Claire Seymour is a student living in Brooklyn, New York. Her writing has appeared in Thistle Magazine, and is forthcoming in the Chautauqua Literary Journal. She has won several awards, being named most recently as one of the four finalists for the Norman Mailer Creative Nonfiction Award.
Nebraska, This One’s For You
I’m sick of dreaming about these trailer-park children that dart around in the golden dust and the limp trees that bend like wounded spines. I sit out back by the clothesline where the dirty sheets billow in the breeze, stare up at the sun until I can no longer see their thread-bare shirts that unravel at the seams, their filthy fingers that grope through fallen trashcans. I can no longer see them, but I throw rusted pennies at their ankles anyway.
They haunt me, these children, because I am one of them, only older, with patches around the elbows of my sweaters. I hide the poverty embedded in my skin with the drops of vanilla I dab behind my ears, by biting my lips so hard that they bleed drops of rubies, my own homemade lipstick.
In early September, my mother hand-washes laundry in soapy water that spills down the rusted buckets behind the trailer, leaves the clothing to dry on scraggly tree branches when the wind blows the clothesline down. I help her gather blueberries and peel the skin off apples, and when our oven breaks down, she cooks the tart over an open fire. I cough up summer and ash in large doses, and we sleep hungry that night, the smoke lingering in our lungs.
Airless September becomes smoky October becomes silent November and the gravel begins to frost over, the wind whipping at the windows, shaking the trailers so that the metal trembles. My younger sister learns how to curl her eyelashes using sewing needles, and a boy makes her promises in his red pickup truck. He pulls her apart like Clementine skin, and I pick dying sunflowers that reach my hips from the field behind the trailer park, spread them out across the kitchen table and pray for an early spring.
January shakes up Middle America as if it’s hurricane season, and next door, Wyoming spits out her ghosts and old mistakes, which dance across the border. The trailer park children try to skate on lakes with clear ice, but the glinting metal blades break the surface before they can even push off the snow bank. My younger sister comes home at dawn in a beat-up Camry with cracked leather seats and climbs into bed with me, nicotine and snow clinging to her dress. My mother slits the throat of a rabbit in the sink when the fridge is empty, and I allow my eyelashes to cover up something like murder. Her hands are stained rusty red for hours, and I pretend it’s anything but blood.
I have this dream where I feed golden coins to vultures, and their glossy black wings grow between my shoulder blades so that I can leap off the chain-link fence that surrounds my home, so that I can fly over rocky beach cliffs, shanty towns, lobster shacks in Maine. I have this dream where my younger sister and I put on mix tapes in an old stereo system and learn how to waltz while my mother claps her hands and takes a blueberry and apple tart out of the oven. I have this dream where the trailer-park children clean off their skates, lace them up tight, and glide across the ice like dancers, laugh and tumble while their breath swirls white into the air like smoke. I have this dream where I swallow dozens of fireflies, and when I cough, I’m the sun for one fleeting moment, wearing the sky all around me like a coat.
When I wake up, my sister is crying in her sleep, cheeks stained with mascara, and my mother is watching the news in the living room, the female anchor describing a kidnapping in California, a shooting in a mall in Louisiana, a murder in an Arizona apartment, and she turns hope into a misdiagnosis. Outside, the trailer-park children are rummaging through a fallen trashcan, stomachs empty and hollow. The moon spills hot and angry through my window and onto my chest, and my lips burn when I wet them.
Your stars are dimming now.