My grandmother pours me tea from the spout of a leaf, a gentle tea kettle. She glances at the sky and says there's a wind coming from the north. I nod like I know what that means. We drink our tea and I avoid her eyes. Instead, I stare at the clouds, the waves breaking across the rocks, the rain dripping from the thick green leaves. We are house not home here in the woods, on the shore of lake that stretches to the end of the earth. Our saucers are coated in pine needles, our napkins are ferns, and I shake sand like sugar into my teacup. I can feel the bones of a life aching around us like a boat lost to the wind. My grandmother tries to start a small fire with twigs and birchbark. "It burns easy," she says, "like paper." A fire to heat the kettle, a fire to heat the hearth, a fire. I lean back against the mossy throw pillows and hug my cup close to my chest. My mother and her sisters took turns sleeping with my grandmother after he died. I wonder what an empty bed feels like as we sit and drink the rain.
We begin by going North. It's called coming home for my parents. We begin at the shuttered restaurant with the best milkshakes I've ever had. We begin at the cemetery, in lineage, in bones, at my first funeral. We begin in the house on the hill. We begin by looking across the empty park, the gazebo a skeletal bird cage. We begin around the block from the deserted school—sold to a Christian daycare for a single dollar.
We walk the cracked pavement under the breathless smokestacks of the mill. They said it would be sold, they said the deal fell through, they said it would be sold, they said the deal fell through. "I was born in that house." Grammy, this town has been your coffin since your first breath. With every visit I bear witness to a hollowness held by memory. A new Dollar General has slunk into town—how many now?
We end at the Golden Road. We end at Katahdin, the first mountain I ever saw. It presides over the world like a god, a godsend. Katahdin & tourism lap from the same lake—two lungs giving a rattling gasp. We end at paper turning back into slurry back into pulp back into logs floating up river into pines growing from needle to root. We end at a darkening of a heavy forest, of the boughs pulling us closer. We end more than a ghost, less than a corpse. We end by going home.
Claire Nicholson (she/her) currently lives in Maine. She is a recent graduate of Hamilton College in Clinton, New York. She enjoys plants, bagels, and ultimate frisbee. Nicholson has been previously published in Asterism: An Undergraduate Literary Journal
. You can find her on Twitter @claire2n