4608 Steeplechase Rd.
Edmond, Oklahoma 73034
The cows are asleep on their feet in fields and graveyards. They want to know why they are disappearing, one after the other, sure as strokes of midnight or strokes of an ax into a great Christmas tree. They want to know why the iconic 66-foot neon soda bottle glows at night, bubbling stars into the sky. They dream of the dirges of their brothers traveling along Route 66, in crates along the barbed wire fence, and sleepwalk with them through the grass-paths, weaving through headstones and themselves.
They do not remember the girl who read them her fairytale stories every Thursday night, perching on the round hay bales with her round face and hay hair down to her knees tangling in the stiff dry fodder. They do not remember her princesses nor do they want to know her inevitable unhappy endings.
"...the Prince pushed the evil Godmother off the cliff so he could give the Princess a beautiful necklace. And she loved it so much that she wore it every-day, but wore it to bed the night before her wedding and choked to death. The Prince found her in the morning like that, with white die-monds and white skin tangled in the sheets. The End," Laramie read. She stuffed "The Diemond Noose by Laramie Wright," faded and torn, back into her jean jacket pocket. "I know you're not asleep," she told the cow, "My dad says that cows don't sleep on their feet." The cow blinked at her. It couldn't tell where her hair ended and its food began.
She jumped into the dying slush of the snow, and the red-dirt sludge from one layer under splattered back at her. The cow watched her walk away, through the barbed wire fence like a ghost, across the empty highway and into the woods, across the cold creek and into the neighborhood (Steeplechase Road, the cow read). The cow watched her walk past the draped lights across the snow that the neighborhood boys had stepped on in order to hear the breaking, had shattered reds and greens deep into the palms of winter, had torn white skin with shards of holiday. It watched her wander around between houses that all looked the same. It watched her close her eyes in the street, stick out her finger, and spin. The cow watched her open her eyes, stumble into the red-wood door of the house she'd chosen.
"I was named after a cigarette," she'd told the cow. It sighed, closing its eyes.
"Laramie," Mr. Wright said. He was in the kitchen, stirring. "What're you doing? It's almost midnight."
She eyed her father in his Poinsettia (p-o-i-s-o-n-e-t-t-a, Laramie spelled in her head) plastic apron and burnt oven mitts, with his big glass bowl, mixing chocolate chips and flour and eggshells. "I was showing my friends my story," she said.
The oven showed the seconds, milliseconds, from when it was ready, like a bomb, 0.00.003, 0.00.002, 0.00.001. "Can I read it?" her father asked, splashing his cookie dough onto an aluminum sheet pan. His apron protested the movement, wrinkling like a disapproving nose. It was an Artists' apron, but he had always claimed that cooking is an art. "But you're not a cook either," Laramie had said.
"No," she told him, and ran to the grand spiraling staircase in the living room that disappeared into the ceiling, into a second living room on the second floor. The Christmas tree grew straight up, like a finger, with ornaments and gingerbread men hanging like suicide from its short branches. "It matches the staircase," Mr. Wright had said, plopping the disproportionate tree down by the red-rust steps.
Laramie always ran up the stairs: they made the living rooms spin while she was running, and for a little afterwards. She had hung ornaments from the railing at equal intervals so that it'd really match the tree, but held her hand out now to knock them off, running, listening for their falling onto the hardwood at equal intervals, splintering in crashes.
Laramie opened her red-door to find her mother lounging on her Princess Bed. "Hi, Mom," Laramie said. The white sheer of the bedspread spread through Mrs. Wright, engulfing her small white figure. She wore her crusted tears with pride, tattooed into her cheeks with mascara ink.
"Your father is making cookies for us," she said, flicking the ash from her Natural American Spirit under the white-lace pillow.
"For you," Laramie corrected. She tugged her Ariel the Little Mermaid fleece blanket from under her mother's shoulders and settled into the bathtub with her story and the red pen retrieved from behind the shampoo bottle.
All of the windows on the second floor had black flowery metal bars around them that Mrs. Wright set her daffodils out on when she grew tired of taking care of them. Laramie would see the flowers, naked and shivering, while walking in from the schoolbus stop and she would know to stay out of her mother's way.
"Women are defined in flowers," she had told Laramie. When she went through bouts of happiness, she would tell Laramie about how she'd gone through handfuls of bluebells, which were too wild; or bouquets of roses, which were too romantic; or mouthfuls of honeysuckles, which were too biblical. "Your father," she'd said, "was the first man to give me a daffodil." Mrs. Wright would float far away when she told the story. She had been in so much distress: she could feel Laramie growing like a weed in her womb, and eventually she could no longer hide it under layers and loose clothing. She had told Mr. Wright, and he'd left immediately. She'd locked the door. Two hours later, and she always smiled when she said this, he had rung the doorbell, holding a Narcissus in its red-dirt pot, conspicuous and bright and trimmed.
