Phillip Garland


They could sit in the attic windowsill for a clear view. Or toss off bits of inedible food. Sometimes they shared two or three cigarettes in a single sitting. Or boredom got the better of them and they kissed. Or it wasn’t clear. Even during the day. Sometimes the giant clouds of dust settled on their street for weeks at a time. So there was nothing to really watch.

Instead, they played back their memories on each other. Refined and sharpened to a point the way a stick in a boy’s hand is cut, sliver by sliver, until the stick’s point becomes a deadly puncturing apparatus, these memories provided them their only sharpened focus of the world. It would lie still before them, a small patch of memory, merely inches by inches, and it would let itself be seen.

Attempting to translate their experience to each other sometimes proved difficult, a certain detail not catching the other’s interest, or one’s mind wandering just at the story’s highpoint. But still, sharing these memories made them glad the dust clouds had arrived. It gave them time on the dark attic floor with legs folded into legs and hands rubbing the skin beneath cotton shirts and jeans.

But sometimes it was clear, and those days were too hot for lying around. Sitting by the window kept them from getting dizzy in the steaming attic, and she’d play her mandolin if she was feeling cheery. He’d hum a ditty while she played and the rest of the world seemed to drop away from their little attic.

These moments punctuated the labor of the sunny days, the constant fetching water in a bucket from the ledge or scanning the sky for signals. How a signal should appear, who knew? In a dream he never shared, he would witness a large cross advancing across the sky. Constantine maintained an army to which he attached his dreams. This man could not tie his dream to anything in the attic, so after waking each morning it floated toward the ceiling and crept vaguely out the window.

A light sleeper, she’d already be sitting by the window, tuning her mandolin or watching the river rush by. It was a new piece of music each morning, adapted from the river’s urges and temperament. Some spry melodies were picked in time with the quickly sloshing waters. Maybe the river was filled with refuse, or smoke hovered over its surface, or maybe the song was a product of disturbed sleep, but some mornings she played such sad and sprawling dirges that he would wake not knowing where he was. He was unable to recall this space, the figure by the window, the gentle thrumming of the wooden planks beneath him.

What could he see waking, sideways, like this? And how could he place himself without familiar landmarks? It would be a soft sound, her name. Sideways, her name turned over and climbed to the ceiling. A group of soft vowels. The light consonant rustling the floorboards. The attic’s reassembly marked by a trail of light on the wall.

Phillip Garland was born and raised in East Tennessee. He is an MFA student at the University of Kansas. Other work can be found in Pith Magazine, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, and Red Lightbulbs.

Print Friendly