Talk About the Weather
by KATE RUTLEDGE JAFFE
   winner of the 2010 Fulton Prize!
Though she had seen a puppy die, a flat squirrel, and had killed a mouse once with her bare fist as it jostled inside a bread bag, at fifteen Annie found herself blunted by a paralyzing fear of death—particularly in the mornings, when the potentialities of the day propelled toward her. She saw them the way a skydiver might: a rapidly detailing panorama of dirt, trees, and rooftops containing absolutely anything or maybe nothing at all. Or so it seemed to Annie in that endless September moment defined by atoms and quarks when her father sat her down at the kitchen table, when he said, “Hi sweetie,” artificially happy, exhausted, like he was picking her up from the airport after a long-delayed flight. “There’s something happening with me that you should know about.” In the long moment it took for her dad to sigh and shift on the stool and open his mouth again, Annie considered the following: that he was gay, had taken a lover, leather caps, a newly adopted child, parades. That he found her pot, her journal, the sex, he knew, grounded, no more movie dates, clean your room. That she was adopted, a starlet, a young football player, a basket, a doorstep, barren mother’s tears.
“I’m sick, kiddo. It’s my kidneys, they aren’t working anymore. We’ve known that this might happen for years, a decade, and now—I’m looking for a transplant. They’re filling with cysts. They look funny, really. Like overgrown raspberries. It’s actually common—nothing special. The most common life threatening disease there is.”
Annie felt those parts of herself split off—the gay dad, the grounded girl, the unprepared child-parents—snapping through the air like jacks from a potato gun, a gun she and her best friend took turns firing once in the woods on the Kitsap Peninsula until a woman came stumbling from the trees, sobbing, her dress ripped from the chest and exposing one purpled breast and she and her friend had run from her. The possibilities, now dull to her, lodged themselves in the universe and started their own lives, and Annie felt herself scraped out, her capacity recalibrated.
Her father clapped a hand to her knee. “Or do you wish I hadn’t told you?” The bags beneath his eyes were yellowed beige, and Annie stared at a Ziploc sack of Fig Newtons bloating in a pool of water by the sink.
“I don’t know. What do I say? I don’t know.”
“I hear you, Annabelle. We don’t need to dwell. Let’s just talk about the weather.” He was a merciful man. Outside, the sun broke out in clefts between the clouds. There was a storm hitting the east side. Birds chirped against the window.

* * *

Weekends that fall, Annie took to reading in the mornings in bed, sometimes staying there until late in the afternoon. The Torah teaches that when you arrive in heaven, God first inspects your kidneys. Like a bouncer, like a mechanic, like a record store clerk when you’re buying a Rod Stewart box set, he casts on you a critical eye and reads your kidneys where you stand. She learned that from the time of Shakespeare, kidneys were seen as the origin of conscience, a ruminating organ, the place where the first pulse of introspection begins. When looked at laterally, kidneys appear like faceless fetuses, buckled inward and tucked tenderly around their renal arteries and veins. One kidney is good (see: flicking white overcoat, compassionate smile, pat on the back, banana cream pie to be savored and shared with the neighbors) and the other evil (see: black leather faded brown, dry flicking tongue, exasperated eye rolls, rubbing woodchips in your hair, lighting a trashcan on fire). Together with the heart, they conspire, driving you toward whatever your inevitability. So when you arrive in heaven, God’s got to check them out, see which one succeeded, maybe even have a conversation: So how’d she do? God might ask, and the kidneys would waiver their ureters: Comme si, comme ça.

