Cayla McKenzie
23. Writer, musician. Books, dogs, tea, design, gardens.

In Thunderbird, Illinois, I get to thinking the world is going to end. During the day it’s cotton candy and caramel apples, the Howler and the Zipper, the looping soundtrack of the carousel. But at night, when I’m stretched out in the back of the truck on the outskirts of Camper City, trying to sleep in the bowl of quiet left by five hundred people gone home sunburned and broke to their beds, the feeling sneaks in and sits down square on my chest: these are the last days. It’s all going to break up. It’s as if I’m eavesdropping on the secret that history has been whispering to itself all along: the punch line the trick ending, the big joke. I curl up alongside the wheel well, wondering why I’m the only one who hears it. But morning always comes, daylight burning through the windows, the truck hot as a greenhouse, and I slide out barefoot onto the grass for another slow drag around the sun.

- Lydia Peelle, “The Still Point”, Reasons for and Advantages of Breathing

STORY IS DUE TONIGHT! I went with Story B, for anyone who read them and was curious. Maybe I’ll post the whole thing later, or email it to anyone who wants to read it.

A little something.

This night has been too enchanting not to sit out on my patio. I’ve been reading for hours and I needed a break, so I sat down and wrote this. Don’t know why I’m sharing it, but here goes. 

My hands were reaching for tree limbs and defending against the mosquitos and the bees, yours were dutifully placing half-priced items back on the shelf. It was nearing the end of a long day and I really had nothing to show for it. I made my way down to the river and sang a few songs to myself and kept imagining you stuck in that building with it’s white walls and white furniture and filthy hands messing up every arrangement you’d made and I got a little sad. But I do think you’re a strange kind of brave man to be doing something you hate so much everyday. I don’t know what it takes to do that, but I feel certain it’s something I don’t have.

I climbed into my car, wiping my hands over the bottom of my blackened bare feet to knock off extra dirt and I turned my radio on so loud that I could barely think. I sent a cloud of dust behind me on that road but when I came up to our driveway I couldn’t make my wheel turn where it was supposed to-thing got stuck, I guess-and before long I was burning gas and headed in the opposite direction of where you expected me to be. I’m sorry there won’t be food on the table when you get home.

Something just got me to thinking maybe you were getting too used to it, the way you’ve gotten used to greeting those hundreds of customers that walk in the store everyday. You send them your routinely contrived smile, but I’m not your routine. I am not a routine. I swear I will go crazy if the couch stays in one place for too long. You always laugh a little too harshly and tell me that’s all in my head, but even if it’s my head that makes me like this I feel like I’ve got to do something about it. 

So I kept driving.

The House on Lafayette

This is a story I wrote about a year ago for my creative writing class. It’s still not a finished draft, but I’m submitting it to a writing blog (Yeah Write!) because I’m tired of sitting around waiting to write something good enough to submit. 

                                         The House On Lafayette

            For the neighbors that lived around us, we were just a bunch of loons. They never spoke to us. We never spoke to them. For the longest time, I just assumed that was how everybody worked.

“You know I’ve rarely seen a single one of them long as I’ve lived here,” I’d hear them say when they passed. They didn’t know I was sitting at the window because they wouldn’t even look, only jerk a thumb in our direction. It was probably the same reason they never saw me playing in the dirt by the water pipe that dripped and splashed the mud on my dress. And it was probably the same reason they didn’t see my grandfather Rev on the ground that day in August. It was because they never looked. I think it was just because they didn’t want to. 

            There were seven of us. Seven of us in that one house. Me, Margaret, Uncle Mack, Aunt Louise, Mother, Momma Rose and Rev. I always heard Mother say there didn’t need to be seven of us in there and when I was little I used to wonder where we could go. It made me think that if she didn’t want seven of us in there then some of us would have to leave. I used to think that’s what she meant so I thought about it all the time. That’s what kept me up at night. It wasn’t the cold that would slip through the cracks and wrap itself around me. I only shivered to think that maybe it was me she didn’t want there, even as I lay between her and Margaret in our bed, both their backs turned on me as I stared, wide eyed, pretending I could see stars through the ceiling.

