I didn’t see anyone I knew. Hardly surprising, since everybody I know is dead.
I checked in, slid my card to the man at the register and released my index finger thwapping one side, which rang hollow, like your screams through many cubic feet of earth, Marilee. Ocean-side properties—the sea breathes through them, accumulates in grooves in the walls, flows across countertops.
Water, weight. And when and how and why a thing starts. A theme—if I could afford therapy in the city, instead of Oso, they’d send me to a place like this to unpack it. I loved you. And our Hailie. The dream of simple men: love is enough. $10.99 for the softcore porn. I am watching and at the same time I am not.
You catch wind it’s set up. Hands that make towns like Oso know the stakes. See the beginning the middle and end. Writ I’d be a logger before I was born, as my granddaddy from Darrington, who never passed 5th grade, said—the apples don’t fall far. Hands that make towns see that, too.
Not sure how the affair started. Seed, much like clear-cutting on my mind the morning every man in Oso became a widower. Thinking of black lingerie, Bud Lights, the Burger Barn I’d bring over. You called and I sent it to voicemail, Marilee, afraid you’d smell me thinking through the phone. If I picked up, I’d have heard earth scream, what trees remained on that hill roar through the roof like a black past coming from a cold night to pass its hand across the necks of all of us.
Above-average rain, Slide Hill becoming a literal monster committing genocide no more stoppable than a compliment hurled to a station clerk with the crooked smile and penchant for dark underwear. This room smells like seagulls. My bourbon’s got ocean in it. I hope you heard me, like I heard you. Over the whine of chainsaws chewing cedar, mud, and a whole town of regrets, but it couldn’t chew to you, Marilee.
Hell on Earth; that clerk’s bedpost, Hailee’s teddy waterlogged on the ground, the Jenkins’ house, unscathed, sitting half a mile east of where it once stood, American flag rising popping the mist. It’s building—debt, chores, conferences, guilt—spring-loaded like a trap. If you’re dumb like me, you sense it. When how and why you’ll never unpack, but you spend your life trying to get ahead. The truth, it’s the ocean.
Tell Hailee, I’m coming. I deserve a talking to for these sins. Tumbler’s empty and the girl taking it from behind I hardly see because the tide’s inside and half up the screen.
I’ll lay back in the waves, an angel of reckoning, Marilee. Dreaming as if things end.
Tyler Dempsey is the author of a book of poetry called “Newspaper Drumsticks.” His work appears in Heavy Feather Review, trampset, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Bending Genres, Gone Lawn, and the like. He lives in Alaska where he is a kindergarten teacher and seasonal Ranger for the National Park Service. Find him on Twitter @tylercdempsey.