Limberlost

Fiction by Kelcey Parker

Here’s what I tell myself: I’m a mime and this town is the invisible box that I only pretend to be stuck in. Its boundaries are wherever I press the flat of my hand. Look, I’m trapped! Look, now I trace a window with my burglar gloves and peek through. Now I lift the window, climb through, and escape. Now I’m juggling. Now I’m dancing. Now the invisible box disappears. It never existed. Ha ha ha.

Or: I’m a crow, one of the screeching thousands that perch on the bare tree branches along the river like quarter notes on a skewy treble clef, then fly away in melancholy chords. Just passing through.

These are the things I tell myself when I’m trying to sort it all out–how I got here, why I stayed. Because the fact is, I’m not even from here. I came from somewhere else, voluntarily. I came for the Ph.D. Lots of people get here that way, to get them or give them. We say we’re just passing through, but we’re all still here when the birds return the next year.

The high schools are named after a president, a saint, and a poet. My neighbor, whose sons attended the poet high school, named his dog after the high school. I don’t think he knew that he’d named his dog after a poet. This is something you find funny when you’re getting a Ph.D. in the humanities. Until the neighbor’s poet-pet, leashed to a tree even as the temperature sinks and sinks, barks and barks while you (I) try to write a dissertation. And every (woof!) other (woof!) word (woof!) is (woof!) woof. Then you (I) realize it was never funny to begin with.

I didn’t get the Ph.D. I got pregnant.

Winters are hard here. Long, cold, snow. He was warm. He had an actual functioning fireplace in his apartment, and merlot by the boxful. No dog woofing outside. Books all over his shelves, his kitchen table, his nightstand. And records! With sleeves and needles, A-sides and B-sides. How we talked and read and danced and drank and and and. Oh, the humanities.

That was over a decade ago. It’s more like something I read about than something I did. A minor chapter in a long novel.

He was gone by the time the baby was ABD: All But Delivered. November arrived and so did my Mia. Spring semester began in the deep of winter, and I became an adjunct teacher in the department of Sure, I Can Teach That. On the first day of class my main goal was to select a babysitter from among my students, and to woo her. The problem was that I needed babysitters during class time, so I had to find multiple sitters. Fortunately, my main adjuncting gig was at the all-girls Catholic college, which is positively loaded with maternal instincts.

That’s where I met Becky. She was not the first person you’d select to care for your infant daugher, and she was not the first person I selected. I chose Front-Row Rose. French-Braid Rose. Four-Point-0 Rose.

Would Rose be willing to watch Mia while I taught my other classes? Oh, totally. Did she understand all of my instructions about heating the bottle in hot water? Yeah, totally. Did she think Mia was the cutest baby ever? OMG, totally. Did I trust her? Totally.