Issue #16 |

Two Decorated Skulls in the Miramonte Swamp

Mom and I ran to the end of a just-built trail around a lake that formed when the river flowed for a hundred days straight and flooded a basin that was once 800 single-family homes. No, flood is the wrong name for the rains, which came and came and came until we accepted that we now lived in a wetland, not a desert, and a wetland does not flood. It just lives up to its name.

Mom stopped her watch. “You know what I think about, from the second I wake up until the second I go to sleep? Doing an ultramarathon, maybe one in the mountains. I can’t shake this idea that the only way to get through pain is pain.”

“I could do it with you,” I said, without thinking I could, without knowing if I was the daughter who liked running, or if it was one of you two. My muscles forfeited, and the clothes I had scrounged from your dressers pulled and scratched at my body. The sports bra too tight, the shorts too lose, the shoes just right.

Between us at the lake were hundreds of saguaros, toppled over and split open by all the water they were never evolved to carry, now showcasing all their boots, the excavations where woodpeckers once had their babies.

Mom ran her hand through the flare of my ponytailed hair, asking “Are you ready?” and then galloping away, me trying to keep up with her tempo pace, tasting blood in my mouth that reminded me of the smell of the room where the sorcerer had cut you two into the little pieces that you are now. I realized that I knew what a tempo pace was, that mine matched hers, and together our muscles were cambering joyously. All I could hear was Mom’s footsteps, my heartbeat, and what sounded like someone brushing a sidewalk with a skyscraper-sized broom, but that was just more rain on the southern side of the mountain, which was, all at once and just like us, saturated and sloughed and sublime.


To read this story in its entirety, please purchase a copy of our spring 2023 issue or subscribe to the magazine.

Joel Hans’s fiction has appeared in West Branch, No Tokens, Puerto del Sol, Booth, and others. He received his MFA from the University of Arizona in 2016, where he won the University of Arizona Foundation Award and served as the prose and managing editor of Fairy Tale Review. Originally from Madison, Wisconsin, Joel now lives …

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