Mr. Wright had said that he had installed the bars in order to stop Laramie from climbing onto the roof at night, even though he knew that she got onto the roof through the chimney, that she liked emerging from the ash as black as night and asphalt shingles to hide from the moon in plain sight. Laramie knew to accept his explanation without protest; she knew her father had installed the bars to make her mother stop threatening to jump out the window. "It's not even that far," Laramie had said once, "Look, it won't even break this." She'd picked up one of her mother's daffodils in its red-dirt ceramic pot and dropped it out the window with unceremony.
The pot, in twenty pieces, had looked up with twenty eyes at the three faces staring down at it. Look, look what you did, the pot had heard twenty times. That weekend, Mr. Wright had drilled metal cages into the bricks outside every window, the daffodil withering on the driveway below them.
The bars didn't bother Laramie much, besides the thought that she couldn't get on the roof on Christmas Eve, for fear of a jolly old Red Man dropping a burlap sack full of pointy fire trucks and heavy scented-candles on her stomach as she shimmied. It was still three nights until Christmas, though, so Laramie pocketed her mother's latest half-empty-pack of cigarettes, and dragged her Rapunzel hair along the inside of the chimney through the dark and dirt. On the shingles, she set the orange box on the carefully stacked pile of yellow and teal and black boxes, hidden from the wind in the crease between the bricks of the chimney and angles of the roof.
"Why do you always smoke?" she'd asked her mother a week ago.
"Every grown-up smokes," Mrs. Wright had replied.
"Does Santa smoke?"
"Sure," she'd said, "Every grown-up smokes."
Laramie climbed down the chimney and out the door in one thought, in one memory. The creek was slush-frozen, as if it had given up halfway through solidifying, as if it had found its heart beating deep in the red mud. Laramie could taste the air, full of harsh rust and wet grass. She saw a flickering in the tree, and looked up to find a Boy and Girl, holding hands or a lighter between them, roosting on the oak like two blackbirds. A green speck fell on her shoulder.
"There's a kid there," the Girl said to the Boy. They stared at her with empty bird eyes.
"Hey kid," the Boy said, "Beat it."
Laramie sat down and watched them watch her. After three minutes and thirty-four seconds, they decided that she was not a threat and settled back into each other, coughing and whispering. She turned her attention back to the water and ice.
"I have an idea," the Boy said, sitting up and knocking the Girl from the branch. "Marry me."
The Girl sat up beside Laramie and glowed at her. "Hear that? I'm engaged!"
The Boy jumped down, kneeled like a knight before his princess. He pulled out an e-cig and grabbed the Girl's left hand. He took a hit, and blew three quick smoke rings, one-two-three, onto her fourth finger. "Vena amoris," he said, hugging her finger with his palm.
"You too, sweetie," the Girl said.
The air tasted like mint grape and mint watermelon. The Boy showed Laramie a small clear bottle with a bright blue cap, half full with sticky liquid. "It's called Thug Juice," he told her.
After the Engagement, Laramie was too emotionally exhausted to edit "The
Diemond Diamond Noose by Laramie Wright" for another night. She cuddled a puddle in her bathtub, curling up into sleep.
She woke when heard the blurred words through the tile floor.
"Christ," she heard, "I can't stand it anymore."
She heard gentle placating noises that were not meant to be listened to, just meant to be heard for their sounds (o-n-o-m-a-t-o-p-i-a, Laramie spelled). She heard puffs of tobacco smoke, a door slam, chocolate-chip-eggshell cookies burning.
When she walked down the stairs, she found her father sitting crisscross-applesauce on broken ornament eggshells, reading the Obituaries and sipping black coffee. All of the daffodils were gone.
"What is that anyway?" Laramie asked the Boy. He packed his glass pipe with more dark specks, more rust and wet grass.
"Don't worry about it," the Boy said.
In its stillness, the creek reflected the stars reflecting the great city lights from the stillness in the sky. Laramie imagined her mother somewhere between the city lights, far away, between the stars, wandering and crying with daffodils tucked like babies in her arms.
The Girl held Laramie's hand, a daisy knotted around her ring finger.
"Yeah, don't worry," the Girl repeated, "It'll be okay."
"Thanks," Laramie said.
"Here, Dad," Laramie said, "I'll teach you how to crack an egg."
She tugged at her father's hand, dragging him through his fog like a boat to the light in the kitchen. He had read three months of Obituaries since his wife had left. Sometimes, he read them out loud, to no one in particular. Phyllis Vining, 56. Peacefully, in her bed. Earl Lee, 35. Entered the presence of the Lord from the intersection of Coltrane and Danforth. Laramie pulled his apron around his waist, but wasn't tall enough to tie the string behind his neck. The plastic folded over itself like a puppy.
She was raising dandelions in the glass bowl, but drowned them in yolk and handed an egg to her dad. Like that, he heard someone say far away. He could faintly taste the air where a Christmas tree was rotting.
Outside the window, red-dirt tornadoes spread like weeds, swirling cows and wildflowers and broken glass in the heat.
Alison Liu is from Edmond, Oklahoma, and is currently a pre-med student at Rice University. Her poetry has been published in Scholastic's The Best Teen Writing of 2013 and The Postscript Journal.