Duets by Madeline Anthes


The porch swing creaked and my father sat beside me, making the chains rattle under his weight. My eyes were closed, but I could tell it was him by weight of his steps and the smell of cigar sitting on his breath.

It was early evening and night was coming on slow. The purple sky sat squat and heavy, its breath held, waiting. The cicadas were hissing low, and crickets were taking their place in the evening symphony.

The day had been hot and muggy – air so thick you could feel each drop as you breathed it in. It stuck to your throat, made you aware of your skin. My jean shorts stuck to my legs and my thighs gripped the porch swing, pulling at my skin when I moved.

My father didn’t say anything, but our thoughts were fused. I knew he was thinking of her, too.

I knew we were both thinking of the way she lassoed her hair into a bun, curly bits sticking out at her neck. We remembered her bare feet on the dock, dipping a toe into the water before plunging in. She breathed summer. She’d left in the fall.

His guitar appeared and he played a chord. Before I could say anything – would I have stopped him? – he started a song I knew too well. Their duet. His voice came out low and hoarse, but clear. Each chord weighted me to the spot and I moved my lips to open my mouth and fill in her voice. I wanted to make the song whole. But I stopped short. I couldn’t.

Instead, my fingers wrapped around the edge of the swing, holding it as though I’d disappear. In that moment, as his voice blanketed me, I thought that maybe I’d forgive him.




Madeline Anthes loves cider and novelty t-shirts involving dachshunds and/or Game of Thrones. During the day she’s the acquisitions editor for Hypertrophic Literary, and at night she dreams of the Cleveland Browns winning the super bowl. Her work can be found on madelineanthes.com or you can find her on Twitter at @maddieanthes.


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