Archive for June, 2010

June 14th, 2010


by Scott Mullen, Learner, Writing Workshops

Pale and stretched, the smell of wet ashtrays and vinegar lingers on skin.  Every crack in ceiling inspected for change, none found.  My left hand, on my face.  Callused fingers comb stubble, I remember the grey branch outside that fell in the wind.

Down the stairs to the kitchen, every step creaks.

My parents moved to the country when I was three expecting open spaces.  Others followed and multiplied; remaking the country in their suburban image.

“You’re a little late getting up today,”  she says, taking the egg carton out of the fridge and putting it on the counter.  “how many do you want?”

“Do we have any of the good bacon left?”

“Bottom of the fridge.  Are you going to work?”

“No…”  I look at my empty plate, with knife and fork on either side.  Enamel cracked, a dark line runs across its white face.  It was my grandparents’, it might one day be mine.

Breakfast, prepared on an old cast iron wood stove.  Fueled by last years’ fallen branches, it warms the room.  The logs piled beside the stove constantly need to be replenished.  My axe stays sharp in winter.

She shovels breakfast onto my plate and sits down across from me, next to an unfolded paper.  “Go ahead and eat, had my breakfast an hour ago.”

I lower my head in acknowledgement and sip the strong black coffee.

“This is the third day this week you’re not working,” she runs her hand across her brow. “You look tired… maybe you should see a doctor.”

“Is this yesterdays paper?”  Without looking for a date.

“No.  It’s today’s,” she says.  “You’re shaking.”

“Jesus.”  I hold my arms out in front of me parallel to the table top.  “See?  No shakes.”

“Not your hands, your leg.”

Both of my feet are planted firmly on the floor, but my left knee is bobbing like it’s attached to a fishing-line tugged on from the basement.  “Isn’t that the damnedest thing?”  Staring at my knee.  It’s an effort to stop.  My left eyelid tremors.  I turn away. She takes the eggs from the kitchen counter and puts them back in the fridge.

“You just need more sleep that’s all.  A man needs his sleep.”

“ Bad dreams…where’s dad?”

“Out on the trails, hiking and sketching.  Let me take your plate.”


Serpentine across the escarpment the path lies.  Sun melts snow.  Boots pull earth from ground, a wet suck, each step.  Moss mud, caked on cliff face, the faint smell of rust.  Hands full of jeans, pants out of muck.  I walk up the sharp narrow path.  My father sits, at the pulpits peak, his fold-out canvas stool facing east.

“No sketch book?”  I ask, looking at the horizon.

“Not sketching today,” he says.  “Those are some heavy bags you’re carrying.”

I rub what little sleep there is out of my eyes. “Bad dreams,”

“Told your mother?”  he asks.

“No…have you?”  The sun,  over the trees below us, hangs low in the sky.  A month later they’ll be green, today they stand like skeletons casting shadows.

“She should hear it from you.” he says

“She’s acting like she knows…”  My knee’s at it again.  He’s not looking.  It wont stop shaking.  I run my knuckles over the bark of a maple.  The cold air sharpens the pain, the pain helps me regain control.  My heart pulses in my hand.

“She’s your mother, she can smell it on you.”

“That’s beer and cigarettes.”

He stands and folds his chair.  “What’s the difference?”

My skin is on fire; Last night pushes its way through my pores.  Throbbing pulse, my left temple.  I look down at my hands; they’re a sick white.  My father strikes match, lights pipe.  Sulfur sticks in nose, crawls down throat, lands in stomach.  I throw up.  Vomit on hands.  He looks frightened, of what?

I hold out my left hand, to block my face.  “I’m fine.”

He clears his throat, “I’m going back home.  Maybe you should wash up, in the river.”

I grab a handful of snow the sun hasn’t got and clean myself.  “I’ll be back in a bit, have to do repairs on the coop, I’ll…”

He nods and walks away.


A tributary of the Esteem snakes its way along the bottom of the pulpit.  The river runs south to the Veritable Lakes.  I make my way back down the narrow path to a small inlet bordered by apple trees.  In a matter of weeks the buds on the branches will reveal their white blooms, serene and chaste as a wedding dress.  Today they’re grey.

The water is cold on my hands and sharp on my face, but it dilutes the smell of stomach bile on my shirt and the taste on my lips.

I was here last spring with Karen.  She had a year left on her student visa.  A week ago she left.  In the parking lot of a clinic, it rained.  Her eyes gleamed, she forced her famous ex-patriot smile.  She left.


I go in the back door.  My hammer and nails, in the basement under the kitchen.  My Mother and Father speak above me; their voices, muffled, impossible to understand.  I grab the crowbar and head outside.


She takes the kettle off the stove and pours its contents into a teacup. “Do you remember Bill?”

He holds the one liter carton of two percent milk over his wife’s cup. “Our old neighbor?”

“Yeah.”  He adds it to her tea, one one-hundred.

“Died this time last year…poor wife.  Why bring him to mind?”  He puts the milk back in the fridge beside the eggs and sits at the kitchen table.

“I was thinking about his hand, wasn’t that terrible, I can’t believe they let him keep it.  Think it was cause he taught science?”

…“I’m not sure, maybe.”

She leans back her elbows on the kitchen counter, “Sure.  He took it to school with him.  Let the kids look at it, under glass”

“It was in a mason jar, floating in embalming fluid.”

“That’s behind glass.”  She stands a little straighter.

He takes his pipe out of his pocket.  “They buried him with it.”

“I would think so…it wasn’t an open casket though.”  She says after a sip of hot tea

He pushes the paper aside with his left hand.  “I remember he was afraid they’d incinerate it;  had to fill out a bunch of forms, to take it home.”


“Yeah, had to prove he’d dispose of it properly, or guess in his case…preserve it.”

“Can’t have old hands just left out to rot, worse than your nail clippings everywhere.”  Breathing in through her nose.  “Do you smell something?”


My Mother keeps six hens for their eggs.  What we don’t eat, sits at drive way’s end, next to a sign that reads:  Organic.  I see it from here, blown over.

The chicken coop is made of cedar boards, grey from the elements.  Open to them; a hole made by a maple branch and the wind.

We’ll loose at least one tree a year to lightning, or the weight of snow, in winter.  When it comes down, it’s cut with a chain-saw into pieces small enough to carry; then split with a heavy axe for the wood stove.  A pile runs behind the coupe four feet high, twenty feet long.  At the end, a small unadorned pine, from last December.  I drag the pine to the opening and stuff it in;  It smells of Christmas morning.

Lighter from pocket in hand, thumb rolls over flint and opens gas.  Flame under pine.  It’s wet.  My thumb burns.  It catches.  Three steps back, I sit on the ground; watch it go up.  My thumb printed black.

About Scott:

“I’ve always on some level wanted to be a writer.  In high-school I filled pages with poetry and prose, but never thought much of it.  As I’ve gotten older I’ve started to take my writing a little more seriously, but I haven’t had the nerve to show anyone.  I’d like very much to know if I’m any good, and if I’m not, I’d like to try and get better.  I’ve had many jobs over the years but never a career.  I’ve been a rock climbing instructor, a stone mason, an accountant and a supply teacher.”