Issue #17 |

An Occult Basis for Grief

In the garage, you show your fiancé Clara what you have made for your child’s gender reveal party. It is heavy, built from the scavenged metal base of a lawn umbrella and a four-foot length of pipe. You felt ingenious in the process of welding it, using equipment you borrowed from a friend, but in this moment, your efforts seem both inadequate and frightening, like a man threatening to shoot himself to win back the love of his family.

You know Clara has doubts. Her friend Jordan will no longer speak to her because of things you said when you were drunk.

“It looks like something they’d use to kill you in Iraq,” Clara says.

Sweltering heat, unseasonable for September in eastern Iowa, seeps into every corner—the workbench full of tools, the minifridge full of beer, and the Hawkeyes flag you have hung on the wall, even though you hate sports. These are meant to be signs of your prosperity, but now you feel as though something is sneaking behind them, watching you: a slope of pale flesh, breathing like a set of lungs, or a long and grasping arm.

“It shoots colored glitter out the top,” you say.

On impulse, you grab a roll of masking tape and cover the opening. This is a decision that will shape the rest of your life, and you will never understand it. “Now it looks like a firework.”

Clara smiles at you, nervously, and you hug her close, so much taller than her that you have to bend at the waist to do this properly. You kiss, two mismatched and vulnerable bodies, cozy even in the summer heat.

You are sticking by what you have started. You have even bought a house. You are not like your father.

A few minutes later, Clara’s mother Evelyn arrives. All of you gather in the backyard on folding chairs, and you distribute hard lemonades from a cooler while Evelyn shows off a gift she picked up at the mall: a teddy bear in a silver astronaut suit.

“Anybody can be an astronaut,” Evelyn says. “Boy or girl.”

When you land the device in the middle of the lawn, biceps strained and quivering, Evelyn laughs and moves her lawn chair a few feet backward. She has the astronaut bear in her lap, as if it were a child getting ready for a trip. The wick will take at least thirty seconds to blow, and for those thirty seconds you are happier than you have ever been, sure of loving and being loved.


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Anthony M. Abboreno teaches at Scott Community College in eastern Iowa, and hold a PhD in fiction writing and literature from the University of Southern California, as well as an MA in the same subjects from the University of Southern Mississippi. His work has appeared in American Short Fiction and Outlook Springs.

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