Boys, this is what I have wanted to say, what I want to say, all I can say about my folks. It will have to do. You connect the dots. I don't want to or don't know how.
What city or township or place on earth do you suppose is closest to the heavens? It is not populous like Los Angeles or New York or even Salt Lake City. Or a political or financial capital or someplace fancy like Paris or where someone famous was born—Shakespeare maybe. Not Bethlehem, but good guess though.
It is this sagebrush town that when the earth bends just right it is the one closest to the sun and the moon and the stars. No paved roads there … no pavement period. We did have a post office. Outdoor plumbing when I was a girl. When MaBell came to town, my Mom was the operator, it would ring in the house in that utility room and we’d go into town and get the person they were calling for. The whole place is a one-bend dirtroad you can walk end to end and side to side and what you see is what you get. There is not some other part of town, some other untold story—it is brush and pine and yellow hills and fence and fields and arrowheads and farmhouses and the people who live in them. Only one business where money changes hands officially an Amoco with two pumps just sitting there waiting and a small refrigeration section with an RC and a KitKat and you needed that for something to do. RC was also my grandpa's name. You thought the cola was named after him? That’s cute. The biggest, and I mean the biggest hype that ever came to town was a family that said they'd make the desert bloom like a rose by selling hydroponic tomatoes or some such, but that never took either. The ground was too hard wherever you turned that it was too much work to grow anything there but memories and what the cows ate.
That is not to say nothing happened there. Many things happened there—to me and my loved ones—which I witnessed, I survived. In and around me. And in a small town, everyone knows everything, sees everything, hears everything. What things? It is hard to say exactly. You will have to listen to what I do not say.
Nee Kathleen Knell—is there a better name for a farmer's daughter?—my folks were a well-matched and mis-matched pair of star-crossed souls, I would not say "lovers," and if I had one word only for them it would be integrity. That's important. It means showing up, being genuine, the real thing. To be in my life you have to have integrity. You boys all have it. What do I mean? It is something beyond honesty. A horse is a horse. My Dad was my Dad. They were my parents. I would not say they were functional not in the sense you use that term, that's true. But no labels, I will not have them judged, so no, my parents were not dysfunctional, if that is where this is going. Don't try to paint me into a corner on this. What if I said that individually they were great people but not collectively? Would that make sense to anyone? Kind of? Good.
Do you hear me? Do you know what that looks like when two powerful souls collide? And they are your parents? And you are a little girl in a small town? You don’t need a newspaper in a small town to get the news. Use your imagination. Ask your brother about his marriage. How is this not enough? You are thinkers ... writers ... all of you, you can fill in the blanks. Sure, write something, write my biography, and if I don't disagree, that is something. Why do I have to say the words? No, I don’t agree with that term. That is a label, pejorative. Abusive? These two had equal power. No, not abusive. Violent, yes; abusive, no. All I wanted was for them to get along, to figure it out. I couldn’t fix it.
When two people are mismatched in every way but their intensity and one is a stubborn, leave-me-alone, part-time farmer and the other is a bull-headed, take-on-the-world teacher, when one's chief fear is being told what to do and that is the strength of the other, and both have oak-hard opinions, there are going to be fireworks. And a small town, my hometown, is a combustion chamber, there is nowhere for that light and sound and judgment to go and dissipate but it reverberates back in on itself, myself, and it is compounded and rebounded until it finally comes to rest when I am a 66-year-old woman and all of that is said and done and buried 3 times over. (I had a brother too.)
It was no surprise then that at eight I could see aurora borealis like it was right there because it was right there, my bedroom window the closest point on earth to this heavenly vision, connecting to this place on earth that knew something about explosions of light. If you were a sun or a star out there a million light years away and you got to touch the earth, you would pick the closest place too, it's a long trip and the shorter the better. But not just the closest point but the one the same as you, like the way you make a friend because both have something and both need something. So if you are borealis and you have all that ... light, what better place to show up than an empty dust bowl that has nothing to receive but your message, no dilution and nothing to get in the way.
And if you were borealis you would know damn well we in that small town 'd all be watching and understanding your outstretched lights testifying of place beyond time, an explosion Lord knows where that traveled out and out until all the heat was diluted and spread wherever it would go. Which is what I always wanted was to share my burden outward and beyond my history, beyond myself, to give a little here and a little there until what I could hold was less. I held onto too much, held it all really, was worried that no one but me could ... What I want to say is that I'd rather keep it, this burden, myself than share it with someone who won’t appreciate the beauty and delicacy of it. But now I have decided I am ready to give some of this to you for all of our sakes, so here, you take some. You boys are big and strong now. Wise boys.
And I don't just speak by way of extravagance. This is factual this business about being so close to the sun. You can look this up yourselves on the computer like you do. That eclipse we had a few days ago? and I thought this was really neat ... the weatherman said the best place to see it was from Newcastle, oh by the way between this house over here and this one over here, the first of which was our house. I am not there anymore, I am here, but I know there is some little girl who 60 years later saw that ring of fire and thought too, "oh God, I can see my way out of this." Do you understand what I am telling you?
Michael Smith is a writer, artist, and Francophile in Salt Lake City, Utah. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in The Hopper and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. Michael is currently writing a novel.