* * *

October through April, a cloud settled over the northwest. It quivered sometimes and something fell out: a flat sheet of rain that hung in the air for days; little balls of Styrofoam-like hail; pine needles whipping hypodermically through the air. On Sundays, Annie often accompanied her father to dialysis at Swedish Medical Center. He sat in a room full of diabetic black men missing their feet and old ladies with small dogs gnawing mindlessly on their purses. His dialysis docket aligned perfectly with the mid-morning game shows: The Price is Right, reruns of Wheel of Fortune and the $25,000 Pyramid. They played on a seemingly endless loop from four squat television sets in the corners of the room. There was something extraordinarily sad to Annie about watching reruns of game shows—the fun had already been had, and you had a sense of these people, frozen on the television in a state of perpetual hysteria over winning a dinette set, now sloth-like in their mobile homes, the upholstered chairs in storage, the jet ski—jet ski?—long gone. A woman clapped a frenzied beat, her upper arms jiggling with naked joy. Bob Barker’s lizard face crinkled into a sneer. An orange-colored woman with curved acrylic nails gestured seductively toward a bottle of fiber supplements. Annie tried to imagine her without a foot. Could she still balance in a single red heel? Would the absence of foot make people more inclined to bid on the fiber, or less?
“Honestly Annie?” her dad called to her. A tube ran from a catheter in his neck into a bulky plastic machine behind him. In whimsical moments, Annie liked to imagine it as R2D2. It often made noises, clunking ones and beep boop bops as it sucked the blood from his body. A chunky, lustless vampire. “It’s too fucking depressing in here. Why don’t you step outside?” The tube rattled clear then blackish red. Her father used to call the television the boob tube which made Annie cringe. Now, her father had taken to emphasizing the mundane with words like fucking and mother fucking and calling people ass hat and dill weed. Where her father learned these words, she did not know. He wanted her to leave. He wanted to watch the fucking boob tube alone. Annie rapped him on the knee with her knuckles and stepped out into the lobby.
Outside, women with bloated bellies pregnant with their own organs waited in a line. In the corner, an artificial plant crouched over buckets of toys, alphabet quilts with pockets for felt letters, generic Legos, stacks of Nickelodeon Magazine. A white woman sat with an infant sleeping on her lap. One of her eyes was pale and filmy and looked straight at Annie while the other watched two boys play, little ones, a skinny blond and a Hispanic boy whose round body and shiny brown skin made him appear to Annie like an unwrapped Werther’s Original.
“Pew pew pew,” the blond boy said. “Schlock, pa-pam, pew.” The brown boy threw his toy car in the air.
“I’m dead,” he said to Annie.
“I hit him with the pipe bomb,” the blond boy explained. In the corner, a little girl flipped her purple dress up over her head exposing her knit stockings. The automatic doors opened and closed.
“We’re playing Ireland,” the blond boy said, and the two started rolling their cars again along a vinyl street.
“That’s the wrong side of the road,” Annie said, and knelt beside them. “You’re gonna get yourself killed.” The boys looked at her. “In Ireland, the cars drive on the other side of the street. In England, too. Maybe Australia, I don’t know.” She felt a certain pride in having shared this information. Wow! the boys might say, awed eyes glistening. She could tell them about the potato famine, about eating tulip bulbs and salted meat.
“Then what happens when the two roads meet up?” the brown boy asked, wrinkling his nose skeptically at her. “What happens when the cars on the right have to start driving on the left?”
The blond boy said, “Kerplewy!” and smashed two cars together.
“I guess it’s because they’re all islands,” Annie said, standing up. She felt better up there, taller than the boys. “So the roads don’t ever meet up.  And they get to make up their own rules. ”
“But if they get to make their own rules, why just the stupid streets?” the blond boy asked.
“That’s dumb,” the brown boy concurred. The girl in the purple dress walked repeatedly into the wall until the filmy-eyed woman grabbed her by the shoulder.
“I’d make everyone wear cords,” the blond said and rubbed his hands on his thighs. “And ice cream dinners. And no bedtime before 11.”
“And free trips to outer space! And no girls. And horses can talk!”
“And rain tastes like Coke! And socks can’t get soggy! And kids live together in a great big tunnel underground!” They wriggled their fingers in front of their faces like mole rats.
They were jumping now and reaching for the ceiling. Annie backed away and stood in front of the automatic doors that opened and closed behind her. Marbles spilled out of the boys’ pockets and clattered to the floor. When they leapt they threw their arms in the air. They showed their smooth round bellies to the room. They flung their cars at the ceiling until dust rained down on them from the plaster tiles. It hung in their eyelashes and they, breathless, left it there.

