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The Difference Between Drowning and Burning by Theresa Boyar

The Difference Between Drowning and Burning by Theresa Boyar

Fiction, Vol. 2.1, March 2008

We spent the summer in your father’s deep-woods cabin, a place where I was convinced drowned women haunted each room, each timbered closet.

You left during the day to work. Playing house, I read for hours, awaiting your return. A lonely Penelope with a mountain lake view and a dozen eggs in the fridge.

There are pictures you took of me in the kitchen, frying something over the yellow stove. Pictures I took of the tiny fish you held on a string. This was the summer of fish and eggs and tiny tripping strings, of trying to avoid being seen by neighbors, who would tell your father a girl had been spotted in his cabin.

Your father: a demon who believed all girls were demons, who warned you we were all out to get pregnant, drink your soul, dig our heels into your willing spine.

We found a vase for the flowers you brought, set them on a table in the den, where open windows struck them like a match. A summer of fire and burning, of watching how things ash over and crumble apart.

The last day there, your father tore into the cabin and I watched you leap. A trained trout, you swished me into the closet. From there, I could hear you gulping air in the den, explaining the mystery of the den’s struck bouquet, the flowers beginning to burn the cabin down.

Look what washed up on shore! you told your father and the cinders of the closet flicked against my arm.

Your father had come to retrieve a fine coat from the closet. You offered to get it for him and I felt my skin burn. The closet door opened, I began to rise, aflame, my legs already in ashes, my tongue a coal beginning to redden and glow, and behind your shoulder I saw him, the man who believed me a demon. He saw me and I began to step forward: a burning, crackling girl, head bowed in shame.

This is when your hands, the same hands that had rowed a boat to an empty shore, the ones that had pulled me down into the sand, those hands now pushed me deep into the closet, and at once, I was no longer burning, my demon flames doused.

You pretended I wasn’t there, and this is how you changed me.

The drowning, watery thing that I became, a silvery fish threading air through dying gills. I felt the water swell around me and you closed the closet door, sealing me in.

Your father pulled on the coat and feigned ignorance. He left with a warning to tidy the kitchen, and all the way to the airport, I felt confined, had to roll the window down, rest my head near the breeze, the cooling air.

*

A part of me still left drowning in that closet, a part of me forever roaming the cabin, gasping and panting, and threaded on your slender line.

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