Keep From

I am burning the garlic and weeping to you about the garlic burning. I am leaving the stove on and running up the stairs to our attic desk, shaking bodily under the long center drawer of it.

Kate Berson

I am burning the garlic and weeping to you about the garlic burning. I am leaving the stove on and running up the stairs to our attic desk, shaking bodily under the long center drawer of it. You, unfollowing. I guess from up here you are peeling new garlic and turning the flame down to keep it from burning, you’re so good.

The neat desk drawers beside me are empty but for some inky pens, and staples fit together in their box. There are words carved into the desk’s underbelly. I cannot carve more now because I’ve forgotten the scissors in my rush to get here, to fit myself into this space so small.

You are holding straight the handle of the pan to keep it in place, and tossing the onions in—I can nearly see you. Though tears blur even my imaginings of you in the kitchen taking care. Both of our staircases creak, I hear them. You are creaking your way upstairs. No, the creak is coming from my bent body. Or from our leaning tree outside, with its crowded rings that can only be seen if the tree is cut.

Books all around me because this is our book room, our desk room, our one of us at a time room because it is so packed with books, and the desk barely fits, we cannot fit the two of us together up here. The books lie and stand. They are on the floor and on top of each other and on wooden planks bridged over cinder blocks. What are books when they’re finished and shut, when no one’s giving them a turn?

The creaky tree I can see out the window is exhausted from its long life and threatening to fall any day. You’ve asked the city to take care of it. To ascend in a sure machine, bind the trunk with strong cords to keep it from toppling, then saw near the roots and lift the tree out of the ground toward the sky. This is when the tree is most pathetic and audacious and majestic, suspended in the air like no other tree, until it is lain gently down to be chopped. But the city doesn’t come to our house.

My name three times in your voice reaches through the ceiling and ceiling. You must be ready to ready our plates – slide from the pan our meal evenly split for us. You, don’t come upstairs. And you don’t come upstairs. But I might be wanting you here, among these unread books and beside the desk’s etched words I can’t read through my watering eyes.

Below me, I know our bath and sink are not dripping because they never, because they’re taken care of. You know wrenches and pipes and pieces. Up here, from under the desk, I am looking at the books in their crazy crowd. I am looking through the window at our tree, up and down which nature has grooved imperfectly parallel lines. And us our initials, sure. What is our tree if it fails to suck water, quits following the seasons, and falls?

Some things in our house that don’t fit me under them are: the kitchen counter, the bathroom bath, the bedroom dresser. And if I stand behind our standing lamp or ironing board, I can still be seen. Our lampshade is too thin for the bulb it covers. Our iron seeps wetly when you press it down, and burns if you don’t move it. If I could be split in two, one of the two of me could fit under these bookshelves. And the other of me could hop the right-angled steps back down to you. You are setting the table now, I suppose, with placemats, glasses, forks.

How is it that you want my wanting heart knocking around in its breaking frame? You have a jaw like the V of a tree branch bent to hang on. You are nail and screw and four table legs. Me, with my leaking countenance and ablazeable dry-grass hair, I am better not to bother with, but you do. And you are calling me again, now that our dinner is done. Good you. But what is my name if it’s called and called and unresponded to?

Are you breaking through the ceilings not to fit under here with me, but to sit above, on the desk, your legs dangling to keep the sunset from shedding its light on bloomless, illegible, unengraved me?

Time for nightly dinner. But from under our desk and out the window, I see our tree is finally falling. It is crashing through the roof. It is spewing jewels of glass from the attic window pane. It is splitting the desk into jags of wood. Everything in pieces, and the sharp stick ends opening even the never read books, and the worried leaves slipping to rest between pages, trying to hold our place.


Kate Berson lives in Northampton, MA, and is currently pursuing an M.F.A. in fiction writing at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her stories have been published or are forthcoming in Green Mountains Review, The Rumblr, Route Nine, Forge Journal, Foundling Review, and Big Big Wednesday. Kate worked for a year as a staff artist at the Vermont Studio Center. She graduated with a B.A. in English and Latin American Studies from Tufts University, and has worked for years with various immigrant and refugee focused non-profit organizations.


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