* * *

May brought more rain and warmer afternoons, a round mugginess that filled Annie’s lungs and grew inside her like a mold. Her father’s belly distended unevenly, entering before him and, just like that, changing the air. To ease with dialysis, the doctors connected an artery to a vein in his forearm. If you put your finger there, the flesh buzzed powerfully in this pulsating place where everything converged. Annie read that arteries carry blood away from the heart, oxygenated and nourished. Veins carry deoxygenated blood toward the heart. In her father’s wrist, they collided, lost for a moment in a man-made vascular pile-up. The blood vessels jumbled together, horns honking, bodies splayed out across the asphalt.
Dialysis comes from the Greek dialusis meaning dissolution, meaning separation, rupture, detachment, divorce. Dia means through, lysis means loosening. To Annie, it was a word missing something: “through loosening” what? Through loosening the bonds that keep us tethered to our own humanity, we become subhuman, we become part man, part machine. A man grows sallow and old through loosening the blood in his veins. “A man who can’t pee is hardly a man at all,” her father had said to her the other day. Now, when Annie peed, she tried to find something spiritual in the moment, and failed. It was just pee.
“The first dialysis machine was made in Nazi Germany,” Annie said to her best friend Sonya as they walked through puddles along Broadway Blvd. “Willem Kolff, a Dutch guy. He made it out of soda cans, sausage skins and a washing machine.”
“Go go gadget kidney failure,” Sonya said. The rain blew at them sideways and splattered against their cheeks. “And also, barf. Sausage skins?”
“Yeah, everyone died at first. It took him a few years.”
“Was he testing on Jews?”
“Probably.”
“With sausage skins? That’s messed up.”
Sonya was born Sonia Fishbaum to two reform rabbis, but she changed the spelling when she was twelve because she thought the “y” made it less Jewish, more open to interpretation. As a general rule, Sonya didn’t like white people though she herself was arguably one of them, and she liked Annie, who was about as white as they come—bony, shapeless like a curtain. Sonya had an olive-skinned, big-breasted Israeli look with long eyelashes and a drowsy mouth framed in dimples like quotation marks. They lent everything she said an enviable air of artificiality. When they walked down the street together, people often asked Sonya, “What are you?” meaning, “What race are you? Are you an Eskimo? Was your mommy Korean? Was your daddy Filipino?” Annie liked to imagine what she’d say if someone ever asked her “What are you?” but no one ever did, and it was just as well since she had never been able to think of a witty retort.
“So your dad is…?” Sonya asked, watching the traffic stopped at a light.
“He’s fine. His skin is changing color. My aunt is getting tested. She might be a match. He has to go to the Black Hole three times a week.” The Black Hole was their name for the hospital, “hospital” being a word that, without ever acknowledging it, they had agreed to avoid.
“Fuck,” Sonya said and stepped on a soda can that crinkled around her shoe and got stuck there. She scraped it off on the curb. “That sounds like hell, right? Like, all the blood gets sucked from his body into a machine? I think I would just go ahead and die, I mean, right?”
“Right. Sure. Right.” Annie disagreed.
“Damn, chica! You legal?” called a tall black man leaning against a record store and picking pills of fabric from his hoodie.
Sonya giggled and rolled her eyes as they walked. “Oh no he did i just go there,” she muttered through a loose smile. A car splashed water against the man and he kicked the water back at the car.
“You ever been with a black guy?” Sonya asked her when they were down the block.
“No.” Sonya knew she hadn’t. Annie hadn’t ever really “been with” anyone except Ian Delgago, her freshman year boyfriend, who had written in Sonya’s year book that he “wanted to slip his six and half inch jalapeño in her friend Annie.” Annie sometimes wondered if she was a total disgrace to the entire female race for letting him.
“Girl, you’re missing out. I don’t know why you like them white boys.” When the rain grew heavier, they went inside for burritos.
Sonya had adopted a new vernacular, and Annie found herself slipping into it from time to time, as if through osmosis. Besides, there didn’t seem to be any harm in it. She liked to try on different voices, to borrow Sonya’s clothes, to stand naked in her window when it was unlikely a car would pass. She and Sonya were not unalike, a yin and yang, the dark and the light.
When Annie had been a child, the twins down the street had told her she wasn’t a Jew because her long-gone mom had been a lapsed Episcopalian. “Shiksa,” they’d called her, and disappeared into their enormous red house where they stared at her from matching windows with matching frowns. Every moment or so, one would disappear and then suddenly pop up in another window. Annie had watched them from the street corner for several minutes. She’d wished she’d had a mallet so she could smack them in their gopher faces, on their darkening upper lips, but it was as if they were everywhere all of the time. By the time she’d walked home, the house had been full of them. In every window, a smudge, a frown.

