Two Stories by Emilie Menzel

"In Different Light" by Sylvia Yu /

Shaken Face If I Stay on My Own

There’s some thunder rumbling on the hill at the top of our neighborhood and my brother says he’s gonna pull his bike out of the garage and bike up and see it, say hi. I’m trying to explain that what if it’s a car or a truck or a stranger we can’t anticipate, standing up there at the top of the hill, glaring deep down, and when you come biking up and your legs are all tired and your arms looking small if it’s a car or a truck or a stranger an unknown they’ll knock you down they’ll knock you all the way back down to skid the road to scrape your knees, get trapped in the sewer and get the dog barking to call such attention. We can’t risk it, I explain. But what if it’s really thunder, asks my brother. We can’t risk it, I explain.

A thin-limbed fox shadows down the edge of the lane, shadowing its edge, lining its edge with a different angle. In different light, the fox becomes a fine arrangement of skin unfolded by needle, the thin-threaded face becoming before the body, the face draped back like purple cloth to expose the nose, the nose now unraveled, then the body unraveled too.

My mother spends the summer I am born digging pebbles and snails out of our garden, which she then rolls in her palms and tips easily into jars. She carves holes through the centers of each bead body and pulls them into a strand. My first birthday, she threads the string into a spine and wraps the gift in tissue paper. When worn, the snails and pebbles press into my body, and I, too, can arch my back.

And chase the dogs up the street with our armfuls. And roll the hillside downward as boxes. And label small ticks on the kitchen door frame. The coat stand like a young giraffe leaning. The basement drawing of a blurry baboon. That a disorder develops to cover disorder. That I keep trying to fill the empty room. The soft cats leaping at any affection, to be touched to be licked to be held, you reach out your arms.

In your quiet, I see your pity sleeping dull like a dog at your feet. Bolder the job. Kick knuckles to teeth. Pull out your voice and throw it to the wall, hope it sticks, doesn’t slide like a squid. In the physical act of gazing, skin me bare.

You Believe You are Building an Order You Resemble

In our backyard, there is a remembered and reliable fig tree. We watch as the macaques climb the branches like children pulling up their mother’s arms. The fig tree’s head is dark green and slant leafed. The macaques’ fur glows brown in the ease of the sun. The macaques tangle up the tree to shake down figs for the younger macaque climbers still navigating the ground. A fig can be eaten in only one handful. Macaques are particular about the ripeness of their fruit, though maybe not as particular as orangutans would be. See the plumped pink macaque cheeks, the pink palmed macaque feet, with nails, scratched fig tree tree bark, the fig tree reliable and marked and so staying remembered.

Our father tells a story at dinner about how he still feels guilty for a time in middle school when he accepted a ride home from the town milkman on the town milkman’s electric scooter. It goes like this: he gets dropped off at his house front door and he bounds inside, and his mother suspiciously says to him now you’re home quick and he says back sincerely sure am got a ride! Now his mother’s irritated now his mother’s livid now his mother’s explaining that motorcycles are dangerous and rides from strangers are dangerous and what the hell was he thinking. He as an adult expresses shame for as a pre-teen talking back to his mother: the ride was just there it was only just there I didn’t mean anything by it. Our father could make his mother so mad so mad sometimes he’d deserve a quick slap.

If I leave the apartment for the day, the furniture still sits there. The frames still hold the walls. I’ve spent a lifetime crafting a conception of home and here I’ve come to rest. Green papered flowers. Blue suede chair. Tell me the story. Now tell me again. If the house were more ordered I would have less disordered thinking. This posturing the schism. This positioning containers.

Here is the logic I have maintained in observing my home. I spend a day of routines in roundness, comfort the tea kettle’s impatient whistling. It is important to talk to objects as if they’re your own. For dinner I eat a bowl of rice with raisins, but later decide that this was too much. I remove a tick of mascara suckling the corner of my eye, but later decide that this was too much. In only three hours, the bread makers will be at their routines. And from this angle, part of the angle being the sun, the town really looks quite quaint.

Emilie Menzel is a poet and writer whose work seeks to engage both creative and analytical properties of language. Her words have recently appeared in Black Warrior Review, Trestle Ties, and on the sides of Boston’s T-cars, amongst other locations. Emilie is the recipient of the Deborah Slosberg Memorial Award in Poetry (selected by Diana Khoi Nguyen) and the Cara Parravani Memorial Award in Fiction (selected by Leigh Newman), and she completed her MFA in poetry at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Raised amongst the doldrums of Georgia summers, Emilie currently lives in wooded North Carolina and online @emilieideas.