February 6, 2020

“Pyrite” by Hally Winters

One day my cousin decided to dig out the dead. Yuccas live for one reason: to flower. I say this because they live as a shrub for years, sometimes decades, to flower then shortly after, die. All that energy bottled up so it can shoot out one flowering stalk. Then it sows itself back into the dirt and dies. Is reborn as many.

She and I live in our dead grandmother’s house. Sometimes, a cat meows just outside my bedroom door across from the empty room my grandmother died in. It doesn’t meow a normal meow with a bit of rolled tongue at the end, but a morose scream. A siren in the middle of the night.

Both our dads are trying to sell this house. Laurel and I are glad they and their two brothers can not stay in a room long enough to choose a realtor. For now, we stay in the house, calling her dad when there’s a leak in the faucet, turning off the front porch light at night, and trying not to get caught smoking weed.

A month after our grandma passed, we received a letter from the city or whoever telling us to clean up the yard, that it was a public nuisance, and we had sixty days. We were so angry. We didn’t know where to put our anger. We didn’t know where to put most things, like the room our grandma died in, like the bed our grandma died on. We did however know where to put the pills our grandma didn’t finish. The ones that didn’t do anything for her pain.

That afternoon I saw Laurel using a shovel to uproot the blackened yuccas. The tools our grandma had were ancient. You had to rip the weed whacker out of the weeds before you could use it. There’s a joke there. We both worked on the yard trying to talk to each other the least amount possible. Not because we were mad at each other, but because we both didn’t want to acknowledge movement.

Afterwards, we both sat, sweaty and heavily breathing, in the kitchen on the wooden chairs underneath a dusty chandelier that was once pretty. Our skin would reflect a change. We were both southern Italian from our grandma and a touch of sun did the work. We used to love this about ourselves. Never had to try hard for beauty. Now it just showed a falseness.

Let’s stop here for a moment and fast forward about a year.

This is the time when grief is able to be concealed, the time when people start liking you again or when you wipe out everyone and replant new family and friends. The turn.

Laurel and I did not have anywhere to go. We could not move back in with our dads, and we could not afford to move out of our dead grandmother’s house. The house still not on the market. We could not afford to go out on weekend nights. We could barely afford gas. We both worked, yes, but during the slow times of the year our hours were always cut. In the middle of it all, we couldn’t stop driving through the canyon.

This started the night our grandma died. We waited for the hearse to leave our grandma’s house, and then we drove after them to the funeral home. The funeral home was on the grounds of the cemetery. It was a pitch-black landscape high on a shelf in the canyon overlooking a chunk of LA, its mix of red and white lights acting like the city was awake, when it wasn’t. We smoked cigarettes while we waited for the hearse to come drop her body off. We don’t know why they got there after us.

After that, we felt connected. We kept driving to the tops of different hills, smoking a cigarette, complaining about our dads. Then one day, we drove to a water tower in the middle of the night, the words, SHOTGUN, sprawled across the top of it. I opened my mouth and yelled, expecting the sky to crack open and water to come down like mana. Mana, more likely than water in this town. Laurel flinched and watched me. She looked at me, then she took up the call. At the end of our screams as we volleyed them back and forth, the last little bit, contained a single note of agony almost like a last gust of wind. We both never mentioned this. The best or worst part about screaming was that the crickets never stopped. They barreled through our screams. We thought perhaps because they had become so accustomed to coyotes, or just didn’t give a shit.

The canyon held us. We went during the day, at sunset, at night. We went to do everything, but mostly we went to be angry or to just be bodies. We wanted to feel like animals. We wanted to feel like the red ants that crawled up our ankles in the middle of the night and chewed them up. We wanted to never feel what it was like to need the feeling of safety. We wanted a place that acted as a 2-in-1 shampoo. We wanted more than anything to feel like men. We wanted to feel like our dads. Two people cuddling up with their wives going through pain that was real and had a brand name. The loss of a parent. But we didn’t have a brand name for the loss of a grandmother who raised us like we were her own.

Our grandmother loved yucca trees. She called them candles, dropped through the canyon like LA stars, they could be seen holding the last bit of light before the sun leaves. Yucca trees are what we love now. We love yucca trees, lemons picked from a tree and eaten just like that, pyrite swirling between sand and water, because she loved them. As we would drive through the canyon in search of all these things, windows down because her car didn’t have air conditioning, we would let the canyon do our breathing for us.

Laurel and I had stopped acting like separate people by then. We were closer than cousins, closer than sisters and brothers. We were two halves. Sometimes, I would be looking at Laurel for so long that when I saw my reflection, I didn’t know who it was. I would forget that I didn’t look like her. When I told Laurel about this, she already knew. That’s how close.

Sometimes we’d drive up the canyon to make desert glass, similar to sea glass, but no water, just sand. Much later, the wind pushing the sand would cure the broken glass transforming it into a holdable beauty. We would fling our green and brown bottles out and wait for the sound to come, aiming at bare rocks, nothing dense enough to hug the sound. We wanted to hear the shatter.

We were low on gas as usual and very hot, sweating but not caring. We opened the windows. The wind just one voice. That’s when we heard them, a chorus beyond the wind. The coyotes gathered against the bottom of the hill, in its crevices. They were singing, worshipping. We turned around clumsily and slowly drove to a nearby pull-off. Turned off our car and its lights. Lowered the window more and listened.

Outer space has two sides. One is all of Earth, the whole world. Floating in front of someone looking at the world, you can see Earth reflected in their eyes, so that seeing the world in someone else’s eyes is exactly the same as being in outer space. Because just behind those eyes is the entire void. A great yawn readying itself to swallow the very person in front of you. That’s what the canyon is. That’s what my love is. I loved my grandmother for so long. I have all this love, all this emptiness, and I didn’t know where to put any of it. In the end, the canyon seemed a good place for us to set it all down like pioneers. After all the oxen had died, we unhooked the wagons from their bodies and pulled them across the great divide.

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About the Author: Hally Winters studied English and Creative Writing at The University of California, Berkeley. She is currently an MFA candidate for creative writing at California Institute of the Arts. Her poetry can be found at Cal Literary Arts Magazine. She lives in Sunland, California and works at a lovely garden nursery. @hallybearie

Hally Winters Author Photo

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