Nicholas D. Kanaar
I’m old now and can’t remember where my footing is, or maybe I’m remembering just how rooted I am. Either way, it’s terrifying. I recall the trails at the base of Gwendolyn Hill, all weaving and crossing over each other under the dense cover of Oak trees. The labyrinthine schematic is confusing, but all paths lead me back. Above the forest, at the top of the hill, Roxy sleeps. Third ranch cabin on the left. I explored these trails for weeks, a pilgrimage between boulders. I explore them now. An area our hotelier described as, “not quite a mountain, but absurdly titled a hill.” Roxy said the terrain looks like fallen debris. I said it was better than potholes. She agreed, unimpressed. Our vacation to Tennessee was in earnest, but eventually, emotions caught up.
“She’s my mother,” Roxy had said. “I just don’t understand. She left me nothing?”
I nodded and waited for Roxy to fall asleep before sneaking out the door and descending the hill. Now I lose myself in the maze, hearing the clank of my bones as my flesh is removed in uneven strips and aligned in broken white lines down the center of the path. My last words to Roxy’s mother—present like disease, swirling: “The cancer is not spreading fast enough.”
Roxy doesn’t know. We left after the will was read, our Prius a rocket ship, shooting away from Utah, Lucerne moths splattering against the windshield like stardust. My mother-in-law and her issues, I had to let Roxy know, but now… shit. My bones rattle.
I follow the bend along the path and spot a small, dark mass in front of me. I crouch to its seemingly nebulous form, only to feel its slimy, firm structure. A fish. In a dreg of moonlight shifting through the trees, I see lipstick smeared around its mouth. I don’t believe it, so I carry the fish back up the hill, and into the cabin. Roxy is awake, brooding. Her bare legs crossed underneath the kitchen table. She’s thumbing through a magazine. “What is that?” she says. I place the fish on the table.
“It’s a fish,” I say. “Dead.”
“Throw it out.”
“No, let’s cook it.” I search for a baking sheet. Roxy uses a pencil to poke the fish. Its mouth opens and out rolls a tiny ball the size of a pea. I stop searching. “Is that a jewel?” I ask. The ball glints under the low-hanging lights.
“No,” Roxy says. “It’s an egg.” She looks at me, shaking her head. Her upper lip snarls. “It’s a fucking fish egg,” she says. I don’t know how to answer, so I don’t. I stand before the table, feeling the temperature rise. Roxy settles her hands in her lap. “Is that lipstick?” she says. “Is that my lipstick?” She studies me, and then lets out a deep, elongated breath, just like her mother used to.
Nicholas D. Kanaar is a Ph.D. student at Binghamton University studying Creative Writing. He received his BA in Creative Writing from the University of Arkansas, and his MA in English Literature from Grand Valley State University. His work has appeared in The 3288 Review. Currently, he is the fiction co-editor for the literary journal, Harpur Palate. He resides in upstate New York with his wife, Rita, and one-year-old son, Walter.