[creative nonfiction]

(after Wilkins)

What I remember most clearly is the heat.

What I remember is driving in the heat to the house with a chain-link fence surrounding the front yard that was patchy with green and yellow grass. I can see the tree in the front yard with its one branch that curved toward the porch where there were chairs (plastic, maybe). I may have been wearing shorts if it was summer. Was it summer? Or was the heat because it was California? There may have been a dog. There were most assuredly other people, maybe a younger brother, a man, a girl.

What I remember is walking inside the house, being asked if I wanted a drink. It may have been Pabst or Natural Ice or Bud Light or Budweiser or Corona. I don’t know. I don’t know what I drank. I’m sure now that we talked, in a group or alone. I can hear myself laughing, full throated and boundless. We might have played dominoes smacking them onto the wooden kitchen table or knocking with our knuckles when we had no bone to play.

What I remember is nothing, nothing and then the wall near the bed, pale and cold, staring at my face partially submerged in dark sheets. Eyelids weighted by mascaraed lashes, I looked at the white wall and waited. My cheek slipped and pushed in rhythmic waves. Do I move my arm back, push against him with my hand? Does he shove it away? When do I whisper into the pillow top, no no? Will the man in the next room hear? I don’t know. I don’t know who lives here. I can still hear my blood throbbing through my ears, feel my heart still, then pound, banging around inside my chest. A piece of me wants to say I can taste whiskey on my breath, smell smoke in my hair.

What I remember is lying still. The television could be on in the background, the muffled sounds of dialogue sweeping over my empty thoughts. Do I fall asleep? Or do I lie awake for hours in a trance waiting for the light to spill through the tattered curtains in the morning? Are my eyes closed, or is it the wall I am staring at in the dark? I don’t know.

I am there through the night awake or asleep. I don’t know. Whether I was awake or asleep, whether I stared at the wall or slipped into a cautious rest, the light spilled in through the tattered curtains and the room is stifling when I sit up on the edge of the bed. I look around for my clothes. Do I clutch a sheet to cover my skin? I don’t know. I can’t see the pieces I collect or recall the order in which I put them on. A piece of me wants to say I said something or he did. Is my breathing rough? Is my voice low and cracking from the smoking and the dehydration?

When I leave the room, I go to the kitchen to get a drink of water. I can see through a door ajar that no one was in the next room. I drink water. Do I bring him a glass? Or does he follow me to the kitchen? Is it his hand on my shoulder that tenses every muscle in my body?

I see myself closing the door to the house, the screen smacking against the frame, walking past the tree and the grass, shoving the key into the car door, holding the wheel in my hands. I am numb and confused, and I am alone. Do I really just drive home? Do I maybe stare at the house, at the shadows the limbs make on the spotty grass, at the splashes of dirt behind steel fence links? Am I breathing when I start the car engine? How hard do I press the gas pedal with my foot?

There is so much I cannot remember. I want to say, it doesn’t matter that I don’t or can’t or won’t remember. I search the dark stumbling with my hands out groping for the missing. I can feel the heat, can see in snatches grasped as if by the flickering fire light of the Bic I used to keep in my pocket. Snap, spark, flame, heat, breath.


Kari TreeseKari Treese is a writer and mathematics teacher in Southern California. She received a bachelor’s degree in writing studies from University of Washington Tacoma and a master’s degree in education from UCLA. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in The Los Angeles Review, Crab Fat, and The Fem. Find her outside counting rocks or climbing them.