by Treehouse Editors

Linda Shapiro


Little Henry wails the same phrase over and over in an eerie castrato wail aimed at his father, who is idling at the grill. If he intones it enough it will happen, or he will go hoarsely into hysteria and be sent to bed.

Perhaps he’s on some spectrum or other.

Perhaps he’s just oiling up the voice that will take him through adolescence and its extremes of rise-fall intonation into adulthood, where inflection counts for much subtler shadings of Want and Need.

Want if not need besets Henry’s next door neighbors, the Grangers. They flee one another whenever possible, as the childless can, in search of negative space where each frames a narrative independent of the other.

Tonight they are at peace. I can see them enjoying a meal outdoors, watching small rabbits dining on grass.  They are consciously ignoring Henry, who is pumping a noisy plastic train engine up and down the driveway, little pistons going full steam.

What promised to be a pleasant summer’s eve suddenly erupts. You never know what the weather will do these days.

The Grangers scramble to gather up plates, cutlery, condiments, the wine in Riedel glasses, and hurry inside. Large Maples in each yard sideswipe one another over Henry’s garage. They writhe and tumble in the wind, errant branches desperate to stay put, not crash into someone’s power lines or roof or little Henry who, it seems, has been whisked indoors along with the half-cooked hamburgers.

Separate cisgender houses, separate crises.

The sky darkens to mucous as a few cars glide cautiously by my window. Hail rains down, pea then golf-ball size. Thunder shatters the sky, lightning slices and pops. I can hear Henry’s dog howling, probably from underneath the couch.

I am uncertain whether to get to the basement or just continue watching the damage being done, the edging into chaos.

I am always aware that lights go out all over the world. Global insufficiency is to be expected. I think of cities under siege, infrastructures crippled, meager lights flickering as generators skip a beat and surgeons try desperately to save a few hapless lives.

While we live freely here in large, elderly homes, tending our gardens and seeing to house repairs. The Grangers’ lights have gone out. I can see jagged lengths of candles sputtering in makeshift holders.

Shortly after I moved back I was scraping paint off the garage, listening in on the conversation of Sally Granger and her book club sitting outside in various grades of linen, sipping Prosecco. I don’t know what book they were discussing, but I could hear phrases like toxic relationships and For once I felt so SEEN, and I thought of Anna Karenina.

Sometimes I see my whole life as minor fiction. Never, like Ferlinghetti’s dog, having had a real tale to tell and a real tail to tell it with.

My radio suggests finding cover, but I‘ll risk staying put, allowing something to happen.

As it is, I’ve been calmed down for years now.

I have found time’s elasticity to be a bogus concept. It’s not elastic. It slips and jams into ruts, back and sometimes forth: Could I have been kinder to him at the end? Will my stale genitals ever cease throbbing?

I can see the old lady across the street out in an inadequate raincoat, rescuing some hanging plants.  The hail has diminished in size, but not before her begonia has been beaten to a pulp.

My power goes out in perfect synch with a clap of thunder. A dancer on the beat, but shouldn’t a dancer be just ahead of the beat? Such simultaneity is just boring and obvious, as Craig used to say.

The tempest has become a danse macabre.  Night swallowed the storm and is not digesting it well.

The entire neighborhood has gone black, ancient with anxiety. It was, I’ve been told, originally a gypsy camp where caretakers hovered over the sick and dying, treating them with natural remedies.  A good thrashing with holly branches to cure chilblains, arthritis, rheumatism.

When Craig lay dying there was nothing that could help. We lived from day to day in our railroad apartment, a narrow parade of rooms migrating like defeated refugees from cluttered living room to tiny back bedroom.

Long before that Craig and I threw a party during the New York blackout, candles everywhere, friends hanging out of our front window sweltering and baying at the moon. The blackout of 1977 shut down the entire city, a primal unfolding of terror and mayhem.

We, however, danced and sang, emphatically embracing anarchy. That was the night, in fact, when Craig met the famous choreographer who would eventually take him on as an apprentice, stalk and pursue him, call him Billy Budd and accuse him of dangerous innocence.

Craig was not innocent, just choosy about the men he fucked.

I hear a tree branch snap and opt for the basement. I feel my way stealthily down the steps and, lulled by the whipping and crashing above, lie down on an old abused couch.

Where I lay as a kid, thinking forbidden thoughts.

Now I am back in my mother’s bequeathed house, former linguist nursing fatal flaws.  Beneath me layers of moldering couch shift, tectonic plates in a void.

Anna Karenina threw herself under a train and found peace.  Boris Elfman made an overwrought ballet in which Anna’s fatal train becomes a bunch of ballet boys in black madly chugging, pistons going full steam.

I may lie here until the storm subsides. Then I will emerge to help the neighbors gather stray branches, perhaps wade through mud to rescue Henry’s engine, comfort Henry’s dog. All the while emitting the occasional pungent witticism they have come to expect from the quaint old man, their defanged neighborhood Lear.

Linda Shapiro is a freelance writer who has published articles, reviews, and essays on dance and the performing arts, architecture, design, and other subjects in numerous publications in the Twin Cities and New York. In her former life she worked as a dancer and choreographer. Her fiction has appeared in the online journals On the Premises and Bending Genres. Her work was shortlisted for the 2019 Fiction Award for the Canadian journal Into the Void.