* * *

In the summer, Annie and her father’s lives didn’t often intersect. He slept a lot, and she left the house early and came home late, if at all. They had most of their conversations via cell phone. On the phone, her father sounded far away, tinny, as if he was being played through a child’s music box.
“There may be some desecrating of corpses here,” her father said one afternoon, in reference to the revelation that her aunt was not a match. He was on lists now, waiting for a helmet-less motorcyclist or a drunk driver or a balloonish blood vessel to burst at the base of someone else’s brain. “But even so, pikuach nefesh. Preserve a human life over all else.” He laughed a static laugh. “That still means no tattoos, kiddo.” Annie didn’t laugh. He was hollow and far away, his voice battered by the connection. He flicked like a kite in the clouds, and she stood on land with the string tied tightly around her wrist, so tightly her hand was turning purple and she couldn’t feel her fingers anymore.
Sometimes, they would run out of things to say and she would call out: “Concentration (stomp stomp clap), is a game (stomp stomp clap), starting with (stomp stomp clap), a kidney’s name:”
“Artery!”
“Bladder!”
“Capsule!”
“Disease!”
“Endocrine!”
“Filtration!”
“Gland!”
Nights when Annie came home, the house would smell stale and musty like the inside of a pipe. Annie set up a tent on the back porch and slept there. It was an unusually warm, wet summer. When it rained, the tent shifted and bent, the tarp whispering Shhhhh. She liked to sleep surrounded by the damp smells of the garden. Everything was in bloom. In the morning, she’d pick strawberries and leave them in a bowl on the kitchen counter.
“The mountain is out,” she’d write in the note. “Love, Annie.”

