North, South, East, West by Mary Lynn Reed

North, South, East, West

The blacktop is smooth and glistens with ice. Someone said growing up gay teaches us to lie, and appreciate metaphor. Nothing is what it seems. If I had enough balance, I could slide all the way down without lifting my feet. The angle is just right. I watch couples together and remember that other arm that isn’t mine but pushes me forward, pulls me back. The sleet falls and I recite the poem again. Tell the story a different way. The blades of grass are frozen sharp. They break when you step. They scream out in pain.


Maggie doesn’t like to wear clothes. Grandma turns the franks on the camp grill while David throws trouble over everyone’s head. Mama stands silent. Dad looks under the hood. Smoke rises and the air stinks of wires burning. Danger, Danger, Here, I come, yells Max. He wants to fly a kite but it’s midnight on this old dirt patch and there’s no wind at all. I’m looking up at the stars. Or is that Jupiter lighting the way? Lexie barks and Jason sucks the last drop out of a CapriSun. We’re gonna be here all night, Dad says.


In front of the Canadian Embassy, a man sprawls on black trash bags, blogging on an iPad. A family snaps pictures of the Capitol encased in scaffolding. A band plays. Vendors sell T-shirts. Is it a protest, or a celebration? Two toddlers cry in strollers as their parents run up the steps of the Supreme Court. The wind blows menus off tables. A crowd forms to watch Shakespeare. Teenage girls carry umbrellas. Polka dots and stripes and a yellow smiley face. A woman in a trench coat stands on the corner, staring blankly at her cellphone.


There’s an angel falling from heaven, above the fireplace. Stark black-and-white landscape, scrub brush and tumbleweeds, beneath suspended yellow halo. The scene is missing its horse and rider, but I see them rounding the bend, galloping up to the flaking gold-leaf mirror, the dime-store Chinese scroll. My chest aches from sprinting the last three flights, mouth dry as desert sand. This desolate hearth is not my home but I am bound here, to seduce and forgive, as sure as that unseen cowboy. Another night waiting, under a blood moon. For calm to slip in, and warm the bed beside me.




Mary Lynn Reed’s fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Mississippi Review, Colorado Review, The MacGuffinWhistling Shade, and Smokelong Quarterly, among other places. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Maryland.


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(Picture: detail of an AlexIsrael photograph of an Archibald Motley painting)