with moles, his skinny legs and butt, his thick pubic hair and flaccid balls and penis, feverishly hanging away from his torso, heated by fifteen minutes in the hot tub. Janelle Olson must’ve been a very understanding woman to come close to him and speak calmly, to touch his shoulder and try to steer him, and when the children finally noticed and started to scream and point, to take his other shoulder in her other hand and more firmly try to swivel him—he’d given his whole life to help families, his whole life he’d looked at young women with only desire, and now this no, and now this woman was pushing him—so, vulnerable and afraid, he pivoted and struck her, back-handed. She staggered and fell hard on the tile. At that point the two male swim instructors finally noticed the situation and were able to restrain him and forcibly return him to the locker room.

“Oh my god,” I said.

“Everything’s stable now,” said the guard. “He’s getting dressed.”

Only when we reached the locker room door did he warn me: “he’s still pretty mad.”

That’s when I heard him.

“This place is a dirty joke!” The voice, clearly audible from somewhere in the recesses of the locker room, must’ve been my dad’s. “A dirty fucking joke!” I apologized to the guard, who offered a compassionate smile.

When I got to him, Dad had his blue polyester pants on and was rapidly tucking in his plaid western shirt, the snaps of which he’d done up crookedly. His coloring was bright red and he was damp with perspiration. His usually parted and slicked back hair had flopped down over his face.

“Where the fuck were you?” he asked. And then he put his finger up between us. “You will not tell your mother about this.”

*

That afternoon, on Ice Truckers, the old codger stalled out on a mountain pass north of Fairbanks and began sliding backward down a steep incline. He was able to safely steer the truck to the shoulder and stop it without jackknifing, but then he was stuck in a remote location at nightfall with a blizzard approaching.

I texted Mindy: “Dad had a problem today. Can’t do tonight. Sorry.”

She texted back immediately: “Everything okay?”

The codger began calling on his CB. A service truck with a winch could make it out in the morning, after the storm passed.

I texted, “Yeah, okay in the short term. Wanted to C U tho.”

“Wanted to C U 2,” she texted. “Rain check.” She added a winking emoticon. As I typed “I’ll call you,” the dispatcher told the old codger to get comfortable, keep warm, get some sleep. “Roger that,” he came back, “but will you call my wife? Tell her I love her?” The camera then somehow panned up from the truck, into the falling snow, the gathering clouds, and then through the clouds, above them, and then even higher, into the cold void of starry space for a moment of elegance and calm before the cut to a deodorant commercial.

“That must be CGI,” I said. But when I looked, I could see that Dad was weeping, his hands up to his face.

*

The surprise verdict came in quickly: guilty on two counts of first-degree murder. Once he’d rendered the teens helpless, Gustafsen was no longer “defending his castle”—this was the principle in question, the Castle Doctrine, which allows us to protect our homes like sovereign royalty, or dragons on our hoards. Once he’d wounded the two minors, the jury ruled that the Castle Doctrine no longer applied to his actions. Retrieving the luger from his gun safe, bringing in the tarp and spreading it at the bottom of the stairs, pulling the victims down into the cellar—these were acts of premeditation. And at the crucial moment when he twice discharged the pistol, he defended no right. He executed those kids.

The verdict triggered a mandatory sentence of life in prison, but appeals began immediately. Calling the decision “An American Travesty,” a website went live the next morning, sponsored by a conservative action committee and endorsed by Gustafsen’s family. It proclaimed him an American hero, and, to help cover his legal expenses, raised a million dollars in 24 hours.

*

After the YMCA incident, Dad went into a shell. He stopped criticizing and instructing. I thought maybe he felt humbled, sheepish, and would come out of it, but days passed and he was sleeping even more than usual. When he stood, his posture seemed to be collapsing—his shoulders pulling in toward his chest. We made an appointment, and the doctor advised full-time care. If Dad was beginning to experience dementia, his needs were likely to increase dramatically in the coming months. As a single individual, my own schedule left too many gaps. Every time I left him alone, there were potential dangers. To my surprise, Dad didn’t resist the idea.

I began working earlier, beginning at 3 AM, so that I could be home by the time Dad woke up. While he watched TV, I researched care facilities. And in between naps, we went for walks in different places, and went out for coffee. I connected with the director of a local nature center and arranged to do some volunteer work there. One weekday afternoon, we guided busloads of elementary school kids through a traveling butterfly exhibit. Dad wondered at the mesh structure run with vines—how did they move it from site to site? And the many different species of butterflies seemed to amaze him—their bodies so fragile but strong, their wings more delicate than tissue paper, but capable of crossing continents.

Most importantly, Dad remained calm around the children, even when their questions became overwhelming and their volume level rose. I keep a picture on my phone: smiling nervously, Dad’s standing between two young girls—probably seven or eight years old. All three have turned their eyes upward as four butterflies of various colors flutter around his white cap. The girls laugh and point, while Dad’s expression is one of total enchantment.

I keep the picture to remind me: something innocent must remain inside of people, even after living leaves its marks.

*

Mindy finally insisted that I come by for coffee one morning after work. I explained it would have to be early, and she said that was fine. So I skipped a client and rang her apartment at 6:45. She buzzed me in, which meant that she had to’ve gotten up, but by the time I quietly knocked and pushed her apartment door open, she was nowhere to be seen. The light above the kitchen sink was on, and I could see the clean dishes in the rack, a half bottle of wine left on the counter, the clock on the microwave flashing zeroes, the coffee maker not turned on. I kicked off my shoes and quietly crossed the kitchen. I went slow, watching each step down the carpeted hallway toward the one light left on—the bathroom light. Across the hall, a door was cracked open. I pushed it further and its hinges creaked. I looked inside. In the dark, I could hear Mindy breathing, and I could smell her body smell, her warm bed smell. Just as I was beginning to wonder how she’d managed to buzz me in without waking up at all, she hummed “get in here,” and I followed her voice to the bedside. I pushed her hair back and she touched my hand, and then, as she pulled me down into her neck and I felt her smooth face against my stubble, and as she hummed “you wanna crawl in?” and I took off most of my clothes and crawled under the covers in my boxers and t-shirt, and as we spoke softly to each other and touched each other and spooned and drifted back toward sleep, I wished time could move more slowly. I wished I could remain in that moment. I wished I could hold on to my life.

~

William Stobb’s latest poetry collection, You Are Still Alive, is forthcoming in 2019 from 42 Miles Press. He is also the author of Absentia and the National Poetry Series selection, Nervous Systems. A graduate of the University of North Dakota Creative Writing Program, Stobb now works on the editorial staff of Conduit and Conduit Books & Ephemera. He teaches on the Creative Writing faculty at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse.

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