Clambering Over Such Rocks

JoAnna Novak

Perhaps we three shall only ever have in common the murder of Adler. And white garments, shoes, stockings, sleeves—even the body of the Pemaquid Point Lighthouse is shell-colored, if you ignore her black window. 

We confer at the Point, calm ourselves, and consider what we have done, firing thrice into the husband and father we have left in our Oneonta cabin. 

I still see his stunned eyes stuck on a hogshead of sardines. 

My mother and sister’s hands smell like buckshot. 

A fine spray of grayish pink stains my blouse. My father’s last sputum. 

Yet even now, they flaunt their them-ness, asserting their alliance against the suspiration of the Atlantic. 

I cannot be blamed for growing up untouched.

The rocks ribbed like roof tiles. Loud water mostly mist. Sky blue as a tepid bath. One rip of sand. 

Up the coast is dented. Southward, fjordlike. Islanded. Our state has beachwoods. Artist’s colonies. Shore dinners. Clams. Snowshoes. Watermelon tourmaline old Gepettos string on silk and fix around your neck.

My mother and sister stand at water’s edge in matching wild berry: my mother’s sweetheart sweater; my sister’s maiden jumper, her billowing mutton sleeves. Flax-haired, fine-profiled, victimisses. 

And me, a remove from the shore, arrogating a rather smooth stone. In my Bohemian brow and trousers. A roll of flesh at my elbows. 

It is my task to tip the rifle, land it in a chasm of rocks. 

Get rid of the foul thing, my mother instructed me, returned to her delicacy, even after our hard travels, past Oshkoshed fishermen and seals bottling, pods of whales whose rubber heads emerge like enormous bowler hats. 

Once more, to the court of women’s vision, I go uninvited.

Sometimes, my sister’s skirts inflated by the crush of crashing waves, I see my mother smooth her dress, to catch it from flying up.

It is a tale of a family in the woods: not so special to Maine. 

I, for one, have always believed it must be hard for a man to bequeath his virility to women. 

What might we do, knit him a cock’s cap? 

Crochet a sleeve for his casting arm? 

I fed my father his tinsel when he tied silver streamers. 

Learned the names of artificial lures: Brown hackle. Royal coachman. 

I was his spread girl, the best at coating his biscuits with butter. 

The best at proportioning a sandwich.

It is not that I ever disbelieved my mother and sister. Poulticing their thighs would find a disciple in anyone. 

And Adler’s fingerprints distinguished themselves, left bruises like kidney beans. 

Things he announced, daily as grace, even now aim arrows at my mind: 

Your apology is but a belated excuse. 

You could drive a phaeton through that pie hole. 

I wouldn’t grope you with my rustiest fishing pole. 

Only then did I realize the makeup of some women is more than a matter of pantalettes.

Other words organized when he took my sister to the spurrier’s. When he took her out riding in a red coat. When he took her arm, held her wrist like a hatchling. She had warned me under the counterpane, how he said he wanted to spue inside her, to gild her insides like the dogwood in an ice storm. 

He might have found me ready, if he’d ever come looking.

The coast thinks nothing of a woman helming a rifle. She is a sportsman, clad in smaller clothing. 

My legs extend in front of me. The line of my ankle is visible below the hem of my porpoise-blue trousers. It is the thin part, before muscle swells my calf. 

The rifle lays long, butting my crotch. It is not much more than a broomstick. Its barrel is black and matte. It has not buckles, but parts that buckle when touched. 

In my mother, Adler found a wife and a wet nurse and a whimperer. When he loved her, I could hear her crying like our collie, still tender from the whelping. 

A mallet, when pounding veal flat, makes a resounding bluntness. And that was the way my father’s gut pummeled her rump.

“Bring your sulking down to the water,” my sister calls, her face tear-wet and shining. 

It would be salt to lick her. 

It would scald to approach the limits of her love.

It was only once I was asked to witness. 

He filled my tin cup with birch beer and set me in a kitchen chair he’d carried up the stairs to their lofted bedroom. 

Midway, he flung a pillow in my lap and, grateful, I reinstated lady legs.

Unwelcome is not the word I feel for being a sister and daughter in this life. Unwanted is wrong, as well. More, I know I am unusable to either sex, the Adler fathers, the docile mothers, the sisters with hot-combed hair. 

(I have always wanted to ask: Do you like me?) 

It is for this reason that I reposition the rifle and wedge it between my knees. Nature has engineered me with long arms and I am relieved to finger the trigger. It feels like a latch, a hook, a malformed tack. It has known the flesh of everyone in my family. No wonder Heaven gave me such fortitude to free the shore of my disease. 

The gulls overhead fight and scowl. 

The black window in the Lighthouse darkens. 

And yes the waves roll out, folding over on themselves, thrashing at the sky. It is dim, almost aluminum. Surely, on some other horizon, there is a sun, close and gold.