* * *

“Hearses bearsarelearsy twearsentwearsyoearsne,” Sonya was snapping as Annie stared at the dilapidated brick building that evidently housed Sonya’s new boyfriend. She spoke in their childhood language. “Wearshat dearso yearsou knearsow earsanearsywearsy. Jearseearsus. If you don’t want to come, don’t come.” The apartment sat high on Jackson hill overlooking the train station. A long white sign read: “ATTENTION: Condemned Building. 30 day notice. Do not remove any items from on or around the premises.” Across the sign, someone had spray painted individual teeth, bicuspids mostly.
In the lobby, the smell of a summer lilac bush mingled with the stale scent of urine. The girls entered a tiny black elevator with no closing door. Sonya pushed “8” and the elevator began to rattle and shift. When Annie closed her eyes, she often felt a similar rattle as her thoughts eclipsed and scattered, tittering behind the curtains and under the couch. Sometimes she would see a snow-capped mountain with a clear-cut forest across it. The mountain rose in and out of the clouds. And she was unsure if there was anything behind it (titter titter titter) and she certainly wouldn’t climb to the top to look. There could be nothing back there, or there could be the whole wide universe, but either way, she was so sleepy all of the sudden and besides, it looked like rain.
In the elevator, Annie started to cough then giggle then laugh until tears were streaming down her face and Sonya joined her. They crouched, clutching each other’s knees in laughter, grasping each other’s shoulders and wiping dark streaks of mascara across their cheeks, suddenly adrift in the sweet absurdity of it all, two kids alive only in this moment as the elevator jostled them up up up past cracked linoleum floors and empty paint buckets.
Eighth floor Anthony turned out to be tall and skinny with dark skin and dark lips and large dry hands. His t-shirt was ripped across the chest to reveal a single, smallish nipple. Annie gave him a short wave and he laughed and smiled before kissing Sonya with his eyes open. His eyes were so white they made Annie think of eggshells, and then of the eyeball as an egg, a crackable surface, and then feel queasy and want to sit down.
“There’s beer in the fridge, sweet cheeks,” Anthony called to her as she squeezed past him into the apartment. In the fridge, there were six forties of Olde English and a bag of long, wrinkled carrots. Annie grabbed a forty. The apartment was tiny and empty except for two open cardboard boxes and a white futon with a white comforter pressed up against the wall. Sunlight poured through the shades, so bright the room shimmered like it was made of sugar. Over the bed, a cool wind blew in through the open window. Outside, a tiny balcony overlooked downtown. Annie climbed across the bed and out the window.
Beneath her, the train tracks crossed one another, merging into paths along the station. Across the Sound, a ferry shuttled back and forth. The sunshine made the water look flimsy and white like a lined sheet of notebook paper and Annie strained her eyes for whales but did not see any. The sun was beginning to set, and all around the clouds clung delicately to the tops of buildings, orange and pink. Just past the apartment, two tall buildings hidden by smog reappeared, piercing through the clouds in a cluster of antennae.
“A sunset!” Sonya gasped from the window as if it was her first, and Anthony rolled his eyes at her and tugged on one of her curls. They crawled onto the balcony.
“The colors come from dust, dust and aerosols,” Annie said. “If we make more pollution, it’ll just get prettier and prettier. Or if a volcano erupted, that would be the prettiest sunset you’d ever see.” Annie stared at Mount Rainier.
“I hear it’s dormant,” Sonya said.
“It’s not,” Annie said, and the three sat silently together. Annie imagined the plumes of black smoke, of sitting atop the lava on a broken “Volcano Evacuation Route” sign, pulling people to safety, climbing to the tops of blackened trees and waiting for the whir of a helicopter. The burping heat around her. The smell of sulfur and loss. All those useless bodies burnt to the core. Just below the balcony, a train was arriving at the station. As the train approached, a man lay down a small red rug and knelt to pray.
Annie took another sip of her beer. From above them, someone tossed a bucket of water, splashing it down the side of the building.
“Sonya says your dad’s sick,” Anthony said and Annie nodded.
“He’s looking for a kidney. A cadaver donor.”
“That’s got a nice sound to it,” Anthony said and started tapping on the railing. “Ca-cadaver donor. Cada-cadaverdonor.” Sonya nodded her head back and forth with her eyes closed.
“A carved donor,” Annie said. “Cedar van door.” Rave, dad. Croon. She’d gone through all of these before.
“Wicked,” Anthony said and laughed and Sonya smiled an open mouth smile at him that seemed to beg for a treat to be placed on her tongue.
“Or a living donor,” Annie said, and everyone sat together and stared out over the railing. The warmth swam away from them, followed the sunset off the horizon.
“Driving loon,” Sonya finally said and made a happy wide-eyed face. Annie grinned. Sonya’s forty was empty and she rolled it with her foot along the concrete balcony, plinking it against the bars of the railing.
“Lord gin vino!” Anthony shouted out and slapped Sonya hard on the ass as he laughed.  “I got one. Another beer?” and he climbed back in the window onto the bed. Sonya followed closely behind him.
“No old virgin!” Annie shouted alone to the sky and she felt, for a moment, joyous and wise and blissfully empty of thoughts and recourse. The wind blew a flapping newspaper across the roof of the train station. Somewhere in the apartment building, an old man’s cough trickled down the brick siding and into Annie’s ear. Dark clouds merged with light clouds and somewhere far away, thunder rang out, or maybe it was the sound of two train cars slamming together. Annie felt somehow heavy and light, like she was being push push pushed on the back of her head, and she rested her face against the cool metal of the railing and stared at a storm as it started to form across the Sound. A pale moon emerged, faded and patchy like a frayed hole in the sky. When Annie was barely a year old, her father took her to see Halley’s Comet, which she learned was mostly dust and a little ice and, if Annie could live to 76, she might see it again, but really, she wondered, why.
In one quick sound, the slatted blinds behind her snapped shut. Annie heard whispers, and a noise that started as a giggle and ended in a deep, dark place.
“Your daddy must’ve been black,” she heard Anthony growl in a low, muzzled voice.
“Maybe,” Sonya whispered. “Maybe not.” The sheets rustled again and Annie bit her lip so hard it bled.
People said that race was just a color, Annie thought, that we were all the same deep down, blah blah blah, and yet if you were all one race, you could switch body parts more easily and try them on for size instead of growing ears on the backs of mice or placing advertisements for Russian/German Jews with low blood pressure. Like a tree ripped up and grafted into another tree, you could give new fruit. Annie pressed her mouth against the metal. We’re all, deep down, so different from one another. We’re all, deep down, not the same at all.
“Is your daddy a big guy?” came the voice again and in the bright room behind her, Sonya gasped.

