The Morning Hills of Your Mind
When it all breaks through, she’s there in the bed they’ve given her, medical professionals threading through like so many needles in a tomato pin cushion she’d warn her son about, her little son who saw only a stuffed tomato, a little toy for him to play with.
And there were the words she could tell the boy, now a man, words she tried to form, to put down, but which disappeared like morning dew on an even-heated lawn whenever she tried to collect them. And there was collecting dandelions from the banks of a ditch that led into standing water her boy would call a pond. A pond, and he’d be looking for the duckies, and so she’d take the rubber one out of the bathroom and set it there for him in the center of this temporary pond, after a good rain, when the streets were down and the lights were out and there was nothing but to go outside and to be in this place where everything was given, everything was taken away.
He’d laugh and splash, and she’d keep him safe from the standing water, back enough so he could watch the way this man-made creature would dip and bob, forever smiling. And how she’d pull up her pant legs and wade in when it was time to retrieve the duckie, and she’d point to the ground that the boy was standing on, and he’d point to the ground he was standing on, and that was all there was at that moment, only that.
And the way she and the boy would watch the puddle evaporate over time, going back inside to have a snack and to come back out and see where the line was, where it is now. A restructuring, but it’s a palimpsest. She can still see the shadows of where the old her used to be, can still feel the specters of memory as they shift and slide.
On good days, she’s back there with the boy, watching him patter along the edge of that temporary pond. On bad days, she’s asking herself if this will be forever, and when that’s done there are just the simple acts of drinking water from a perspiring glass as the sun comes through and dust rays hang like birthday banners and there is only tasting every bite of breakfast, noticing every flavor and texture, every permutation of sense. There is being aware of the time before the condition, of wandering lucidity, a fog rolling up the morning hills of your mind and turning into something like remembrance.
She sees the boy before every night’s sleep now. A scene left on repeat in her mind: the boy waddle-walks to the puddle, straight-legged, where his duckie is floating there for him. He reaches out and laughs, unaware and happy.
Nick Olson is a writer and editor from Chicago now living in North Carolina. He was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s Very Short Fiction Award, and he’s been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP, and other fine places. When he’s not writing his own work, he’s sharing the wonderful work of others over at (mac)ro(mic). His debut novel, Here’s Waldo, will be published through Atmosphere Press, and he tweets updates at @nickolsonbooks.
A sing-song melody hits
my ears before I smell
cinnamon. It’s not
my favorite but you’ve added
blackberries which I love
depending on who you ask
in a dream means
luck or infidelity
you made it because
We all need a little comfort
I only wonder why
Jacqueline Brown is an Irish-American studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Her work has previously been published or is forthcoming in The Blue Nib, The Blake-Jones Review, the debut issues of Truffle Magazine and The Initial Journal, and elsewhere.
The Danes call their witches kloge gumma. In Hessen Germany, our kin were krauterhexen, and before that, Slav tribes called us vedmaki. In Appalachia, we’re hill women. Our heritage wraps with twine and gets hung upside down to dry. We collect our secrets in fields with moonlight or under tree canopies in forests. These are our heirlooms, our talismans passed from one woman to the next—kitchen magic. Follow our recipes, and you’ll earn the love of the moon. This is the truth my mother gave me, the gospel I’m whispering to you early just in case my spells don’t make it to your ears.
We descend from women who keep white lily roots and give them to expectant mothers to make birth easier. Lemon balm for nervousness, dandelion for sadness, oregano for belly problems. There is sweetness here in our magic made first from hearth fires and now on sleek convection stovetops made from glass.
I need to give you a recipe for much later in your life, one you’re liable to need to those mornings when you’ve been out with friends the night before, swirling in the spirits. A charm for the kinds of nights that end at dawn with rumpled sheets and dazzling smiles, for mornings when you wake with your once happy belly now churning with alcohol, your head set to implode. Your friends will tell you to reach for willow bark compressed into tablets, but the vedmaki in our family know that harsh willow will only upset your stomach.
In the morning after a night of having too much, (and trust, those dawns will exist because as much as we come from magic and yarbs, we come from drinkers and wanderers), you need to return to your own remedies. Let your friends and lovers experiment with modern magic; with this recipe, you have something old-world true, undercover magic sitting in your cupboards.
Achieve your magic by using a pot that’s big enough to hold two eggs, but not by much. Excess water gives the eggs too much room to slide and roll, the same thing that keeps happening to your would-be siblings. Let the eggs land softly in the water and add two generous pinches of baking soda. Once boiled, the shells will slide right off. Douse your eggs in oregano collected in moonlight from the mountain and then add more salt than you think you need to bring your body back to stasis.
This morning, you’re the size of a raspberry, and I watched as your mama swathed her belly in undulations, prayer, ensconcing you in her own magic. Incantations whispered that you might be the one to avoid the tendency to perfect-peel your shell. That you might be the one to stay.
Women in my family called it sodium bicarbonate, emphasis on the bye, as in: we keep having to say goodbye, and ate, as in: I am ate up to believe this time will be the first time to make it all the way—nine months of looking forward, not back. Your mama calls it baking soda. Soda like softness. Inside your mama’s den, this truth repeats itself monthly, no matter her old world charms or new world doctor spells. Your mama calls it baking soda. Sluiced softness, the tri-monthly stream of would-be siblings make rivers before they transform, soft to hard.
I’m giving you this knowledge now, even if it’s too early to tell. We’ve mourned too many too often, a team of fluid siblings. I can’t count loss because I have to balance the future.
Jessica Evans is a Cincinnati native who gets the chance to restart her life in new places every few years. Most recently, she lived in a Bavarian forest and now she’s relearning to call America home. Work is forthcoming in mac(ro)mic, Lily Poetry Review, Tiny Molecule, Past Ten, and Collateral. Hang out with her on Twitter @jesssica__evans.