From the author: “Cartography” (Last Train Tomorrow) is told via letters sent between estranged sisters. When their difficult mother falls to a sudden illness, Amanda searches the country for a greater truth, her travels revealing a world full of uncommon monsters and revelations, while Anna is left handling both her life as a mother and her own mother’s complicated caretaking. In "Covenant," Amanda writes to Anna from the lakehouse where they summered as children as if she can feel their mother's illness moving in her own body, dealing with her grief through transference.
An audio version is available for this chapter.
You ever think about rain? I spend a lot of time, lately, thinking about rain. It rains here and when it does the windows start to fog with moisture and I like to imagine that I’m looking at the world outside the way it really is. Insubstantial. Soggy with sentiment.
On Monday we had sun and I worked in the garden. I know what you’re thinking. I don’t love the dirt like you do. I know you’re thinking I don’t have the bone structure for wide-brimmed hats. I don’t even know how to pronounce the word dahlia. Nevertheless, I bought this rose bush from a stand in the middle of the supermarket parking lot. It had two thick buds and a dozen leaves turning with brown, and to be honest I think the guy was glad to be rid of it. I carried it home with the eggs and milk and bread thinking, I can find a place for this. I spent the next three hours moving it around the back yard to get a feel for things and digging in the earth with a soup spoon I found in the kitchen drawer because I forgot about shovels.
Are you supposed to water plants after you plant them even if it’s rained, or is going to rain? Can you drown something that way?
I don’t want you to think I spend all my time on the subject of rain. There’s a lot to do here. In the mornings before the sun rises I walk up and down the driveway and think about swimming in the lake. I read books. One day, I went into the shed down by the dock, where we kept our boat shoes and the lifejackets, which I have thrown away. The lifejackets, you’ll be interested to know, aren’t real flotation devices anymore. According to today’s standards, we were not protected. Our childhood was nothing if not unsafe. It doesn’t matter: there is a spider the size of a baby’s fist living in our old canoe. He’s squatting between the ribs, pulling at a soft pearl the color of milk and exercising his own discretion. Having reclaimed what wasn’t being used, I couldn’t bring myself to ask him to move out. Who am I to say what belongs?
When it rains, though, I do look at rain, and at the world through the rain, until it stops. Sometimes I think maybe I am just holding my breath and if I let it out the mist will fall away and the water will stop and there you’ll be, sitting on the lawn underneath the gray sky, eating bacon and eggs with runny yolks like sunshine. Sometimes I wonder why, if I think this, I can’t seem to exhale. Refusing to breathe out seems the most selfish indulgence.
Maybe I’m just after your bacon and eggs. When I do eat, I pull the crusts off of cheese sandwiches and dream of lush breakfasts.
Like sunshine and life jackets, I have given up old habits. I have done this for the sake of the future on recommendations I can only engage with. I imagine there are things inside of me that thrive on misinformation and if I am perfectly honest with myself, I am capable of sideways thinking. I wonder if I should kill this with love. I wonder if what is growing inside of me has perfect symmetry. I wonder if it will make holes like swiss cheese until I am stretched membrane-thin and all that is left is yellow skin and a sense of quietness that I have always been unable to achieve in life.
I drove by a school on Thursday and outside there were four girls skipping rope, double dutch. Two of them were twins, wearing the kind of outfits twins do when they want everyone to know just how different they are. Doing what we used to do, showing the world that we weren’t just doubled even if we looked like it. I parked my car and I watched them for a minute as they whipped the ropes around in the same way and chanted in the same voice. I didn’t know kids still did that anymore, but it was as it always was: miss mary mack, mack, mack. All dressed in black.
Once, when we were five and you ruined my Rainbow Brite doll, I wanted you to die. This seems like the right time to make a confession, though I have no opinion on the subject of place.
I hadn’t been here in a long time—never alone—and somehow, even though you are at home or at work or maybe in your own neighborhood grocery store, it seems like you are here, hiding in the back room or under the bed. I see you jumping out from behind a door and sliding sideways behind the curtain when my back is turned. At the corner of my eye there is always the sensation of movement. I’m not quick enough to catch you. At my center, I am weighed down by pale stones. I do everything slowly.
I’m uncovering all kinds of old things out here. Out with the old, as they say. Except I took the lifejackets out of the trash before trash day. Stood at the end of the driveway at one a.m. in my shortest nightgown, digging them out of the bottom of the can. Past the rinds of my cheese sandwiches, which I did let the trash man take, thank you very much. I can let go of some things.
It is nearly July now, and July is always when we came here, kicking and screaming, ready to be bored with just each other. July is when we pushed shoulder to shoulder in the backseat of Don’s station wagon waiting to get carsick. Do you remember? Promise to hold my hair back, you said, and I did. Forever, you said, and I said, Mom, she’s bothering me, make her stop. But later I put my head down on your shoulder and I whispered of course, you ninny, I will hold your hair forever and you will hold mine too. I remembered this late last night and I thought, what would happen if you showed up here, because it is July and that is our migratory cycle, and I had no lifejackets?
I don’t want to disappoint you. In the interest of full disclosure, you should know what I really did in the garden: I sat on a white gallon bucket in the middle of the weeds and I smoked cigarettes. I planted them burning end first all around my bare feet until only the very tops were left. I’ll be checking back frequently. I’ll let you know what they grow.
I think the rosebush is capable of saving itself. I left it by the front door. I may see it shimmy down into the topsoil, right past the crabgrass. I expect it to burst out of that flimsy plastic pot any day now, brown leaves and all.