* * *

In their little house, Annie’s father had taken to humming. When he would leave a room, the humming stayed. It vibrated the house. When Annie felt her mind slipping, she took to humming, too. Not songs exactly, but notes. In different rooms of the house they hummed to themselves, occasionally hitting a harmonic pitch. When that happened, Annie would feel her head begin to shake with the frequency of their dueling voices. Eventually, if there was an eventually, Annie imagined she and her father communicating exclusively in hums:

    mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Fact: hummingbirds do not hum but beat their wings so quickly that they emit a tiny humming noise although, in truth, it is more of a delicate thumping. Fact: only a few hundred years ago, humming was preferred to applause following a sermon. We still show our approval by humming when we say, “Mmhmm.” Fact: animals use different modes of humming as a social queue to alert the group that 1. They are safe and 2. They are in danger. When Annie read, she hummed. When her father slept, he hummed. When they were absent from the house or from each other, they both suspected that the walls continued to hum until their return.

* * *

On the balcony, Annie’s skin felt hot and loose like if only she could unzip it she might feel better. She tried to slide the glass door shut with her fingers between the slatted shades. She tugged at the edging with her fingernails, but couldn’t get it to budge. She squeezed her legs between the wrought iron bars of the railing and pressed her body against them, letting her feet dangle over Jackson Street and the train tracks. She imagined someone dropping a baby from the top floor and reaching between the bars and catching it. Its pink cheeks. The silence that would precede its tortured, happy wail. She imagined the sensation of flinging her body over the rails and letting the baby curl on her back, of padding its fall with her own flesh so that it might land with a heavy bounce.
Annie felt hollow and flat. She consoled herself with the knowledge that, in thirty days, this condemned building would be torn down. That no one would ever see this view again and it would always belong to her. She hoped the plot would be left empty, or made into a community garden, or filled, even, with loose tires, prickly bushes and empty dime bags. She hoped that the dropped ceiling in the train station would finally be removed to reveal the vaulted one beneath it, the ornate original interior. The big clock tower struck nine. The bars bent beneath her weight and the blinds slapped the wall.
Annie watched little storms break from the clouds. The weather hit around her in pockets, cracking open, spilling out. Something popped in the distance: a gunshot maybe, or a little burst of thunder, or a bubble blown inside the bedroom. Rain billowed and bloomed, a skirt caught in the wind, but Annie was not beneath it. She watched the streets and freeways pumping people and cars through currents of asphalt. Little white people rolled along the sidewalk like pearls broken from a strand. Annie felt that she was nowhere. That she was in the nothing place where everything converged, where the needle was inserted for the blood machine. Sweat beaded on her skin, and she wiped her upper lip with the back of her hand.
When she and Sonya had been children, her father’d had a big black mustache that curled over his upper lip. “It moving like a snake alive,” her mother used to say of it, quoting the broken English from a boxed Chinese toy. One afternoon when she and Sonya had been eating popsicles on the front porch, her dad had emerged to join them without the mustache. Annie’s chin had quivered into a walnut. Her father looked like a stranger, and on the empty space of his upper lip they could project anything. He was unknowable. With tears streaming down her cheeks, she had run to the art room and brought back black construction paper and together she and Sonya had assembled a paper mustache that they insisted on scotch taping to his upper lip for the rest of the day.
“Who are you?” Annie had wailed until her father agreed to tape the paper there.
That evening, when her mother had arrived home, Annie had sent her father, shoulders slumped and paper mustache taped above his lip, to the front door. In the sunset, her mother had looked at him and dropped her purse to the floor. She had opened her mouth, but at that moment, a bird screamed to another bird outside and Annie did not know what she said. The sun had been too bright beyond the doorframe as they embraced. Annie couldn’t see their faces. She had not known if she had done a good thing or not, and she suspected she never would.

