There is a mountain you come upon that no one tells you about, sudden watershed, and once you crest it, the dead people you read about in the paper are no longer some people but your people, actors from your production, not your parents’, so the wakes and the funerals now feel surgical on the far side of that ridge because dead friends demand their pages of script back from you when they depart, thinning the lines of your life by way of their awkward cancers and their heart-haltings and their guns-in-mouths, and it leaves you feeling hollowed, harvested, less tethered to this earth. They don’t tell you about how the mirrors conspire to honesty, or how your family and your meds all blend together—these things that are good for you even though you’re not sure you like them, and you wonder why it is, exactly, that you’ve been saving that expensive bottle of wine, the one in the cellar, dusted with once-future days now milled into memories. On the shadowed side of that mountain they don’t tell you about, you trade the shapes of things for the smooth stones they leave behind.
There is a clump of flowers deep in your backyard, that forgotten place where summer lingers. They bloom in September, late to the party, after the rest have watched each other wilt and wither, their petals strewn like confetti, spread like ashes. These last few scream their yellow climax at the shortening days and the cooling nights; you split firewood, sensing the coming snows. Now the afternoon spotlight hits them, and their soliloquy: We can’t hope to last, just to matter. Put down your axe and look us in the face and tell us that, in this one moment, we are beautiful.
These are the things you ignore, swinging your axe at wood and winter.
Joe Kapitan writes fiction and creative non-fiction from a glacial ridgeline located a day’s march south of Cleveland. Recent work has appeared or will appear in Atticus Review, Gordon Square Review, Booth, Passages North, and others. His collection of Ohio-based short stories, Caves of the Rust Belt, was published in 2018 by Tortoise Books.