            I started counting for a while because I thought this was a solution. I thought that if all seven of us weren’t in the room at the same time, Mother wouldn’t notice how many of us there actually were. Every time I walked into a room, I counted. One. Two. Three. Four. Me. Margaret. Rev. Mack. One. Two. Mother. Momma Rose. Kitchen. Living Room. Upstairs. Downstairs. If everyone was in the room, I made sure to stay behind, finding a corner or another room to duck into.  I thought that surely this would keep my Mother happy and we could stay and I thought that if Mother was happy, everyone else would be to. All I really I wanted was to stay in one place so I counted to keep us there.

            Margaret was five years older than me, and Momma Rose never said we looked much alike. One time in the kitchen she was washing dishes and I walked past her towards the door. Before I had a handle on the knob she grabbed my arm, her hands warm, fingers wrinkled against my skin and whirled me around so close to her that our noses almost touched. I was five years old and couldn’t understand why she looked at my eyes like that, hers grey and flecked with black, staring so hard and flicking back and forth, back and forth. She dropped my arm, spun around and threw another dish into the sink, sending a wave of water and suds over the counter and onto the floor around her feet.

“I never…” she muttered under her breath. I stood there in silence before quietly slipping out of the door and heard it lock behind me.

            I was frightened by Momma Rose most of the time, even when she hummed while she sewed. Her voice wasn’t pretty and smooth like Margaret’s. Instead, it scratched and reminded me of the cats that fought in the backyard. I never saw her hug and I don’t think I ever really saw her smile. Her mouth was a straight line, her face void of expression anywhere other than her furrowed eyebrows. The lines in her face ran deep and wild, but around her eyes there were none that showed years of laughter. Sometimes if we were both sitting in the living room I would stare at them when she was looking down. I tried to count them on her face. I thought that in order to have so many lines, you just had to be really old. But Momma Rose wasn’t much over 50 and six years old wasn’t much of an age to think that those lines could be caused by anything else. If she ever caught me staring I would jump up from the floor, feeling my heart leap in my chest and hide under the covers of my bed. I’d stay there until I could hear her grunt and walk into another room.

            I didn’t really know anyone who was more beautiful than my mother. She was tall and slender with auburn hair that curled neatly under her chin. I realized early enough that my eyes weren’t the same as hers, that my mouth was different. The shape of her face contrasted mine but when I looked at Margaret, I saw her. I saw our mother in her but I don’t know who I saw in me. I know she had to have cared about me in a way though, so I only felt a little sting when she would braid Margaret’s hair and not mine. I quickly learned to take that sting and shove it somewhere far down in me. I learned how to do that because I had to do it so often and after a while, I barely felt anything at all. 

            There was only person in that house that ever paid me any real attention. That was Rev. He used to preach at a church in Greeleyville. He preached for 45 years in that same little white church on the corner until one day they decided he couldn’t preach anymore. But he wasn’t bitter about it because that wasn’t the way he was.

            “They only got rid of me because I’m old not because I didn’t know my stuff,” he would say and give his head a little tap. Then he’d reach for my hand and pull me onto his lap and I’d curl up and breathe in the familiar, comforting smell of stale tobacco smoke. I knew when I was around that smell I mattered and Rev wouldn’t let me forget that, always sneaking me an extra slice of pie when no one else was looking or winking at me from behind those wiry glasses. We’d sit in that faded brown rocking chair and he’d whistle a hymn that I was sure he used to sing loud in that church of his.

            I knew for a fact I loved Rev. I didn’t know really what that was but I knew I felt differently about him than I did about Momma Rose. Or Mother. Or even Margaret and Uncle Mack and Aunt Louise. Momma Rose was too harsh. Mother didn’t pay me attention. Margaret never had anything to say to me. Uncle Mack and Aunt Louise kept to themselves and only really spoke to one another. But Rev kept me safe. He held me. He sang to me. He told me I was. I wondered how a man like him could be married to a woman like Momma Rose. If they were ever together in the same room they weren’t touching. There was one time I walked in the living room and they were sitting together on the couch in front of the fire, just the two of them. I could have sat between them and spread my arms out. I stood in the doorway and watched the light dance across their faces as they sat, letting the crackling of the fire and hissing of the logs fill their silence. I wondered as I snuck back to my room how anybody could take so many years of this. I wondered if they ever talked or laughed. I wondered myself to sleep and woke up wondering these things all over again.


That summer was hot. That was the summer I turned ten. I was standing facing the wall outside with my bare feet under the faucet while the other kids that lived around us laughed and screamed their way to the river, on past my house, happy to indulge in the pleasures of weather. The cicadas celebrated too, creating a chorus of that familiar tune of the season. I recognized two of kids from my class at school. I’d never really talked to either of them. I never did much talking out loud even when called on to answer a question in class. The water coming from the faucet was starting to get hot so I turned it off and spun around to walk inside to escape the stifling air.