* * *

On the back porch, Annie and her father lounged in matching Adirondack chairs. A new September warmed Annie’s face as birds bucked their bodies into the kitchen window above them, tapping their beaks against the glass. Her father’s fingers had bloated and swelled from edema and looked less like fingers than geoducks peering out from their shells. She told him so:
“Your fingers look like geoducks,” she said, and her father threw his head back and laughed a long hard laugh. His fingers bobbled at his sides.
“The mollusk dad,” he said, and then, “I could handle being a geoduck. They live about a hundred and fifty years.”
“Shut up.”
“Not a lot of predators out there for the magnificent sea penis.”
“Oh god please shut up.”
The two of them smiled in opposite directions. A crow landed in the garden and began rooting around in the dirt until it found a worm, which it started to tug at fervently with its beak. The worm clung to the soil, and Annie wondered how long it was, and how old, and if it was happy being chiefly the intestine of the earth. The crow bit off a segment of the worm and began to choke it down. Did the other half continue to dig? Did it have any sense of loss?
“Pretty gross,” her father said, and Annie hummed a quiet Mmhmm. “Have you taken a look at the sky today? Beautiful. The season of sun breaks is upon us.”
Annie stared out over the fence at Mount Rainier. The sky was clear blue and crisscrossed this way and that by telephone wires and chimneys. The crow took flight and settled, chewing, on a wire. It spread out its wings in a quick stretch, and then was small again, shrinking into itself until it barely had a head.
“You know something?” Annie’s father said, and she turned to him. His eyes were bright and tired, and he crossed his hands across his belly in a resigned embrace. “Everyone always says they want to be a bird – flight, etc. but you know what? I’ve never wanted to be a bird. Not once.”
Annie turned to the crow on the wire, but it had already flown away. She would rather have legs and feet, or even one foot. She would rather have fingers and thoughts. There was a certain upward, soaring view that was not hers to have. Her father closed his eyes and so did she. She knew what he was thinking because it was what she was thinking, too: what they must look like to the crow, down there on their wooden chairs. The light through the slats cast a dark pattern on the grass. From way up there, a person was a porch swing was a pineapple tree with lemon roots. From far away, their bodies were white and clean like eggshells. The clouds would roll in later and when they did, the grey shadows would move quickly across their smiling faces. The rain would roll off their skin and into the ground. When the leaves fell, they would not rake them. They would compost the garden. They would help things grow.
“Me neither,” she said. The mountain was out and there were hikers and jeeps and deer climbing to the top and if she could see the mountain from the back porch, then the mountain could surely see her, too. “Not once.”

KATE RUTLEDGE JAFFE  lives in Missoula, MT. Her short stories have been published in the Reed Creative Review, and her work was a finalist for Glimmer Train’s 2009 Short Story Award for New Writers. She’s currently the editor-in-chief of CutBank and a student in the University of Montana’s MFA in Creative Writing program.