Whirligig

 Whirligig was originally published in River Styx literary magazine.

Whirligig was originally published in River Styx literary magazine.

By CB Adams

On the anniversary of her father's death, Evan and her mother ate his favorite dinner in silence. Pork chops poached in sweet cider. Thick stalks of wild sparrow grass baked with butter in tin foil. A bitter salad of field greens and fiddlehead ferns dressed in hot bacon drippings, white vinegar, and a pinch of sugar. Angel biscuits. No dessert, but black coffee.

There was nothing to say of the man who was not there—better to taste his absence, let it fill you.

A small votive candle on the table was left unlit as an act of remembrance, and the evening and the darkness gently and completely rose around them. From a cobalt vase, a single stem of lily of the valley, cut with her father's Japanese singing shears, suffused the room with its fragrance. In the stillness the meal was measured by the clink and scrape of their silverware on the heavy porcelain places. Evan felt close to hearing the droplets of sweat slide down her glass filled with amber iced tea.

Her mother looked at her and whispered, "My cherub, my crystal, my love," then bowed her head and fell asleep at the table, having tasted little of her meal. Evan carefully wiped a thick tear from the old woman:s eye, where it hung like a glycerin pear, and carried her to bed. The furious cancer of an unknown origin left little to carry, and the chemotherapy had thickened and poisoned her tears. Evan placed her mother on her side and unpinned her thin, gray hair. Then she molded a single cotton sheet around her, shrouding her from the evening's cooling air. As Evan bent to kiss her mother's cheek, she noticed the spot where the tear had been was now red and angry. At the doorway she looked back and realized her mother's life was being pulled from her one breath after another, the way it was rumored that certain cats could draw the breath from a baby. Breathe slower, she prayed, holding her own breath. She closed the door and left her mother for the night.

From the back door of their house on the outer road, Evan heard the drone of the mercury vapor light over the ham door. She crossed the driveway, her boots crunching and turning white in the pea gravel, then she stood in the stilipoint of light as moths, gnats, and black flies swam in lazy loops overhead. The air smelled like it could rain. Evan's father, who named her after himself, loved weather, especially storms, because they made you feel more alive.

Inside the barn, she slowly opened the door to her father's workshop. She sat down in the dark in a lawn chair with frayed nylon webbing and stared at the silhouettes on the workbench. She smelled the gassy odor of the dark green tarpaulin covering her father's whirligigs. Evan had not looked at them since the day of his funeral, when she pulled them from the front yard because her mother said, "It wouldn't be right."

She reached into the drawer of the small desk and took out the bottle and the empty Mason jar he had kept hidden there. She looked at the night through the window then poured herself three fingers of the store-bought whiskey, which he always called "shine" because he liked the sound of it. From the drawer she pulled another honk, this one filled with strangely cold water, drawn from a spring deep within the Mingo Swamp, and poured it into the jar. "Always drink the shine on a moonless night," he told her once, never explaining why.

Evan quickly drank her father's bourbon, feeling its hot smoke burn within her, and thought of the times when he brought her here to see a new whirligig he had built. He would blow on it to show her how it worked, then she would follow him outside as he placed it among the others. He stood among his creations and urged her, "Come on. Come on. Be Daddy's little whirligig." She would spin for him until she was too dizzy to stand.  She would fall and he would laugh as she lay clutching the ground. 

One by one, she took the whirligigs from the barn and set them up in the yard. When she was done, she stood among them, her arms outstretched, and turned slowly around. The wind picked up and she heard the whirligigs spin into life. Evan twirled faster, turning her hands like airplane flaps, waiting, wishing to be airborne.

After she fell tinder the massive oak, Evan turned and looked into the hollow place in its base. She reached into the nook. Her arm disappeared into the tree, the way a veterinarian has to run his arm to the shoulder to rum a breech calf inside its mother. She brought out the twigs she had placed there years before. They were smooth now, polished and brittle like old chicken bones. One for each time. There were not many, only a handful, but they were enough. She threw them into the night air but did not hear them fall.

She turned on the whirligigs. She hated her father's creations, controlled by the wind, tethered to the ground. Her boot found each of them in the darkness. The man chopping wood, the waving lady, the mallard with wings like propellers, the clown flying the ridiculous airplane. Evan was not done. She fell upon the pieces, allowing them to pierce her skin. She felt again her father pushed against her like a strong wind. His angry hornet words — kiss it, kiss it. And hot liquor breath that made her cough and gag when his mouth was on hers.

The ground held her for the rest of the night. In the morning, she knew her mother had been standing unsteadily on the porch, staring at her and the remains of the whirligigs for a long time. She sat up and looked at her mother. She knew. Her mother knew. The air was still. Evan looked away from her mother and returned the twigs to their secret hollow place. Next year seemed a long way away.

Inspired by Darkwood & Dedicated to Musician David Darling