Mommy’s Daddy lives in Park Falls, and when we go visit I catch fireflies in jars and write my name on my arm with their butts and eat dill pickles that Grandpa Ruben makes and keeps in his cellar. Grandpa Ruben says my name like he’s hissing because he always has a pipe between his teeth, and he smells better than anyone I know. He’s short and wears suspenders and knows how to fix lots of things, even bee stings. One day I was running around Grandpa’s yard—after the bigger kids pulled us smaller kids in the wagon behind the lawn mower and before Tina crashed the dirt bike into the camper—and I stepped on a bee with my bare foot and cried so loud, but Grandpa just dug in the dirt with his hand and slapped cold mud where he pulled the stinger out, and it didn’t hurt anymore. Grandpa is magic, though he takes longer to poop than anyone I’ve ever met, and Mommy always says, If you’ve gotta go, now’s the time, because Grandpa will be in that bathroom for hours. He goes in and reads a magazine with his coffee while he potties and falls asleep. I don’t know how because I can’t sleep anywhere but my bed, but he does it every single day. Magic. At home, in our bathroom, I get to eat Fudgesicles in the tub, and that’s where I am when the phone rings and I hear Mommy’s jeans make their zip-zip-zip sound as she walks down the hall to answer and then I hear her knees hitting the floor like thunder and she’s crying and screaming Oh Jesus, Jesus No! because the medicine that was supposed to cure Grandpa’s cancer flooded him instead, Mommy says, and I don’t understand how a person can be flooded inside and I don’t know yet that the next time I’m at Grandpa’s house I’ll watch Uncle Ronny punch Uncle Ed in the mouth because they both want Grandpa’s stuff and I won’t remember that the last time we visited Park Falls Daddy had to drag me to the car because I didn’t want to leave and I kept screaming and reaching for Grandpa Ruben, though Tina will tell me years later that it happened and that it was like I knew, but what I do know is that I’ll never forget the sound of Mommy crumbling and feeling sure, even at 7 years old, that I would never see her again.
Lisa Fay Coutley is the author of tether (Black Lawrence Press, forthcoming 2020), Errata (Southern Illinois University Press, 2015), winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Open Competition Award, and In the Carnival of Breathing (Black Lawrence Press, 2011), winner of the Black River Chapbook Competition. She’s received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Sewanee Writers’ Conference, a Rona Jaffe scholarship from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, and an Academy of American Poets Levis Prize. She is an Assistant Professor of Poetry & Creative Nonfiction in the Writer’s Workshop at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.