“Is it true?” One of the boys from my class had detached himself from the jovial group and stood in the road in front of my house. I was startled that he was speaking to me.. I found a voice and responded, keeping my feet planted where they were.

“Is what true?” I was sweating.

He kicked a bare foot around in the dirt road, a cloud of dust forming around his legs before he spoke.

“My dad said that you don’t have a dad because he was too crazy to stay around.” He stared blankly at me and swatted a fly away from his face, awaiting an answer. Awaiting an answer from the girl in class that never had any.

My father? I choked on the silence. I couldn’t name three instances where anyone in my house had ever talked about him. I couldn’t name three instances where I’d ever wanted to talk about him. I knew I had one at one point but it was a point I didn’t make to find out anything else.

“Your dad doesn’t know anything about my father.” I blurted, without even realizing I was pulling words out of thin air.

 “And my father leaving is none of your business.” My heart was racing but maybe only because I was speaking. I wasn’t sure why I began to feel so angry for something I knew nothing about. The boy shrugged and turned back towards the road. My fists clenched tightly together and I watched as he took a few steps forward before muttering loud enough for me to hear,

“He says you’re all crazy.”

And then I bolted.

Not toward the door, toward him. Surging forward, it took me less than two seconds to reach him and feel his body crumple to the ground under me. He let out a yell but I cut him short of it, promising myself he wouldn’t say another word. My arm reared back again and again.

“You…know…nothing,” I hit harder with every punch, “about my family!” I screamed. I could feel him shaking underneath me, his knees drawn up to his chin and I started to cry. My body began to heave with sobs

“Mary! What the devil are you doing, child? Get offa him!” I turned to see Rev bounding down the front steps. I’d never seen him move with such force. He grabbed me under the arm and yanked me to my feet, and I could feel a bruise forming under my skin.

“Get inside.” He was angry and I knew it. He should be. I stole a glance at the boy from my class who hoisted himself up on his elbows, blood trickling down his nose and staining the street. 

“Mary. Now.” The last half of his sentence escaped as a whisper and he stared down at the ground. The boy looked at me, but Rev didn’t. I turned around and ran, flinging the door open and threw myself against the wall as soon as I got to it. I sank down to the floor and buried my face in my knees, wrapping my arms around them as I cried, cried, and cried. This was the first time I cried aloud and wasn’t afraid of someone hearing. I wanted them to. I wanted someone to ask me what was wrong. I wanted someone to care.

Who was he to have the nerve to say something like that? I thought about the way he trembled under my weight. All 75 pounds of me. I would have done it again. My eyes burned from my tears and I reached my hands up to wipe them dry.  The house was silent. I leaned my head against the wall and waited.

I didn’t know anything about my father. It was beginning to dawn on me that I didn’t know anything about my family either. I didn’t know the real reason Rev and Momma Rose barely seemed to acknowledge one another’s existence. I didn’t know why my Mother never pulled me onto her lap to run her fingers through my hair or why Uncle Mack and Aunt Louise kept to themselves or who Margaret spent her time with. I didn’t know any of these things and I found myself at that moment wishing to know everything. Someone had to know.

I pulled myself up off the floor and it creaked as it gave way to the shifting of my weight.

Someone had to know.

I walked to the door with a slow and even pace. And peered out, calling, “Rev?” No answer. The boy from my class was gone.

“Rev, I’m sorry!” I yelled, making my way down the steps.

That’s when I saw him. Face down in the grass, one arm stretched above him, the other underneath.

“Rev!” I screamed. I ran, flinging myself on him unsure of what to do. I cried for help. I cried so loud I thought my voice would give. My mother came running out of the house, and everyone else followed, one behind the other. We crowded around him. Mother reached out to wrap her arms around Margaret. Momma Rose bent down beside me and placed a hand over her mouth and the other on his back. Closing her eyes, her mouth tightened and her face contorted and then she was crying. She was crying hard, real tears. I wanted to run but also, I wanted to stay. I wanted to hug my grandmother that never hugged me. It occurred for the first time that

I felt a hand on my shoulder and I turned to see through blurry eyes, my mother standing above me and Uncle Mack and Aunt Louise behind her. We were all together at the same time. Except when I counted, I could really only count six.