This story, by Sage Webb, was the overall winner of the Wild Words Winter Solstice Competition 2017.
Something shook the kink out of the hose and the words sprayed out, soaking me and Brett and the kilim wall hangings we got at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul on our honeymoon. We had hung the pretty, rough textiles as soon as we’d gotten home from the trip, warming up the condo with pinks and purples and golds. After we’d hung them all, Brett had put in a Tarkan CD we’d bought over there, and we’d danced awkwardly on the kitchen’s bamboo flooring, having forgotten everything we’d learned in our wedding-dance classes. Those classes wouldn’t have helped us with Tarkan anyway, but we still mentioned them that night we hung the kilims, and we laughed over how we’d forgotten everything the minute we’d finished that bridal rhumba in front of my mom and his parents and my sorority sisters.
That all happened long ago, though—the dancing in the kitchen and hanging up the textiles, and my sorority sisters watching me rhumba in a white dress with a bustle. All that happened long before I drenched us—drenched Brett and the kilims—in this wet, sticky mess of
“I don’t respect you.”
The mess now drips off everything. It drips off the walls and my fingertips and Brett’s chin. It puddles around our feet and soaks into our socks, and it is starting to produce a weird smell.
Brett doesn’t say anything. He doesn’t move. I know he is breathing, that he can smell whatever it is I am smelling. But I only know that because he’s standing in front of me and we’ve lived together for eight years and I know Brett has really sensitive olfactories. It’s not because he moves or gestures or even blinks. No, he just stands there.
Brett’s eyes look like the sparky little gold lights of the luminaries my dad used to put out in the yard when I was little. My dad grew up in New Mexico, so he would put these Spanish candle things in our yard in Ann Arbor, Michigan, every winter. It would start in early November. Dad would bring home these small paper bags and give them to me and my sister to punch holes in with these janky little chrome-plated hole punchers. The male and female parts of the punchers never quite lined up, so my sister and I had to wrestle with the things to get the holes punched, and the holes never came out quite round. They had these raggedy or distended shapes because we’d had to smash those hole-punching jaws down over and over to get the jaws to punch anything out.
My sister and I would draw angels and stars on the bags and try to punch holes all along the outlines and in decorative patterns inside the outlines, but the patterns wouldn’t come out right and we’d be disappointed. Dad would tell us they looked great, but we knew the truth. We’d do a few bags each evening, and then, the night of Thanksgiving, it would happen. Dad would get out all the bags and flick them open and scoop handfuls of sand into them. The sand settled in their bottoms to weight the bags down. He and my sister and I would then carry all the slightly-heavy bags outside, and Dad would line the things up along our Michigan driveway and the footpath to the front door and along the flowerbeds between the door and the garage. He’d give me and my sister votive candles and we would crouch over each bag and dig a small hole in the sand in the bag’s bottom and put a votive in the indent and pat the sand around it with our kid fingers.
When we had finished all that, when the bags stood brown and papery with their frowzy, asymmetrical stars and seraphim, Dad would walk to the front door and open it just enough to put his head in. He’d shout for my mom to come out, and then the three of us would wait on the lawn. My mom would emerge and Dad would hand her the long barbeque lighter and say, “Mi alma, would you do the honors?”
My mom would sigh because she would be in her shirt sleeves. My sister and I never understood why she’d go outside in Michigan at the end of November without a coat, but our mom would do just that to light the luminaries. She’d shiver and fuss and question the wisdom of burning candles in paper bags, but she’d light them all. And then the four of us would stand in the driveway, and my dad’s eyes would look brighter than the bags, and my sister and I would giggle and poke each other, and my mom would blow on her fingers and dwell on the cold and be the first one to go back inside.
Some people call luminaries farolitos. One could translate farolito as “little lighthouse” if one were an eleven-year-old girl whose dad had packed up the car and driven back to New Mexico after that one last, final fight with the girl’s mom. I translated it that way for a few years—until high school. My sister and I kept punching holes in bags and dropping votive candles in sandy bottoms for a while. We thought, in the way silly little girls do, that maybe the lights might guide Dad home. But then we went to high school and got boyfriends and realized the way life works, the way men don’t come back when you tell them you don’t respect them.