Kate Schapira




I've always been the one to take up where she left off. I hefted her pack,
the threads of her, to Memphis. I can't trust her. She didn't mean it. She
went on the road to get thin, she made up the names of towns. I thought for a
while I'd go to Georgia. Red clay country. Paint myself new.
      There's no more water at Atwater. The lake dried up, no one knows why. I
walk across the bed. Once mud to your waist if you dove that far. The only
water's in houses, where I don't go. A short woman asked me in. I was afraid.
Her clothes wore down to webs. I stole some off a line at night.
      This is one side of her first call home:

Where are you? Are you at the hospital?
Jesus Christ! Well how was I supposed to know?
Look just tell me where you are. I'll—
I said I was sorry. I said that.
Look I just couldn't—
Are you at the hospital? Tell me.
Well if you don't tell me how am I supposed—
No. No, it won't be okay.
No. I'm sorry.

That was a long time ago.
      I did take up for her once before. Vince Goodenough spit a tooth and I left
before he did. They called her into the office till everything was her fault.
If I had only stayed with her. If I had only been with her then.
      She lives with her mistakes but that doesn't mean I have to. I can't even
see the greasy swing of his hair or the mole just left of his bellybutton. I
don't even think them. I did some reading in a library in Ralston Arkansas. It
says that girls who do what she did often do what she did. Girls who do things
or get things done do things to themselves. Sometimes on the road.
      She did thin out but her skin got bad, her pack heavy. I took it up. She's seen snow, she used to love to swim. Not me. They say it snows sometimes
in Memphis but I wasn't about to wait around to see. I left her there,
listening to hard love. Left her crooked in the heavy arm of a song and moved
on. All day she can sit in the half-light, or stand in the doorways with old
men. The cars will pass. Doorways keep you safe during earthquakes. I read
that once too.
      Has she made me afraid? Memphis is behind me. Or maybe not by now. Maybe I'm sneaking up on her from behind, instead of the other way, and I don't even know. And she doesn't know. All the way to Atwater I was looking for that thick late sunlight. She thought it would fix her if she could stand in it.



I like to remember feet as the only things not moving. Water wore
everything down and even sanded the light. Making guitar hands that thicken and slow time. Too dumb to get hungry, they said that. Too dumb to get hungry. I sing to myself. Take me down, pass me around.
      Memphis is in its doorways. A Beale Street woman sings in a green dress.
They don't talk like this where I came from but they did on the way down
sometimes. Truckers with thick spit, bandanna-marked, on their way, like me. Sometimes, on the way down, I fought them off. Now I'm white in Memphis with bones like a horn player's hands. One of the old.
      I hear the sound of cars where no cars last long. Passing through. She is
before me, how long will it take before I catch up with her? Sometimes I
remember who lies behind me. Lies so I can't turn around, only double back. I'm in this place, always dusty. It's supposed to change but I can tell.

You want a hot dog honey?
No thanks.
Some potato salad. Just a little scoop.
I'm fine Mom.
Some pie.
I know you're sad about breaking up with Ray but --
I'm not sad.
—you can't just—Sorry?
I said I‚m not sad.

In Memphis we changed for good. I didn't mean it. It didn't matter. In
leaving him she left him with me. In leaving me. My eyes the size of the mole
just left. Big and brown as nights in a city left on. I wonder where I am.
Where she is. Saying no to someone somewhere. I hope for her.
      The name of this town is Hopkinson Ohio. The name of this town is Little
Ridge Tennesee. The name of this town is No Direction. The name of this town is Atwater Mississippi.
      She stole for me from a line of ghosts. If I went back would mouths flap in
the breeze from window to window? But it wasn't the flapping I worried about and she knew that. It was the breeze.
      Who has made me afraid? Everyone wants to know whose side, which side, the other side. But what makes them think if they knew the other side they'd know any more? These are my feet on the lake bed. The sudden water around them makes them look like they're moving.


Some time ago I worked for a 24-hour sexual violence counseling and crisis response hotline. Anonymous voices laid out for me isolation and division, decision, what you have to do sometimes. We carry our weaker selves or leave them behind, offer them to the past for cradling or look for them in the future. The speaker began life as one young woman, but listening to her I heard a series of different possibilities and fractures. In answer to a voice on the other end of a hotline I once said: whatever you feel, that's the truth.