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Landlocked

Landlocked

GWEN WERNER

My parents’ sober pilgrimage had run its course and was suddenly born into something wet and drunk and new. Let me tell you how my father died: he could never take anything well. 

The landlocked city where my father and I moved had buses and telephone lines crowding the apartment where he mourned my mother’s still living. The river was a reminder of forever, at least to me, and this little riverless town seemed to be dripping faucets and still water in vases, moss creeping up the insides, like the scum that crept down my father’s two front teeth. 

“Your mother, Lou,” my father said, handing me the phone. He passed it and a callus on his hand scraped the inside of my wrist. 

“Hello?” I said, as if I didn’t know who it was.

“Don’t let her talk your ear off,” he said. He slammed the door and little square windowpanes rattled between paint-chipped trim.


This little riverless town seemed to be dripping faucets and still water in vases, moss creeping up the insides. 


My father was a window washer, a man who all day soaped things up and wiped them away. He was good at cleaning up, except for his wives. My mother was three out of three. He had assorted squeegees of different lengths, all of which he had stacked in front of the door of his office, a place I knew nearly nothing about. It was the hollow wall he put up between him and me. Each day he would come out of and arrange the squeegees into different metal shapes.

My mother began sending letters to me upon our arrival in the town. I never replied with the truth, that Dad had been crying since we slammed the trunk and I was masturbating to The Canterbury Tales. The first letter was normal, mostly about how she’d been buying almond milk lately, but in the second letter was a photo of a stretch of highway with a purple, rectangular sign near the shoulder. It said, “In Memory of Louise,” me, with a birthday, my birthday, beneath. She’d always point these types of signs out in the car and now she’d put one up for me, while I was still very alive. On the back of the photo she wrote, “Let’s both not be forgotten.”

The other girls in my English class were always rising and falling to sharpen pencils, blot noses, adjust skirts to lay flat beneath them. I watched them. I’d read the phrase “flowing hair,” but it wasn’t their hair that made me think of the river. It was their hips like river bends and legs like beaches of sandy skin, crooked in my mind like something could dive between them. I waited for a bathtub scene in the “Wife of Bath’s Tale,” my favorite line: “Women may go saufly up and down.”


I never replied with the truth, that Dad had been crying since we slammed the trunk and I was masturbating to The Canterbury Tales.


Marta Brunswick’s long black braid was tucked in the back of her pants when my teacher said, “Louise?”

And I said, “What?”

And she said, “We are sharing our personal renaissances.” 

So there I was, fucked, because I don’t get to say, “Thinking about touching Marta’s ass,” so instead I said, “I’m becoming self aware,” and she damn near clapped her hands right off.

Let me tell you where my father died: too close to me.

More mail from my mother, the letter reading nearly the same as the first few, this time with a new photograph: a bench in memory of me in a park by my old house. “To remember us by,” the back read. I could hear my dad in his office sucking snot into the back of his throat as I folded the photo in half and shoved it in the middle of “The Miller’s Tale.”

“And prively he caughte hire by the queynte,” I whispered to myself. I said queynte enough times that it became cunt. I rubbed myself until my hand was tired, then moved to the floor and ground my hips into the carpet. 

Chaucer seemed to stammer about women’s bodies in a way that I was familiar with. It was that he and I just couldn’t understand. 

A tree with a placard, paperwork for an adopted star, more benches, half brick walls in rose gardens. In Memory of Louise.


Chaucer seemed to stammer about women’s bodies in a way that I was familiar with. It was that he and I just couldn’t understand. 


Some fucking guy with braces wearing marching band speedsters came into class and sat next to me. It sucked. I couldn’t focus on the girls in my class with his trombone slide stench in my nose, but it didn’t really matter because I was only in class momentarily before my father came in the door, spotted me, grabbed my upper arm, and dragged me out of class.

In the parking lot of my school, he threw the car into gear with the force of a man who hadn’t washed windows for twenty-four years. He swam down the highway. He tore at the saint my mother hung from the rearview mirror and tossed it in the back seat. He pulled into a parking lot that also held a bus. He dropped a ticket on my lap.

“Please,” he said.

I didn’t speak. Just thumbed the ticket with one hand and picked at the plastic armrest with the other. My father got out of the car, walked around, opened my door, and leaned over me, unbuckled my seatbelt.

After a half hour, when I didn’t move, we went home.

Let me tell you who my father was when he died: There they were in my head, the girls moving softly up and down from their seats to the pencil sharpener, the chalkboard, the tissue box, their hips winding with water, Chaucer bouncing recklessly from one side of my brain to another, me, woozy, my mother’s memorial photographs shoved in Chaucer, In Memory of Louise, my dad in his office next door, In Memory of Louise, my dad, my dad with a knife at his throat, something starting and coming coming coming until it stopped.


 

Gwen Werner is a sorority dropout and cry-baby from Iowa.

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